April 2006

click for more info Aside: A Note About Content. (2022) A few of the editorial comments by JTC during the early 2000s were political in nature. Those represent purely my own opinions stated at the time, and may not have agreed with the opinions of my esteemed team members. Explanation follows. Click for more INFO.

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Sigh-Fie Kid Among Dour Puritans

"Thinking" Literature As I have mentioned before, it may seem unusual to see political and historical analysis in a magazine of speculative fiction, but why not? Speculative fiction (the superset of thoughtful and imaginative fictions that includes science fiction) is, as the title implies, a literature of thought. Generally speaking, it is a literature of metaphor and extrapolation— consider, for example, Plato's Atlantis or H.G. Wells' The Time Machine or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or George Orwell's Brave New World or Ayn Rand's Anthem or, for that matter, a thousand other authors who transcended the simple campfire tale to not only entertain but also inform and edify.

It's been observed often enough that American publishers, catering to a readership steeped in dour Puritan tradition, had to put imaginative literature into what Dean Koonz, in his famous flare-out as he vowed never to write SF again, called "the science fiction ghetto." U.S. publishers compartmentalized literature into 'safe' pockets. If you read "literachoor" (Pound's term) you could feel safe that you would not be exposed to anything imaginative that might tax your ledger-like brain. Imaginative literature became ghettoized into the derisive "Sigh-Fie" to which the nondiscerning still refer contemptuously when they go slumming amid "stuff that's (eek!) fun and therefore evil and un-American." The irony is that, if you look at a typical U.S. high school or university English survey course syllabus, many of the books listed are actually speculative fiction (but we don't call them Sigh-Fie). We therefore take the science fiction novel Moby Dick and simply ignore the whiteness and gigantism of the whale motif, which ceases to be a kind of aquatic King Kong and becomes, instead, a bleached, lifeless theological abstraction more suitable to a society still inherently Puritan.

Bug-Eyed Monsters The BEM was a gently self-deprecating acronym of the era of apologism in modern SF. I say 'apologism' (self-non-esteem) rather than 'apologetics' (speaking for or about something) as a reflection of a phenomenon I observed as a youngster in the 1960s. That is, the fact that almost every anthology I picked up (and SF was, to a great extent, a literature of short stories) had a seemingly mandatory introductory essay decrying the ghettofication of imaginative literature in the American literary market place. The endlessly looping dirge went something like this: "One day, imaginative writing will be accepted into the canon of literature rather than sneered at by the majority." I was a bright, precocious kid with a zeal for writing imaginative stories, and I endured a good bruising at the hands of that same majority. Mulling over this grand-scale schoolyard bullying, I detected a good dose of old-fashioned hyper-Christian extremism. Given where I grew up, that is not surprising—and no, it's not the Bible-thumping South of Jim Crow and whiskey-soaked preachers spouting hypocrisy.

Town, Gown, and Frown After all, I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut—ironically, the birth place of America's industrial-religious tyrant and mock-zealot, George W. Bush—which was founded by an extreme splinter group of Puritans who were driven away by other Puritans tired of the extremists among them. In fact, when fanatics seized power in England (Cromwell and the Civil War), the three judges of the fifty-plus in England who condemned their king to death (known as Regicides) fled to New Haven, and three main streets are still dutifully named after these regicide judges: Whalley, Goffe, and Dixwell. As the turgid river of the mob thought stream flows, murky and circuitous about prominences real or imagined, (Creationism, anti-Environmentalism, Abortion as Fun That Must Be Stopped, Guns as Godly, etc) it is not entirely surprising to see the anti-monarchic sentiment arise on the eve of the American Revolution—after all, that sentiment had a long gestation. On my first visit back to New Haven after decades, I was walking down Elm Street toward Battell Chapel (the heart of much of Yale's religious history), and I totally expected to see some dutiful exhortation to Her Majesty's official state religion (Episcopalian, the U.S. variety of world Anglicanism, whose Mass I have happily attended as well as my native Roman Catholic). Then I saw the plaque on the wall by the main door and stopped, flabberghasted. Battell Chapel is dedicated to a Protestant confession (Church of Christ in Yale) that I would generously guess nowadays has a broad range of attentions, from liberal to conservative; but in that moment I caught an "of course!" insight of New Haven's history of conservatism in the spirit of Johnathan Edwards (who preached fire and brimstone in the region). It seemed so logical that, amid all the faux Anglophilism evident in the upper crust and its wannabes), there would be this mixed nod toward King George (Hannover, not Washington, who abdicated before his enthronement).

The zealots who landed on the blank American shores and—in this empty landscape, crying out to be filled with ideas and structures, the wilder the better, as long as they remained gray and apocalyptic and severe—dreamed up weird theocracies in smoke and fire and spittle, may have seen themselves as striking out for religious freedom—and so they are rhapsodized in the mythologies spun by U.S. textbooks—but they can just as readily be seen as belonging to the packs of criminals and insane people who were 'transported' (exiled) from civilized European shores. They were, in a word, unwanted. My guess is that it was with good reason.

Anyway, I grew up in a New Haven that had become largely a demographic patchwork of Roman Catholic ethnicities. There was a RC Church for just about every ethnic group. When I was 11, we'd go around the block to St. Stanislaus on Sunday mornings, where the sermon was in Polish. Everyone 'knew' that St. Stan's Church was Polish, St. Anne's was Italian, St. Francis' was Irish, St. Boniface's was German, St. Louis' French, and so on. There was a Ukrainian church whose name I forget. Anyway, there are still three of the original Protestant churches on the city Green, but it was possible to grow up in New Haven thinking the world was largely Roman Catholic. And don't get me wrong—I have many fond memories of New Haven, like the annual Powder House Day (see Wikipedia) or the grand Freddy Fixer Day Parade, which was a real, early racially-blind get together of all citizens.

In fact, I love New Haven. It's just that I see in it a microcosm of America and in fact the human race. At the same time, I am aware of its peculiar history as an artifact of Protestant extremism in settling an empty continent. Clarification: I'm happy to equally bash or praise all religions, including my own. They are all full of pretense and fair game. I do believe there are nuggets of veracity amid all that manure. As to a discussion of Protestant extremism, if that strikes you as disingenuous in the modern age, let's not even discuss the struggles in Northern Ireland. Let's just recall, with bowed heads, that the Protestant fringe extremists running the USA in the guise of Representatives in Congress, under the sweaty-jockstrap leadership of wrestler and draft dodger extraordinaire Denny "Fatty" Hastert, in 2001 actively blocked the appointment of a Roman Catholic clergyman as House Chaplain. Aghast, these anti-Papists had assumed that the 200+ year tradition favoring only conservative Protestants would continue forever, particularly under an Oliver Cromwellian anti-President. Shamed by articles in what remains of the Free Press, Fatty and his fellow Jefferson Davises ended up settling on a different Catholic priest, much to their selfrighteous discomfiture. After all, like Gay Marriage, such weighty issues threaten the survival of civilization. Isn't it time to rename their institution something like the House of Repressants? Maybe the other house of shame could become the Senuts. Personally, I think such nods to mob culture as government chaplains should be abolished (except in the military). Let's keep Church and State separate, before you wake up one morning and learn that the other guy's religion which you consider to be so wrong has become the official state religion. See, human nature doesn't change. What worked, or went wrong, two thousand years ago can just as easily happen again today.

New Haven, after all, is the place where Yale University students (or any other students) into the early 1800s were not permitted to study French. A city ordinance forbade the teaching of French because of its association with Papism and immoral thinking and lewd behavior. Fast-forward to Freedom Fries (forgetting that the French were one of the first nations to step up to the plate after 9/11 and commit forces to our invasion of Afghanistan in the real war on terror, since the Taliban and Al Qaida had united in seizing power there, which had zilch to do with Iraq) and consider that America's Julius Caesar, her first real dictator (by his own definition on world television the week he seized power in 2000) was born in New Haven (technically Hamden, but who's that clear about detail in this age of fuzzy intelligence and cocaine-frazzled war rationales?). I refer, of course, to the inarticulate and brain-damaged Tush, a puppet manipulated by Cheney and Rove on the political side, Murdoch on the media side, and the likes of Falwell on the Zealotry side. On the distaff side, there's a galaxy of twinkling stars including Harriet Myers, whom he almost inflicted on the Supreme Court before his handlers stopped him. Sort of like a chemically addled toddler running loose and wreaking havoc. Except this toddler is diabolical in his capacity to be a liar, and to manipulate those as stupid as he himself is, of whom there are legion. Back to the New Haven rant, though.

There is a Star Trek episode in which two identical looking alien humanoids (white on one side, black on the other) nearly destroy the Enterprise in trying to destroy each other (one of my favorites, from the original 1960s TV series: I believe it was Let That Be Your Last Battlefield). Kirk and his complement must save the ship and figure out which of the two is the hunter and which the hunted. Their intense hatred for each other ("can't you see that we are opposites") is baffling until Kirk finally figures out that one is black/white while the other is white/black (left/right vs. right/left). It's an obvious metaphor for the absurdity of racism, religionism, and other ways in which humans persecute one another. It might as well be a metaphor for the divisions within Christianity, whether it be the rabidly violent persecution of Roman Catholics in Anglican Britain for three centuries (although their churches look identical) or the divisions in Northern Ireland. Well, there you have it—being of Irish descent, I would be particularly sensitive to the lengths to which the British had to go to dehumanize the Irish (who have written three quarters of English literature, not bad for drunken trolls, eh?) in order to further their imperial mythology. In the U.S., well into the early 20th Century, it was common to see employment notices that read "No Irish Need Apply." Nonetheless, for all that, it is not surprising that one finds the same dour spirit at the heart of conservative Catholicism. So ultimately, when I was getting bruised for being imaginative and bright, I'm not really sure whether it was the Protestant side or the Catholic side. At times, they seem to go together so well, the gray-suited fanatics of both confessions.

New Haven, we should remember, had until recently (and maybe still does, although I left for California nearly 33 years ago) Blue Laws of the kind that said "Thou Shalt Not Lead a Lion Or a Tiger Upon a Leash on Sundays" (I'm not kidding) or "Men and Women Shall Not Dance Together in Publick" or "The Sale of Umbrellas On Sunday is Strictly Forbidden." Probably the most destructive was the one prohibiting liquor sales on Sundays, which caused the city's alcoholics to gather in public squares and drink cheap camping-stove cooking oil which had alcohol in it, and led to many deaths and debilitating injuries. I also remember the good old days of Catholic Church dominating local politics, so that it was not unusual to read about violent police commando raids on Planned Parenthood clinics that had committed the crime of dispensing birth control information (about rubbers and such). On the more cheap and ludicrous side: New Haven was the place where, when the Midtown Motor Inn (long defunct) opened a four-star restaurant with a genuine French chef and the city's first outdoor café, the place was shut down by indignant city council members on the grounds that city ordinances prohibited public drunkenness. Anyone consuming liquor on a public sidewalk was considered to be loitering and boisterous or some such thing, and had to be whisked off to jail. Didn't matter if you were lying in the gutter in your own puke, or sitting under a Cinzano umbrella enjoying a fine vin au coq with a little delicate white wine. Without the ability to serve wine or beer with an expensive meal, there wasn't much point in an outdoor restaurant. In the USA today, if you are in an urban (blue state) center, it's not unusual to see outdoor cafes—I imagine they are still frowned on in bumpkinous red states. Is it important? I dunno. We are, I think, soused with the legendary Protestant 'ethic,' which is puritanical and zealous and decries having fun. So, yes, we can gobble some rotten 'fast food' in order to get back to work more quickly. We can gobble it in our cars or in our homes, where food is appropriately eaten without much fun or joy, as a means to survive rather than as a means to live more fully. That describes the ultra-con attitude toward sex, as well: something dirty needed, like barnyard husbandry amid its filth and stench, to enable our race to procreate—nothing joyful or transcendant.

Watching Rome Burn Well, enough. Like those apologists, I have sufficiently thumped the melon of dour and anti-imaginative puritanicalism. As Kevin Phillips expounds in his new book American Theocracy, we live in an era of jihad, whether the extremism is Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. We have already seen the era of Japanese State Shinto and German neo-Paganism, both leading to World War II. We have seen the era of Soviet State Atheism and Collectivization come and go. Now perhaps it's back to the good old game of My God Is Better Than Your God. At least one wild-eyed U.S. Army general had to be removed from the public spotlight (not at the wish of the Ayatolla Tush) for stating that Bush's war on Iraq is a crusade against satanic Islam. But why bother, when his commander in chief (Tush) himself used the term Crusade to describe his immoral grab for oil power? That said, I believe we have always lived in a sort of theocracy. It's just been too monolithic for us to know so. We are fish who do not see the water in which we swim. It's not much different from growing up as an Irish-Catholic in New Haven during the 1960s and thinking the whole world is Papist (to use the Protestant epithet). Nor is it different from growing up in some Red State and believing Bush is the saviour who will restore Tinytown to its Puritanical origins, get rid of all those dark-skinned foreigners, and restore English as God's only language. After all, ain't the Bible in English?

Living In Interesting Times This will be the shortest paragraph in today's rant, because I think any American with a brain can see and feel that we are enveloped by a growing disaster of Biblical proportions. It's not the End Times—there's no such thing. The only Armageddon will be if Bush and his millions of lunatics cause a nuclear catastrophe in the Middle East that surely will shatter the world's oil supplies and therefore the world's economies, causing the worst famine in human history. I don't mean in Africa, but right there in those Bush-loving states of Dorothy and Toto. It's not the Middle East but the Midwest that will suffer the most. Remember, it takes a lot of oil to drive that near beer and gray sack cloth to places like Kansas and Oklahoma. As I've mentioned before in other articles, this whole false mythology of the End Times is wrapped around some mythical man who will become the world's most powerful leader. He (666 or 661) will falsely project himself as a great Christian leader but will actually be Satan's representative on earth, and so on and so forth. (For the Biblically impaired, Revelation was written in 95 A.D. on the island of Patmos by an apocalyptist—one of thousands of writers of such books with which the Roman Empire was flooded—during the reign of the evil Domitian; Revelation isn't about some future cataclysm but about events that came and went long ago in the destruction of the Roman Empire). If we do live in such End Times, it will strictly be a self-fulfilling prophecy by America's inbred jihadists. It will have nothing to do with God. It won't be about the Bible, but about man's unending capacity for evil, as personified in Cheney, Nixon, and the entire Lenin's Tomb parade of gangsters with billions of our tax dollars. The pope of the American fundamentalists, George W. Bush, sits on his tyrant's throne with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Maybe it's not 666 but sick-sick-sick.

More in next month's rant. Thanks for stopping by, keep reading subversive and thoughtful literature like the best that SF has to offer, and have a great month!



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