Halloween Special: My 10 Favorite Thomas Ligotti Stories

We all know the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, right? If you don’t, maybe this well known tentacled monstrosity will refresh your memory.

Pardon me, do you have a second to talk about our Lord and Savior Nyarlathotep?

Yes, that’s right, our old friend Howard Phillips was responsible for our favorite non-Japanese kaiju, Cthulhu. But what many people don’t seem to realize, probably because they haven’t read H.P.’s work, is that Cthulhu and his brothers, the Great Old Ones, were not merely radioactive mutants or flesh and blood alien conquerors. They are the gods that our ancestors worshipped, the ones that called for blood sacrifices and rampaged across the land when they weren’t delivered. They are beings hailing from a plain of reality so alien to our own that merely looking upon them can drive a person insane.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, inside that alternate plane of reality are the creator deities that the Great Old Ones worship as gods, the Outer Gods. Instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, we get Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth. This trinity cares not for the struggles of a tiny, insignificant species like ourselves. And even if they do, they offer nothing in the way of salvation. They just make us wish they would leave us alone and make the torture stop already!

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos at large… To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.

H. P. Lovecraft to the editor of Weird Tales, c. 1927
Also, remember that Negroes are semi-human figures filled with vice! Wait, why are you looking at me like that? (Trigger warning for hyperlink: Very racist!)

That’s certainly a very bleak way of looking at the world. Lovecraft essentially portrays our universe as a tiny bubble floating in the vastness of the ocean, vulnerable to being popped by the jostling of an oblivious sea creature that didn’t even notice it was there in the first place.

But what if you took that idea one step further? What if you concluded that it is not that malignant eldritch deities are infiltrating reality? What if, instead, reality itself was an inherently malignant deity that we all had to suffer inside the rancid belly of? This is the premise that lies at the heart of the literary creations of Thomas Ligotti.

Before you ask, no, he is not clinically dead in this photo. At least not on the outside.

Much like Lovecraft before him, Ligotti has never been a happy person. He suffers from clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and even anhedonia (a lack of motivation or even the ability to experience pleasure). This naturally led to a strong disillusionment with life that manifests strongly in the often crushing cynicism that pervades his work. From clowns and puppet shows and dreams to medical professionals and office work and decaying urban centers, many aspects of everyday life are tools in his modus operandi of examining everyday life from his detached and darkly comic perspective and dissecting it to find the weirdness and horror lying within.

With that, let me introduce to my ten favorite Thomas Ligotti stories (in no particular order). And maybe keep a nightlight on while we make this journey.

1. The Frolic

This story is Ligotti’s take on every parent’s worst nightmare: the child sexual predator. It focuses on Dr. David Munck, a psychologist who works in the criminal justice system, as he opens up to his wife Leslie about a very unnerving John Doe he’s been working with. This John Doe, a serial child “frolicker,” as he calls it, is infamous among the other doctors for his utter uncanny strangeness.

He insists he has no identity, which seems to be backed up by the fact that no one can find any documentation on him. He speaks and acts in a very childish manner, often shifting between various strange accents. He seems to lack any inkling that what he does to his young companions is wrong in any way. He claims to have come from what Dr. Munck describes as “a cosmos of crooked houses and littered alleys, a slum among the stars,” which is where he does his “frolicking.” He even goes as far as to claim that going to prison is merely a vacation from his work with children and that he can get out any time he wants. But probably the worst thing about Dr. Munck’s interview with John is when the “frolicker” asked if he had “a misbehavin’ lad or little colleen of your own.” And colleen is not that far off from Norleen, his daughter’s name…

Indeed, it’s probably not the best story to read if you’re a parent, especially if you’re paranoid about this sort of thing. Especially if you don’t fancy your child going on a field trip to a place featuring such landmarks as “a moonlit corridor where mirrors scream and laugh, dark peaks… that won’t remain still,” or “a stairway that’s ‘broken’ in a very strange way.”

2. The Chymist

This story is told entirely as a single side of an entire conversation, in a similar manner to Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model.” Rather than a Bostonian who paints portraits of corpse-eating ghouls, though, this story’s main character is a man who calls himself Simon, who fancies himself a modern-day alchemist. The story is narrated from his perspective as he carries on a conversation with a sex worker named Rosemary that he meets at a bar. He waxes philosophical about the decay in the city as he takes her back to his apartment to get freaky… but not in a good way. For you see, Simon here specializes in creating waking dreams with his brand of alchemy. And he has a very Freddy Krueger-esqe way of using the human body as his dream canvas as he gives himself over to nebulous unseen entities to help him do his work…

This piece manages to be so effective in its horror by the way it puts us in Rosemary’s shoes. As the readers, we are charmed and amused (or annoyed) by Simon’s ridiculously flowery soliloquies as he takes us on his journey through the decaying city that he and Rosemary call home. And it makes it all the more bone-chilling when Simon reveals his true purpose for the poor woman. It really says something that Ligotti manages to make a simple rape look like a step up compared to the implications behind “Now Rose of madness- BLOOM!”

3. The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise

It’s probably no surprise that someone of Ligotti’s mental disposition might not have the fondest view of the holiday season. This distaste is embodied through a younger relative of the titular character, Jack, as he narrates his lack of joy whenever his parents take him to his aunt’s house every Christmas Eve to celebrate. On his twenty-first Christmas at her house (which he vows will be his last), he listens as Aunt Elise tells a story about the old man who lived in a now abandoned and torn-down house down the road. She tells of how an antiquarian visited his house before he died, only to find himself having been transported to another world filled with a dark fog where tortured shapes wander aimlessly, and realizes he has become the old man himself. Jack shrugs off the story as he leaves to go home, only to see the house has seemingly returned, bedecked in Christmas lights…

This story seems to speak to the portion of us who feel somewhat alienated from our families, especially around the holidays. Personally, I still love the holiday season. Still, they seem to become less fun with the overly-commercialized stranglehold that capitalism has on the Christmas season and as my political views deviate further from the rest of my mostly conservative and patriotic family. The story also illustrates just how strong family bonds can be in a horrifying way with its ending twist, especially for those who can’t stand theirs.

4. Masquerade of a Dead Sword

This story is a dark fantasy tale that takes place in the city of Soldori and follows a bespectacled swordsman named Faliol. A messenger named Streldone takes him to the local duke’s palace to celebrate a local festival. Once there, Faliol begins making grand speeches about a new realm of reality he has experienced, one where demonic spirits tell him maddening secrets about reality. Now his only wish is “to see the world drown in oceans of agony” to relieve himself of “a madness which is not of this world.” While the court mage at first seems to dismiss his ramblings, he soon shows himself to be not all he seems when he starts orating about the need to overthrow the hold that Anima Mundi has on the living beings of this earth. And Faliol is to start the cleansing at the duke’s masquerade ball…

This is definitely one of the more interesting diversions Ligotti has made from his usual modern-day urban horror setting, and it works really well. As one might expect, with Ligotti’s trademark philosophical pessimism at the forefront, he manages in just twenty pages to create a dark fantasy world that would even make George R.R. Martin go, “What the fuck?!”

5. The Journal of J.P. Drapeau

This story follows the titular author as he chronicles his stay in the Belgian city of Bruges in the 1890s and early 1900s. Drapeau’s entries are relatively normal until he recounts an instance where he bumped into an older man being taken away to an asylum, who warns him never to say a word about the things he knows. True, Drapeau sometimes harbors fantastic notions. He attributes the noises in his closet to two corpses that live in it and believes that demons who played with his body parts as a child still live among the stars. However, even as he denigrates other people’s notions of a world beyond ours, he begins to feel as if an ineffable presence is calling out to him. Then he begins to notice something off about his reflection in the mirror and that an alternate version of Bruges from his books is starting to take shape around him…

While I’m not entirely certain what Ligotti was trying to say with this story, I feel like this might be a comment on escapism and how retreating into your own fictional world too often can cause you to lose sight of the real world. Of course, Ligotti, ever the cynic, decides to take it a step further by making it quite literal.

6. Vastarien

This may be the closest thing to an optimistic story that Ligotti has written, and even has something of a happy ending, depending on your point of view.

The title refers to a fantasy dream-world that has been created in the mind of an asylum inmate named Victor Keirion. It is a world where normal earthly laws and rules have no meaning, resembling a dark and crumbling city where the buildings are twisted at odd angles, sometimes to the point that their roofs face the ground. But his dream sanctuary becomes threatened when a crow-like man invades Vastarien and threatens to destroy it. Can Victor save his dream paradise from destruction?

Interestingly, this story comes right after “The Journals of J.P. Drapeau” in the Songs of a Dead Dreamer collection and has similar themes of disappearing into another world. Whereas the former portrays this as happening against the protagonist’s will, in “Vastarien,” the protagonist deliberately escapes into his dream-world and leaves the Earth behind. Perhaps escape into another world is not always a bad thing after all?

7. The Last Feast of Harlequin

This story can be described as “Shadow Over Innsmouth but in Appalachia” and is even dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft’s memory. Ligotti has also stated that this was the first story he ever published, which really shows how well he had mastered his craft by then.

The story follows an unnamed anthropologist as he travels to the town of Mirocaw, curious about their pageantry festival that centers on a clown motif. Things begin to take a turn for the strange, however, when he bumps into his old mentor, Dr. Raymond Thoss, who has been missing for several years. As the anthropologist investigates further, he soon makes a horrifying discovery about the festival’s true nature, including human sacrifice, a biological secret about the festival-goers that comes out at the sacrifice, and worst of all, the anthropologist’s disturbing connection to all of this…

While people who have read Shadow… can likely guess the ending twist based on my description, the story also bears a strong resemblance to Lovecraft’s earlier story “The Festival,” which features a similar revelation about the true nature of the festival-goers. The only difference being that Lovecraft’s story is implied to be all a dream at the end, whereas here it’s all too real.

8. Nethescurial

This story is undoubtedly one of the most stereotypically Lovecraftian pieces that Ligotti has written. It is also one of the best ones to demonstrate his “reality as a malignant god” concept.

The story follows an unnamed narrator as he recounts his studying of a journal by one Bartholomew Gray as he travels to an obscure island named Nethescurial with an archaeologist named Dr. N-. There they learn of the patron deity of the native inhabitants, who ended up smashing the idol depicting it and scattering to all corners of the globe when they learned of its evil nature. Gray recounts finding all the pieces, only to smash the idol once again when he started seeing the god’s essence squirming around inside everything he saw. At first, the narrator writes the story off as a middling adventure yarn until he, too, starts to feel the evil god’s presence in every wall and floorboard and becomes aware of a shadow covering the moon…

Indeed, this story reminded me of “The Call of Cthulhu” in some ways, in that it involves a narrator reading notes about a globetrotting adventure that eventually leads to the uncovering of forbidden ancient knowledge that drives one insane. At least Cthulhu has a physical body, though. What Ligotti describes here sounds more a Satanist’s idea of pantheism, a black substance that literally permeates every atom of existence. But don’t worry, guys: “Nethescurial is not the secret name of the creation.”

9. The Shadow at the Bottom of the World

This story tells of a farming community that discovers a black mold-type substance formed under a scarecrow’s clothes. The black mass retreats into a bottomless hole shortly after its discovery, and the townspeople elect to board it up and forget about it. However, the warm temperatures of the growing season seem to stick around. Strange colors appear in the vegetation, and a constant droning, like that of a swarm of cicadas, seems to fill the air. The townspeople soon begin to suspect that the black mold is part of a larger entity that demands sacrifice in return for their harvest…

My first impression was that this story seems to be using the black mold as Ligotti’s twisted interpretation of a Mother Nature archetype. It’s not hard to see the whole sacrifice theme as a commentary on humanity taking what they want from the Earth and the Earth finally having enough and demanding something from them in return. Also worth noting is how the narrator doesn’t seem to be a singular person, but rather the town as a collective. The word “I” never appears at all, and the plotline involving Mr. Marble, the only character with a distinct individual identity, might be Ligotti’s commentary on conformity in small-town American society.

10. My Work Is Not Yet Done

Ligotti’s only novella is divided into “Three Tales of Corporate Horror,” as the subtitle suggests. The bulk of the book is taken up by the titular story, which follows junior manager Frank Dominio as he plots revenge against the seven other managers who got him fired from his job. His plans become much more elaborate than a simple shooting spree, however, when a dark force that animates all life on Earth gives Frank psychic powers which he uses to inflict ghoulishly creative and ironic punishments on those who wronged him.

The other two stories are “I Have a Special Plan for This World” (which tells of the Blaine Company’s plight as it deals with a high murder rate in its home city and a yellow haze that constantly covers it. All of this is narrated from the point of view of an employee who seems to know more about what is going on than he lets on…) and “The Nightmare Network” (told in an epistolary format, it chronicles the merging of Oneiricon with the titular network, with catastrophic results).

These stories are notable for how well they portray the cutthroat nature of late-stage capitalism and how well they show how the corporate world’s machinations really make them the new eldritch horrors in town.


Please note, though, that I have only read three of Ligotti’s works so far; Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe, and My Work Is Not Yet Done. If there are some other stories you think I missed, feel free to let me know in the comments. In the meantime, have a happy Halloween, boils and ghouls! Even if the pandemic means you can’t go trick-or-treating, I hope you still have a good time. In the meantime, happy reading (starts laughing maniacally).

So I Just Read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race…

…and while I enjoyed reading it, I can’t really say I was able to take its philosophy all that seriously.

This book is the first nonfiction piece from underground horror icon Thomas Ligotti, published by Viking Press in 2010. This book is meant to highlight the philosophy that lies behind Ligotti’s fiction, and boy, is it ever bleak. I think the man himself summarizes this book’s thesis best in the “Blundering” section of the first essay:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees- a blunder of blind nature, according to [Peter Wessel] Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not who we are- contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, essentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion?

Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

The titular “conspiracy” Ligotti is talking about is perpetrated by those who believe that “being alive is all right” and that human consciousness is not inherently “MALIGNANTLY USELESS.” Since we are the only beings in this universe (that we know of) that have consciousness, it is only fair to assume that our consciousness was a mistake and that the best way to correct this is to essentially self-terminate. Sure, anyone who wants to can have children, but only as long as the human population keeps on a downward trend.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, apparently not, because Ligotti seems to feel the need to repeat these messages over and over again throughout the book. While the repetition didn’t annoy me as much as it did some other reviewers I read on Amazon and Goodreads, I admit it was kind of off-putting.

As for the actual philosophy, I’m not sure if I’m all that qualified to critique it, as I’m no expert on the subject. I can only offer my own reactions to Ligotti’s philosophy based on my own personal outlook on life- and boy, do they clash!

For example, Ligotti’s claim that consciousness is a uniquely human trait is not actually supported by science. Granted, animals can’t communicate with words, so we can’t be certain of this. However, several animals can recognize themselves in mirrors, including elephants, bottlenose dolphins, magpies, chimpanzees, and possibly even cleaner wrasses.

The latter pictured here tending to the gills of a dragon wrasse.

Ligotti claims that all animals except us are only responsive to the four F’s; fleeing, fighting, feeding, and… mating. Yet elephants have been observed mourning their dead and have been observed to hold grudges. African gray parrots have shown the ability to learn as many as 950 different human words and use them creatively. None of this is to say that any of these animals are capable of contemplating their place in the universe like we are, but it does puncture several holes in Ligotti’s “consciousness as a fluke” narrative.

Also hurting this book is just the sheer overwhelming nature of Ligotti’s cynicism. Yes, I know that Ligotti suffers from anhedonia, which means he literally can’t experience pleasure, but that doesn’t mean his depressive state automatically makes his opinions more mature and realistic; it just makes him look like he’s got a giant stick up his ass.

Maybe I’m biased as well because I consider myself a believer in the afterlife. However, I also tend to believe, as a libertarian socialist, that the reason life seems like an endless train of misery is not because of some inherent flaw in human nature. It’s because capitalism puts the most selfish and irresponsible dregs of humanity in charge of the rest of us and makes life suck for most decent human beings on this planet. Needless to say, I can’t entirely agree with Ligotti’s assessment that “both the inhumane and humane movements of our species are without relevance. None of us are at the helm of either of these movements. We believe ourselves to be the masters of our own behavior- that is the blunder.”

Although apparently, even Thomas Ligotti seems to disagree with this statement. In a 2011 interview with the blog “The Damned Interviews,” he claims to support socialism because he thinks that would be the best way to ensure everyone’s comfort as they wait to die in his anti-natalist utopia. Granted, he clarifies that he thinks too many people in this world are “unadulterated savagesand will never let go of capitalism. But he does seem to hint that he thinks a socialist society is at least possible, which really doesn’t seem to gel with the hard determinist perspective he takes in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

In the end, I think this book is valuable as a way of understanding the kind of mind that could create the Lovecraftian horror stories that Ligotti is so well known for. Pretty much every other review I read online also praised the book’s final essay, which is Ligotti giving a mini-history of horror literature through his own unique perspective. However, his philosophy definitely leaves something to be desired. His arguments that human life is so inherently meaningless that it is not even worth preserving are far too melodramatic to be taken seriously. Indeed, the whole time I was reading this book, I kept being reminded of this speech by online film reviewer Kyle Kallgren, who reviewed the Lars Von Trier film Melancholia as part of his Brows Held High series (specifically calling out Von Trier for romanticizing depression):

Depression is a disease, make no mistake. Von Trier can romanticize it all he wants, but depression is a stasis; it’s a dead end. Succumbing to it is to surrender to death. And he can go on and on about how hollow our culture is and how shallow life is, but what of it? I’m alive. And I can experience the new and share it. Here, now, I’m alive. And what happier thing can be said? And we should all keep creating and sharing. Because, in the words of a better filmmaker [Orson Welles in “F for Fake”]: “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Keep on singing.”

Kyle Kallgren, Brows Held High: Melancholia

Ligotti may be comfortable with surrendering to death, but I’m definitely on Kyle’s side here. And I’m giving this book a 5/10 (it’s closer to a six than a four). Also, check out my list of my top ten favorite short stories written by Thomas Ligotti, which is coming out very, very soon. Thank you! Bu-bye!

So I Just Watched Reds…

…and I can safely say that it deserves it’s status as a modern American classic.

Released on December 4, 1981, by Paramount Pictures, Reds was released to widespread critical acclaim in the United States, which is rather surprising considering its subject matter. The film stars Warren Beatty (who also directed, produced, and wrote the film) as John Reed, a journalist who is famous for his socialist beliefs and for writing Ten Days That Shook the World, which chronicles his first-hand experience of the October Revolution of 1917 that turned Russia into a Communist state. The fact that the film features an honest portrait of leftist politics and still managed to win three Academy Awards (out of twelve nominations!) in the same year that the notoriously anti-communist Ronald Reagan was elected president almost boggles the mind. Although even he was a fan of the film, so… maybe there is something here for everybody.

The film is divided into two acts and covers the last four or five years of Reed’s life. The first act covers his meeting with Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton) in Portland, their time spent in New York City’s Greenwich Village with many other leftists and bohemians of the day, Bryant’s affair with Eugene O’Neil (Jack Nicholson), Reed’s growing frustration with America’s anti-communist practices as it enters World War I, and his and Bryant’s traveling to Russia and witnessing the Bolshevik revolt firsthand.

The second act shows Reed as his life falls apart in the wake of Ten Days… publishing. He tries and fails to introduce the spirit of revolution to the United States, causes the Communist Party to split in two, is deported to Russia with the increasingly authoritarian Bolshevik leaders stripping more and more freedom away from the people they swore they would lift up, and finally dies of typhus in a Russian hospital aged only thirty-two as Bryant tries and fails to nurse him back to health.

One of the most unique features of this film is the use of “witnesses.” That is, talking head-style interviews with people who actually experienced the events dramatized in the film. Some of these individuals include radical pacifist Scott Nearing, author Dorothy Frooks, muckraker George Seldes, ACLU co-founder Roger Nash Baldwin, and Tropic of Cancer/Tropic of Capricorn author Henry Miller. These interviews, which Beatty began recording about a decade before the film was released, really helped give the film a unique character, as the “witnesses” provide a true connection with the actual events that a lot of other historical films lack.

Of course, everything surrounding them is great as well. All of the actors were excellent. Beatty, Keaton, and Nicholson all received Oscar nods. The only actor who actually won, though, was Maureen Stapleton, who, despite her rather limited screen time, shines as the great anarchist activist Emma Goldman. Indeed, probably my favorite part of the film was her argument with Reed over the Bolshevik government’s legitimacy. She argues that the Bolsheviks have destroyed any chance of a real socialist government by centralizing power in the hands of a few and murdering anyone who protests. Reed argues that centralization is necessary because Russia’s infrastructure is not modernized enough, and its peasant population too uneducated to run things for themselves. Given my own anarchist leanings, that fact that there were areas of the Soviet Union that were successfully run on anarchist principles for a short time (like the Free Territory of Machnovia in Ukraine), and how the Soviet Union would eventually turn out, I’m gonna have to side with Goldman on this one.

The script also does a great job of portraying not just Reed’s life, with his strengths as well as his faults, but also gives us an amazing portrait of life in the WWI era. The costumes and set design really made Beatty, Keaton, and company really feel as if they had literally stepped into the late 1910s. And despite the three hour and fifteen-minute runtime, the film really didn’t feel unnecessarily padded in any way. I did tend to tune out a little bit during some of the more talky scenes, but that’s probably more because of my autistic brain needing visual stimulation than any fault on the film’s part.

Overall, I can definitely see why this film is so highly rated even in a country as notoriously hostile to leftist politics as my own. I feel its sympathetic portrayal of America’s communist underground is especially needed today as the faults of the capitalist system America was built on continues to be laid bare. Which makes it somewhat ironic that I watched it on Amazon Prime, which is owned by a guy who is practically Lex Luthor in all but name. But yeah, especially if you are a leftist or interested in leftist politics, then, by all means, check this film out. If you hate leftists with the same burning passion that I hate the Trump administration, then still check this film out. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #2: “Natural Science” by Rush

On this edition of P.J.’s Ultimate Playlists, I want to pay tribute to one of rock and roll’s most recent fallen heroes. On January 7th of this year, Neil Peart, drummer for the illustrious prog-rock power trio Rush, died at 67 after a three and a half year battle with glioblastoma. True, that isn’t nearly the worst thing that has happened this year…

…but for someone who considers these guys some of the best musicians of all time, it definitely wasn’t easy news to hear. Still, I think the band ended their tenure in the best way they possibly could have. Their final album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels, was one hell of a swansong, in my opinion, and while I haven’t seen any footage from their final tour, R40, from what I’ve heard, it was a fitting celebration of the band’s history.

Still, Peart tends to get criticism for the writing quality of his lyrics and his affinity for Ayn Rand in his younger days. As an anarcho-communist, I definitely get the Rand criticism, but Neil had grown out of that phase by the late ’80s if his lyrics are anything to go by. In fact, not only has the band long since removed the shout-out they gave to Rand in the liner notes of 2112, but Peart also stated that “it is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and be a Republican” in a 2012 interview with Maclean’s magazine.

As for the “bad lyricist” criticism, I realize this is a pretty subjective opinion, but I’d have to strongly disagree there. Kevin Smith, in his Tweet memorializing Peart, called him a “brilliant lyricist” and pointed to this passage from “The Spirit of Radio,” the opening song from 1980’s Permanent Waves:

All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted;
Not so coldly charted, it's really just a question of your honesty.
Yeah, your honesty.

However, here I want to focus on the song that closes out the album, a tale of science, nature, and humanity’s unending struggle to preserve their natural surroundings in an era of relentless industrialization. So join me as we deconstruct the meaning behind “Natural Science.”

The Song

The song, running just shy of 9 1/2 minutes, is divided into three movements.

The first movement, “Tide Pools,” features Geddy Lee softly singing the opening lyrics over the sound of waves splashing over a rocky shoreline and Alex Lifeson’s soothing acoustic guitar. The lyrics introduce a theme that runs throughout the song, comparing our society on Earth with a tidal pool just beyond the reach of an ocean representing the universe’s vastness.

In the lyrics, Neil outright states that he is merely using the tidal pool as “a simple kind mirror to reflect upon our own.” That is, a metaphor to communicate his opinion on humanity’s place in the universe. He describes “the busy little creatures chasing out their destinies. Living in their pools, they soon forget about the sea…”

After a short instrumental break, in which the music transitions from a lonely acoustic piece to the full-throated progressive hard rock the band is famous for, we get something of a semi-chorus with this passage:

Wheels within wheels in a spiral array,
A pattern so grand and complex.
Day after day we lose sight of the way;
Our causes can't see their effects!

The song then transitions into the second movement, “Hyperspace,” which begins with a short passage full of spacey sound effects before exploding into a fast-paced hard rock section in 7/8 time that makes up the bulk of the song. The music’s chaotic nature reflects the lyrical theme of the chaos resulting from humanity’s attempts to alter the natural world in ways it wasn’t meant to be.

Peart describes the inhabitants of this “mechanized world out of hand” as “superior cynics who dance to a synthetic band.” This most likely refers to the corporate overlords of the modern age. Their hubris is lambasted in the following lyrics: “In their own image, the world is fashioned. No wonder they don’t understand!”

The “wheels within wheels” verse is repeated, and the song transitions into the final movement, “Permanent Waves.” A much more relaxed rhythm starts in common (4/4) time and then switches between 6/8 and 12/8. It offers a much more optimistic lyrical picture than the previous movement.

Science, like nature, must also be tamed
With a view toward its preservation.
Given the same stage of integrity,
It will surely serve us well.

Peart seems to say that science must be pursued with a purpose other than transient short term gains, like, say, in profits.

That means you, Elon.

Alongside science, Peart lists “art as expression, not as market campaigns” as a similarly vital force in preserving society. He also assures us that:

The most endangered species, the honest man,
Will survive annihilation,
Forming a world, state of integrity,
Sensitive, open, and strong!

Finally, the song ends as it began, with the tidal pool swallowed as the sea slowly rises.

Wave after wave will flow with the tide
And bury the world as it does;
Tide after tide will flow and recede,
Leaving life to go as it was.

Thus, the snake eats its tail, and the cycle begins anew.

Personal Feelings

This song certainly gives us a lot to chew on in terms of philosophical ponderings.

While I’m not sure if this was intentional, the lyrics seem to have distinctly Nietzschean overtones. This isn’t the first time Rush has dealt with Nietzsche; many have noted the apparent influence of his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy on the 18 minute opus “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” from their previous album Hemispheres. “Natural Science,” on the other hand, brings to mind this passage from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense:

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most mendacious and arrogant moment of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)

While this may seem to be the epitome of fatalistic cynicism, Nietzsche actually wanted to show people that by recognizing this truth, they would make the most of their life on Earth instead of just waiting to die and go to a possibly nonexistent paradise.

Indeed, that seems to be what Peart intended to communicate with this song. Humanity has the capacity to create a true paradise on Earth if only we can allow ourselves to move beyond the selfish need to control nature and subjugate it for profit. Given my far-left political views, I tend to view this song through an anti-capitalist lens, even if I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Peart’s intention.

I also can’t help but notice some echoes of Daoism in the “wheels within wheels” verse. The third line (“Day after day, we lose sight of the way”) especially since the word Dao literally means “way” in Chinese. In Daoism, the Dao is described as the natural order of the universe. The Dao is not something that can be rationally understood; it can only be grasped intuitively by living the way nature intended. Indeed, founder Lao Tzu, in his seminal work, the Tao Te Ching, warns against the rule of small-minded individuals like the ones portrayed in the second movement of this song, who try to bend the world to their own whims instead of just letting it exist in its natural state. “In their own image, the world is fashioned. No wonder they don’t understand!” Compare this to Chapter 30 of the Tao Te Ching:

If you used the Tao as a principle for ruling
You Would not dominate the people by military force.

What goes around comes around.

Where the general has camped
Thorns and brambles grow.
In the wake of a great army
Come years of famine.
If you know what you are doing
You will do what is necessary and stop there.

Accomplish but don't boast
Accomplish without show
Accomplish without arrogance
Accomplish without grabbing
Accomplish without forcing.

When thing flourish they decline.

This is called non-Tao.
The non-Tao is short-lived.

Should we choose to live in a world where nature has an equal footing with man, Lao Tzu and Peart argue, then life would be all the more joyful. So what do you say we kick all the corrupt politicians and corporate overlords out of their positions of power and make our own paradise in their memory? We have nothing to lose but our chains.

But in all seriousness, I would like to thank Neil Peart for giving us such wonderful music before his untimely passing. I hope I get to see him jamming with John Bonham and Keith Moon when I get to Heaven.

In the fullness of time, a garden to nurture and protect.

So I Just Read “The Mists of Avalon”…

…and I’m not really sure what to make of this one, guys.

(Disclaimer/Content Warning: The following post will contain discussions of sexual assault, incest, and pedophilia. Those who are sensitive to those topics should proceed with caution.)

Arthur had better claim this sword soon. My fingers are damn near sliced off!

For those who aren’t aware, The Mists of Avalon was written by Marion Zimmer Bradley and published by Alfred K. Knopf Inc. in January of 1983. It is a retelling of Arthurian legend told from the female characters’ point of view. While Guinevere, Morgause, Igraine, and others get their focus, the story’s main plot follows Morgaine (aka Morgan Le Fey) as she tries to save her Celtic pagan faith from the Christians who want to stamp it out, including King Arthur himself.

While the book was highly praised when it first came out, including from the likes of Isaac Asimov and Jean Auel of Clan of the Cave Bear fame, it has increasingly come under scrutiny in recent years thanks to certain disturbing revelations that came from Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland, in 2014.

It turns out that Marion Zimmer Bradley led a double life as an incestuous pedophile who started sexually abusing Moira when she was only three. Not only that but Bradley’s husband, Walter H. Breen, operated an entire pedophilia ring, which he even involved his children in with Bradley’s approval. Bradley had known about Breen’s pederast tendencies even before they married in 1964 and even helped him edit his writings in defense of pederasty.

What the actual WHAT ?!

Thankfully, this madness ended in 1990 when Moira herself (thirteen at the time) reported her father to the police. The charges stuck, and he died in prison three years later. Bradley, who faced no prison time for her crimes, suffered a series of strokes over the following decade and died of a heart attack in 1999.

“But what does any of this have to do with The Mists of Avalon?” you may find yourself asking. A lot, unfortunately. And frankly, I don’t even know where to start with this one!

Perhaps the most appropriate place to start would be how the book handles the Igraine/Gorlois/Uther subplot that kicks off the whole mythos. A little context first: Viviane is the Lady of the Lake, which in this retelling of the myth means she’s the high priestess of Avalon, located in a parallel universe hidden behind the titular mists. As Christianity slowly becomes the dominant religion in the British Isles, Avalon’s pagan faith is being forgotten, and the isle is slowly drifting away from the “real world,” so to speak.

And what is Viviane’s solution to this problem? First, she works with the archdruid Taliesin (who goes by the title the Merlin) to convince (i.e., gaslight) Igraine to ditch Gorlois and, after he dies in battle, get with her “destined true love” Uther Pendragon. Then, shortly after their son Arthur is sent north to protect him from assassins, Viviane takes Morgaine to Avalon.

She spends seven years training Morgaine in Avalon’s ways, and shortly after her initiation, she drugs her and Arthur and forces them to have sex as part of their Beltane ritual!

This just went from uncomfortable to unacceptable!

This is where Arthur’s bastard son Mordred comes into the picture, who in this version is intended to be the real savior of Avalon in case Arthur surrenders to the Christians. And how exactly does Viviane intend to secure Mordred’s claim to the throne?

Yeah, we never really learn exactly why Viviane thinks the common people will accept Mordred as king over Arthur. She seems to believe that the commoners will automatically accept whoever is backed by Avalon… even though the common people turning away from Avalon to the point that it is literally fading away is what kickstarts the plot in the first place! By the time she decides to initiate this plan in Book III Chapter 3 by announcing Mordred’s parentage in front of Arthur’s court, she’s murdered by one of her nephews, so we never find out what her endgame is.

Although honestly, the more I thought about it, it makes perfect sense that the Avalonian religion is being abandoned because Bradley’s description of it makes it sound downright satanic! Rituals like the one where Mordred was conceived appear to be regular occurrences, and the priestesses seem to have no qualms about letting underaged children participate in their Beltane orgies. This makes it rather difficult to take Bradley’s criticisms of Christianity seriously when they aren’t the ones claiming that incest and statutory rape are holy acts. And not only that, but it’s also implied at several points that human sacrifice and even cannibalism are regular features of this religion.

And don’t think I’m criticizing paganism itself here and/or mindlessly defending Christianity. For one thing, I have a lot of problems with organized religion myself (which I may explain in another blog post sometime in the future). Normally, I think paganism is a perfectly reasonable alternative for those who question the Bible but can’t bring themselves to become agnostic or atheist. But Bradley’s version of paganism bears absolutely no resemblance to the ancient Celtic peoples’ Druid faith. It’s more akin to Wicca or any other new-age faith of the 70s and 80s, except with Bradley’s fucked up ideas about sexuality and incest placed front and center.

Notice that last line there: “An harm ye none, do what ye will.” Not exactly compatible with fucking your own daughter, now is it?

But what about the feminism, you might be asking. Is this book a least a good feminist tract? And, I admit, I’m just an incredibly sheltered and moderately privileged white guy who has yet to reach the age of thirty. Even with that in mind, though, I’m going to have to venture a guess and say…

Before I explain myself, let me ask you this: What exactly is the point of feminism? Maybe you believe the point is that women deserve to be valued as more than babymakers and housewives. Or maybe you believe that it is that women deserve to be allowed to make their own choices. Perhaps the #MeToo movement makes you emphasize the need to prioritize women’s safety over men’s feelings.

Bradley, however, seems to disagree with all three points.

Avalon’s forcing of Igraine and Morgaine to bear the children they think will save the isle against their will is treated as necessary, and the women’s objections to it are brushed aside or belittled.

When Morgaine chooses to leave Avalon due to her anger at what Viviane did to her at the Beltane ritual, she is treated as wrong because she refuses to “acknowledge” that Viviane was only doing this to save Avalon.

And we only need to be reminded of the underage sex at the Beltane rituals to see how much Avalon prioritizes its female acolytes’ safety.

Indeed, Bradley’s brand of feminism seems to be exactly the kind that conservative antifeminists often stereotype feminism as: a matriarchy that behaves exactly like the patriarchy, only sexist women are the leaders instead of sexist men.

Not to mention, Bradley seems to be operating under what TV Tropes.com calls the “Real Women Don’t Wear Dresses” delusion. This is basically the belief that women can be girly or badass, but never both, which, ironically, seems kind of misogynistic to me. This is probably best demonstrated by her treatment of Guinevere (or Gwenhywfar, as she spells it).

We’re meant to view Guinevere as a whiny, spoiled brat in this retelling, mostly because of her strident Christian beliefs and the way she constantly forces those beliefs onto Arthur, to the point that she drives a major wedge between Arthur and Avalon when she browbeats him into flying a Christian banner she made at his final victory over the Saxons at Badon Hill, rather than the Avalonian dragon banner.

The problem with this is a) to any sane person, Avalon truly is as evil as she claims it is, and b) it’s tough to hate Guinevere when you learn her backstory. Her father, King Leodegrance, was emotionally abusive to her as a child. However, Bradley tries to brush this off by writing her three sisters as a lot more emotionally stable than her, presumably because admitting that Leodegrance was wrong to treat Gwen the way he did would be admitting her own failings as a parent.

The nuns also abused her in the convent her father sent her to, where she was beaten for even touching a harp because “it’s not ladylike to be a musician.” She also suffers a truly horrifying rape at the hands of her possible half-brother, Meleagrant, in Book III Chapter 4, which Bradley blames Gwen for because she didn’t fight back. This despite the fact that her description of Mel makes him sound like Gregor Clegane.

You know, before the whole zombification thing

But what really gets me about that rape scene, aside from Bradley’s gratuitously graphic description of it, is the fact that the Avalonians were plotting to do exactly that to Gwen in Chapter 1 of the same book because they’re backward heathens who think that Arthur will simply sell out Guinevere to Meleagrant because his rape would mean he can legally marry her now.

Why the fuck do people call this feminist again?!

But Bradley’s bass-akwards idea of what feminism looks like isn’t the only problematic theme running through this story. She tends to dip into uncomfortable racial territory when she describes Avalon’s native people, who are described as small and dark-skinned and always obedient servants. This definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially since, as of the time I’m writing this, my country is embroiled in civil unrest over a racist legacy it has yet to face up to.

Of course, one might wonder why Avalon doesn’t do as the Christians do and preach about their faith to England’s common people. Well, that’s where the classism comes in! You see, the common people are too stupid to handle the inner mysteries of their pagan rape cult, so evangelization is pointless. Instead, they decide just to do whatever they think is necessary to preserve their rituals, even if they make no sense. And it doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process. You can trust their betters to police themselves if they go too far.

Seriously, Marion, Ayn Rand is looking at this elitist bullshit and telling you to tone it down!

In all truth, I didn’t pick up on a lot of this the first time I read the book. However, I suspect that might be because I found it surprisingly difficult to concentrate while reading this book. This might be because Bradley seems laser-focused on removing all excitement from the story. For all her accolades as a feminist icon, Morgaine barely does anything to forward Avalon’s cause except bitch and moan about how nothing is going Avalon’s way until the final book, where she engineers the fall of Camelot. All of the battles and the knight’s quests happen off-screen, as it were, and all fantasy elements (fairies, dragons, even magic itself) are kept to an absolute bare minimum, presumably because Bradley thinks it would take much-needed space away from her rape and incest apologia.

Look, if this book did have a positive impact on you at an impressionable age, that’s great. No one should be able to take that away from you. But to me, in the end, this is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. And I’m giving this one a 1/10.


Special thanks to the fine people (namely ZeldaQueen, Gehayi, and The Idiot Alchemist) over at Das Sporking. There you will find their incredibly detailed (and incredibly caustic) review of The Mists of Avalon. Be forewarned, though. Their review goes one chapter at a time, and each one is incredibly comprehensive, often picking the book apart paragraph by paragraph. Full disclosure, I haven’t even read the entire thing myself, just the parts I felt were most important to this essay.

If you have a few hours to spare, though, maybe go check it out. Or don’t, it doesn’t really matter to me. See you next time!

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #1: “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

Welcome to my first ongoing series on this blog! Here on P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist, I will choose a song from any genre that really speaks to me on a personal level and explain (or at least try to) what it is that I love about it. My musical tastes are mainly centered on rock, country, and metal. However, I am willing to give literally any genre a listen at least once, so don’t expect songs from just those three genres. You can expect some Celtic folk tracks, some 60’s soul hits, maybe even a Disney tune here or there. But for now, let’s kick things off with a bittersweet track from one of the premier singer-songwriters of the 1970s folk scene.

Backstory

“Fire and Rain,” which opens side two of Taylor’s second album Sweet Baby James, was the single that helped him break into the mainstream. It’s certainly not hard to see why it gained such success. It packages Taylor’s own personal struggles in a song that is just ambiguous enough to be relatable to anyone who has had a life as rough as he had at that point.

Even though he was only 21 when the song was released, Taylor had been through a lot by the time he recorded it. His late teen years were marred by a deep depression, which became so bad that he checked himself into the McLean psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. After his friend and fellow guitarist Danny Kortchmar convinced Taylor to check out and follow him to New York City to pursue a music career, Taylor developed a heroin addiction. This, along with a series of poorly planned gigs outside the city, caused the breakup of their band, the Flying Machine.

James entered rehab after recording his self-titled debut album in London. Although recording with members of the Beatles was certainly a high point, the two tragedies that struck him during this period would mar his psyche. First, he broke his hands and feet in a motorcycle accident shortly after a well-received performance at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1969. Then, while he was recovering from that, his friends told him some tragic news that they had kept from him out of fear that it would distract him from his newfound success. His childhood friend, Suzanne Schnerr, had died by suicide while he was in the middle of recording his debut. He didn’t learn about this until six months after the fact.

The Song

With all that in mind, it’s easy to see all the references James makes in the song. The first verse is all about Taylor’s reaction to Suzanne’s untimely death, including his anger at an unknown “they” who drove her to her destruction (“Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you”). Taylor has since admitted that he regrets the way he phrased that line, however. While he has stated that the line was meant to be a jab at fate in general, he sees how it could be easily misinterpreted as condemning her parents, whom James admits he never knew that well.

The second verse deals with his struggles against his heroin addiction in rehab. The line “My body’s aching and my time is at hand” in particular feels very evocative of the often punishing withdrawal symptoms that accompany the drug’s use. The verse also has a strong religious overtone (“Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus? You’ve gotta help me make a stand!”), even though, as far as I can tell, James has never been openly religious.

The third verse deals with James’s feelings as he writes the song, looking back on his successes and failures (“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”). He acknowledges that the struggle is not over and that the friends he still has will help him overcome, seeing as how “there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come.” This would prove true when Carole King (who played piano on the song) based her own song “You’ve Got a Friend” on the line “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.” James, of course, famously covered the song on Sweet Baby James’ followup, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.

Speaking of which, the chorus is undeniably profound, probably because it, in part, draws on some powerful symbolic imagery. Of course, here, fire and rain serve the purpose of symbolizing the polar opposite moods Taylor went through in his struggles. Fire represents the warmth of the sun on good days. Rain represents the loneliness of days when the sun is hidden from sight.

Personal Thoughts

It’s certainly hard not to draw parallels between this and Robert Frost’s famous poem “Fire and Ice.” True, the subjects of the two pieces could not be more different. “Fire and Rain” deals with a single man’s personal struggles (friendship vs. loneliness), while “Fire and Ice” is a musing on how the world might end (desire vs. hate). However, if prominent astrophysicist Howard Shapley is correct, there may be a sun connection in the latter.

Shapely claims to have met Frost in 1919, a year before the poem was published. Frost asked him how he thought the world was going to end. Shapely explained how the Sun would turn into a red giant star in about five billion years after the hydrogen fusion in its core collapses. Earth will either be vaporized alongside Mercury and Venus as the expanding gases consume it or be spared this fiery fate only to freeze over as the Sun’s rays are no longer there to warm it. I’m not really sure how applicable these observations are to “Fire and Rain,” but I’m sure you could make an argument about the desire and hate metaphor applying to the song. Fire represents James’ desire for comfort during hard times, and rain represents his hatred of what has become at his lowest points. Or maybe it’s another song about the sunny good times of the 1960s being swallowed up by the grey storm clouds of the 70s, like so many other songs of that time period.

Then again, I may be delving too deep into “death of the author” territory here. More importantly, how does this song speak to me, you might be asking.

Indeed, the biggest overall theme of this song is undoubtedly friendship. Friendship has never been the easiest thing for me. As a person on the autism spectrum, I have a tough time reaching out to people. Sure, I’ll stop and talk to an old schoolmate or teacher whenever I see them in town or at my workplace, but I never really hang out with them, so to speak. This is even true with my parents, who I’ve grown rather emotionally distant from thanks to their support of President Trump. I really don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to at this point in life. It really makes me feel I need to get off my ass and join Twitter already to finally air my grievances publicly.

It is a very lonely time for me, but not without hope. While Trump’s awful leadership has exposed just how much of a shitshow America has been from the day the first African slaves landed on our shores four hundred years ago, it also helped me discover the way out. And as long as there is breath in my body, I will shout from the rooftops that better things are possible in a world without big government and big corporations and that the people are capable of ruling themselves.

But as for my feelings on the song itself, it’s great. James’ smooth, understated voice really makes it feel like he is right next to you, saying, “Listen, buddy, I’ve been there. I know how hard it is right now, but trust me. The next sunny day is right around the corner.” He sings as if his audience already has a heart as broken as his was at the time, and thus he offers comfort in his understated desperation. It’s really songs like this that let downtrodden underdogs like myself know that we are never really alone. We all know what it’s like to be sad, and we know how to overcome and find our next sunny day.

Top 10 Arguments Against Climate Change- Debunked!

In addition to calling myself an anarcho-communist, I’ve also come to think of myself lately as a “recovering conservative.” My relationship with anthropogenic climate change is a big reason why. My family used to accept the narrative that recent warming trends resulted from humanity’s use of fossil fuels pretty easily. But then around November 2009, the email server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit was hacked, leaking several emails that seemed to incriminate the scientists involved as deliberately fudging data to make the warming trend seem worse than it actually was. I’m not sure whether my Dad had had doubts before this story leaked or whether it was the story that planted the seeds in the first place. Either way, my family, my dad and grandfather, in particular, became strident climate change deniers.

I followed suit for several years afterward. But toward the second half of my college tenure, I began to see that I had been grossly misled. I learned that the so-called “Climategate” emails had been totally taken out of context, that the Medieval Warm Period wasn’t really that warm at all, and that the real reason I didn’t believe in global warming was because the Koch Brothers didn’t want me to believe.

Thankfully, the one on the left is burning in Hell for his lies now.

So allow me to present some of the most popular claims conservatives make to “debunk” anthropogenic climate change and show you how the science proves them wrong in ten easy points. Perhaps the best place to start would be the one that put me on this journey in the first place…

1. Climategate proved that the scientists were frauds.

As stated above, the scandal occurred in November of 2009 when the servers of the C.R.U. at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England were hacked. The result was over 1,000 emails and 2,000 scientific documents being released to the public. The denial crowd took certain quotes out of context to implicate leading climate scientists, including Dr. Michael E. Mann…

Not that one.
There you go!

…of deliberately suppressing data that conflicted with the scientific consensus. One particular favorite of the denial crowd was this quote from an email by fellow scientist Phil Jones:

I’ve just completed Mike’s nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series from the last 20 years [1981 onward] and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

Phil Jones, C.R.U. Director

What the deniers failed to realize, however, was that Jones was not referring to a decline in temperature, but what is known to science as the “divergence problem.” This refers to the fact that temperature estimations gathered from tree rings are reliable until around 1960 when they diverge wildly. Some deniers have latched onto this to discredit the so-called “hockey stick” graphs that show unprecedented warming in the 20th century. However, actual scientists widely agree that the divergence problem is also anthropogenic in nature since it is a phenomenon unique to the last few decades.

Another quote widely cited by deniers is this one from Kevin Trenberth:

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty we can’t.

Kevin Trenberth

Trenberth isn’t admitting that the warming trend has stopped. He is lamenting how the climate observation systems cannot comprehensively track all energy flowing through the climate system, leading to cases where surface temperatures sometimes show short cooling trends.

Of course, despite the deniers ranting and raving about how these scientists should be sacked for their lies and duplicity, eight separate committees investigating the case could find absolutely no evidence of fraud or misconduct. Still, like many other deniers, my family didn’t realize the truth that science is fucking complicated, and the damage was done.

2. Scientists were worried about global cooling in the 70’s.

That’s certainly what the newspapers at the time say they did, but I’m sure we’re all aware of the news media’s penchant for sensationalism.

The global cooling scare largely came from many temperature readings from the three decades before the 1970s that suggested a cooling trend. Some scientists ended up jumping the gun and started warning that our planet’s 10,000 year-long inter-glacial period might be ending, and thus we were in for a new ice age.

By around 1980, however, reexaminations of the data showed that the cooling trend was only true in parts of the Northern Hemisphere and that global temperature trends had actually held steady throughout that period. Of course, if one looks at all the scientific studies on climate done when the cooling scare was at its height, we see that there were still far more scientists worried about warming.

As they say on Twitter, that’s one hell of a ratio.

But sadly, the news media couldn’t help themselves, and they blew the “global cooling” story out of proportion. Thus, when the global warming phenomenon became more mainstream in the late 80s, it’s not hard to see why so many people saw the scientists contradicting themselves and decided they didn’t know what they were talking about. Couple that with oil companies like Exxon and Koch Industries leading denial campaigns, and we have the endlessly frustrating situation we find ourselves embroiled in today.

3. CO2 lags behind temperature.

I think I’ll let Republican Representative Joe Barton explain the denier narrative here:

An article in Science magazine illustrated that a rise in carbon did not precede a rise in temperatures but actually lagged behind temperature rises by 200 to 1000 years. A rise in carbon dioxide levels could not have caused a rise in temperature if it followed the temperature.

Joe Barton (R-Texas (1985-2019)

Scientists do concede the ‘lagging’ point. However, they are also quick to point out that people like Barton are not telling the whole story. The warming trends back then were initiated by slight changes in the way the Earth orbits around the Sun. With more sunlight hitting Earth, the planet starts to warm up. As it warms, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere. And of course, more CO2 means higher rises in temperature. This is an important and perfectly natural state of affairs since it is necessary for the planet to transition out of glacial periods and into interglacial periods.

So yes, CO2 was not the cause of those particular warming spells. No, that does not mean that CO2 is not the cause of this particular warming trend. And no, that does not mean the sun is causing us to warm up now.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not exactly in the middle of a glacial period right now.

Speaking of the sun causing global warming…

4. It’s the sunspots, stupid.

This is my dad’s current go-to explanation for what is causing the warming trend. The last time I challenged him on this, he showed me this graph:

He made sure to highlight the Dalton Minimum as well, noting how temperatures were at lower than average levels during that period.

However, you may notice that the graph ends in the year 2000. What went on with the sunspots after that point? SkepticalScience.com has the answer:

Seem pretty self-explanatory to me. Over the last 35 years, the Earth’s temperature and solar activity have actually diverged. If the sun was indeed the main cause of Earth’s temperature, we should have seen a cooling trend between 2000 and 2008. But we didn’t. Sorry, deniers, but you’re gonna have to do better than that.

Also, the coldest part of the Dalton Minimum, the Year Without a Summer, was directly connected with the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, but that’s neither here nor there.

5. It’s the Urban Heat Island effect, stupid.

The Urban Heat Island effect, or U.H.I., is a phenomenon where areas with a more highly concentrated human population are slightly warmer than rural areas. This is mainly caused by the fact that buildings significantly modify the original land surface, as well as waste heat from things like internal combustion engines and air conditioners.

Given the rapid growth of urban environments after the Industrial Revolution, it’s not hard to see why some may conclude that it is the extra heat produced by these cities that may contribute to warming trends. However, scientists have been careful to include data from stations located far away from human activity. Take this graph gathered from stations in China, for instance:

As you can see, both urban and rural observation stations have recorded almost identical rises in temperature over the last three decades. This is very significant, as China has probably had the most rapid urban growth over the last few decades. If that doesn’t convince you, take a look at this graph, courtesy of NASA:

For reference, the numbers on the bottom show how high the temperature has risen since 1885.

As you can see, the highest rises in temperature have mainly occurred in the Arctic regions and Siberia, which isn’t where most urbanization is occurring nowadays. So yeah, not really convinced by this one either.

6. Polar ice caps/glaciers are recovering.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack with this one, so I’ll split it into three sections, dealing with Antarctica, the Arctic, and glaciers, respectively.

  • Antarctica

Deniers have seized on certain scientific articles suggesting that Antarctica is gaining ice to discredit the warming narrative. What these deniers don’t realize, however, is that these articles are referring to sea ice, not land ice.

This is significant because sea ice has a very negligible effect on rising sea levels, whereas land ice has a very significant effect. Scientists believe that rising sea ice levels are due to a combination of the hole in the ozone layer closing and an increasing rate of meltwater from land ice causing the Southern Ocean to cool.

Yes, you heard, right. More sea ice around Antarctica means less land ice on the continent. Less land ice means less Florida to go around. Got it? Good! Moving on.

  • The Arctic

Meanwhile, Greenland is not gaining ice, as some anecdotal evidence claims, but is, in fact, losing it at seven times the rate it was thirty years ago. True, the melting is mostly limited to coastal regions around the southern part of the island (for now at least), but there is no evidence that the melting will stop as the ice sheet shrinks inland.

As for Arctic sea ice, we also have two different ways of talking about it: first, how far it spreads (aka extent), and second, how thick it is (aka volume). One also has to consider multi-year ice, which has accumulated over time and is thus much thicker than first-year ice. No matter which way you look at it, though, it is clear that sea ice in the Arctic is vanishing, and very rapidly at that.

I have receipts, too.
  • The Glaciers

Finally, let’s discuss the myth that glaciers have gained ice for the first time in 250 years, according to some deniers. While it certainly is true that some glaciers have gained ice in recent years (as in southwestern Norway in the 90s), these are only because of local weather conditions, like increased snowfall. This in no way disproves the overall trend of glaciers melting all over the world.

Again, look at that ratio!

If you would like a less abstract representation of the shrinking glaciers, take a gander at these photos of glaciers in my home country’s Glacier National Park:

Here’s Grinnell Glacier in 1938…
…and here it is (or not) in September of 2015.

More like Glacier-less National Park, am I right?

7. 500/31,000 scientists have refuted the consensus.

Now and again, certain conservative news sites will break stories claiming to have found enough peer-reviewed scientific papers to help shatter the so-called consensus on climate change. For example, the now-defunct American Conservative Daily website claimed in 2007 that it had more than 500 scientific papers that refuted anthropogenic climate change. Of course, close scrutiny revealed that of the ones that actually did do such a thing (which were few and far between), all of them simply repeated myths that had long since been debunked, like the aformentioned sunspot connection.

Of course, 500 is nothing compared to the thirty-one thousand who allegedly signed the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (O.I.S.M.) Petition compiled by Oregon State Representative Art Robinson in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The petition stated in part that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

And sure, 31,000 sounds like a lot, but there are several issues with the petition:

  • The petition had a very lax verification process, allowing pranksters to add Star Wars characters, a member of the Spice Girls, and even Charles Darwin to the list.
  • Petition cards were only sent to U.S. citizens, and 31,000 equates to only around 0.3 percent of all science graduates in the entire U.S.
  • The organizers never revealed how many people they canvassed, thus making the response rate impossible to determine.
  • They also never revealed their sampling methodology, a glaring omission since scientists tend to be sticklers about being transparent in gathering data (and rightly so).
  • O.I.S.M. is not a real scientific institute; Robinson founded it as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit in 1980.
Oh, but don’t worry. Conservative big-wigs have totally stopped the practice of founding fake educational institutions to falsely bolster their arguments.
8. The Medieval Warm Period was warmer.

This argument is one that my grandfather in particular is very fond of. Any time the subject of climate change or global warming pops up, you can almost always expect some variation of the following to come out of his mouth:

What really gets me is that the world was warmer than this during the Middle Ages, and the world didn’t go to hell then.

Grandpa D

For those who aren’t aware, the Medieval Warm Period was a period of time in Europe that lasted from 800-1400 CE, where temperatures were warmer than today. This allowed the colonization of Greenland and North America by the Vikings and increased agricultural production in Northern Europe.

However, this was not the case in all parts of the world during that period. While some other areas of the world also showed higher temperatures during that period (China and parts of North America, for instance), other areas, particularly the tropical Pacific, showed cooler temperatures. If one was to even out all the temperature readings across the globe during that period, we get an average temperature roughly equivalent to what it was in the 1950s.

So, yeah. That one’s off the table.

9. Nature produces more CO2 than man.

The oceans contain 37,400 billion tons (GT) of suspended carbon; land biomass has 2000-3000 GT. The atpmosphere [sic] contains 720 billion tons of CO2 and humans contribute only 6 GT additional load to this balance. The oceans, land, and atpmosphere [again, sic] exchange CO2 continuously so the additional load by humans is incredibly small. A small shift in the balance between oceans and air would cause a CO2 much more severe rise than anything we could produce.

Jeff Id on noconsensus.wordpress.com

If one was to get past the rather poor grammar on Jeff’s comments here, you might think he has a point here. After all, six additional gigatons of CO2 isn’t so bad, right? Right?

But here’s a better question: Where does all that extra CO2 go when it gets in the atmosphere? The I.P.C.C. estimates that about 40% gets absorbed into the ocean and plant life, but the rest just hangs around in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Sure, 6 additional GT’s of CO2 might not seem like much, but if Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life has taught us anything, sometimes it only takes a wafer-thin mint for the whole system to go code Chernobyl.

10. Baby, it’s cold outside.

Okay, now this argument is really fucking stupid. What the hell does one cold day in the Adirondacks region of New York have to do with climate change? It’s local weather patterns versus global climate patterns! One snowy day in New York or Australia or Washington D.C. or wherever the fuck else does not disprove the global warming trend that’s been going on for over half a fucking century now!

Sorry, I got a little tense there for a second. Let me end this with a meme to lighten the mood.


In the end, though, I think the biggest reason why I don’t buy into climate change denialism is simply because of Occam’s razor. Maybe it’s just because I have a really optimistic view of human nature, but I fail to see why scientists would raise such a big stink about anthropogenic climate change unless the data shows that it’s actually happening. Think about it: if all the CO2 we pumped in the air really didn’t affect temperature, then no one would care about what they were pumping into the atmosphere in the first place. We probably wouldn’t have even heard of renewable energy if that was the case.

Not only that, but the Pope, the leaders of Fortune 500 companies, every other government in the developed world, and even the goddamned U.S. military seems to agree with them. I think the only way you could dismiss those kinds of voices is if you believe that our society is becoming something like Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Fortunately, I don’t.

The facts are in. The only provable hypothesis to the question of “What would happen if we pumped a whole bunch of extra CO2 into the atmosphere?” is anthropogenic climate change. We need to act on this information now before it’s too late.


Much love and appreciation to the hardworking folks over at SkepticalScience.com for supplying all of the scientific data for this article. Remember, SkepticalScience.com, for all your denialism debunking needs.

Post-Vacation Update

Hello again, dear viewers.

I just got back from vacation. Don’t worry, my family and I didn’t travel far. We only sent a week in a campground in the same county we live in. I’m pretty sure COVID will be knocking at our door anytime soon. But enough about stuff in my personal life. We need to talk about where I’m taking this blog in the near future.

First, I want to join more social media sites to help spread the word about the blog. I already have a Pinterest account, although I have yet to figure out how to post my blog posts there in the form of a “pin” as of yet. The only other social media app that I feel comfortable joining is Twitter. Sure, Twitter mobs are a thing I’m a bit paranoid about, especially considering my far-left political views and how Jack Dorsey seems a little too comfortable sharing his platform with alt-right demagogues. However, between that and Facebook’s history of privacy invasions, data collection, and political manipulation, I think Twitter is the much safer bet here.

I also still intend to join DeviantArt sometime in the near future so I can share my fiction writing, especially the stuff I have completed on The Divine Conspiracy so far.

I suppose I should also talk about what kind of blog posts you can expect to see in the near future. There are quite a few ideas I have, so I think I will list them all in bullet point format:

  • A blog post detailing my religious beliefs (it was partially my questioning about the nature of God during my college years that inspired The Divine Conspiracy in the first place)
  • A post based on the book Evil: A Guide for the Perplexed by Chad Meiser that examines several explanations (secular or otherwise) for the existence of evil in the world. I thought it would be fun to rank the options presented from least to most favorite.
  • Maybe a post going into how being on the autism spectrum has affected me
  • You might also expect a few posts debunking myths related to certain hot political topics of our time, like man-made climate change, gun control, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.
  • Related to that might be a few posts debunking conspiracy theories like JFK’s assassination, 9/11 Truther beliefs, anti-vaxxer myths, etc.
  • Similar to that would be a few posts dedicated to showing scientific explanations for ghosts, things we could be mistaking for UFOs, reasons why cryptids like Bigfoot, lake monsters, and others probably don’t exist, etc.
  • Finally, I have an idea for an ongoing series where I talk about certain songs that have left an impact on me. As a person who loves music from many different genres, expect a lot of compositions to be discussed.

Of course, this might beg the question of where I might find the time to do all this. Previously, I said that I planned to post once a week, usually on Saturday or Sunday. However, given that I hold a steady job that keeps me occupied for about eight hours three days of the week, I have come to realize that is no longer feasible. Therefore starting at this point, I declare that I will post on this blog every ten days, equating to three blog posts a month.

Three shall be the number of blog posts per month, and the numbers of blog posts per month shall be three. No more, no less. Four posts shalt thou not expect, nor shalt thou expect two posts a month, excepting that thou then preceedeth to three. Five is right out. One the third blog post is reached, being the third of that month…

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Anyway, I hope that leaves you with a better understanding of where this blog will stand going forward. Have a wonderful rest of your summer, wash your hands, wear a mask, and for the love of God, do not vote for Trump in November!

An Introduction to “The Divine Conspiracy”: My Biggest Writing Project

Logo created using the Endor font on fontmeme.com. It is a placeholder, though, so it is subject to change.

My relationship with the world of fictional literature has been a rather strange one, to say the least. During my childhood and well into my high school years, I had little to no interest in fiction writing. Most of the fictional literature I encountered during this period was read to me, either by my mother (e.g., Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia) or one of my teachers (e.g., James and the Giant Peach, The Spiderwick Chronicles). I did read some fictional stories of my own accord. Two particular franchises I remember enjoying were the Magic Tree House series and the Bailey School Kids.

Does anyone else remember these books, or is it just me?

Overall, my reading time was mostly taken up reading nonfiction books that covered whatever topic my Aspergian brain was focused on at the time (dinosaurs, the Titanic, cryptozoology, American history, etc.).

But then, as I’ve talked about elsewhere, Watership Down happened, and I decided I wanted to major in creative writing in college. Since then, much of my creative energy has been spent on creating my own fantasy universe. This story I am writing has been the culmination of all my childhood interests in myth, legend, the occult, and my later interests in religion, esoteric spiritualities, and the worldbuilding of speculative fiction titans like J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft. So let’s talk about it.

The Basic Premise

The Divine Conspiracy centers on a pair of fraternal twins, Ariel and Ronan Banks, who were born with unique magical powers. Ariel specializes in healing magic, conventional spell casting, spirit channeling, and practically every psychic ability you can think of (telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, empathic abilities, precognition, even teleportation). Ronan specializes in spirit conjuration, alchemical transmutation, mind control, invisibility, intangibility, and a temporary ability to copy others’ powers. They have also learned the same “bending” abilities practiced by the characters in one of their favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender, although Ariel is better at water and air while Ronan is better at earth and fire.

They inherited these abilities from their mother, a succubus sent from Hell to help with a plot to assassinate the twins’ grandparents, Vincent and Frances, who worked for a secret society descended from the Knights Templar that investigates the supernatural and vanquishes malignant threats. Fortunately, she ended up falling in love with their son, Peter, instead. She renounced her ties to the Underworld, took the name Rhiannon, and became an agent with the Knights alongside Peter.

Sadly, Hell’s wrath caught up with her ten years later, and she was killed. The story proper begins two years afterward. As the twins struggle to cope with her loss, they too end up joining the Knights. As they learn more and more about their powers’ true nature, they also learn that they may be the key to redressing the imbalance of dark and light magic that has plagued their universe ever since Satan’s rebellion against God. But they also must avoid the temptations of the hellish forces of the Underworld, who want to turn them into soldiers of darkness and secure their supremacy over Heaven, Earth, and all of their inhabitants.

The Conflict

The conflict that Ariel and Ronan find themselves caught in the middle of is an ancient one spanning the breadth of Creation itself. Numerous godlike entities are in a pitched battle to win the right to do whatever they want with Creation. Some want to preserve the life that already exists there. Others want to enslave the lifeforms for their own ends. Still, others don’t know or don’t care about their existence and would gladly bowl them over to satisfy their own whims. It will become Ariel and Ronan’s job to eventually heal the divide between the factions so that humanity’s future can be a healthy and prosperous one.

In all, four magical factions are vying for control of the Divine Conspiracy universe. I ended up basing their characteristics on the four classical elements, which seemed appropriate considering the story is about ancient gods and demons awakening from their slumber in the present day to continue their destructive conflicts. All four factions have unique characteristics to their form of magic that symbolize their desires and personalities.

Representing the water element are the Lovecraftian Outer Gods and their children and grandchildren, the Archons (aka Great Old Ones).

Think regular tentacle rape is bad? How ’bout a guy who can tentacle rape the ENTIRE UNIVERSE?!

I copied all of them directly from H.P. Lovecraft’s work (Azathoth, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, etc.), which I can do since his works have long since entered the public domain. I chose water to represent them for two reasons. The first is that, much like water, Lovecraft’s gods had no definite shape and can endlessly shift between different forms. The second is that water is the element of change and adaptation, slowly sculpting the Earth’s surface over millennia until the landscape is unrecognizable. The eldritch gods behave in the same manner toward the universe, treating it as an artistic canvas to shape as they wish, no matter how many civilizations get wiped out in the process.

Representing the element of air is the other side of the coin; God and His angels.

Were just like bronies up here, ’cause we will love and tolerate the shit out of you!

Air is the element of freedom and imagination, certainly befitting a benevolent supreme deity who created the known universe and gave its inhabitants free will. The God of this universe is forever linked to the eldritch supreme deity Azathoth, His twin brother. This is not necessarily bad, as the tension between the two keeps the universe healthy and functional. Unfortunately, the balance between light and dark has skewed toward darkness almost since the beginning, thanks to a particular angel who became a megalomaniac.

That angel was, indeed, Lucifer, or Satan as he is now more commonly known, and he and the legions of Hell he commands are represented by the element of… well, guess.

Wait, come back! We haven’t carried out the proper torture for talking in the movie theater yet!

Fire is the element of power and desire, fitting for a despotic fallen angel who wants to take over all of Creation and turn all mortal souls into his slaves. But not all demons share this goal. Indeed, as Ariel and Ronan will soon discover, there some demons who would much rather leave Hell’s bounds and return to their Heavenly Father’s side.

Finally, there are the magical races of the Earth, which tend to be divided into two groups. First are the Half-Fallen Angels, made up of several legions who abandoned Satan’s army before they were sent to Hell and ended up settling on Earth instead. God granted them stewardship over the universe, and they would eventually evolve into the Watchers, the pagan gods, and the fay (i.e., fairies, elves, dwarves, household spirits, etc.)

They may look cute, but don’t fuck with their forest, ’cause they will fuck with you twice as hard.

The second is the elemental spirits formed out of the magical energies already present in the Earth when it was created. These include undines (spirits of water, also known as nymphs), gnomes (spirits of the earth), sylphs (spirits of air), and dragons (spirits of fire) (Giants, while also spirits of the Earth, tend to be classified apart from elemental spirits due to their immense magical powers). Together they represent earth, the element of substance and strength. They are steadfast protectors of the Earth and all its inhabitants, human and otherwise, facing the future and their adversaries with ironclad resolve.

The interesting thing about Ariel and Ronan’s magic, though, is that their’s doesn’t neatly match up with any of the other four’s characteristics. Indeed, many of Peter’s fellow Templar Knights theorize that their magic may be a completely new strain analogous to the elusive fifth classical element, aether. Also known as spirit or quintessence, this element was what the alchemists and occultists of old believed made up Heaven itself. In the Divine Conspiracy universe, aether is also what makes up the energy that manifests in the physical universe whenever magic is used. It is the element that all the others came from, the great unifier if you will, which befits Ariel and Ronan’s ultimate goal.

A Brief Summary of Each Character

Before I proceed, let me issue a disclaimer. None of the images in this section that I will be using to represent my characters have been in any way commissioned by me. In fact, some are characters from previously established intellectual properties. I have used them here to represent best how the characters look in my head. I will be giving credit to the artists and links to their pages whenever possible. So with that, let me tell you a little something about the Divine Conspiracy’s main cast.

Image Credit: “green eye girl” by DoodleLucyArt

Ariel Aisling Banks is twelve years old and the youngest of the Banks family (Ronan beat her by about five minutes). She is a timid and reserved girl, with barely any friends outside Ricky Sandoval (more on him later). This is mainly because she falls on the autism spectrum. But what she lacks in social skills, she makes up for in artistic creativity. She thinks she may have mild hypergraphia, certainly not to a pathological extent, but enough that she has had a compulsion to write as much as she can about her day in her diaries since about the age of five. She also is a very adept artist, usually painting images she sees in her often vivid dreams. Unfortunately, these images have taken a much darker, borderline apocalyptic turn ever since her mother’s death.

Clip from the “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime featuring Wrath (one of my inspirations for Ronan’s appearance)

Ronan Diarmuid Banks is pretty much the opposite of his sister in every way. Whereas Ariel is meek and reserved, Ronan is often brash and impatient. This may be thanks to bullies being a lifelong problem for both of them, making Ronan feel like he needed to become a hard-ass to protect his little sister. This might also be because of his boatload of mental disorders, including dyslexia, AD/HD, and bipolar disorder. He also has artistic urges like his sister, although he is much more into music and is already a whiz at guitar. He’s also been growing his hair out for the last five years to emulate his heavy metal idols, much to his grandfather’s annoyance.

Before you ask, no, I’m not a gamer. I just think something similar to Frisk’s design really suits Ricky (art
drawn by pekou).

Ricardo “Ricky” Sandoval is Ariel and Ronan’s best friend, having known them since kindergarten. He, like Ronan, is also a warrior against the local school bullies. Unlike his half-demon friend’s brawny intimidation tactics, he’s more of a prankster, using cunning and trickery to get back at his foes. He is also a musician, although he prefers the bass guitar, and has a lovely singing voice. While he seems human at first glance, Ariel and Ronan quickly learn early in the story that he is actually an elf and is the adopted son of the king and queen of the Seelie Court of fairies.

Before you ask, no, I’m not basing Peter Banks’ looks on Daniel Day-Lewis because I want him to play Peter.

Peter Vincent Banks is a former heavy metal guitarist who joined his parent’s secret society alongside Rhiannon after the twins’ birth. He became something of a renaissance man during the following decade. He and Rhiannon continued touring with the band while simultaneously doing their duty as parents and keeping up their job as secret agents. Peter also wrote several books on paranormal skepticism, doing his part to deprive the demonic forces of their favorite food: human fear. However, after Rhiannon’s death, he left the band and became more focused on his secret agent work. He has had battles with depression and substance abuse in the past, which he has found harder to deal with after losing Rhiannon.

Of course, there are a lot more characters present in the work. There’s Peter’s parents, Vincent (a paraplegic Vietnam vet who runs a horse farm with his wife) and Frances (who daylights as a psychotherapist). There’s Walton Abernathy, the deputy director of the modern-day Knights Templar, who is personal friends with the Banks family. There’s also Cillian and Deirdre Beckett, Ricky’s parents, better known in the fairy world that they rule over as Finvarra and Oonagh (or Oberon and Titania if you’re into Shakespeare). And there’s also Ariel and Ronan’s familiar spirits, respectively, a Maine Coon named Jem and a border collie named Scout. However, I feel that this post has gone on long enough, so I think I’ll move on to the concluding section.

Plans for the Story’s Future

My biggest desire is to make The Divine Conspiracy into an animated TV series, eventually, but that pipe dream is definitely a long way down the line. For now, I plan to post what writings I have finished on the story (as well as my other fiction writing) on DeviantArt. I’ve decided that I want to start my account sometime after I come back from my annual family camping trip at the end of next week (as well as a Twitter account to maybe increase this site’s exposure). I know a vacation may sound like a bad idea given that the coronavirus is still on the loose, but who knows? My corner of the state hasn’t had a lot of cases so far. I’m safe, right? Right?! Either way, my parents wouldn’t listen to me if I tried to convince them otherwise, so fuck it, I guess.

Sorry, tangent. Anyway, I hope to hear your feedback on what I have on this tale of mine so far. I’m really looking forward to this project’s future. Stay safe out there, my friends!

A Beginner’s Guide to Anarchism (And How I Discovered It)

“Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with; not the social-Darwinist economic “libertarianism” of the far-right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solitary, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories.”- Ursula K. Le Guin, Forward to “The Day Before the Revolution,” The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

There is probably no political philosophy in history that has been so thoroughly and completely misunderstood as anarchism. As with virtually every leftist philosophy, this is especially true in America. Ask any average Joe in my home country what anarchism is and what its adherents believe. Chances are that the answer will be something like this:

Basically, a bunch of people who have no real beliefs besides 1) total abolishment of all government and 2) everyone being free to do whatever the hell they want free from consequences.

Of course, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. As I have discovered the past several months, anarchism is actually a vibrant philosophy with very sophisticated ways of operating a socialist society that doesn’t suffer the centralized bureaucracies of places like Soviet Russia. Indeed, I have come to believe that this “libertarian socialism,” as some call it, might be the only way forward as capitalism slowly begins to collapse under its own weight. But first, a little of my personal history.

My Political History (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Support Socialism)

Back in the years when I was still, as my grandfather calls it, a “brain-dead teenager,” I used to think that Glenn Beck was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He exposed me to shocking revelations about people like Barack Obama, George Soros, and Van Jones who were ruining our country with lies about global warming, systemic racism, and the need to redistribute wealth so they could undermine American freedoms. I loved tuning in every weekday at 5 to watch his entertaining deconstructions of everything that was consuming America from within like a gangrenous cancer. I even borrowed his novel The Overton Window as soon as it made its way to my local library. It seemed I was well on my way to becoming a full red-blooded Trump-supporting constitutional conservative like my father and his father before.

That skinned knee you got from tripping on the sidewalk? Obama’s fault! That bee that stung you on the eyelid? Cass Sunstein sent it! People in your family say be nice to liberals? Mind control devices funded by Soros!

But then Beck left his daily show on Fox News in June of 2011, and I didn’t follow him onto the Internet where he continued his show. I did follow his online newspaper The Blaze for a little while, but I didn’t really know where to watch his new show, so I just drifted apart from him. I stopped paying attention to politics except whenever Dad ranted about something Obama did that pissed him off. Then I rediscovered Watership Down during my senior year of high school and decided to dedicate my following college tenure to honing my writing talents. Throughout much of my college tenure, I kept my center-right beliefs, safe in the knowledge that America would always remain the greatest country in the world.

Then everything changed when the MAGA nation attacked.

I really have nothing to add. The caption above sums him up perfectly.

I didn’t leap to full-blown leftism immediately upon Trump’s election. It was a rather gradual process that didn’t complete itself until about a year after I graduated. I spent a rather large part of this period as a “social liberal, fiscal conservative” (i.e., right-wing libertarian) because while I found pretty much all conservative views on social issues like abortion, drug policy, criminal justice, and LGBTQ+ rights to be morally repugnant, I was still under the impression that the only economic alternative to capitalism was Soviet-style communism.

However, my pathological need to hear some of my favorite personalities on YouTube dunk on Trump eventually led me to the so-called “Breadtube” or “Lefttube” creators, who began introducing me to left-leaning philosophies that differed from the Soviet dystopia that Glenn Beck warned me that all leftists wanted to turn the U.S. into. The turning point for me came when Leon Thomas of Renegade Cut recommended a book called After Capitalism on a comment to one of his videos. Although he didn’t really specify which one he was talking about, I ended up choosing the one authored by Dada Mahesvarananda, which blew me away. And it’s all been downhill since.

But enough about me. Let’s actually talk about what anarchism is.

Why Anarchists Believe the Current System Blows

In contrast to its chaotic public perception, anarchism is really libertarian socialism, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist systems of places like Soviet Russia, Maoist China, and present-day North Korea. Whereas those places pretend to be collectivist societies while placing all economic and political decisions in a governing elite’s hands, anarchism proposes to place trust in the individual to make those decisions. You know, what American libertarianism pretends to do while actually handing power over to ruthless multinational corporations whose CEOs take all the profits for themselves while underpaying their workers and taking every loophole they can to avoid paying taxes?

Like this Gargamel-looking motherfucker right here?

“But how exactly do you anarchists propose to do that?” you might ask skeptically.

An anarchist society at its core rejects unjust hierarchies like the ones that have formed under capitalism. In their view, capitalism is inherently unjust because it naturally leads to a tiny number of people gathering an obscenely large amount of wealth.

Plus, an obscenely large amount of those lucky people happen to be white, which is… suspicious, to say the least.

Conservatives will argue that all that wealth is justified because they believe that more money in the rich’s hands means more money to invest in new business ideas. I remember Glenn Beck in particular (in his book Arguing with Idiots) comparing it to a mountain where water trickles down from the snowy top to sustain people’s villages below. Pretty nice metaphor, Glenn, but what happens when the rich decide to dam up that water so they can store it in tax havens and gamble it in the stock market instead of, you know, actually paying their workers?!

Seriously, what’s what the rich people of this world are. They’re like Immortan Joe from Max Max: Fury Road.

“Do not become addicted to water, my friends! It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!”

And do you know what all that money buys? Politicians, who will do whatever you want for all those sweet, sweet campaign donations. Want to build an oil pipeline that cuts through Native American land? Boom, done! Want to stop an uppity leftist political party from undermining your business prospects in a foreign country? Send in the military! Want to convince people that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? You literally have all the money in the world! What the hell is stopping you?

Speaking of which, environmental devastation is also an inevitable consequence of a system like capitalism that is constantly seeking infinite growth in a finite system. The big multinationals are either too lazy or too uncaring to move away from oil and other nonrenewable resources because they have become increasingly averse to risk. That’s a big reason why they invest money in the stock market instead of new business ventures: most new businesses end up failing, so why risk losing money on something that probably won’t go anywhere?

All of this adds up to pretty much everything that’s wrong with the world right now. Politicians are spending massive amounts of money on military interventions to satisfy their corporate backers’ whims. All that money ($721.5 billion, last time I checked) adds to our national debt ($25 trillion, last time I checked), which undermines our economic stability. Meanwhile, Congress passes tax cuts on the wealthiest individuals so they can steal more money from people who actually need it.

Poverty grows, and with it, crime. And instead of actually fixing the social problems that led to that increase in crime in the first place, America takes the easy way out by throwing them all in prison. And since prisons in this country are shitholes, they do not rehabilitate criminals. They just make them more violent and antisocial. Plus, America has a deeply racist past that it has failed to face up to time and time again, so about 60% of the male prison population consists of black and Hispanic men.

And the right wonders why we want a change.

How Anarchism Proposes to Fix It

But enough about how capitalism sucks. Why don’t we answer the real question here that I intended to answer in the last section but then got sidetracked by my anti-capitalist screed, which is this: What do anarchists believe is the best system to replace it?

That is, admittedly, kind of a tricky question for two reasons. The first is that no true anarchist society has managed to survive for a long period of time. This isn’t because of any flaws in the systems themselves. Usually, it’s because an outside power came along and destroyed it. Probably the most famous anarchist society was founded in Catalonia, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War. That one only lasted three years before the fascist government of Francisco Franco and Soviet volunteers sent by Josef Stalin crushed it in February 1939.

The Bolshevik revolutionaries also dismantled several worker-owned collectives in Russia in the wake of the 1917 overthrow of Nicholas II, including the Makhnovia Free Territory in Ukraine because it would not submit to the U.S.S.R.’s authoritarian regime. French troops also crushed the famous Paris Commune of 1871 in May of that year. Many indigenous tribes around the world also operated on what could be described in hindsight as anarchist principles until white European imperialists came along and “civilized” them.

The second reason is that many anarchists favor an experimental approach to forming new societies. I think Noam Chomsky put it best in response to an interview question in which he was asked what kind of society he would establish to replace capitalism:

I think that the economic institutions ought to be run democratically-by their participants and by the communities in which they live. And I think that through various forms of free association and federalism, it’s possible to imagine a society that works like that. I mean, I don’t think you can lay it out in detail- nobody’s smart enough to design a society; you’ve got to experiment. But reasonable principles on which to build such a society are quite clear.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

What exactly are those principles? In Pyotr Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread (often considered the Bible of libertarian socialism), he argues for two main principles that an anarchist society should be based on; mutual aid and voluntary cooperation. This entails the flattening of all unjust hierarchies into a decentralized, egalitarian social order. Anarchists propose to achieve this via popular assemblies and worker-controlled cooperative enterprises.

Indeed, this is in every way the complete opposite of the “government should be run like a business” philosophy of many conservatives. In fact, many anarchists would argue that businesses should be run like the government. Wouldn’t it be amazing if workers were able to vote out their supervisors instead of simply suffering under incompetent or capricious ones?

Mr. Spacely, you’re fired!

Another way of explaining the basic philosophy of anarchism can be found in this essay from the website The Anarchist Library, which lists the tenants of anarchism as an escalating “if X then Y” statement that goes like this:

If mankind is born free, then slavery is murder. If slavery is murder, then property is theft. If property is theft, then government is tyranny. If government is tyranny, then anarchy is liberty.

Albert Meltzer, Anarchism: Arguments for and against

I should probably clarify that anarchism does not view all governments as tyrannical or even all hierarchies as unjust. Indeed, it would be hard to argue that, say, the captain of a ship doesn’t deserve his or her authority over their less experienced crew.

You know, mateys, it occurs to me that maybe we shouldn’t have replaced the captain with a cabin boy who didn’t know how fucking steering wheels worked!

An anarchist government would probably be similar to the US Congress but on a much smaller scale. Societies would no longer be organized into countries. Rather, they would form into communes with a maximum population of about 10,000 each. These communes would be further divided into about 70 wards, with each sending two representatives to the commune’s governing council. This would result in a governing council totaling 150 representatives.

This model is based on the studies of anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who studied various human societies and how they were organized. He argues that the maximum number of humans that can successfully work together is 150.

Why is it limited at 150? The answer is twofold, actually. Partly, it’s a cognitive challenge just to keep track of more people. The other side of this is a time budgeting problem. You just don’t have time in everyday life to invest in each of those people to the extent where you can have a real relationship with them.

Robin Dunbar

Another reason for this relatively small number is because issues with trust and familiarity tend to arise in larger groups.

Of course, communes can also join together in unions of communes, including millions or even billions of people. This is similar to the various cooperative enterprises that multinational corporations enter into under capitalism. Of course, the difference is that those cooperatives only help the capitalist class’ profits while anarchist cooperatives would work for the social welfare of everyone.

How Anarchist Workers Would… Well, Work

Unlike a capitalist workplace where a person is held under the whim of a boss who can fire you for basically any reason he or she can think of, an anarchist workplace would seek mutual aid for all parties. No person would be able to wield power over another.

Money would be abolished in favor of contracts. A new member joining an anarchist commune would make a contract with that commune, agreeing to perform a rotating series of jobs in return for life’s basic necessities. No one would be stuck in a single soul-sucking job for their entire life like they are under capitalism. A commune member will alternate relatively normal jobs like desk work and construction with the kind of stuff you’d see on Dirty Jobs, both to break up the monotony and out of fairness to the rest of the commune.

Last month I was cleaning out restrooms at the local Dairy Queen. Next month I get to work at the local Ben & Jerry’s stand.

This system would not just uphold traditional human rights like freedom of speech and religion. Anarchists also believe in positive human rights, meaning that every human being is entitled to have their material needs met in full. This includes everything we humans need to survive, like food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, running water, healthcare, Internet, etc. Any commune member would receive this through the form of a reasonable contribution, like working a maximum of 5 hours a day and participation in the local government, barring any physical, mental, or developmental disabilities or personal circumstances.

Naturally, a capitalist might balk at these ideas, accusing anarchists of rewarding lazy people who won’t work. Of course, the anarchists would argue that that argument stems from the Protestant work ethic, which states that being a hard worker means you are valuable in the eyes of God, something that certainly wouldn’t fly in a more secular anarchist society. They would also argue that the widespread laziness that conservatives decry in modern society is actually a product of capitalism. As those who struggle to keep up with the system eventually give up as they realize that they will never reap the rewards, they turn either to crime or the hikikomori lifestyle as a result.

This anarchist overhauling of the workplace would also help eliminate what anthropologist David Graeber rather bluntly calls “bullshit jobs” in his 2018 book of the same name. These “bullshit jobs,” like receptionists, telemarketers, lobbyists, survey administrators, and others, came about as a result of capitalism twisting the benefits of automation to their own ends, Graeber says. In contrast, an anarchist system would utilize automation in a way that helps take the burden off the working man, reducing his or her workday so that he or she has more time for leisure.

Anarchist Police and Military

As stated above, police officers are not the heroic defenders of the innocent that capitalist propaganda portrays them as. Rather, they are defenders of the capitalist hegemony, punching down at those who wish to change the system while protecting white-collar criminals from prosecution.

Something that has become all too obvious at the time I’m writing this.

Anarchists propose a policing system based on these four principles: harm prevention, emergency response, forensics, and rehabilitation over revenge.

Harm prevention means preventing crimes before they happen by curing the social ills that cause them, like income inequality and a lack of social capital.

Emergency response will be needed to deal with sudden and unexpected acts of violence that will certainly be inevitable given the centuries of oppression and coercion that have preceded this current century.

Forensics will be essential in helping to solve violent crimes like murder and sexual assault.

And finally, rehabilitation over revenge means getting rid of prisons, where 2.3 million Americans are now detained, half of them due to drug offenses, non-violent or otherwise.

My grandfather has stated his belief that prisons should be places that you never want to go back to, that they need to be Hell on Earth because, otherwise, the prisoner gets so comfortable that they commit crimes upon release so that they can get back in. However, anyone who knows anything about human behavior would realize that it’s those harsh conditions that cause recidivism, not humanitarian aid.

Have not prisons- which kill at will and force of character in men, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met with in any spot on the globe- always been the universities of crime? Is not the court of a tribunal a school of ferocity?

Pyotr Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal

Again, though, America’s single-minded focus on individuality and personal responsibility means that all crime is viewed as a moral failing rather than a social illness.

Anarchists instead propose a law enforcement system that focuses on education and psychotherapy instead of vengeance and torture. They want to work with the criminal to understand why they did what they did instead of just locking them away and being done with it.

Of course, there will still be special hospitals for the Ted Bundys of the world who commit crimes out of incurable mental or biological defects rather than social ills.

As for the military, anarchists propose a service based on voluntary contracts rather than coercive drafts. Of course, hierarchy would be necessary for the military like it is now, but officers would be voted out if they abused their power.

George Orwell describes an anarchist military based on his experiences fighting for the anarcho-syndicalists of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War:

The essential point of the system was social equality between officers and men. Everyone from the general to the private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the commanding general on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it was curious. In theory, at any rate, each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy… Of course, there was no perfect equality, but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or that I would have thought conceivable in time of war.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Other models for an anarchist military might include the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, Rojava’s freedom fighters, and many others.

At the most basic level, anarchists think both the military and police departments should operate more like the fire department. After all, firefighters don’t constantly patrol the streets looking for fires that might start. So why are the police doing the same with crime?

Art and Luxury Under Anarchism

Before I end this essay, I want to talk about art and luxury and how they might be achieved under anarchism.

Once again, capitalists may balk at such a suggestion. We’ve never had so much luxury under any other system, they might say. Did communism ever give their citizens king-size mattresses or pearl necklaces? Pyotr Kropotkin highlights similar critiques in chapter 9 of The Conquest of Bread:

How will men act in a society, whose members are properly fed, to satisfy certain individuals desirous of possessing a piece of Sevres china or a velvet dress?

Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

If one was to replace “Sevres china” and “velvet dress” with, say, “PlayStation 4” or “iPhone,” you basically get what criticism of anarchist or any other leftist ideology might look like today.

Similarly, capitalists ask how artists would create art under a system that lacks capitalism’s nonconformist nature. They either don’t realize or don’t care about the fact that capitalism breeds its own form of conformity.

This type of conformity makes itself very clear in the realm of art and science. An artist can create art only if they have a lot of capital or are willing to sell their art to those who have the capital to commodify it as they see fit. Art as pure expression has no place in this system.

One can try to join a neoliberal type “artistic improvement program,” but those usually focus on making the art more “marketable,” i.e., more palatable to the capitalist class. One can also go independent, but that would put you in a more financially precarious position unless you are willing to still work within market trends.

As for science, capitalism stymies that too, if any scientific innovations that happen under its watch are innovations they cannot profit from. For example, pharmaceutical companies will only fund drugs that they can profit from. Tech companies tend to focus on profit problems instead of technical ones. In particular, Uber notoriously stole workers from one of the nation’s top robotics labs to make better self-driving cars.

Replace “Heaven” with “underground lab,” and you have my theory of how Uber got them in the first place.

Most humans agree that we need art, entertainment, and scientific innovation to be truly happy. As Breadtuber Angie Speaks says:

…art serves a higher purpose that fulfills the abstract spiritual needs of human nature, but cannot be quantified by its material merit.

Angie Speaks, Dadaism: Art as a Political Weapon
A Youtuber who talks leftist politics and esoteric spirituality? Sign me up!

Meeting material but not spiritual needs in humans works something like locking them up in solitary confinement. Sure, we give the prisoner materials to stay alive, but eventually, the solitude reduces them to caged and mentally unstable animals.

Capitalism, driven by the Protestant work ethic, seeks to make sure that whatever little free time the worker has is spent resting and or preparing for the next day’s work. While capitalism usually provides physical needs to those who work, it leaves little to no time for the worker to explore their own subjective needs. The Protestant work ethic stipulates that the act of just goofing off and having fun is a waste of time and a sin in the eyes of God. But it’s not! It’s a vital concern for any society to survive and thrive.

In the end, capitalism is so focused on profit that the worker’s identity is often reduced to how they make their money. It makes us waste our time on jobs we care little to nothing about instead of things we would much rather be doing, like spending time with our families, for instance.

No doubt, nowadays, when hundreds and thousands of human beings are in need of bread, coal, clothing, and shelter, luxury is a crime; to satisfy it the worker’s child must go without bread! But in a society in which all can eat sufficiently the needs which we consider luxuries today will be the more keenly felt.

Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

Anarchists propose that artist/scientist-owned organizations not beholden to any larger government agency or corporation are the solution. Their members will be working members of the anarchist commune who pursue literature, musicianship, printing, painting, engraving, etc. They all pursue a common aim- the propagation of ideas that are dear to them.

The worker will discharge first his task in the field, the factory, and so on, which he owes to society as his contribution to the general production. And he will employ the second half to his day, his week, his year, to satisfy his artistic or scientific needs, or his hobbies. Thousands of societies will spring up to gratify every taste and every possible fancy.

Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

Of course, capitalists would argue that certain people are just naturally destined to work all their lives in fields or sweatshops. If geniuses were equally distributed among all social classes in all nations, they say, then the system would surely recognize that talent and lift them out of their poverty. And yet none seem to show up in the inner city ghettos or the developing nations of the world.

However, these capitalists fail to recognize that it is not an inherent flaw in these people’s nature that keeps them in poverty. It’s the centuries of systemic racism that many countries (America especially) have failed to deal with properly. I think Stephen Jay Gould puts it best:

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Stephen Jay Gould, “Wide hats and narrow minds,” New Scientist, March 8th, 1977 (pg. 777)
Conclusion

I hope, by now, I have made my case that better things are possible in a world beyond capitalism. I especially hope that I’ve convinced you that there is far more to socialist philosophy than what capitalist propaganda would have us believe. Make no mistake: capitalism is going to end someday, just like feudalism did before it. At this point, we have only two choices in the future: socialism and fascism.

If you don’t believe me, try replacing “Muslims” with “Jews” every time you hear Trump mention them.

Do we flatten the unjust hierarchies that have ruled over us for centuries, as leftists like myself want? Or do we double down on them even as they spiral further and further into chaos and discord, thus letting the capitalists rule over us forevermore?

I don’t know about you, but I think more happiness and less poverty is a good thing. A life of luxury and leisure is possible for more than just the privileged few. As Pyotr “Bread Santa” Kropotkin says once again in The Conquest of Bread:

We see that the worker compelled to struggle painfully for bare existence is reduced to ignorance of these higher delights, the highest within man’s reach, of science, and especially of scientific discovery; of art, and especially of artistic creation. It is in order to obtain these joys for all, which are now reserved for the few; in order to give leisure and the possibility of developing intellectual capacities, that the social revolution must guarantee daily bread to all. After the bread has been secured, leisure is the supreme aim.

Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
Ho! Ho! Ho! And what do you want for Christmas, my little comrade?

Of course, Bread Santa’s book was only one of the inspirations that helped me write this piece. Emerican Johnson of the YouTube channel Non Compete was the one who really made this possible, as he explained anarchist societies better than anyone else I’d listened to over the years in his How Anarchism Works playlist.

If exploitation could be taken out of the equation, everyone could have a lot more fun. If we weren’t living so precariously close to financial ruin, we would all have much better faculties and much higher expectations for enjoying life.

Emerican Johnson, How do Anarchists LUXURY? How Anarchism Works Part 5
Before you ask, yes, that is his real name, as far as I can tell. Don’t ask why, I’m not his parents.

While his work wasn’t as big an influence on this article, I still want to give a shout-out to Matt from Thought Slime, who has been a major help in demystifying anarchist philosophy for me. Also, he has a segment on his show called “The Eyeball Zone,” which showcases small leftist projects on YouTube and elsewhere, which he thinks deserve more attention. So that’s pretty cool.

Pictured here on a Non Compete thumbnail (he’s the one in the middle if you couldn’t tell).

And that’s all I have to say about that, folks. Next time, I’ll talk about my own artistic endeavor I’ve been working on in the last few years; an epic urban fantasy/horror saga called The Divine Conspiracy. Until then, stay safe, take care, and death to capitalism!