Do You Consider the Lost Places?

Do you consider the lost places? Of course why would you, you who read this. You are probably American, from Seattle or Miami or Biloxi. If its early morning, before your day starts you have a fresh cappuccino steaming in front of you just prepared in a fancy machine that spits and hisses at you and the aroma is clearing the cobwebs from your head; if its in the evening maybe you just popped open a bottle of Cabernet that you and your spouse bought last weekend on a drive through wine country. There is so much wine country in America these days, as our tremendous bounty overflows into the rural places giving us the chance to chase after that which gives us joy. Even Tennessee, where I spent Christmas, has ‘wine country’ these days.

I suppose you do not consider the lost places in your daily travails. Your questions are more prescient, more imminent – as they should be. Are you raising your children right? Will you have enough saved up for retirement? What will you do when your father reaches that age; when he needs some more help? A home, those are expensive and somewhat unfeeling; but there are not enough rooms in your house, and how would you make it work? Maybe you are headed for divorce; maybe you have money troubles and are struggling to make ends meet or maybe even addiction has you wondering whether today will finally be that day when you can make it to the end with your head unfogged, and you are using some early morning reading to distract yourself from that existential epic battle for today. Our lives are not easy, we Americans – we still struggle and rage and weep and dream despite the tremendous bounty. In fact we sometimes forget the bounty, nobody thinks of what they have – but what they don’t have. Nobody compares themselves to those who live at the fringes, in the lost places, but instead to their neighbors down the street or the politician who did not earn his second house. We are not as those who caricature us would make us seem, are we?

But in all this do you consider the lost places? Places far away and forgotten and mired in such corruption and despair that they might as well be otherworldly – prehistoric or on a distant planet where a great war rages.

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But that far you do not have to go, to reach the lost places. They are relatively near, take my word for if for I come and go regularly. Consider the picture above – look closely, for though it looks to be the underarm of the world it is in fact one of our own lost places; refugees fleeing across an invisible border in Africa to a country which looks the same. And you ask yourself, who would inhabit such a place? Willingly, even unwillingly? Now look closer, and closer, and closer still to the far bottom left of the picture where you will see a woman with her little boy, or perhaps it’s a little girl. Can you consider her? For her child is not that different from yours (or mine). Withdraw from you, withdraw from me the bounty of ages and the family networks and our massive (sometimes) benevolent state programs of protection and then plunge us into war and we, you and me, might very well be sitting together on a parched piece of land waiting… waiting… waiting… But for what? Do not let’s ask, for the answer will not satisfy, even if it ever comes.

Why do I bring this up, why trouble you on this bright winter morning when you have your own worries, worries like those mentioned above which are not trivial though there are those who might try to make you think so. Why do I invade your quiet world with lost places not only outside of your sphere but far away from your ability to influence? It’s a fair question, I suppose its because I am American too and my house back home might very well be next to  yours; but I do have to consider the lost places. Driving to work with my little boy in his expensive car-seat listening to Elmo beside a street corner where there sits a woman with twins. Did you know twins are “evil” in many parts of Africa? Did you know they require to be sacrificed, or face banishment if they are not—? To sit on a street corner and wait for the compassion of strangers. Videos of mutilations and carnage and terror; fear – yes we can fear, fear of bad men who would do us harm and fear for a small American boy thrust into the mayhem unawares. Yes I have to consider these things because their wars have become my wars – to be sure by my choice but nevertheless can one ever un-choose once life’s decisions are made and we go where the raging river takes us? Can one ever walk away?

What does he want? You say to yourself, perhaps with mild annoyance. Nothing, nothing at all. For if I were not here I probably would not consider these lost places either. But what do I hope? That’s a different thing. I hope for kindness. I hope for an end to the viciousness which forced me to leave Facebook and Twitter, though lost as I am I did rely on those tools to connect with family. But it was not worth the refuse. I hope for common sense, decency and above all a little bit of compassion not for those afflicted in foreign wars, but for each other seated as we are amid the bounty. I hope that we all think, that we all remember that places become lost first in the mind, and are quickly followed by the body and then the soul – and then a whole land plunges away. Yes, turns out I do want something, me who is far away and fighting a war not my own. Please do not turn our land of plenty into a lost place, responding to your small frustrations and petty jealousies. Before you do – consider these my lost places, for they could be yours too, ours too. They could always be, for there is nothing special about America except that which is in our heart and our soul and our consciousness. And those are fragile things indeed.

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“The Terror of Existence” – A Book Review

Those of us who write know that we control the world. Alas those who wrote emptiness also knew this: Nietzsche and Freud; Marx and Gramsci. It is they who are the founts from which rushed forth such a crushing nihilism as we are forced to contend with today, though they are all dead; a nihilism which has become carnal and gross. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in his famed Harvard address, “Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror.” The ‘Theater of the Absurd’ we see played out on our college campuses and in Hollywood movies ratifies this; the bizarre and nonsensical and lewd only perhaps exceeded by an odd ‘moral’ indignation against, you guessed it, those who attempt to attain real morality (that which is conducive to a life more abundant). The meaninglessness of post-modernism, where we are all “wet robots made of meat” and not moral agents responding to something greater has taken us down a dark path indeed.

This Is what The Terror of Existence is about. But don’t fret, for it’s not a sordid tell all of the macabre but instead a series of lovely, thoughtful essays analyzing the great works of nihilist literature (yes, some of which even I like) and how they prepared the west for our uncouth postmodernism. It is about the horrors of existentialism described as they are even beautifully by that philosophy’s greatest apologists, yet nevertheless fetid as humanity attempts to play-act them out by doing “what is right in its own eyes” ignoring the glorious eternity which has been placed in the hearts of men.

Now there is a silver lining, because our nihilism has lost some of its ghastly glow. And thank God. Last night I was trolling through Netflix when I stopped (for some reason that can’t be forgiven) upon a Vince Vaughan “comedy”. Cheap laughs, some irrelevant nudity. Drunkenness and debauchery – but the most interesting thing was that the shtick was somehow tired, spent. The darkness had no motivation nor momentum. It was as if the entire cast and directors knew they were involved in a fraud but were nevertheless going through the motions in a strange Newtonian quest for nowhere which required no effort nor imagination, only surrender. “Think about it,” says Kenneth Francis in The Terror of Existence, “a hypothetical movie called The Wages of Pleasure, where four handsome men in two Mercedes Benz cars deliver body oils, perfumes and soaps to a coterie of young beautiful woman in a Playboy Mansion somewhere nearby on a paradise beach. A hollow, bland movie devoid of tension, suspense, action, suffering and fear.” Yes, that is the movie I watched; and that is the movie modern western society is desperately attempting to live – but to what end? They cannot say, so please stop asking.

Truly it is we who write who control the world. The most exciting thing about now, about our age is that after so long on the sidelines, playing defense against so great and alluring a foe, it is now those who write passion and truth who have seized the initiative. Oh, to be sure the nihilists use all the pressure of their not-insubstantial influence to deny us platforms, words, venues for debate – a debate which they so fear. But nevertheless the truth shines through; in writers like Theodore Dalrymple and Kenneth Francis in books like The Terror of Existence.

And for the politicians, you ask? Politicians follow the books; “they come later” as Ayn Rand said, only sitting down to a table that is already set by we who write the modern books for the rebirth of our great republic. Maybe it’s already happening? Because despite all the column inches, those oddly empty elected leaders who grace our magazine covers are not a threat, not really; the ideas which they argue in our terrible online agora do not convince for they no longer ring true, for their post-modernism proved wanting and their nihilism did not end up ushering in a “life more abundant” which they promised would come after the pulverizing of cities and the epic acts of collective suicide. Instead all that remains is hunger and emptiness, and that of a spiritual kind which lasts far longer than the flat bellies. No, we should not be concerned about “the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within their mind(s)…” with which we must contend. They are not really worthy of the fight, a fight that has already been won; if only people would realize it.

So we keep writing and reading, knowing well that our time is coming – that perhaps it has already arrived.

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Robert D. Kaplan’s “In Europe’s Shadow”

Robert Kaplan is part of a lost generation of correspondents of old who would embark upon voyages dangerous and distant with only their notepad and pencil to accompany their curiosity and their exploding sense of wonder. Wonder at an enormous world and all the extraordinary stories of people in that world doing things terrific and terrible.

My father once said about his doctoral mentor under whom he studied, “I would take a course on basket-weaving if he taught it. It isn’t what he teaches that is so important, but the wisdom and understanding he brings to any subject married to a delivery which enlightens and makes us better people.” That is what I feel about Kaplan. “In Europe’s Shadow” is about 20th century Romania. Now, I have rarely given Romania much thought, occupied as my mind has been with other places – places which perhaps Kaplan has not much considered. But that doesn’t matter. The tour which Kaplan gives us of the dreadful days of Nicolai Ceausescu, of the struggles of common people and their fight to be free and to believe in the significance of their own lives – that is what this book is about. It is a beautiful book about patience and wisdom nestled in the deep olden valleys of a place few of us have gone (or perhaps will ever go, though its now certainly on my list).

Kaplan saves no criticism of the terrible legacy of communism, the moral and physical and spiritual destruction of successive generations of people. The brutal tortures physical and spiritual and mental inflicted upon the citizens at the whim of Romania’s Communist/fascist (yes they are the same thing) ‘oriental’ tinpot dictator – if not the original, certainly the archetype. A Stalinist long after Stalin went out of fashion, ignorant and brutal and ridiculous if only he had not been so terribly dangerous.

But there is comfort as well in “In Europe’s Shadow”. Kaplan is a true conservative, and liberal – before both of those words became emptied of meaning and filled with “the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within (our) mind(s)…” (a quote from Jose Ortega y Gasset, who Kaplan quotes extensively in The Coming Anarchy). Kaplan believes change should happen slowly, for revolution always rips down more than it ever seeks to rebuild and leaves people vulnerable to the predations of man. He understands man is not perfectible, not really, and the utopianism of social engineering that starts with revolution leads to bonfires of human flesh beside a bread line.

The central tenet of all of Kaplan’s writing is that geography matters. This is not something the new ‘globalists’ like to consider. They believe they have created a borderless, cultureless, geography-less world where ideas and commodities can fly around the globe at the speed of a mouse-click disconsidering the mountains and the valleys and the forests in which people nestle their ideas of home and self. They are of course wrong, and are learning their lessons in hubris the hard way these days, which is heralding an arriving ordeal which is not going to be pleasant but is nevertheless an adjustment which is perhaps long overdue. But the way Kaplan tells his stories, without hubris and hate and without turning every statement into a little poisoned barb against this or that politician, that is what makes his writing unique.

And in this Kaplan is like a creature from a different time, who we go to with curiosity and a sense of nostalgia as to how things were and how they should be, before they all fell away.

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My Most (and Least) Favorite Books of 2018

It is said if you want to be a writer, you have to read. The converse of that of course is that if somebody does not read they cannot write. And not merely articles in American Affairs Journal either, or National Review – good though they might be; a writer, even a writer of non-fiction, needs to read literature. As Robert D. Kaplan has said in The Coming Anarchy, “Literature, alas, may be the only salvation for the policy elite, because in the guise of fiction a writer can more easily tell the truth.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We also must read deliberately; its akin to that proverbial trail of bread crumbs which one must follow if one seeks to get anywhere. Each book leading us to the next and the next in our quest for understanding. We should read books we agree with, for that is natural; but also books which challenge our beliefs about what we think we know (or, God forbid, that about which we don’t know we don’t know). While the social media “echo chamber” only creates an airtight environment of bias and prejudice out of which no stupidity can escape nor no reason enter, reading (ideally in the quietly and privacy of home and from books written by men and women who are long dead) is a place ‘safe’ (in the parlance of our times) for challenge and awakening. But we have to want to. We must seek wisdom through discipline and consideration to escape, “the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within (our) mind(s)…”  (like Jose Ortega y Gasset writes). But we also should read for pleasure, to immerse ourselves in lands we don’t know and experience things through the well-written pages of the masters of which we will never partake in life. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite books from last year.

Classical Literature

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Of course, who better than Steinbeck? He captures the soul of America with his beautiful prose better than any writer (alive or dead). East of Eden is the story of a family trying to make it in the old American west, California specifically. It is a story of hardship and bitterness and violence and of two brothers and how they dealt with their misfortune and an evil woman who entered their lives and of whom they would never be free. It is an epic in the finest sense of the word, a great masterpiece that shines forth illuminating our past and our future and our character for all those with the discipline to read it (its a little long).

New Literature

Pacific Viking, by Barnaby Allen. Its very hard for a new author to break through, to become known in a country where over 4,000,000 books are published each year (most of which, I might add, are garbage – even, or especially, those published by the mainstream publishing houses). Our quest for fame and the almighty dollar has blunted our search for transformational writing, stories that last and grow with time. As Camus has said, “If you want something to last, carve it into a stone and drop it into the sea. Depths last longer than heights.” Pacific Viking is a historical fiction about Charles Savage, a native probably of Sweden who ended up as a Polynesian chieftain during the spice war days of the pacific. It is, like Steinbeck, an epic – a sweeping story starting in the frigid northlands of Scandinavia and moving on to the South Sea. It is a hard, brutal, terrible story full of darkness; how could it not be? For that is so much of human existence. Barnaby Allen has passed from this earth, this book was published posthumously by his wife. It will be his only novel, and the world has lost a great voice; making me sad to think what might have been had he been around to give us another half dozen novels.

Non-Fiction

Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen. To be sure I read many excellent books this year, including ones like The Coming Anarchy by Robert D. Kaplan and The Debasement of Human Rights by Aaron Rhodes (extraordinary in its own right, a deep dive into a very specific but nevertheless extremely important aspect of liberalism’s failure), but I think the one which made me most thoughtful was this one. Deneen (and Kaplan) are the antithesis to the Stephen Pinker and Angus Deaton’s technocratic history-less optimism about the future of the world (ignore please the plastic in the seas and the $200 trillion debt we have passed on to my 6 year old). Deneen’s fundamental argument is that the promotion of the liberal historyless anticulture across all aspects of America’s intelligentsia has caused us to forget our “common culture”; and a society which does not know its own story can only ever last one or two more generations before it collapses. It is a full-throated defense of nuance and community and tolerance in an age of ‘liberal totalitarianism’ (different use of the word liberal here), a cogent case against a globalism which across a wide and diverse world seeks to homogenize the human experience to the preference of a tiny few in the urban archipelago.

Worst Book

Hermit in Paris by Italo Calvino. So I like Calvino, he is Italy’s and one of Europe’s most gifted novelists. It is best to not get to know the writers one likes, for one is always disappointed. Hermit in Paris is Calvino’s random thoughts, taken mostly from his journal, as he wanders around. A large part of it is about the United States, and it was terribly sad to see that such a great writer really was unable to capture (like Steinbeck or Fitzgerald) the nuance of the American experience and was instead full of petty prejudice and un-insightful comments. I came away thinking less of him; and that is always sad.

Those are my selections for 2018. I read many, and you are welcome to follow me on GoodReads if you wish (I no longer tweet or engage on FB – there is however a public page managed by my wife). And if you do find yourself on GoodReads, make sure also to take your own reading challenge. For everybody, our great escape from ignorance comes only in the quiet candlelit nights with only a book and our own reactions to the ideas presented therein.

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The Quiet of Unknowing

A quiet has descended upon us, a quiet which no longer boasts the great bonfires of old over which the legendary men gathered to tell tales, but which belies the burning manifest instead in trifling tongues which still flicker at the peripheries, insignificant embers perhaps but which nevertheless are beyond the abilities of the guileless firemen at the fringes. The wars have returned to the foreign lands from whence was their genesis after the proximate visitations were smothered through damp piles of spurious money lain over still-warm bodies; the audacity of an experiment in continental boredom paving over the smoldering memory extinguishing the kindling.

Yes, the wars do continue, as they always have; though we no longer consider them. Why would we? They fester now in veiled silence,  as they did in the ancient days of yore, to be experienced only by the afflicted, for we are tired of considering them. We have earned our right to our own quiet, or so we tell ourselves; but is it that we bear no responsibility for such a distant violence? For conflict far-flung is not easily quenched, especially that which is allowed to burn unimpeded, becoming clean and white-hot in its discipline and rage.

Yet how will we know if it, even if we would? For the afflicted have no voice; and in our age of information we have again become illiterate, returning to the grunts and pictographs of our cavemen ancestors.

Alas, these days there are none like the storied correspondents of old who were the griots telling us of the violence in far-flung places; they too are dead, put to death on the altar of convenience and the insipid notions of a totalitarian society which has forbidden the contemplation of the cause and meaning of war. So there is a quiet, filled instead with the shrillness of bewilderment for a caste who knows no understanding, having been robbed of their wars; but consumed now with an outrage of unknowing. Not that we covet the wars; but the banality and meaninglessness of now – a history-less cultureless existence which seeks to excise every ember from which might arise preference, the seed of disagreement and eventual conflict; that is what the quiet has furnished us.

But in our quietness we have not been content, have we? Festivals emptied of their significance to be filled with consumerism and comfort do not bring the joy of tribulations overcome; histories of epic conflicts penned to give permanence to the great horrors of old, sanded down and whitewashed over do not inspire. Humanity’s amazing story, the story of us, re-told as for children has not afforded us a sense of self and place and time; nor has it provided us an opportunity to know who we are or the curiosity to seek out in compassion and understanding and empathy the lost places where the fires still consume.

It is quiet where I sit, and outside the world I inhabit (though of which I am not a part) is silent; but this is a silence of knowing as little ones who have had no Christmas are asleep upon their mats, swatting away mosquitoes and gnats while listening to the sounds of their too-compressed lives, consequence of families out of control, of wars out of control and the desire for the safety in numbers which is the only defense of the poor. They have known the blaze, and would like to be free of it, as we have become free of it (at least for now). They too wish for the paralyzing weight of our quiet, at least for a season. But to change places…? Who could manage that feat – and if they did could they administer the quiet, bereft as they too would be after a time of the knowing which brings discernment and through that, peace?

Nevertheless, I would that we could change places, perhaps; those who do not know though believe they do with those who know and wish desperately to forget. Such an exchange would bring empathy I think; that rare emotion which is care bereft of pity and knowing absent hate. And empathy is certainly what the world needs today.

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2019 – Our Year of Solutions!

If watching periodic readjustments can be hard, living through them is often downright stressful. This is what historians of the future will document when they write about this period in our history, if they write about it at all – if we have not gone the way of the dinosaur and the dodo but instead have found a way to stave off, at least for a season, our arriving ordeal. I think they will catalog our time as America’s ‘Age of Readjustment’.

‘Readjustment’ – initially I was looking for the translation for reacomodamiento, oft-times we find the perfect word for things in another language – but the best I could do is readjustment. Reacomodar has a more tranquil spirit to it along with the air of something that happens as a process of nature and nature’s God not product of the tinkering of the planners. But nevertheless, readjustment it will have to be.

The west has led the world forever; since recorded history at least. The great wars, great inventions, great leaps in philosophy and religion are all ours. Most of the other regions of the world follow, existing as the inverse of epicenter and following in the fullness of time the lead provided by the west. Until that is no longer the case, it is we who are destined to lead – pushing our reacomodamiento, our readjustment, out in unsteady waves of stress. “Creative destruction”, the economists call it. Never mind that what is being destroyed is a system itself. More on that later. If 2017 was ‘the year of the market’, adding 25% to its value; 2018 has been the ‘year of the worker’. The year that money flowed from the corporations into the lives of people. It was the year of in-sourcing, of reinvestment, of repatriation. “In 2018 some 4 million workers got pay bonuses from employers thanks to the Trump tax cut. (…) Pay gains in real terms this year are now estimated at 3 percent (…) The latest jobs report spotlights 7 million more job postings than workers available to fill them.” It has even trickled into the most unlikely of markets, for example “…hiring of ex-convicts is rising rapidly as employers search for ready and able workers. In some instances, employers are so hungry for labor that they wait outside the prisons for the inmates to be released so they can hire them.” This is of course what economists want to see. Stock market growth is meaningless in and of itself, representing as it does the prosperity of the relatively few who own stocks and mutual funds and their elite hedge-fund managers in the great urban archipelagos.

Apropos of that, the Wall Street Journal labeled the greatest loser of 2018 to be the “Liberal International Order”. Of course such an ‘order’, if it existed at all, only did so in the imaginations of America’s new aristocracy who counted on the permanency of their role in the world as the overseers and supervisors of humanity’s interactions. The fall of the “Liberal International Order” is probably better referred to as the “refutation of the ruling class”. Readjustment, because, let’s be honest, those who saw it as their job to manage our world were not doing a very good job. Forever wars, great recessions (economic and democratic) and environmental degradation. Those who brought us the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Accords surely are not those who have the answers to the anarchy that came; if nothing else that is obvious. Ergo the ‘readjustment’.

It is, however, unclear how the readjustment will proceed. Many are stressed out, especially the aforementioned aristocrats, accustomed as they are to being the wizened wizards in their ivory towers; Saruman in Isengard who thankfully few people visit anymore. Except Gandalf once, boy did he learn his lesson. Our readjustment is not a revolution – those are always unwelcome and always detrimental to our search for prosperity. Neither is it ‘progress’ like we are sold by progressives, for there is a great deal of looking backward in our ‘readjustment’; and this is good. There’s certainly a lot more of Hillsdale than Harvard in our readjustment. We will find the answers to so much that ails us in the backwater valleys of Tennessee and the gentle goodness and timelessness of the Bible Belt; for the ideas of the archipelago are spent.

So what will 2019 be, in our ‘Age of Readjustment’? I’ve never been very good at predictions (I do however fare better than our nobles… Too soon?) But if I were to venture a guess, I’d say that our year of corporations, which led to our year of workers, will lead us in 2019 to the year of solutions. When the spillover of our tremendous prosperity will finally lead to natural, organic embryos of solutions to the problems which ail our society and coming as they must from society itself. For our ‘Age of Readjustment’ is at last putting to the sword our liberal, statist world order. And, as has always happened, as goes the west so will go the rest of the world.

It is said that there’s a man opening a new establishment here in Knoxville, Tennessee called “Resolutions”. It will function as a gym for the first two weeks of the year and a bar for the remaining 50. But all kidding aside, our year of solutions in our age of readjustment requires also resolutions. So here are mine; let’s be gentler with each other this year. Lets be more magnanimous to our foes, more constructively critical with our own ‘tribe’, more open-headed toward those with whom who we do not agree and more open-hearted with those who – for one reason or another – we just don’t like. And lets drain our toxic swamp – no I’m not talking of an old city atop a marsh but instead the nasty leavings of the unexamined mind spread across cyberspace. Specifically, I challenge you in 2019 to delete your Twitter and Facebook accounts (I already have), look up from your computers, and start to work locally on issues that affect your daily life. Don’t think (too much) about the ‘Pacific Garbage Patch’ but instead the mess in your own neighborhood. Worry less about the White House and more about making your city council more accountable. And read less of FoxNews and MSNBC and more of The Imaginative Conservative and the Crossville Chronicle. It is with this behavior that we will start finding our solutions.

Without further ado, 2019 here we come!!!

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The Wonder of Aloofness

Do you ever wonder what the people you admire do between moments of great inspiration and tremendous consequence? Mother Theresa getting her nails done; Billy Graham guiltily scarfing down a third hot-dog while watching Ancient Aliens; Ernest Hemingway sitting on a beach instead of his storied Parisian café, dressed in a pair of yellow swimming trunks burying the lower half of his body in sand.

It is said that nobody is a prophet in their own land. This is what they are referring to. For those who have seen us before we became who we are; for those who witness our inglorious moments instead of our fiery speeches or our flights into danger; for those who remember a rebellious acneed teenager and not a commander of men – seeing beyond those things is too difficult. I guess this is why I hate Facebook so much; why I have left, to never return. Facebook has turned the entire world into one giant village, on purpose. They have ‘leveled’ the playing field, with our feeds filled up with friends-now-Ambassadors with whom we used to play beer-pong and women we used to date now judges or CEOs. Worse yet, we see them in their inanity; stupid political opinions or moments of quiet relaxation projected across cyberspace to ratify to people jealous and petty that they are still much the same as when we knew them (though they are not, and have not been for a long time).

There has been a longstanding political tradition in the United States (which is now lost) which guided childhood friends of men who have become great to guard their silence; knowing that the too-familiar was detrimental to the aura not of the person but of the position that they had been chosen to hold. The media knew this and did not press too hard; and respect was given to allow us to revel in the wonder of our amazing democracy as part of the ‘social contract’ which allows us to pick commoners – men like us, men who we oftentimes ourselves have become – to lead us and still admire them. For this reason we like a certain aloofness; a certain distance which allows us to forget that our heroes also put their underwear on one leg at time and probably have, like us, occasionally done stupid or wicked things.

Robert D. Kaplan once wrote, “As we seek perfection in our officials through an increasingly intense legal scrutiny, and reap an increasingly sallow form of mediocrity instead, there will come times – perhaps dangerous and violent times – when we will be more forgiving toward those who were supremely imperfect in their character yet unafraid to challenge the public mood.” I think he was referring to this as well.

I was considering this today; for today was a silly day. I went with my family to Pigeon Forge in Tennessee; the home of Dollywood and massive inflatable gorillas and flying pigs and Wonderworks. One might call it a tourist trap and be hitting very close to the mark indeed. But for those of us who live in Africa away from options it was a day of plenty. America in all its obscene extravagance. We spent the day at Wonderworks, where my little boy could make new environments out of sand and climb a rock wall and walk on tightropes three stories above the crowd and lay on a bed of nails (OK that wasn’t him that was me…) and look in funny-shaped mirrors. As I waited in the lines, watching people snap selfies and upload them as they moved on I realized nobody there knew who I was: a luckless novelist on a brief hiatus from my civil war on the dark continent; and why should they? Nor did I know who they were; teachers and lawyers and maybe a senator or two – why not? And if they were, would you really want to know? Isn’t that anonymity what makes these places grand…? – a silly day away from the prying eyes of the ‘new normal’ where people judge us for being human as they troll us too-familiarly in our new global village.

I share this with you today instead of a Facebook selfie (from an account I no longer have) because while they say a picture might be worth a thousand words, there is no way in that picture for me to control which words those are. So I will write, letting you into my life – as much of it as I want, to share what interests me, but not too much in order to still retain the mystery and the wonder of people unknown and perhaps, dare I say it…? Perhaps still aloof enough to be interesting.

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