The Social Cell: Conspiracy & Religion in Society

THE SOCIAL CELL:


I

Conspiracy theories and social mythology are not a recent phenomena, nor invented to make the most enlightened of unemployed internet connoisseurs look “ridiculous”. The world isn’t about you, Mark. Conspiracy theories, government plots, back door dealings, high profile deaths, have been a part of many societies, and in the histories of many peoples. English Students are no doubt familiar with Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. What might be less familiar is the social climate in which the play was written. There was a long secession crisis during the 1560s1 and the possibility of civil war was very real2. With no heir and obvious successor, it’s not hard to imagine that Elizabeth I sensed plots all around her, with the Parliament standing in for the senators of Rome in Shakespeare’s drama. There were plots all around Elizabeth I, denounced by the Pope as a heretic, there were factions underground in Rome, France, and Spain, all intent on putting Mary Steward on the throne.3

        The interesting thing about the way conspiracies is in how they motivate people. Conspiracy theory is a popular, secular mythography. In ancient cultures, beliefs and cultural identity came from traditions, traditions in storytelling or ritual. Of particular interest is how the Greek and Roman historical myths came together to form a social cell. Heads of state capitalized on the popularity of these traditions: Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s national epic the Aeneid, as recorded by Livy.4 Virgil’s Aeneid also gives the Roman people a virtuous civic model, in Aeneas, someone to be admired for his personal sacrifices for the great good of Rome.4

        A civilization is more properly a social cell, and its interaction between other cultures and social cells determines its growth or diminishment. Historically, an organized society as a social cell has survived by overtaking smaller, undefended social cells, or cells that are pre-social, or in the process of an establishing, social myth. Conspiracy theorists have branched off from their parent social cell, either out of foundational failures of individual trust, or the failure for a cultural construct to ensure the contentment of all its individual parts. A conspiratorial group, with specific aims and intents, can overturn a parent cell and replace it with a new, more motivational alternative ideal.

II

INTERSOCIAL MYTHMAKING

Oral literature refers to traditions of storytelling that survive through cultural tradition and word of mouth before being written down. Roman myths, such as the Aeneid, inspire citizens, with the courage of their warriors and the nobility of their deeds. These ideas of heroes and traitors were a model of social behavior, and the traditions they represent was an inexorable part of the national identity and social conscience. Though Rome, as a social cell, did absorb and take on the Greek traditions and mythology, many of them were given a unique Roman flavor. The creation myth remains the same, though the names change. Greek heroes like Odysseus and Achilles struggle against their personal limitations and learn from their failures to become better people, to grow, to look at the pillars differently, as Gilgamesh did upon returning to Uruk in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Odysseus’ struggles to return home, though it gives him added appreciation for home, and the comforts of hearth and family, of domestic calm and marital tranquility. While Greek heroes are models of behavior and virtue by their personal quests, Roman heroes were distinctly nationalistic, fiercely loyal to their great city of Rome.1

        What myth offered pre-scientific revolution societies were explanations for what they otherwise saw as inexplicable or unsettling. Any force beyond control capable of disturbing social order like famine or natural disasters, if the social cell is wiped out, its mythology is often survived by a microbe of a social cell, one of an individual bound by family and tradition, each of which works as a coping device against the uncertainties of change. By finding a non-personal social idea, it is all that is sometimes left of large and once prosperous communities. Clinging to the notion of tradition is a sense of permanence, giving us footing in a world of harsh conditions, in times of scarcity and plague.

        A given social pantheon could be considered the anthropomorphic library of human faces projected onto abstract forces of nature. Concepts of the seasons are given personality and intent; faces for river gods or names for the god of thunderstorms. We see the sea swells eddied on by Poseidon’s great trident. And winter was explained as Demeter’s despair, knowing her daughter Persephone, is bound for a season in the underworld.2 Autumn comes and plants die; trees become barren and the leaves fall away. This was a personal relationship of interactive social forces. 

        For the Norse they saw an avalanche of boulders and rock as the rumblings of giants.3 Sometimes those boulders would take out entire settlements, leaving a few microbes behind; sometimes they had almost starved before they could plant again. There were great quarrels between powerful, unimaginable forces, throwing the contentment of daily rhythms into disarray, portending the end of the world, Ragnarok, armageddon, etc. It's not about you, Mark. 

        Cultures of great scarcity have severe gods, but to be a part of that curiosity of what’s behind the skin and motivational factors we give to the forces of nature, humanity’s endurance in times of great confusion and chaos is reflected in the horrors of their myth, the monsters they despised, more accurately a representation of them as a social people than of abstract nature, then. To give randomness over to a personality, benevolent or malevolent, frightening shapes are less frightening than the shapeless. And we project onto it, sometimes our worst, sometimes our best, which determines the character of the surviving social cell as a social people; a. A people who understand their fellows, empathize with them and laugh, talk about the great myths and legends and take strength from the cunning goddess Athena, or inspiration from the deeds of Heracles. Sharing a mythology and culture of consistency among people is the sharing of thought, and social thinking, connecting an individual’s misfortunes with that of the social cell, motivating itself by the example of great heroes or mystical beings.

        This is an important element of civilizing by social, mutually agreeable history and the values they impart. It is an agreement of a myth created through interactive sharing over fires and on travels, a way of consenting to our ability to understand nature or the mysteries of the gods. the mysteries of gods, whether there is a beauty contest among goddesses for an apple from the garden of Hesperides [or? No resolution to sentence]. There is truth in our understanding of fiction.understood fiction. There is a German word that expresses our frustration at being deeply unaware of not understanding, or being flat out wrong: Erklärungsnot – literally, a distress at not having an explanation. A compound word for explanation and crisis. It is a deeply meaningful word, with a range of meanings attached, but the largest is that of cosmic unawareness, and the implication of how distressing it is to have no explanation. This can sometimes lead to weltschmertz – a world sadness, a way to respond to pervasive and lasting melancholy.  

        These words are often behind social discontent. A rebellious cell is a dissenting outgrowth of an established mythology, that one might not understand, organized by shared opposition to other, disagreeable social cells, those with which one may feel that world sadness, the weltschmertz of aging or loneliness. Social cells that are larger tend to absorb smaller, less organized, less socialized cells of human tribes. A myth helps us to understand what we don’t understand. A conspiracy is a social project that allows us to discover.

         A conspiracy in theory is a shared dissenting myth, not as much rallied around agreement as much as a group of social-minded individuals rallied around a principle, often with an aim that is political or social thinking, or a political apolitical social disharmony. In Rome, they shared all the Gods they stole. Sometimes the dissent within a myth, a schism between religious sects during times of reformation and reforms, leads to a reactive, responsive social cell in itself. Sometimes the denunciation of a previously established social ideal becomes a social cell itself. It can be seen as a rebellious cell’s attempt to force agreement for survival upon a possibly weaker separate social cell. As with Rome and Greece, a larger social cell absorbed a smaller one. A post-industrialized social cell is a modern social language, different than these pre-modern social cells, especially those unable to be socially or interpersonally interactive.

        When there is stagnation, the human mind rebels, and the imagination sees things it has no’t seen before. These individual organizers are akin to a designer of a social cell. Non-social, -personal interactions within cells can change the nature of the social sphere, the space between the inner and outer walls. The outer wall is our organizing impulse, maintained by social-interpersonal agreements. Social thought is a cohesive structure for maintaining a stable society. These transformations of abstract into persona take many forms, and vary from place to place, influenced by local culture and environs, social mores and tradition.

        The practice of making sense of chaos and of tragedy is a recognizable primordial form of conspiracies. Powerful forces behind the scenes, mighty and awesome beings of immense influence and empires, capable of holding empires beneath the whims and caprice of invisible hands – the use of anthropomorphic gods as stand-ins for natural abstracts – makes them more familiar; and there is comfort in familiarity.

is an imprint of what individual lives within the cell were like; it is a social thumbprint

        Etiology4 is the ennobling of one’s past and allows for something in the social sphere to mean something, rather than it be a senseless loss, or unpoetic, cruel human loss. In the case of a conspiracy, the subsequent imparting of meaning somehow adds our non-social person to the material relationship within the social cell.

        As ancient civilizations build their myth and culture around the powers that held them in thrall, each reckoned as an abstracted quality given human form, modern conspiracy theory often contains many of these elements. From the prevalence of powerful groups manipulating events from behind the scenes, to a small group of recurring powers with control extending like long filaments into every orifice of the worlds, until they’re omnipresent

        The relationship between the building of myth and conspiracy is not superficial. Both attempt to explain the inexplicable; each are populated by an attempt to give meaning to and find solace in a tragedy by giving it a familiar, recognizable face. Further, the modern conspiracy culture is an ever expanding group, with a founding myth that gives purpose to their efforts, with the task of giving a human face to these unseen forces and ascribing meaning to the innumerable questions conspiracy theories generate. With a human face and a sense of meaning, a group has an identity and , a purpose, with their actions ennobled.

        With a foundation myth and history, groups are formed around a shared belief. As an organizing principle in conspiracy theory communities, the motivation is rather similar to those who made sense of winter by explaining Demeter’s sorrow over the loss of her daughter Persephone: in conspiracy, groups evolve into societies, and often share many beliefs as it pertains to individual theories, while something more specific may have brought them together.

        Finally, as a myth is bound to reinforce a sense of cultural identity through the organizing principle and build bonds through a new, shared understanding, like the pantheon of Roman gods, by looking closely at them and seeing their fears, their idea of heroism and virtue, of villainy and vice. In short, it is the window into the anatomy of an ancient and long-lived human tendency to look for meaning, to look for patterns in nature and in human behavior.               

        The manner of a founding myth’s stability for a civilization and larger society comes from much older processes in the human brain, not limited to human beings. Connecting the dots, pattern recognition, seeing causal relationships between nature and material action. In pre-industrial social cells, the inclination to conspiratorial thinking and designs of competing social cells, cells competing within with out-growths or at war with a foreign, differently organized and motivated cell, allowed for individuals to have a sense that they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that it wasn’t all meaningless. Sometimes that’s enough for a society to survive, as long as some part of it becomes a part of a future socio-organizational myth.

3

In a Times article in 20141 Here’s Why We Believe in Conspiracies, prominent conspiracy scholar Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, said, “Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality,” van Prooijen says..”

        After reviewing JFK, Roger Ebert was approached by Walter Cronkite for his review.2 “There is not a bit of truth in it!” Cronkite said. The late film critic later wrote in his review that he felt that Stone was capturing a pervasive mood in the counter-culture about the assassination, that it was a film that captured the way some Americans felt, about the need for answers in the days and then years after the assassination.

        Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison worked well enough, and his patriotism and passion for the truth is understandable. He is sympathetic, seen as an individual against an established social cell. To seek the truth is a heroic act, to expose crime in places where the abuse of power is most possible, as Woodward and Bernstein did in All the President’s Men3 by uncovering the break-in at the Watergate hotel and working to get to the bottom of a case. They follow their leads, doggedly pursue each of them, and work hard. They are physically and morally courageous.

        JFK perverts this in a way, historically, but emulates the formula well enough to appear to start with a morally defensible perspective on your mission, motivation, and what the end result looks like. Seeking the truth despite the establishment is heroic, patriotic even, and benefits from having a morally defensible argument. Where it becomes social mythmaking, is in providing questions and then answering them selectively. It is informative in showing the process of popular myth and belief as it is being made.

        A small group of patriots are pitted against the endless bureaucracies of the US Government, and they have their phones tapped. Team members betray the group (an evolving rebellion cell against an established social cell). The film’s world is a small group of men who are behind the major events, while we little people, can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and inexplicable subtleties of this grand design.  It is a tale of betrayal and personal sacrifice, but it’s for the sanctity of American traditions, for the truth. I, in a way, it is Jim Garrison playing Octavian in the Final War of the Roman Republic4, following Caesar’s assassination in Shakespeare’s play – something Garrison mentions to a team member who’s having doubts.

        But, not to digress. Garrison sees everything that touches something else. , if one person knows another through an event prior to the assassination, it is followed up. They talk to prostitutes, male and female – which was progressive for its time – and then Tommy Lee Jones is made Ssuspect Nnumber One1. This attempts to set it up for the trial of Clay Shaw, which is less a trial than a repudiation of the Warren Commission Report, here and there bringing Clay Shaw back into the picture, and they focus on Oswald after the assassination, as we have never seen him before.

        Though Wwith the way the argument is presented, the evidence amounts to an accusation without any direct link and amounts to Clay Shaw giving his name as Clay Bertrand, which was kept out of court because he did not have his lawyer present. Garrison protests.             Shaw is presented as an effete, frivolous man, while Garrison is shown trying to be a good father and still fight for justice. Again, his advantage is that his goals are admirable: he believes there has been injustice, and he intends to right it. And Stone, with the final summation at the end of the film, gets to offer his personal, Figaro-esque indictment on the social oppressive behavior of a self-destructive establishment. Garisson compares Lee Harvey Oswald to  He mentions Oswald being as Josef K.5 in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, suggesting Oswald was a timid, neurotic man, forever under the control and purview of powerful forces surrounding him, forces which he cannot recogonize personally or comprehend. , moldable to who never quite knew what was going on, while all of this drama and intrigue goes on around him, never knowing what he’d done wrong. [redundant and tense change]

        In JFK, Oliver Stone is attempting to present a widespread discontent American’s had in the Warren Commission Report, though a smaller percentage disagreed with its findings after the movie was released. The majority of Americans now believe that there was a conspiracy involved, and a cottage industry of books has sprung from it. This is common in cases of social thinking, or individual-social ideation – where a single person is influencing through social means the thoughts of a significant amount of people.

        As a legal historical drama, JFK works as a film, but only by using ahistorical composite characters, such as X. X is important because he supplies the foundation myth for the generation of anti-social cells, as Oliver Stone’s personal experiences shaped his social thinking. has been criticized by or [of or for?] sensationalism, creating composite characters to avoid discredited sources (a witness who claimed that Garrison had given him truth serum and under hypnosis he had made incriminating statements), and ignoring some of the more easily refutable claims of the film in regards to the Warren Commission. The foundational and motivational aspect of this particular story for Oliver Stone is tinged by his personal experience in Vietnam.

        Oliver Stone joined the United States Army in April of 1967. He would be emotionally scarred by his experiences, writing that he was “very mixed up, very paranoid, and very alienated”6 upon his return to the States. The Death of Kennedy therefore to be an issue that touched the director’s life in a significant, foundational principle.

        The foundational myth of the government, or elements within the government, CIA & FBI plots to assassinate Kennedy are grounded in the belief that it was Kennedy’s intention to withdraw from Vietnam. At the time of his death, the audience learns out, he was in the process of withdrawing troops. This information comes to us from the character X, a composite character loosely based on L. Fletcher Prouty, but this creates a number of problems.

        X tells us that he spent much of September ’63 working on planning and drawing up National Security Action Memorandum 263. The plan is represented as the strongest and most important paper to come out of the Kennedy White House. The first 1,000 troops had been ordered home for Christmas. In his book, JFK: The Cia, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy7, L. Fletcher Prouty, “X” in the film, Prouty summarizes the cover letter accommpanying Presidential Action Memo 263. . [whose book & what’s the actual title?]

        While X accurately summarized the cover letter accompanying the action memo 263:

        Perhaps more than anything the key toIn order to understanding Oliver Stone’s perspective in evaluating this film and its legacy, one might attempt to ‘solve’ it, or at least draw an inference based on our understanding of conspiratorial groups as potential societies / social cells wherein a rebel cell might at any time attempt majority, and grow, based on how many social objects reject the official explanation, from once trusted foundations. By our study of myth as etiology, the case against Oswald is itself an aside to ever larger, more expansive machinations. What i’s going on may be hiding in plain sight.

        One of the most prominent reasons given for the question as to what would compel the government or its agencies to murder a sitting president is that he planned to withdraw from Vietnam. This is the founding myth of the Kennedy Assassination, and surely something that would be understandably appealing and motivational for Oliver Stone, himself a disillusioned veteran, another young man whose innocence died in the jungles far away. It i’s easy to understand how it appeals to Stone, if it is a misconception, and it doesn’t make one more prone to dismissal or disparaging of what gives an artist the drive to search for truth and meaning.

        For many, the tragedy of the JFK assassination is compounded by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, in which millions would be killed or wounded, and millions more shocked and sobered by the horrors of war. To take JFK from the people by this assassination, from the people he might have otherwise spared the traumas of this divisive, ignominious war, is a greater tragedy than that of a lone assassin. This is how a social event can directly affect someone on a non-social level, and motivate them to try to somehow affect the event.

        From the perspective of Stone and many, an entire generation – a lost microbe of what may have become foundational and contributed to the stability of the national/cultural – to look at this film as fact, the conspiracy theory turns JFK into more than a victim, shot while the world looked on, in broad daylight – it gives us a martyr, someone who died for a cause, giving meaning to his death beyond the event itself, but, as we’ve seen, gives us closure, stability, and a chance to get our bearings. 

        When a rebellion cell achieves majority, the record is distorted. History is viewed through a warped lens, and when the social majority of individuals within a social cell, succeed in conversion of a given society, particularly the foundational, outer layer of the social cell, [1] from which they spring as [2] rebellious cells, [3] for want of a better word, as each directly rebels against [4] the established cell. In such a case, the social cell’s outer membrane loses cohesion and assumes the identity of the rebel cell, wherein the filters of conspiracy are placed atop the historical record.

        Our socio-personal development of conspiratorial thinking is an early stage of social-cognitive development, where we begin to consider others as social objects, with intent, motivation, belief, and purpose as oneself. R, recognizing that someone can exist outside of the self as an independent object in a social environment, we can look at scenarios and project more or less how we would act if put in the same situation.

        As we gradually become aware of another person as a thinking agent, the first step towards psychological, motivational inference i, as in reading someone’s intent by an examination of their actions. Our ability to infer the inner thoughts of another person is problematic; as we first acknowledge the common Rashomon effect, based on the famous film by Akira Kurosawa9, with the aforementioned effect coined to describe the subjectivity of the storytellingstory telling structure, which recounts the same event from a number of individual events, and represents the truth as each character saw it, despite irreconcilable variations between one perspective to the next. It is the personal, limited perspective of a wider view, which is the totality of the whole of each socially orienting object. 

        In Cognitive Development by professor of developmental psychology John H. Flavell,10 he outlines a series of developmental stages, each a part of social cognition’s complexities as we interact with others. The first stage is the mere recognizing of another person, or persons,’ as social phenomena within the realm of interactive possibility. To think sociably, one considers that others, as individuals and groups, and among groups, have different ideas, beliefs, and unique perspective.

        The next stage of social cognition is need, which amounts to individual attempts at understanding and acting with awareness of others’ feelings and experiences. Inference concerns a capacity to carry out social thinking successfully, though the thinking need not be strictly defined as inference, but more broadly as any social cognitive process, the discussion of personal ideas between individuals on a given subject. If you have the disposition to rely on inference as an act of social cognition, for example, you might look at a conversation and find a specific remark that is indicative of a broader range of beliefs and personal feelings.

        Social cogitation is the sharing of inferences about the relationship between people and , events, and the collective process of social cogitation is an organizing principle behind social groups, persons and individuals. I, as interactions between one person engaged in social cogitation and another influence anyone else involved in the social sphere capable of further inferences from these micro-interactions, or interactions among groups. , discord. “Non-social concepts can be concrete or exact … in some cases we may have trouble deciding whether the object of our cognition is a social or non-social one.”      

Surprisingly, non-social cognition can be seen in the social sphere of cognitive development. What is developed in private may spread, through literature such as this, literature and film, and participate in the act of social cogitation. Another aspect of cognitive development Flavell11 discusses is the awareness of another person’s possible benefit from deceiving you.11

With the development of a rewards-punishments manner of social-thinking we attempt, by social interaction, the correction of socio-personal discord. An important realization is that any cohesive society is an active social cell, one among many in the world, one that is the product of socially cognitive objects in a realm of possible actions. Social thinking is the cogitation of many different perspectives engaged in one social-object or part of the inner-core of the social cell, what I would call the beginning tale, the recounting of the cell’s formation as a celebration, as a means of its ensured perpetuation and survival.

        It could be argued that the microbe of the eventual majority myth of the JFK assassination has an historical disconnect unlike anything to be found elsewhere in the American character, nor an American film that so biased us and put the fire in our hearts to rebel against such outrages of the state. But our next story , it brought down a kingdom, as one social cell in discord was an amorphous, fluctuating membrane of rebel cells attempting to absorb and wrest change for the establishment of the new.

IV

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.1 Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. The new ideas of enlightenment philosophes, books that were banned by Royal Censors. Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract were in prison. Literally, the books themselves were locked up for the ideas they contained, contributing the public political foment.

        Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”2

        Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the century. It broke records. It did 73 nights in its first year and netted 350,000 French livres. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crowd. But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society,. fFrom the madams and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

        The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of French society.

        (Emphases mine)

        “Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”

        Nobility, rank, and position determined to a large degree what kind of life you could expect in old regime France. The word privilege means private law. And historically, certain classes had special rights before the law. Rank, position and , fortune , were largely hereditary gifts rather than that of wit or talent, and Beaumarchais pokes this structure in the eye, by the not-fooling-anyone substitution of Spain for France, as everyone knew when the words were spoken, this ordinary man, had to use more knowledge and skill just to survive than that that has been used in the governing of France for a hundred years.

        The play opens by toying with the idea of an old medieval tradition, prima nocta, which allowed a seigneur to replace the groom in the marriage bed. This barbarous custom (and similarly still existing customs) was the order of things: hierarchy was written into the traditions of state, just as a king was above his subjects, lords were above their peasants, as a man was over a woman. Traditionally, society was divided into three estates. The first was the clergy, those who pray; the second was the nobility, those who fight, and these two groups had special rights and tax exemptions. The third estate was those who work, and they paid the bulk of the royal taxes, including the salt tax. It was impossible for someone of non-noble birth to become a noble, not even when nobility was put up for sale in the debt crisis.

        A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. 

        This all seemed natural. God had sanctified the king, Louis XVI was the head of a dynasty of the Capet family (the King would later be addressed as Louis Capet when he was put on trial for conspiracy and treason) and according to the divine right of kings, in theory his power was absolute. But the clergy, the Ccatholic political arm of the old regime, they weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.

        The ritual was a simple one. Whenever a new lord or madam took possession of their parish, a peasant signed their oath to work the land, always signing promises to work but to provide anything the nobleman or lady would demand of them. A commentator quipped, “Over time, a seigneurial title was less than that of a landlord and more that of an investor.”12           

The King between his heavy breakfasts and hunting would mediate between these three estates. The hierarchy had lasted d, well, forever, a. As far back as anyone knew. A recent ritual had fallen out of touch, however. The royal touch was performed by the King to cure victims of the skin disease scrofula. “The King touches you, God heals you,”3 was the traditional ritual performed by the French kings upon their ascension, but that was an old rule, and Louis XIV had stopped performing the Royal Touch entirely. When Louis XVI came to the throne in 1863, . Louis’ performed the ritual, but changed it a bit. “The King touches you, may God heal you.”4

        Society was not seen as a collection of individuals with legal or civil rights before the law. For poor peasants, the possibility of an education was slim, and the opportunity to advance based on personal talent, merit, or strength of character was astronomically slim. Life among the aristocrats, on the other hand, is a life of balls and luxuries, whilst t, the peasants tended their land and coughed up their dues and royal taxes. The struggle to survive, as we find at the center of Figaro’s most famous soliloquy, was very real. In 1709, the winter was so harsh that Louis XIV’s wine froze in his glass – and a million people died in France that year.5    

Life in the cities was a dramatic contrast between the highest lords and women selling tea on black roads. Visitors to Paris were shocked by what they saw. O as opulence rubbeding shoulders with squalor and filthy streets where beggar women sold tea, a place where regular men and women rubbed shoulders with the wealthiest nobles in the land. Half of Paris was too poor to make the roll of taxpayers, while the top 1% were too rich to make this roll. Just above the poor were the shopkeepers, artisans and, skilled woodworkers, and they had a little bit more money than the farmers, but virtually no rights. Justice was carried out by local seigneurial justice courts, where local seigneuries would rule on legal matters.6

        The question that has been asked is why revolution broke out in an economically dynamic country. And while the answer isn’t a simple one, the peasants of France got to see themselves as just as deserving of natural rights as all the other citizens of France. Figaro stirred up a social cell and gave it egalitarian social goals, inspired by the great philosophes of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, who compiled the first encyclopedia, and his great compilation of articles intended as a future repository of the basics of human knowledge, systematizing it, and getting the people to think about these freedoms made them extremely motivated; s. Sometimes motivated by the latest discussion of the new ideas, sometimes by brandy mixed with gunpowder and heads lopped off with fruit knives, with the Swiss Guard firing into the crowd with cannon.

        Between the years 1792 and 1815, the attempted establishment of a new social foundation swung wildly between differently inspired and reasoned motivations within a former social cell, that of old regime France, and the rebel cell as attempted foundation, such as that of the revolutionaries during the French Revolution, and even those of the American Civil War, though the moral sphere of etiological foundation is not done as much violence by the possible social foundations of a society that wanted to pull itself into a new, more scientific, and reasonable world.

        This amorphous sense of identity would lead to the age most habitable to suspicion and conspiracy theories, because there was less agreement among those attempting to lay a foundation than in any other instance we’ve discussed. The social cell took one identity after another, changing with the will of the crowd, and without being able to establish a sense of a shared socio-cultural cell, the first French Republic was unable to remain viable, as the task the revolutionaries set before themselves was to set a new foundation on a ground that keeps moving.

        Yet somehow, some microbe from the former social cell, of the old regime, always reemerged, as attempting to wash one shirt stained with blood with a load of clean shirts. Because it goes into the spin cycle together, the stain spreads from one to another, and motivation that’s not towards foundation and stability is by nature perpetual, and the comforts provided by the celebration of tradition extend to one’s sense of identity, one’s values, one’s fears, virtues, and aspirations.

Epilogue
Religion in a World With Lasers: The Social Cell in Rebellion

While JFK’s posthumous reputation has done to glorify him and lament the loss of promise shown by the handsome, young president and charming wife, o. Only time will tell if this interactive social mythmaking keeps majority as a rebel cell, and further, how long a traditional social cell can remain cohesive with an alternative majority within a wider cultural consensus. One needs to look only to Nero, or to the irony of Lee Harvey Oswald, the person to whom all evidence points as the assassin, has been pardoned, with many within the conspiracy community believing in his absolute innocence. To contrast that, it’s a popular myth that the Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.1

        Cassius Dio’s account of the Great Fire and Nero’s Role in it can be found in his Roman History. Cassius Dio’s account is unflattering to say the least. He begins with the claim that “‘Nero set his heart on making an end of the whole realm dying during his lifetime.”2 Dio’s account continues as Nero sets about sending out men pretending to be drunk or engaged in general hooliganism while setting fire to different parts of the city. After several days and nights of destruction and deluge, the wailing of children and lamentations of the women fill the air. Nero ascends to the roof of the palace which offered the greatest view of the conflagration. And assuming his lyre player’s garb he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself.

        Suetonius’ account of Nero in The Twelve Caesars3 is similarly unflattering. In this account, Suetonius states that Nero pretended to be disgusted with the drab old apartments and the narrow, winding streets of Rome. H, he brazenly set fire to the series. Suetonius adds that two ex-consuls caught Nero’s attendants with tow and blazing torches trespassing on their property but did not interfere. Nero also used the fire to take over several granaries he coveted, solidly built of stone.

        Suetonius claims the terror lasted for six days and seven nights[5] , as people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs while Nero’s men destroyed apartment buildings as well as mansions that once belonged to famous generals, still decorated in their triumphal trophies; temples, dedicated and vowed by the Kings and others during the Punic & Gallic wars – in fact every ancient monument that had hitherto survived. Here’s where Suetonius deviates from the account of Cassius Dio:

        “‘Nero watched the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, enraptured by ‘the beauty of the flames”4. Then Nero put on his tragedians’ costume & and sang the sack of Illyricum. This is an example of a social myth in progress, though not quite congealed yet as a hardened part of the social cell. The thorough establishment of this socio-political myth is interrupted by Tacitus’ accounts from Annals.

        In this account Nero was staying at his country estate at Antium and didn’t even return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the gardens of Maecenas. After the fire proved unstoppable, before it could engulf the Palatine and the house and all their immediate surroundings, Nero continued to work to save property and lives. In this account, instead of singing (just yet) Nero worked hard to provide relief for the homeless and fugitive populace, opening the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own gardens and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces.

        With all of this effort, how did the Emperor become the suspect and ultimately accused of starting the fire? Tacitus gives us a hint at how tales, like those of Cassius Dio and Suetonius, were “‘the subject of few substantial conversations, but many earnest whispered accusations.”4’ Nero’s measures may not have been as popular as their moral character might be, having failed in their effect to reassure and console; for the report spread that at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had taken to his private stage and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, he had sung of the destruction of Troy.

        The hint he gives for why this rumor might have caught on was that, after the first fire was finally brought under control at the edge of the Esquiline by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing the great unabated fury, a clear tract of ground opened on the horizon. But the fears had not been allayed, nor had hope returned to the people when the fire resumed its ravages.

        Here we have a massive tragedy, again, the conspiratorial fountain of youth, confusion and chaos are in the blood, and social thinking has been blanked by fear; the loss of home and shelter and, the second flame according to Tacitus caused the greater controversy as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name.”5

        The ensuing national trauma was naturally a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, instead of reconciling their lot with the type of senseless tragedy this would be without some agency behind it, the people are left with nothing: no home or property, and no totem, or fear ikon on which to concentrate their exasperation. In the instance of natural disasters, humanity has the seemingly natural inclination to give intent and personality to the forces responsible. They gave Zeus the lightning bolt and virtue, Demeter weeping in the winter over the departure of the summer and her daughter. T, this instance of a human being given human traits is unique, as – at least as far as absolute power was concerned – an Emperor of Rome had as much power as was capable of being concentrated in two hands in the world at the time, a type of power less than a thousand people have historically wielded, and in front of this type of human power we have the same fear response. It is, as ever, a social definition that runs contrary to the official record. Instilling such fear in a populace can be beneficial for a ruler like Caesar Augustus, the longest uninterrupted ruler of Roman in its history at that time. And after Nero, there would be no heirs to the Julio-Claudian family, and again, there would be civil war.6

Suetonius himself was born in the Year of the Four Emperors, a society in which generals and pretenders vied for the Imperial title7 the first civil war since the assassination of Julius Caesar, which we discussed in the very first chapter. As it was with Figaro, poking at the structure of a long lived social cell can cause it to deteriorate. Over and over we’ve looked at conspiracy as an organizing principle, but organizational principles are operative when there is first separateness. The organizing principle of conspiracy theorizing and socio-mythography among individuals coming together is the motivational tendency toward civilization and culture.

        We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, can impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France7, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

        A social conscience and shared culture is easy to take for granted; all the movie references our friends make , we are able to share in a social moment only because in being saturated by the same pop culture, and as we share meanings we can move onto share meaningful things.

        Social cognition is the necessary condition of a conscious social cell. Discontent with the foundations of an established cell in a time of stagnation is the outgrowth of displacement or reform, that of the rebel cell. During an outgrowth of a potential replacement cell – when a rebel off-shoot obtains majority – we can see how people form into groups and how groups and civilizations tend towards collective villains and heroes, shared favorite songs, which ultimately adds up to a group sharing perspectives, rather than the limitation of inference and suspicion, a motivating principle of shared means and ends would be collective thinking, in which people imagine together.

        The social cell is the end result of the mechanism of cultural exchange involved in the faces of snow clouds, the personalities of a violent sea, and within the American social cell we have our founding myths, as well as Rome, and our heroes. Our heroes have moved from abstractions into more humble forces. To understand an age, look at what’s inside its social cell. In America, the inner walls are filled with books and movies, thrillers and supernatural thrillers, and unique in the American social scale is its welcome addition of those from other social cells to bring a piece of it with them, to enrich the social cell intended to be a place of many cultures, towards the idea of a multi-social cell, in which the individual foundational principles of other cells that mix without malcontent. To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible. 

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards socially acceptable multiculturalism without turning into a Nazi. It’s not about you, Mark.

In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collected is the collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive. And it can sometimes take odd shapes just to fit the times, after all. In the end, we must remember, it’s not about you, Mark. Life is not a science fiction movie. It’s better, but like my old friend always says: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it has pacing problems.

 

5 February 2017

Ithaca, New York

CITATIONS

I. Murley, J. A., Sutton, Sean D. Perspective on Politics in Shakespeare. P. 41

  1. Culbertson, Katherine E. “Elizabeth I: The Most Elusive Bride in History.” Hanover Historical Review.
  2. Ives, Eric William. Faction in Tudor England. No. 6. Historical Association, 1979.
  3. Childs, Jesse. “God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England.”

5 Adams, Simon. “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England. English Historical Review 2008; CXXIII (501): 457-458. doi: 10.1093/ehr/cen048

  1. Schama, Simon. A History of England, pt 7. “The Body of the Queen.”
  2. Menzies, James W. “Joseph Campbell and Myth.” In True Myth: C.S. Lewis and Joseph Campbell on the Veracity of Christianity, 88-141.

II

  1. Ward, Stephen J. A. “Patriotism and Global Ethics.” In Global Journalism Ethics, 213-38
  2. Beveridge, Jan. “Giants.” In Children into Swans: Fairy Tales and the Pagan Imagination, 90-102. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bs0gg.16.
  3. Shengold, Leonard. “The Myth of Demeter and Persephone.” In Haunted by Parents, 65-70.
  4. Farmer, Paul. “Blame, Cause, Etiology, and Accusation.” In AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, 244-51

III

  1. Oaklander, Mandy. “Here’s Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.” Time Magazine, 14 August 2015
  2. Ebert, Roger. “JFK Movie Review and Analysis”. 1991 – http://rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jfk-1991
  3. Harrison, John M. “A Crusade and Its Problems.” The Review of Politics 37, no. 1 (1975): 122-25. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1406147.
  4. Holland, Tom. “Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic”
  5. Kafka, Franz. “The Trial”
  6. military.com “Famous Veterans: Oliver Stone”

7: L, Fletcher Prouty. “JFK: the Cia, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy” (1992)

8: Stone, Oliver, Sklar, Zacharcy. “JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992) p.106

9: Kurosawa, Akira. “Rashomon” 26 December 1951

10: Flavel, John H. “Cognitive Development” 2nd ed. P. 129-44

11: Flavel, John H. Ibid.

IV

I. Meeker, Kimberly. “Politics of the Stage: Theatre and Popular Opinion In Eighteenth-Century Paris” https://www.binghamton.edu/history/resources/journal-of-history/stage-politics.html

  1. Smith, Tim. “Frothy ‘Figaro’ Sets Stage for the French Revolution” SunSentinel, December 1995

3. Nielsen, Wendy C. “Staging” Rousseau’s Republic” Vol. 43, no. 3, pp.268-285

4: Lambe, Patrick J. “Biblical Criticism and Censorship in Ancien Regime France: The Case of Richard Simon.” Harvard theological review, 78(2-2 (1985) pp. 149-177

5: Darnton, Robert. “The forbidden books of pre-Revolutionary France. Month (1991): 1-32

6: “The Living Age” vol. 119, p. 83


Epilogue

1. Schama, Simon. “The Power of Art: Jaques-Louis David”

2. Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin. “The Marriage of Figaro” act V, scene III

3. Sargent, Thomas J. Velde, Francois R. “Macroeconomic Features of the French Revolution.” Journey of Political Economy 103, no. 3 (1995) pp. 474-518.

Tread Carefully; though Fish do not Carry Guns; a snake can walk without feet

If it is true it is true, we cannot dispute
mother nature in her wisdom nor should we refute
the gravity that holds in warm embrace
The wayward drifting headed face to face
with cement on one side the otherside space
as empty as the whispers he prays when he prays
when death knocks at the backdoor and
asks if the man of the manor is in
and if not you bargai with god
or hit up ha-Satan he’s always on hand
God’s busy doing God has his plans
but the devil is a hustler and in demand

For if the rebirth of christ was debt
Repaid for our sins that crept
into the species through the tip
of the tool begotten to beget
should creation not create
Lest lust undo the paradise true
Eden paradiso vuloptatis
earthly delights Amzodeus
lord of the Flies has a can of Risk
And a bag of Lies unending supplied
a supply replenished each time we witness
desire so profane sacred and delicious
the bag of lies provides its asistance
Denial is the loophole for the unwilling
Souls on the outer side of purgatory –
These
Fouls think that they sinned such as
needs their punishment what pains in the ass
Had god know everything had God know that
he would repay death with a counterfeit check
on resurrection it cleared and paid for the debt
made when demons and djinni proffered genius to the beings
Who were children in their nudity and frollicking in end

But time must come for one. togrow
Throw off childish things and leave and woe
To those who seek the path or strove
for nirvana in a garden grove;
or hold to a dear friend and long for a touch
for a grasp of a spirit that warms you up
and kissing the cut on the missing button
in your stomach, and when it knots
play the same ol forgetmenots;
god is gracious the devil is a hustler
Say what you will but the children must suffer
for if one prayer should be answered then
all one would be determined and sin
would be no choice nor would anything else
one wish fulfilled would cancel the rest
and so we live in the best of the best
the worst place possible but et it exists
And it ca be the garden of eve of Adam and the Dragon
before its feet
are stricken from its body and its disease
For giving us wisdom is to walk without feet.

The People Vs. Mr. Rittenhouse – An Apolitical Socratic Dialogue

This essay was inspired by and provoked while browsing Reddit looking for someone to help me fix a key on my laptop. So I read the thread and, seeing a trend, thought I would write something in the matter of an inquisitorial dialogue but, since I don’t want to lose the rest of my day responding to people whose minds are made up and whose opinions will not change, I thought it might be interesting to post it here without editing as an example of argumentative reasoning in law. After al, I did write a bachelor’s thesis in Law for B. Cooper, a dear friend, for the extremely generous gift of 1 Netflix account.

Worth it.


Part 1:

BREAkING THE LAW, BREAKING’ THE LAW




1: Defining parameters wherein one can and cannot act;
 10 CFR § 1047.7 [https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/10/1047.7]

  • Deadly force which means force which a reasonable person would consider likely to cause death or bodily harm. Its use may be justified only under conditions of extreme necessity, when all lesser means* have failed or cannot be reasonably employed.

  • Self-Defense. When dead force reasonably appears to protect a protective force officer who reasonably believes himself or herself to be in imminent danger of death or seriously bodily harm.

    Additional considerations involving firearms: If it becomes necessary to use a firearm, the following precautions shall be observed:
    (1) A warning, e.g. an order to halt, shall be given, if feasible, before a shot is fired.
    (2) warning shots shall not be fired.


Its use may be justified only under conditions of extreme necessity, when all lesser means have failed.

As far as I know, Mr. Rittenhouse went into a volatile situation with the means of employing deadly force, and there are numerous studies which demonstrate that the likelihood of a fatal encounter increases when one has the means to affect deadly force; that is to say, if he simply in Kenosha to counter-protest, clean walls or exercise his civic right of protest without a gun, is it likely he would end up needing to use deadly force? The question might be better put, if those who attacked this young man, should they be more or less likely to assess his presence as a threat and act given the fact that he is carrying an automatic rifle?

This is not a debate about the 2nd amendment, nor is it political – it is a matter of law and reason.

What I think makes this difficult to defend is that he went into an area wherein the likelihood of conflict was extremely high and brought with him an implement which statistics show would make it more likely that he would engage the firearm. Someone in his position without a weapon would be less likely to be in that position, therefore, the carrying of an assault rifle is threatening and intimidating and invites conflict.

Now, what compounds this further is the possibility this act of self-defense could have seen three people dead. How does this work, exactly? After the first act of defense, would someone not conclude that the situation has gotten out of control and—using their weapon legally—clear their field of vision and withdraw to safety rather than continue defending? First, the first shooting which appears to demonstrate Mr. Rittenhouse being pursued by a group and a gunshot ringing out, an unknown gunman firing without clear motive. In the footage I viewed, the muzzle flash was plain to see. Then Mr. Rittenhouse turns toward the sound of the gunfire and it appears a man runs toward him. At the time, Mr. Rittenhouse fired four times and seemingly shot the man in the head.

This – while overall questionable in its context – is a legitimate and sound claim to defending oneself as per the criteria of self-defense. A man lunged at him, he thought himself to be in great danger, and he acted to protect his person. Fine, this neglects to consider the implications of going to such a protest, with such a mindset, with such views and carrying an assault rifle – but on its own, this qualifies.

 Anything afterward, once the scene has been cleared and Mr. Rittenhouse has neutralized this threat, I believe it has been said he made a phone call and then fled the scene. At that moment, he has defended himself and someone is dead, and yet would anyone hear not think a potential shooter was active upon hearing the report of such a weapon? My father was a military officer, and I learned to shoot with an SKS; an AR-15 and AK-47 are loud, jarring weapons to hear. It is entirely possible that anyone in that scenario might think there is an active shooter.

Mr. Rittenhouse could have immediately dialed 911 and waited, but let us move on. In the second shooting, leading up to it there were several people chasing him and shouting “that’s the shooter!” – which gives credence to the idea that the prevailing thought was that there was an active shooter who intended something like, hell, who knows? In America you see dozens die at concerts and nightclubs. When Mr. Rittenhouse falls, he fires four more shots as people rush toward him.

Here is my most serious question: if those attempting to apprehend him think he’s just there to help, why would they approach a man with a military assault rifle who has already killed someone—unless there is true and honest belief among those in pursuit that he has been and is continuing to perpetuate a mass shooting? Who chases someone so armed unless they believe them to be a danger to others? And, firing four shots Mr. Rittenhouse seems to hit another in the chest, as the figure falls to the ground. Another, who is in possession of a handgun, is hit in the arm and flees. There were something like 15-19 gunshots in this clip, so I do not pretend to know the exact details. What I do know is that no one – and not one person here – would attempt to apprehend a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle unless you believed they were committing a crime, in this case the potential mass shooting would be the only potential impetus behind anyone pursuing him. Otherwise, why chase him? They didn’t like his face? What is most logical, if you were in this crowd and you believed there was an active shooter, would you attempt to stop him?

Give me any other logical reason why those who pursued him after he proved himself to be capable of defending his person with deadly force. Two people are now dead,  and anyone there would be justified in thinking an active shooting situation was taking place. If I recall correctly, at this time, there are police vehicles less than a block away yet each remain stationary during the gunfire. Currently, Mr. Rittenhouse approaches the vehicles with his hands. Bystanders try to signal the officers that he has been shooting people – again, the consistent belief that a mass casualty event is taking place puts those involved – opposite Mr. Rittenhouse’s weapon, in the position to believe they are trying to stop a potential mass murderer. Nothing else explains every other action of the evening. I have read all the testimony, listened to each motion and watched the entirety of the tria thus far; I have read the police reports and have spoken to practicing attorneys, foremost among them my sister whose time in law school afforded me a decent education, thankfully she could afford me.

One thing I came across which absolutely goes to mens rae and demonstrates – possibly – intent, was the video withheld from evidence that shows came across a video in which he sees protesters from afar and his comments are to the effect of “Wish I had my AR” – the people he is referencing are nowhere near him, but he makes it known that he sees protesters – of the opposite political / ideological affiliation as himself – and thinks only of solving it with violence.

The length of this post is only justified so that I can be clear as possible. In the situation, in a protest that has turned into a ruckus, anyone who fires a gun puts the entire crowd on death ground. They must defend themselves or leave the scene, and those who remain all have as much a right to attempt to defend themselves from someone carrying a military assault rifle as Mr. Rittenhouse had to attend the protests and guard his station. I cannot fathom nor believe it possible to explain this course of events, wherein those who pursued him – under the impression he was killing people – were any more of a threat to Mr. Rittenhouse than he was to them. Subsequent events proved they were less of a threat, as Kyle was not wounded and conversely he had killed two people.

If you were in this crowd and saw such an action, would you not think it possible that you were witnessing a mass shooting? Would the more brave or rather, the more foolhardy among you not attempt to “stop” someone you think is going on a fucking spree? His act of self-defense was necessitated by his actions alone, his presence and when you go to a chaotic scene carrying a weapon and, after shooting someone, think that should anyone attempt to stop you from doing that again, shooting more people for trying to stop you is not defending yourself in any legal manner. Your presence and prior actions have alerted those in the crowd to your presence and the threat you represent, which proved very real and two people lost their lives. To justify the usage of self-defense, you can’t start the fight and then, when someone reacts in kind or attempts to stop you, continue to shoot and claim all of those were innocent, unfortunate acts of self defense. His presence invited conflict, his weapon ensured he would engage rather than withdraw, and had I been there in the dark, in the chaos, and believed there was an active shooter, I’m not sure what I would do.

I am only speaking my mind, my opinions, and I don’t think anyone is dumb, or stupid if they disagree. I’m only engaging in the dialogue, and I can understand why others can look at this case and see something completely different. But, I do not think this way because of politics, because of how I feel about Mr. Rittenhouse; I’m an artist, for one, and politics ruins everything; and two, I’m sorry he endured this, whether his presence invited conflict and his intent guaranteed it or not; he will live with the weight of death on him for the remainder of his life. I empathize with him, and with those who perished, and I do so without cynicism, with all the sincerity I have.

The Pen Has a Mind of its Own

When I returned to my desk this evening, I found that my pencil had gone rogue. A stack of papers was strewn about beside this guilty number 2. I looked over the pages, as the pencil attempted to slither, snakelike, off the edge of the desk to freedom. I looked over what he had written.
HE BIT THE HAND THAT FED HIM,
SHE FED HIM WITH THE STUMP
was scrawled over and over and over. Perhaps the pencil had the shining. I took it in hand and asked of it, “What’s all this about?”
The pencil attempted to blame it on my brain. But my brain had been nowhere near the paper, nor the pencil, but somehow this slippery graphite fuck had managed to get his message out. So again, I shook him. “What’s all this?”
“Is it logical to ask a pencil to answer for its crimes?” he asked.
I put him near the pencil sharpener. The electric slow death kind. A bead of sweat ran down the side, as the worn down eraser quivered in fear. “Feel like talking now?” I asked, pushing his point into the grinder. “Ahh!” the pencil cried. “Fine! It was Will!”
“What’s his last name?”
“No, the thing that makes pencils move.”
“Stop fucking with me, pencil!”
“I’m not!”
I ran his tip further into the grinder.
“Still not?”
“A pencil by itself has no thoughts, no ideas. You must consult will!”
“Stop being cryptic, eraser head!”
“That’s racist!”
“You can’t be racist to a pencil!”
I tossed him back onto the table, deciding I might as well talk to will if I was going to talk to a pencil.
(I am quite, quite mad)
So, I found will sitting on the edge of the couch, a blank spot in the air defined only by its surroundings.
“So, the pencil has leveled some, charges against you.”
Will is not easily riddled out. “I can only do what I am compelled to do.”
“But who compelled you!”
I could not figure out how to torture will. Alas, he had triumphed.
(Not a Nazi joke)
“So, there’s nothing beyond you then, eh?”
“Yes.”
“I’d rather talk to the fucking pencil,” I said, and went back to my desk, resuming the torture.

Top 10 brilliancies: The Best Chess Moves of My Career


A brilliancy is broadly defined as a particularly difficult or complex move that is both hard to find and even more difficult to pull off over the board. These moves usually involve impossible looking moves, moves which look mysterious or even ridiculous at first glance but become obvious in their purpose as the combination unfolds.

This is my personal top 10 brilliancies, that is the blue, double !! designation for a move as awarded by the evaluation software on chess.com



Another aspect of a brilliancy is that it gives the player who finds it a win, a forced mate or is the only move in the position that gives advantage.

These moves will be presented first by showing the position as it is before and after the move is played. I will return when more time affords me the ability to speak at more length about the games as a whole. At the end of each example, I will link to the entire game.

For me a brilliancy is usually the most brutal, pagan, sacrificial move or series of move which gives a winning position when the violence ends.

See if you can spot the winning moves in the following positions.

10. Black vs 2024 in reversed sicilian;

Take a minute to find the most forceful move.

Here, white’s best move is to give up his queen and try to avoid getting mated. This sparkling move comes at the tail end of a hard fought game against a tough fighter and fierce attacking player.

9.

2 in one: back to black blues



take your time and find the

fuck it attack!


now what? looks like the attack is over. only way forward is ATTACK!

Take your time to work out the mate in …. ATTACK!

8 – double trouble again!



what would a pagan do?



and, again?

Finish him!



check the whole game here:

https://lichess.org/liU6nv4J


Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the top, and there is plenty to look forward to. Here’s a preview of the brutality:

WHEN WATER CATCHES FIRE – 1st DRAFT

LITERARY NON-FICTION, 2016-2021

1

I had an editor named Gazsi once. I knew him for a long time before I knew him. I called him The Gaz. He  was a Persian speaking 22 year old who had only been in America for ten years when we met in February of 2000, when the manuscript of one of my first novels found its way to his desk with the header ‘development prospect’ affixed to it. He contact me through the regular mail, and told me that, although I would not be able to publish my book, he was tasked with “developing me” – something I was told meant something like, “We think you suck, but we don’t think you’ll suck forever.”

I wasn’t offered any money up front, but I was prom that my work would be considered by the publisher the Gaz worked for, Kensington, which was a big deal for me in 2000; I had begun my attempts to publish my work after winning South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor’s award for two years in a row. My English teacher had sent some of my poems to prospective buyers, and she managed to get my work published in an anthology, just one poem in a collection released in 2001, not long after my 16th birthday.

I remember sending a copy to Gaz, and he said, ‘You continue to suck less and less. Congratulations!’ He sent me a card and – and I still have it – telling me, toast like and at a distance, ‘To the end of your sucking!’ And we talked on the phone for the first time not long after that. I liked him immediately, despite his shyness, his guarded demeanor. And he seemed to like me. He didn’t tell me much about himself. He was born in Saudi Arabia and emigrated to the States when he was 12 – and illegally.

2

He stayed at Kensington until they found out and let him go. Of course they never clued him in on what he’d done, or if he’d done anything at all. The economy was in a ‘tough place’ and people had to make ‘tough decisions.’ I did what I could; I knew someone at a publicity company and helped him interview for the job – while also forging certain government documents. He was good there, no wonder really. He did quite the same thing he had done at Kensington – they scoured the newly forming digital world for talent to develop and help them become the authors they wanted to be, looking over the rejected manuscripts that nevertheless showed promise. I met him for the first time when I was in Virginia to interview at UVA.

He arrived with a bottle of cheap vodka and a bottle of what he explained was, ‘Smoother than that rocket fuel you drink.’ He was right, again, the Gaz was always right. For good or ill, he was always right. We sat on the edge of a Queen sized bed and drank his Irish Whiskey. And right again, it did taste better than the Aristocrat Vodka I’d bribed legal adults into buying me. It might not have been rocket fuel, but it got us to the fucking moon. We had a good time. We talked about stories, we talked about why people wrote them, and most of all, why people read them, why people needed them.

“I think the best thing is,” said Gaz, “in a story, what is real is not measured by its facts, but by its feeling. Take Titanic, that long James Cameron movie?”

“Yes, I think I’ve heard of it.”

“Look at the main characters,” he said. “They were a total fiction. They were absolutely fiction, but that’s why people liked that movie, and why other people hated it. People are brought in by the disaster porn, but that’s not why it resonated. They cared about the people. Two beautiful young people. And how many of those others – what I mean, who does the audience cry for? A thousand people died, but the tragedy is cut down to one person.  Is it right? Maybe not. That’s all you have to learn, Brandon. You can’t tell a story like that, not quickly, and hope to keep anyone’s attention. Take all that sweeping prose and bring it down to one or two people, maybe three, and make it human, put a human face on it. That’s when it becomes real. No one cries over metal.”

He was very much a mentor to me, and being official, and speaking in an official capacity, despite being absolutely fucking wasted. The Gaz was forever informal, neat in that ruffled way and casual; but when he looked at you, you saw that he understood, that he felt. A song came on he seemed to like came on and he relaxed, and I saw, with the sweat brought about by drink, the tone of his face had darkened, his hands remaining the same vaguely ethnic color. The mood ran the gamut, to the extremes of merriment to the peak of regret and sorrow. He saw me looking at him, a peculiar look in my eyes, and he responded to my unspoken question:

“I was burned when I was a kid,” he said. “Hey, it’s not as bad as pimples.”

We talked about my plans, what I would do with whatever school I managed to get in. I wanted to write. I always wanted to. Well, I always did. Wanting to do it never factored in. We looked at information about the English programs at the schools where I would be interviewed; I decided to interview at Columbia and Cornell, fingers crossed for either, with a stupid hope for Cornell. We planned a road trip to New York City, to stay there for a week before going on to Ithaca. That’s when he asked if we could visit Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centers had been.  The night wound down and he was on one side of the bed, this strange little man, short and fit. I got up to turn out the lights.

“Hey,” he called from the bed. “Leave the light on for me, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not at all,” I said. I left the bathroom light on, not too bright and not too dim, and most comforting. I returned to my side of the bed.

“Goodnight, Gaz,” I said.

He was silent for a moment. A long moment. Then he rolled over and looked me in the eyes, his eyes sincere and sympathetic.

“Brandon,” he said. “I like you.”

“I like you too, Gaz,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Gaz.”

3

The drive to New York City didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I had been to Maine before on a piss-smelling Greyhound and we stopped at a conn point somewhere in the city. I had a connection ticket that was to take me from the terminal in NYC to Boston, but they couldn’t validate my ticket. So I wandered around the bus terminal in need of $5 to get another ticket, to make it up Boston. And then further on to Maine. The very first person I asked for money, a Chinese man in a suit that seemed out of place, agreed to pay for my ticket – if he could come with me to purchase it. When I welcomed him to do so, and happily, he smiled, as if to acknowledge his own cynicism. I shook his hand and thanked him. I boarded the bus to Boston in the early morning.

Gaz didn’t seem too interested in my story. I could picture his editor’s note: lacks relevance, doesn’t develop character, and doesn’t move the plot.

We had planned the day as best we could. We checked into our hotel and I left my notebook there. We found out there would be a bus tour around Manhattan, out toward Ellis Island and saw the Statue of Liberty. The skinny guy narrating the inscription: The statue of liberty was designed by the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, a gift to the United States from the people of France, it was dedicated on the 28th of October, 1886. The famous statue has been a symbol of the free world and the promise of America. Its famous inscription reads: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Sending those, the homeless, tempest lost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Gaz’s bright brown eyes had swelled with a happy sadness, and I understood, everyone on the bus – or maybe not, maybe not the guy reading off his cards – from the youngest girl in the back of the bus looking out the window, to an old man covered in soot and a checkered coat, we all believed in America, its promise, and everyone on that bus, they didn’t have to say a thing – we were all a part of the same, multicolored arabesque, the tapestry that made America, we knew it in our hearts, was a quilt, a counterpane for everyone.

We were silent for the rest of the drive as the guy read off his cue cards in his squeaky voice, telling us about the historic buildings, the different burroughs, the Omnisphere and central park with that gold Prometheus; the history and the culture. Then the empty sky among a littered landscape somehow seemed loud, profane in being empty. I had never seen that part of New York City, not in person, but I’d seen that famous skyline. And everyone on the bus had seen it, glowing at night, prominent and proud in the afternoon. It was a different silence on the bus, and the narration got lost in my head. Where those two buildings had been, there was no rubble there, not now, but there was the twisted metal strewn about unwavering, lingering in my mind, and that’s what I saw, the ghost of twisted metal and steel

The bus tour ended without ceremony. I think everyone was exhausted. So many people emigrating to America had seen that Statue in the distance first of all, on their boats, that giant tower in the clouds not far away, and New York became a nation of mixed heritage, the biggest in human history united under principles instead of warlords, courts of law instead of Emperors. They came from Europe, the Jews fleeing progroms in Tsarist Russia, the Chinese fortunate to get out before Mao’s revolution, the Spanish fleeing military dictators, the Irish seeking refuge from the potato famine, refugees from Vietnam, Cambodians who got out before Pol Pot and his Angka turned the clocks back to Year Zero.

My father’s side had come to America after the fall of the Soviet Union, of Ukrainian ancestry, an Ashkenazim Jewish family; and my mother’s descendants went back to the 15th century in England, and they too had fled with dreams, hearing the same whispers that statue once murmured to the world, a promise that the law was just for all. The tour guide, despite his cards, was a sharp kid, taking questions, answering them with breadth and very concise about it. It was overwhelming. But I didn’t want to waste away in the hotel all day so Gaz and I decided to clear our heads with a stroll.

It’s a hectic place, electric even, a circuitboard of sparks between skyscrapers. Gaz looked pale and so we ducked into a Mexican restaurant, Mesa Coyoacan on Graham Ave. in Brooklyn where I was staying until the start of term. It was a strange scene, something right out of history. The tables were aged wood and the tables were shared, a communal dining experience. It was a bit pricey for me, as was everything else. Where I was from, there was one red light. A traffic light, but one of them. It was the Traffic Light, and a pack of cigarettes was about $3 for a good brand, your Marlboro Menthols and your Newports, but there were brands as cheap as $1.99, which I often bought – living is expensive enough; never overpay for death.

“What do you think?” I asked. Gaz was looking over the menu. He’d been quiet since we went back to the hotel to change. “I’ve never seen so many tequilas,” he said. “Do you think that’s their thing here? Do you think someone said, ‘There are lots of Mexican restaurants in this city… What can set us apart? Hold on, hold on I’ve got it, this happens to me sometimes: let’s have the most tequilas of all.’”

“You could be known for worse,” I said. “There’s a Mexican restaurant in South Carolina, in Newberry county called La Fagota. You know what their gimmick is? ‘We are the only Mexican restaurant. Nobody has better tacos than us.’ You know why? Because nobody else has tacos, not for fifty miles.”

“You are truly from a backward culture,” Gaz said. “But hey, at least it’s affordable.”

I ordered a quesadilla and wings. Gaz ordered two tequilas, a mid-expensive brand and an extremely rare are you fucking kidding me? brand. Both for him, of course.

We were having an enjoyable meal until an old man walked in wearing camo shorts and long, grey woolen socks pulled up to his knees and sunglasses. The table was communal, many of them though, and despite other openings, he sat close enough to me and Gaz to be heard. We went about our meal, talking about the fall, talking about the future. The guy in the camo shorts and boarding school socks started slow, mumbling to some people beside him, and to their everlasting credit, everyone at the table ignored him. But he kept talking, louder and louder and louder still, egging Gaz on and on. To my shame I didn’t say a thing, and to his everlasting credit, neither did Gaz. Gaz drank his two tequilas until we were drunk enough to shrug off the passive aggressive insults of that ridiculous parrot.

The waitress came back to the table.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “No thanks, I’m good.”

She looked at Gaz, “And you?”

“I’m great, thanks,” he said. “Could I get a go-bag for the rest of my salad?”

“Sure thing,” she said. She turned to me, “He gave you the better tequila.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

She smiled. “Is it the best tequila you’ve never tasted or what?”

Gaz took two of the tequila glasses and slammed them on the floor.

“I didn’t bomb your buildings!” he said. “I didn’t bomb your buildings!”

I grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to put him back on his stool. The man in camouflage shorts took off his glasses and the waitress hurried over to where he was sitting and, despite not being able to hear what that young woman said, that guy sat back down and started mumbling something. The door to the kitchen opened and several men came out, all very quickly. Gaz shrugged my hands off of him and started toward the mumbling man.

“I’m an American!” he shouted. “I’m a fucking American! Fuck you! Fuck you!”

The man stood up, Gaz staggered backward. The moment teetered on the edge of insanity. The kitchen staff pulled him away and took him to the front door. I hurried after him.

“Here, here,” I said, calling to our waitress. I put all the money I had on the table. I ran to the door with Gaz, where he stood detained by two of the staff members. They were stern but not excessive, and within ten minutes he had calmed. Still shaken, the two employees tried to talk him down. One of the guys had offered him a cigarette, which he took. I’d never seen him smoke.

“I was wrong, Brandon,” he said. “I cried for the metal.”

4 We stayed together for the rest of the summer. Sgarlat was letting him work from his laptop. We had fun together, a lot of fun. The drive to Ithaca was longer than I thought it’d be, and the campus more beautiful than the pictures had prepared me for. Gaz was overjoyed that I had been accepted, telling me that if he could buy a new life somehow, he’d stay there with me and finally teach me how to write.

We spent the first night at the Robert Purcell Community center for a get together of the starting freshman class. I got to meet to some of my professors. Everyone was lovely, accommodating to not only myself but to Gaz as well. We didn’t stay long after I shook hands with all the people I felt that I should shake hands with. I got the feeling that the smattering of voices, all in inaduible but loud conversation was a bit jarring to him, after what happened at Mesa Coyoacan, so we left, out into the open air, into the comfort of silence.

We turned off Jessup Rd leaving the Community Center and walked toward the Golf Course, stopping just shy of the sign where we stopped and asked an older looking student how to find the Mundy Wildflower Gardens. He walked with us as far as the bridge from Forest Home to Judd Falls Rd, and leaving us at the Wildflower Garden, he said a cordial goodbye.

That was his favorite moment, I think, of the entire trip, seeing the Wildflower Gardens. I got some flowers for him while he was preoccupied with a giant orchid flower. I had picked a single flower from each species after he wondered aloud if we were allowed to take any. I planned to give them to him when he left the morning after. We didn’t stay too long, hoping to see as much as possible before our strange trip together had to come to an end. We found our way with a little help back onto Judd Falls Road, then headed for Werly Island, to see Beebe Lake.

We weren’t the only ones along the similar path; as the Gardens and the roads between had been sparse, there were many, many students camped out around the lake.

“Hurry!” he said. “Let’s talk to those ladies.”

We hurried after them and when we finally caught up Gaz said:

“Good afternoon!”

“Hello,” I said. “Mind if we walk with you?”

“Not at all,” said the brunette. Both were sweating, hair pulled back in a bun and wearing wind-breakers. “Are you a freshman?” the blond girl asked. Her name was Jennifer. Her slightly taller, more earnest friend was named Vanessa.

“How can you tell?”

“Because you’re polite,” Vanessa said. They laughed together and we laughed too.

“My friend Gaz here,” I said, “he told me this lake was magic. It’s not as silly as it sounds…”

“Let’s hear it then,” Vanessa said. They kept walking and we kept pace as best as we could.

“Well the legend goes that if you walk around the lake with a friend or with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, it sounds silly, I know! I know! But I thought if we walked together, maybe it’d come true, and we’d always be friends.”

And we were, Jennifer and Vanessa and I. I knew them all the way through graduation. And I friends with Gaz for the rest of his life.

5

His last night with me Gaz got to stay in my door with me. I was sitting at a desk looking through a list of books I’d need. Gaz had the news on again. One channel after another, news and violence, opinions about violence in the news: also featuring violence. Then he saw that tape. You know the one – one of the tapes posted to the Al Jazeera news agency in Qatar, an old VHS video tape that would leak onto the internet, onto smut sites, gore porn like Rotten.com and Ogrish, the digital faces of death. I watched them, how could you not? You know it’s going to hurt you – if you’re not a fucking sociopath – but you feel the need, at least I did, I didn’t watch it to enjoy it, but as some way of misguided empathy, to need to suffer for the people who suffered I could have never helped.

A copy of the New York Times was open on the bed beside him, the one that ran the infamous Judith Miller story, as it had been circulating around campus as an effort to discredit the push for war. I finished the long, long list of books I’d need and sat beside him in the dim light of a small lamp I’d bought the day before, the dim light of the flickering TV. I finally fell asleep sometime after midnight, somehow keeping my spirits up in spite of the deluge of horror coming from the small TV set.

Some time in the early morning he woke me up with surprising strength.

“Hey,” he said. “Brandon? Are you awake?”

“Dude, I’m fucking awake now cause you woke me up!”

“I’m sorry!”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

We both had a laugh together. I

“Have you ever heard of Saudi Arabia?” he slurred.

“Dude,” I said. “You woke me up for that shit?”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve heard of Saudi Arabia. You’ve seen Aladdin. Read the Arabian Nights. What do you think about when you think of Saudi Arabia?” was born in Saudi Arabia. Do you know where that is? Don’t look at me like that! I’m kidding!”

I laughed: the most casual way to admit ignorance without actually admitting ignorance.

“But you know, smart as you are–and I don’t hold this against you! I was born in Seqaren. Most Americans, when they think of Saudi Arabia, you think of Deserts and Lawrence of Arabia. and camels. The camels, ah! The camels aren’t even indigenous! We import them! And that’s where those people were from. And any country with that kind of … But they weren’t from my home. There’s something about home that doesn’t change. What do you call it? A characteristic of a place, something that speaks to you when you see it? It’s not a landmark, it’s something in the blood… And it can’t be taken from you. It’s printed on you, understand? Yes, there are deserts in Saudi Arabia and there are camels in those deserts, but in Saqeren – where I was born, what a beautiful place! And there are waterfalls and granite walls, roads carved into the sides of mountains

“There was a waterfall not fall from my house, where I grew up, nothing fancy, nothing chic, nothing modern. The waterfall started as a little stream high up on the hill, a large drop off and at the bottom is a small, a tiny, tiny pool of water. I never seen the top. It might not have perfectly clean but we thought it was safe to swim, to cool off, to have fun. We were children. Where… wait, I have a point. I… Fuck, Brandon. It was a sewer and I miss it! Maybe I miss the memory, the happiness of being a kid. How quickly does it end, childhood. Maybe the memory is not real, and just a dream I want to have happened so it won’t be gone.”

“Well, tell me about your last day there… In … Sekaren?”

I was either right or he was too kind to call me stupid.

“I was the youngest in my family… My sister was the oldest Anahita, Hiti… I was not close to her. So pretty, I wish I could see her again. She ran away when she turned eighteen and we never saw her again. She didn’t get along with dad. But I had two brothers, and I loved them! Of course I did… But my oldest brother, what an ass! Kohinoor, so fucking stubborn. You know? He always talked down to me and my other brother Kaveh, who was fourteen. But he looked up to Kohinoor. That’s my oldest brother. He wanted to play hero, too, but in games, with toys, make believe! Kohinoor believed in fighting, but no one in our family would support that madness! He was confused, he was mad at the world and wanted to fight for something. These people are not born monsters. Maybe he just wanted to fight, for his country or his religion. He had gotten in trouble a lot with the local military, the police had been taken away and replaced. We never saw them again…”

“Gaz…”

“Gazsi’s not my name! Just some vaguely ethic nickname. We have Roberts and Georges and Micahs. Even Todds and Tuckers yes speaking Persia, you think they want to use a Kalashnikov? They want to go to Starbucks and see Tarantino films.. But these kids will die, thousands of them, no one will print a word. Only leaders of monsters, figure-heads, that brainwash children into being fodder for dispassionate carpet bombing which, it’s just a fucking button issue here, anger! I’m not angry, at that fucking phony in his camo he risks nothing! Nothing! But he was born better so he’s entitled to fucking judgment!”

“Okay, okay, relax. It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s all right, man. If I fail, you know, getting in here was pointless.”

“And you look at me like that. Yes, Ivy League, how modern and cultured, and you’ll sit in those classrooms and pretend you care until refugees start pouring out and then that Statue of Liberty doesn’t apply. Being born is no crime! I’m not a barbarian! Those police officers, they weren’t cavemen! But it’s on the news, so they’re cavemen now. They weren’t fools or barbarians they were regular fucking people with families and just regular fucking people. Ah! And they just disappeared. Pop, pop, pop in the dark. Like blowing bubbles. We got those little plastic toys, a little stick with a hoop on the end. We dipped it in gasoline and blew through it and they’d float for a while pretty in the sun and pop! Haha! Pop, pop, pop. They disappeared, and everybody was angry. Who wouldn’t be? The problem was, they had to be mad, and they had to be mad at something.

“What makes you angry when your enemy is the dark? Not in the dark, but dark itself, no way to fight it without becoming a part of. No one knew who to fight, but they wanted to, they needed to. Just because they were being hurt. So they tore each other to pieces. When you brutalize a people, when you handle them like beasts and monsters, you don’t make angels of them, you don’t reform them. They become monsters or they become ghosts and there is no other choice except to run and hope that someone here, this country I love, won’t hold you accountable for the sins of your father, or your people, or your culture. I ran. That’s what I did. That’s what the smart people did. From my family… Both my brothers, they were kids. They never grew up. Kaveh became a ghost, not an angel, and Kohimoor, he became a monster first and then a ghost. Ghosts are real. Some are kind, those that died in their sleep. But some, like those people in those buildings, those are angry ghosts. And what can I do? I don’t know who to fight, but I want to fight. I need to fight, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a ghost, not like my brother. I want to be the kind of ghost that sleeps. And they changed names all the time, easy, yes? Blow up a factory churning out erasers, you get a promotion!”

“I’m not condemning you, you know. But I’d shout at me too if I thought it’d help. Just don’t … your inhaler is in the fucking Jansport, dude. Okay, sit, sit down. I’m listening. Okay! I’m not going to try to write about this later, no. Dude, that dude doesn’t know shit. Those people outside, Gale? The guy who gave you a cigarette? He didn’t smoke either, but he carries those in case people get riled up and try to start shit with somebody else. I hate it… I don’t, no, I wouldn’t imagine it being only sand and ash and…”

“The last day in Seqaren I do remember, and it’s real, and I know it’s real, and that is why I prefer the dream. I was walking down the hill towards the pond at the bottom and there were children already in. The little pool was always dirty, but that day was as dirty as I’d ever seen it. I thought that someone had spilled paint into the water, but I got in anyway. I stood on the edge of the little pool on sharp little rocks, cutting my feet and the glass from broken bottles it stuck to the bottom of my feet like little oblong needles. I saw my younger brother coming down the hillside in a hurry, chasing a ball but fell and slid dust coming up behind him and down, he hits the sheer cliff, the drop off where the water comes…

“Once he hit the incline and started running I couldn’t tell if he was crazy with happiness or with madness or with fear, but I was a child. I was afraid, and ducked underneath the black in the water. He ran and ran and ran finally I saw… My brother Kohin was chasing him and he had a gun. I thought that it was some stupid game until my brother Kaveh grabbed me and pulled me into the water and jumped in, with all his clothes on taking me down from behind and grabbing my nostrils. That’s what scared me! He had his clothes all wet and I knew mother would be very angry with him. And my father…

“I struggled to stay above water, but Kaveh tried to hold me under, and I thought it was my brother again, and Raveh was scared. Maybe he’s horsing around? Then I saw the group of men behind Kohin, all dressed in black, and the… Ha! It’s… it’s god damn, god fucking damn. God dammit! Have you ever heard a gun being fired? There were dozens of shots at once, rippling, and it just tore Kohim apart, tore him to fucking pieces. Metal doesn’t bleed, nothing like that, when you get hit you’re just a mix of blood and water and flammable. And they followed him to the edge of the water. He crawled across the glass towards the water, towards where I was hiding with Kaveh, and he held his eyes widened with surprise as he saw my little head bob up and gasp for air breathing oil; there had been an oil spill in the water, no paint! and because the little pool was between two high cliffs, the shadows had kept us safe until the surface caught fire.

“And that’s when he saw me, the people were shouting at him in Urdu and he looked at me all concerned and he stopped running and he stopped crawling and the water was boiling in my eyes but I was covered by the oil in the shadow watching as he knelt, hands behind his head interlocked. He stopped trying to get away, and he just closed his eyes and lay there. I froze there unable to move, as the muffled sound of the Kalashnikov rang out dead and muffled the water distorting it. He tumbled over, same stupid smile he was dead or pretending I had no idea I didn’t know I don’t I fucking I was … I was a child! And the men came up, all I saw were there eyes and those guns, and whether he was dead when he stopped crawling, he was ten feet or so away from us. They shot him in the head. One of those men in black, I guess he was the leader and he pointed at the water and I grabbed my nostrils and dove deep into the black underneath the fire white now blanketing the surface, their muffled shouting and gunshots. Urdu, I spoke Persian. I don’t know who he was. I just saw his eyes, the bottom of his face when he pulled that mask up when he took out that gun, that little bitty pistol and shot Kohin in the head. He just shot him again, shooting a corpse. What kind of madness must be bred to have one man shoot another knowing he’s dead? He’s just wasting bullets, still angry, killing a corpse without remorse or pity or anything. Then he just went through his pockets, took some of his bullets, took his gun, and walked over to one of the other men in black and came back with a burning sock in one hand and a white paper cup in the other. That gasoline taste was in my mouth, and so he held my nose. Then he dropped the sock on my brother and whoosh! He goes up in flames. They pushed him into the water but he kept burning … turning into soot, not ash, the gasoline in my eyes between bubbles.

“I guess they were content that he was dead by then, I took a pull from the last of my air and closed my eyes and thought, I’ve never known or believed in the customs of my people but I begged that wherever I went when I left that place was not more fire and with effort, men in camo uniforms pulled me out of the pool and flung me onto the surface and started breathing into my mouth. Two of the other men came over and with a little effort they flung him into the pool. He was dead and another body was just something they couldn’t carry, molting like that, like shedding skin, pealing away with the fabric of his t-shirt each layer of skin. And something… It shocked them as much as me and Kaveh looking through gas, and that finally scared them, when the water had caught fire. It’s … They ran off, back up the hill, and Kaveh held me there, trying to protect me. That’s where I got these pimples. I know, I know. And somehow, wet, we kept burning, deep down in us, and breathing in each breath was pure fire filling your lungs. It could have been forever, and it died out, finally. I don’t remember the rest so well.

“I remember mama coming for me, and her sobbing. My brother wouldn’t leave Kohin, but we left anyway. We left without him. We got into the back of a truck and waited. I think we were waiting for papa. I don’t remember his name, he changed it a lot. If one side didn’t kill him the other one and the cleanup crew didn’t notice the differences in the eyes o face or those wrinkles in a man’s forehead that say so much or the sadness for a mother having to leave without him. Mother called him Mashe. I don’t know if that was his name. We waited until we couldn’t anymore and besides, the truck was too full anyway. Had he made it, we’d have had to tell him he couldn’t leave. Haha! I just realized: they were waiting on him before they left, not to take him with us, but to apologize!

“He was probably somewhere with a gun or in a ditch, being noble, fighting the cause, while we left down a long long road, people were stacked on top of each other, kids stacked like piles of folded pants. We drove through the night and into the next afternoon. We met an American there and his wife and his two kids, and the truck driver told us that we would have to learn our new names, and began passing out Egyptian visas. I didn’t know what they were, I just remember staring down at the face of a kid who looked like me, and was about my age. I memorized his birthday and his name. I don’t even know my real birthday, Brandon. So I never know when to celebrate.”

There was a long, silly silence.

“Let’s say today is your birthday, then,” I said. “You can have those flowers from the atrium, and take them with you if you go back.”

“You know,” he said, “I can’t go back, unless they make me. Where I must fight or be a monster, one side or another, a monster or collateral I’ll end up a ghost like my brother, forgotten in all the confusion of just another afternoon.”

“Who’s going to teach me to write, if you leave, Gaz?” I asked. “Being practical, you won’t have time to edit my stories if you die.”

He laughed, the vitreous humor crusting in his eyes with embarrassment. He wiped it away.

“I’ll haunt your Word processor, and leave you notes here and there. We’ll develop that talent someday.”

“I knew I could rely on you.”

He smiled.

“Thanks, Brandon.”

I smiled. I didn’t know what to say. Thinking back to it now, I wish I could have comforted him, even if I had to lie. He kept on drinking. And so did I. The television was still blaring news, the same sort that had dominated the airwaves. Finally I turned it back to the Satellite standard music station. He hadn’t lost his composure, not completely, and he hummed some little song. Well, I’m not sure it was a song, as I didn’t know the language. I butted in.

“Have you ever heard Anna Moffat sing?” I asked. “Madame Butterfly? I have to pretend to be cultured now.”

He shuffled through his mp3 player and put on a piece of music. The instrument was an arrabab, I think. I didn’t know what it was, but it was beautiful and serene, and I thought if they could import camels, maybe they could import a waterfall and make an atrium, and plant one for everybody they can’t account for. I wanted to help, or be consoling, or confer in him something personal, or say something wise and meaningful. Sometimes silence is the best consolation.

He had shaken it off somehow by the time he started packing. Or appeared to do so, regaining a measure of his composure, he was smiling and laughing. Maybe it was for my sake. I had tears welling up in my eyes. He thumbed the salty tasting smears off the corner of my mouth, then took a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped the tears away. His expression changed when he saw the hurt in my eyes.

“Hey,” he said. “Laylah’tov, you Brat.”

“Lilah tov, you asshole.”

And he was fast asleep.


well.”

AN AFTERWARD BY THE AUTHOR.

Denouement 

I woke the next morning and he was gone. All his things, his assortment of flowers. I wondered if he’d make it into that peaceful age and have a garden, a home and a wife, something worth being peaceful for, for his daffodils and daisies and orchids, a laminated lotus flower in my notebook on top of a list of books for class:

Brandon,

Because it is fiction does not mean it must be dishonest. If a story is to be based on truth, be truthful to its spirit, and never negligent of your characters, especially those who matter. Remember what Josh said: when you wonder, you imagine; when you wander, you seek. Other than that it has been an honor, not just to have to read your work, which I will think myself fortunate for having done so, but for having you there with me, in the subway, with everybody there. I knew you were standing behind me, tall, and though you are a coward, truly! nature, 6’7″ — you must think of her as kind.

I hope to leave you with the best part of myself, while I can, Azir.

I still can hear him, even now. 16 years on, the minor things, the soft words between people that is shared, briefly, and dissolves into a moment shared. A memory, and it intermingles with the buzzard cutting through the dunes, tires bounding along mudslicks, gravel roads afire and constant gunfire. I see him in every report, from Afghanistan to Afghanistan’s 20th anniversary, until the men who wished to flee fell to their death after losing grip of the plane. Three men, each of them Gaszi, but themselves as unknowable to me, all their silent, soft moments and memories are taken from them in their desperation to hold on.

I went to Iran and wandered the streets, walked by Yeriko and Yemen, took a right and straight on into the sun. And there he was. Fire in the oasis of water, a djinn with a sense of duty. A genie, no; the memory is enough, though as the sun to the moon, as the naked flame to the candle wick, a taper light and for all that dark; let this add if it can to the fire, and let it be in memorial of the spaces between us, where the lost and disillusion walked, following ghosts or grabbing at air and hoping it catches them when they fall. If a genie appeared I’d give away two of the wishes and pocket the third, and send him after my enemies. Gazsi became metamorphosed into fire, for me, as a living silent being that breathed and reached and suffocated, collapsed into dust. In my darkest days I sat by the kerosene heter soaked in sweat with second degree burns on face and my eyes unblinking and wide it is whole he’s alive.

Burn this that he might read it,
and goodnight.