The Unexamined Life – Why I Left Facebook

They say “the unexamined life is not worth living”. “They” are these days anybody looking to seem thoughtful, but the first to say this was Socrates as his only and lasting defense against the accusations of ‘corrupting the minds of the young’, for which he was killed. I went online to read about the great man (again) and in my research I uncovered another quote by the philosopher which I believe more aptly captures the spirit (or lack thereof) of our times. “Wisdom begins with wonder.” We live in a markedly wonder-less world, don’t we? We find no awe in our great God (even Albert Camus’ joyful existentialists have turned into Nietzsche nihilists, fat and slovenly and boorish); nature has been conquered and mastered (and subsequently ruined); ideas which do not fit into 140 characters are discarded (while nobody can read anything longer, forcing our media establishments to pick the most incendiary and disingenuous titles in their desperation to increase their Click-Through-Rates); and even Epicurus’s liberalism has been twisted away from joy found in “restrained appetites, well-governed anger and treating others justly” (Ayn Rand called this ‘rational self-interest’) to a reckless “you do you”.


Yes, a wonder-less world indeed where familiarity breeds contempt. One time I was sitting in a dusty West-African capital talking to a government minister who had been a rebel warlord. He was of an ancient Arabian tribe that had migrated from the peninsula a thousand years ago as their trading networks pushed knowledge and Islam to the distant corners of their known world; across the epic oceans of sand that are even today indomitable. We were talking about politics; “When democracy came here,” he said, “I decided that my role as a tribal noble should extend to elected office representing my people. I went to my father for his blessing. You know what he told me…? He said ‘son, those things are not for us. For the moment you open your life to the rabble – the moment you bare your pride to them in exchange for their vote – you are giving permission for the tea boy to walk up and spit in your face’.” I have carried that story with me as I have watched familiarity destroy the wonder of our democracy and besmirch the great minds for whom we believe their possession of a Twitter handle gives us the right to hurl against them disparaging insults and despicable innuendo.

I recently had an unpleasant experience of my own, one which crystallized many such experiences on my rolling road to sadness. Because if “the unexamined life” is not only not worth living it is also a miserable bog full of goblins and trolls. I wrote a piece about wonder; a piece I tried to share with like-minded people. Immediately, I was accused of being prideful by an erstwhile childhood acquaintance. Now, let me be honest here, I am. Prideful that is. Like my Arab friend, I too believe that the life which I have lived, the sacrifices I have made and the sadness I have borne entitles me at least to dignity if not deference. Put simply, I have earned the right to my reflections. But of course the “Facebook gadfly” crowd cannot know any of this. For they have not suffered with me, raged with me, or been humiliated as I have been. They exist only in a virtual cocoon as distant spectators too two-dimensional to know (much less care) what those of us who seek significance have become.

So the solution? I have distanced myself from the maddened crowd. Specifically, I have closed out my Facebook and Twitter accounts (my wife still manages my public FB). You now will know me only through the thoughts I wish to share of my deeply examined life; and I will no longer trouble you with pictures from my trip to the supermarket or my micro-opinion on the effectiveness of Gillette’s new deodorant stick. And as I try to fill my life with a wonder unto joy, I hope it will spill over into the lives of those of you who wish to join me through my writing and my novels. But as you will be free of my stupidities, so I too of yours (at least for a season; for I caveat all this with ‘nothing is forever’).

Back to Socrates. If he had been alive these days, I am pretty sure he would not have been on Twitter or Facebook. There is nothing more conducive to an unexamined life than the painstaking hours spent in crafting the tiny word-missiles hurled into the void in the desperate vapid search for “likes” and “retweets”. And I am quite sure that if the philosophers on ancient ethical theory had to troll through Socrates’ frustrations at having misplaced his socks on his way to his hemlock banquet they too would be frustrated. For there is no wonder in that.

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“Defeating Dictators” – A Book Review

There are many kinds of books. Yes, I know, I am stating the obvious of course. However for me its always helpful when I read a book to try and place it within the panoply of other books seeking to address similar issues. Stepping-stones thrown down within a raging river that I am trying to cross. Some of these come in the form of fiction – Russian literature going from Dostoevsky to Chernyshevsky to Gladkov and Solzhenitsyn to arrive finally at Ayn Rand. The full road of Russia’s political transition captured on the timeless pages of the classics.

Often they are non-fiction, and there are many of those today striving to help us understand our arriving ordeal; our post-modern post-Cold War world when we were in charge and our ideas reigned supreme, and what happened. This particular journey started, at least for me, with Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”; mixing the cement of victory. Of course mirrored, as it was, by Robert Kaplan’s book “The Coming Anarchy”; about what would happen if we did not take history’s end seriously and make the difficult decisions to assure its continuity. Then came the end of the end, with Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed” explaining to us how it ended, how we lost our moment and again Kaplan’s “Return of Marco Polo’s World” talking us through what is coming next. Of course there are many many more and this is not a comprehensive list, but you get the point.

Because George Ayittey’s excellent book “Defeating Dictators” is one of those stepping stones. Written in 2011, after the “color revolutions” in Europe led to a feeble optimism only to be dashed by an Arab Spring that quickly became a winter, “Defeating Dictators” is a pressing shot across the bow of our ending world order. It is a clarion’s call to change, to rethink twenty years of bad policy solutions, unworkable utopian ideas and terrible implementation of an erstwhile superpower in her twilight years.

The book is written from an African perspective. And why not? It is not only written by an African, Ayittey is from Ghana; but it is directed at Africa which plays host to the most egregious governance issues and the most dictatorships in the world. But Africa is also the future; the highest population growth and the youngest population; the fastest growing economies, a continent which has the energy of tomorrow when all the other continents are old and stale and bloated and look far into their past – not their future – for shadows of glory.

Through the book, divided into ten chapters, Ayittey takes us through a natural progression in his disciplined effort in making the case for freedom, a freedom which starts with intellectual freedom – freedom of the mind – and how this freedom is best defended by the institutions of democracy. And how these freedoms are coopted by despotic regimes: from whence come their resources and legitimacy and about ancient ways of protecting against a despotism that the failure of our western model has only emboldened. All the tricks of the trade of tyranny are on display in this book; and we would be wise to pay attention for they are showcased in one way or another in a growing list of countries in what Freedom House calls a “Democratic Recession”. Now on to style; Ayittey’s writing is acerbic, almost bitter – the book drips with disdain for “coconut” leaders who use their sacred trusts to brutalize their people. It pulls no punches, railing in example after example against evil men who became tyrants.

I also can’t help but feel that this book isn’t also somewhat nostalgic. In its heartfelt impassioned defense of the mechanisms of democracy, empowered within the Westphalian nation states – systems and structures given to us by a world order which we built and then which became brittle and sclerotic for want of those who recognized she was suffering, for lack of those able to look beyond their hubris to care for her and nurse her back to health – I can’t help but feeling that this book represents a last cry of alarm, a cry that went unheeded.

It is nevertheless an important book, because in his eloquent apologia of our right to be free Ayittey channels the passionate pleas of all those who are still imprisoned and yearn for their own liberty, a liberty more under threat today than at any point in my lifetime.

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A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime

I got accused of good writing yesterday. Naturally, it did not come in the form of a compliment – but nonetheless that is what my unfriend was saying. Unfriend, one of the clutter of people from our past who long ago outlived their value to our life more abundant but still exist at the peripheries thanks to social media; interjecting themselves occasionally into who we have become sharing articles about kittens, bloopers, and political hate.

There is a cool poem, anonymous and wise; sage advice as to what we should do about the people in our lives:

People come into your path for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When you know which one it is, you will know what to do with that person.

(read the rest here)

A reason, a season, or life. Social media throws off this balance, encumbering our day with personalities who we might better have left aside, people whose “…work is done. The prayer you sent up has now been answered and now it is time to move on” yet who nevertheless have remained there lurking in the background. Maybe those personalities were pernicious influences who brought out the worst in us but taught us an important lesson about life or love or moderation. Perhaps they are a reminder of dark days we do not want to relive, though they helped us through those times. Or they were great young stars burning bright and in whom we had tremendous hope for the future, only to watch them stumble and fall.

I was accused of pride by my peripheral friend; my new unfriend – people who with a click of a mouse are excluded from your life forever, with no impact except perhaps a sigh of relief and a nagging, irritating question “why didn’t I do that sooner?” Pride because I dare to write thoughtfully. I am not a mocker by nature, an idiot jester or buffoon. And while I do rage, I try not to write those thoughts down; they do me no good at all, much less anybody who stumbles onto one of my reflections. Plus when I am angry, without the tranquility I so crave, my words become poison. Best not to let out that dross. Yes, I suppose I do suffer from pride – is that not the case for all of us who love the things we do? Does not a baker believe they should be baking for the table of the king? Does not the inventor believe his gadget would change the world? Is not a coder certain they have found a better algorithm? And if so why not a writer; one who has paid so dearly for the lessons learned after twenty years in the camps, to be easily dismissed? No, nobody does what they do without pride – unless they are a cynic or perhaps a nihilist.

The great irony is that the objectionable piece was one about wonder. To be sure it was a conservative piece (wonder is a conservative idea because it requires a contemplative look into the misty pasts and the recognition of a greatness which came before and which has been lost). Wonder is why we marvel at the Mona Lisa; at the Hagia Sophia and the lost libraries along Timbuktu’s dusty alleys – they fill our soul with our wide world as they take us beyond ourselves and our petty passing prejudices. Specifically, I was writing about an online journal I found lost away in the dusty corners of the internet where they still dare to write about J.R.R. Tolkien: about the mysticisms of old and the beauty of great paintings and the poetry of Keats; modern ideas in a post-modern world. Too conservative? Guilty as well, as if there is any guilt in that. As if I do not have the right to my own ideas; as if I do not also seek beauty and peace. And as if after so long a time in the places where I have lived, I have not earned a voice.

At any rate, I thought I would share these prideful thoughts with you; in the off chance you’ve experienced the same frustrations and you too do not know what to do with the detritus people who still cling like barnacles to the hull of your forward-moving life. “It is said that love is blind, but friendship is clairvoyant.” Be wise as you decide into which position fit the people around you. Then when you’ve arrived at a decision say with patience and gentleness, “Thank you for being a part of my life… Whether you were a reason, a season or a lifetime,” as onward you go.

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On I, Charles, From the Camps by Joel D. Hirst

New review of my 4th novel, generally positive… “The first person is an excellent narrative choice which is difficult to pull off, but it is testimony to Joel Hirst’s ability that we want to know more about the supporting characters in the tragic story of Charles Agwok, Ugandan, African, anti-hero and would be reframer of his own brutal history. In achieving this, congratulations are due to Mr. Hirst.”

Richard Ali's Blog

I, Charles, From the Camps

Book:                    I,Charles from the Camps

Author:                Joel D. Hirst

Publisher:            iUniverse(2018)

Page Count:       213

The eponymous Charles is Charles Agwok, the northern Ugandan
protagonist of Joel Hirst’s latest novel. He is of the Acholi ethnic
nationality. For those even mildly familiar with the recent geo-politics and
history of East Africa, these key words—Acholi, Ugandan—furnish a third, the
LRA. The LRA, which stands for the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a fundamentalist Christian
guerilla militia that has been fighting against the present Museveni regime
since the late 80’s. It is led by the elusive Joseph Kony and seeks a Uganda
governed by the Ten Commandments. Untold horrors, from rape to child soldiers
to the use of girls as sex slaves to terrorism, have been left in the wake of
its every entanglement with Ugandan forces.

The novel, told in the first person, is a peculiar…

View original post 1,061 more words

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Ours Are Not the Children of the Nobles

After a long hot day in Africa fighting the anarchy that came – heralding our arriving ordeal, an ordeal which is only just beginning – I sometimes sit down on my sofa wine-glass in hand, a silky red imported from somewhere or somewhere else and with the gentle purring of the generator in the background I turn to my latest pastime. I’ve been taken recently with watching the series “The Last Kingdom”; about the unification of England under Alfred the Great. The protagonist is Uhtred, a Saxon boy raised as a Viking who switches back to become Alfred’s most faithful soldier. The first time they meet, Uhtred fleeing the brutality of the Danes, is in the ancient garden courtyard of a Roman Governor to Winchester; its one-time lord long-dead, along with the empire which had brought sophistication and beauty for a season to the rough isle until it too had fallen away. All that remained were the ruins, ancient whispers of opulence and prosperity. The palace is run-down, decaying and overrun. The gardens no longer glisten, the once-delicate mosaics on the floor have been dug up and covered over with refuse and mud; the chipped pillars are missing their decorations, the roof tiles sag in places, opening the interior halls to the vacant sky above. Heated water no longer runs under the tiles inside providing warmth and comfort; the private bathrooms, stopped up and stinking after people long since abandoned them to return to defecate in shallow holes dug into the ground behind.

“What is this place?” asks the Viking. “It is an old Roman palace,” responds the Dane’s companion. “It is lovely, I could find peace here.” Peace from the world outside; where even the nobles’ hair crawled with lice and fleas; where the stench was unbearable; where boils covered people’s skin and nobody could escape the pains which came from inside and killed swiftly and mysteriously. Where they lived alongside their pigs; worked the fields from dawn to dusk seven days a week, bare hands ripping away at sod, fingernails bleeding – or the occasional blunted plow forged from an ancient piece of armor leftover from the Romans, a land “…which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. As Hobbes once wrote.

What struck me, a time and place so far in our past as is the story of Alfred the Great was in a way its own dystopian world, its own post-apocalyptic wasteland; resonating as it did for those who lived there of an ancient historic glory hidden by the mists of time and unknowing to be reclaimed if possible. Of the remains of something that had fallen away, which must have been grand. “Nobody uses the Roman roads,” Alfred at one point laments, “for they have fallen into ruin.”



History is cyclical, not linear as we would like to believe. Even the vaunted technology used by the anti-Malthusians to ridicule that oldest and somehow most prescient of political economists; is also cyclical, for it responds to the common knowledge and generalized prosperity of those who can use the delicate tools. And we are all Malthusians now; because though his math might have been off, providing fodder for the mockers and the Keynesian oligarchs, he was maybe one of our greatest thinkers for he brought into the modern world, overpopulated and messy and unequal, that sacred idea of scarcity.

Scarcity is not something we want to talk about much. Angus Deaton and Thomas Pickey tell us of our “Great Escape”. Aren’t we living better than we ever have? Isn’t wealth increasing exponentially even as the population of the planet doubles and doubles and doubles yet again? Haven’t all the doom-sayers always been wrong? Scarcity, that must be one of those ridiculous ‘classical liberal’ ideas that died with Malthus and Smith.

Notwithstanding the scorn, scarcity is real. Scarcity is economic. Currently the USG has run hundreds of billions of dollars of deficits for more than a decade, almost two. The United States Government currently owes $21,000,000,000,000; the global debt level has reached more than $180,000,000,000,000. Bad debt crowding out good debt (if there is such a thing); incentives to saving jettisoned by our desperate elites anxious for more money to spend on technocratic fixes which fix nothing. An unpayable amount, and to which nobody has any answer; except an eventual default – look at modern Venezuela (or ancient 9th century Wessex) if you want to know what that would look like. Scarcity, however, is not only economic. It is environmental too. “As the author Jason Hickel points out, a decoupling of rising GDP from global resource use has not happened and will not happen. While 50bn tons of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70bn tons. At current rates of economic growth, this will rise to 180bn tons by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes, would reduce this at best to 95bn tons: still way beyond environmental limits. Green growth, as members of the institute appear to accept, is physically impossible.” The sixth great extinction; the destruction of our oceans – the lungs of the world. “Almost all of our world’s oceans have been negatively affected by the impacts of humanity, a new study has revealed. Just 13% of the world’s oceans remain without damage and home to naturally occurring high levels of marine life.” Deforestation at an all-time high, “In tropical regions around the world, tree cover is disappearing that quickly: Every minute of every day over the last two years, a tract the size of 40 football fields was clear-cut or burned to increase production of soy, cattle, palm oil, and wood products.” Every year consuming from our earth more than it can replenish, thereby taking from our children, and eventually our grandchildren. Easter Island on a global scale.

This is incidentally not a discussion about climate change. Climate science (in the ‘Paris Accord’ political way) is a bait-and-switch by the oligarchs who do not know scarcity and who consequently cannot see the problem, or at best mis-identify it. To them (and the third-world nobility represented at the U.N. and other globalist institutions) it is an issue of ‘social justice’ seen through the lens of oppression and with the goal of redistributive economics. ‘There is enough for everybody,’ so the idea goes, ‘if only it were more evenly distributed.’ The problem is that this idea is wrong; and even if it were not a tool by our new nobilities to attempt to continue to ‘manage’ our worlds, it retains the self-same weaknesses of socialism/communism: ‘climate science’ thinks in redistributive economics not scarcity. Which is why having the socialists (at the United Nations, in the media, in the regulating agencies of the world) attempt to manage our dramatically unraveling scarcity problem is not going to work. And isn’t that what all this should be about, saving our world from our rapidly arriving mess?

Author Kevin MacKay calls this all “terminal disfunction”. “Control by oligarchs, he (MacKay) argues, thwarts rational decision-making, because the short-term interests of the elite are radically different to the long-term interests of society. This explains why past civilizations have collapsed ‘despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how needed to resolve their crises’. Economic elites, which benefit from social dysfunction, block the necessary solutions.”

MacKay here is talking of moral hazard. The problem with nobility since the very days of their inception is their disconnectedness to the land and the world around them; though their decisions cause famine, they never go hungry (Let them eat cake!!). Though their decisions cause war, their children never fight and die. Protected in privileged zip codes or in Elysium surrounded by concertina wire and guards they have no stake in the upcoming apocalypse and are protected from its most pernicious repercussions – at least for a time.

Like Alfred I am the king of lost places, the peripheries. Places where as Robert Kaplan wrote (25 years ago) “…environmental scarcity will inflame existing hatreds and affect power relationships, at which we now look.” Lands where the immediate existential effects of the scarcity can be chocked up to “dictatorship” or “bad governance” or “poor public financial management” or any number of technocratic fixes upon the rolling road of ruin; all with appropriate ‘packages’ to buy time, and commanded by those who are from the protected cul-de-sacs and privileged zip codes and do not know how ruin happens. Those whose moral hazard is almost total. Roman nobles in Winchester’s ancient bath houses feasting even as Rome herself was being sacked.

The difference to all this and the world of Alfred the Great is of course scale. The population of the civilization which had built the roads and heated floors (the Romans) was probably four million people upon the English isle. That number had fallen to roughly 1.8 million during Alfred’s time (at the time of the famed Doomsday Book – in 1083 – there were probably two million English). The fall of Rome was an extinction level event. Today there are 55 million English in a world much more interconnected, globalization (which is different from globalism) making the problems harder to solve because they are more interconnected. “Disastrous tipping points loom in several of civilization’s systems – from the collapse of ocean ecology to the threat of nuclear war. In addition, because the crisis cannot be contained in one part of the globe, the dysfunctions can’t be dealt with in isolation.”

The problem too is an issue of politics and tribe – which is both the cause and the result of our current global political impasse. Even MacKay, describing well the problem, paints only one “side” of the mess as the villains, thereby giving the others a pass. And in perhaps knee-jerk criticism of capitalism (which manages scarcity moderately better – especially absent the perverse incentives of free FED money on a naturally balancing economy) while decrying crony capitalism (without identifying it as such, I wonder if he clearly sees the difference?) he becomes an apologist for the socialists who do not understand scarcity and hence will take us from the frying pan directly into the fire (case in point; well, everywhere they have ever been in charge – but most recently Venezuela). Of course the other tribe sees the desired outcome of ‘climate redistribution’ efforts and worries that any attempt to address scarcity (environmental or otherwise) would come at a political cost to themselves (short-term ‘electoral’ fears) and inadvertently empower the socialist redistributionists (who, we know, will make things worse).

So we’re stuck. The real solution? I’m not sure there is one; and I’m not sanguine about our ability to avoid our arriving ordeal. I’m also so tired of those ‘opinion pieces’ demanding this or that or the other ‘fix’ by which the author assures the world we may be able to avoid the apocalypse. The problem is so enormous, so interconnected, so rife with interests of short-thinking nobility and desperate poor that it is perhaps without solution. And I will not reduce the depth of the upcoming disaster to a three-sentence “solution”.

Incidentally, some of us will be OK; and that is the main problem, isn’t it? The new oligarchs will probably survive just fine, as Kaplan says, “We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes’s First Man, condemned to a life that is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Although both parts will be threatened by environmental stress, the Last Man will be able to master it; the First Man will not.” Elites in an artificial satellite world circling a planet destroyed and dirty and violent.

And the world we love so much? Our lives, our children, our travels and literature and plays? The politics about which we obsess over micro-brewed beer and range-fed steak? More probably our children’s children will live like those of Uhtred, working dawn till dusk seven days a week in Alfred of Wessex’s “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” world. For ours are not the children of the nobles.

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Where Have All The Readers Gone?

“Where have all the good writers gone?” It is a lament I have, often followed by “—and where are all the real journalists? Not professional ill-informed opinion holders but the great minds of old who still have that undying spark that lights the bonfire of knowledge. Curiosity.”


Good writing captures a moment in time, crystallizes or laminates it for the rest of us to manipulate without damaging the original as we handle it, turning it over and over as we examine the front and the back and upside down and from the top view. Good writing seizes upon our imaginations of what is going on and then takes us deep; allowing us to feel and then experience as we learn and find that one sacred fulcrum upon which our humanity pirouettes, empathy.

Who of us could really imagine the horror of Syria’s civil war if we have not read in 2012 Amal Hanano’s (pen name for Lina Sergie Attar) “The land of topless minarets and headless little girls”. During war, we learn to look at our cities in fragments, each scene uncovering a part of ourselves we did not know, or pretended not to know. Every day we are forced to confront the ugly parts of ourselves that we naively thought belonged only to other people. For only other people would kill each other; only other people would bomb buildings occupied by innocent families; only other people would loot and rape; and only other people would slaughter a child. Or how could we come to understand the election of Donald J. Trump without having in 2016 read “The Flight 93 Election” by Publius Decius Mus (pen name for Michael Anton). Conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo. Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?

In 1994 Robert Kaplan told us about “The Coming Anarchy”, what lay just over the euphoria of victory if we refused to see and address the fissures in our new post-communist world of one superpower. In cities in six West African countries I saw similar young men everywhere—hordes of them. They were like loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid, a fluid that was clearly on the verge of igniting. And again, in 2018 in “The Return of Marco Polo’s World” he tells us of what awaits us, now that we have failed at the management of our world order. Europe, at least in the way that we have known it, has begun to vanish. And with it, the West itself – at least as a sharply defined geopolitical force – also loses substantial definition. A bard, a poet, a griot of West Africa recounting to us the story of the book-ends of the American order which we abandoned out of hubris and laziness and a final accumulation of post-structuralism and post-modernism and the oh-so-destructive war against the mind.

A war which Patrick Deneen told us we had lost, as we lost our common culture, My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.

And the suicide which that type of self-denial inspires, coming from my own 2016 viral article, “Suicide of Venezuela” which captures the poignancy of watching the remains of a country decay – an article which traveled the world to other failing nations, translated into a half dozen languages and became a rallying cry for places as far away as Greece and South Africa. No, national suicide is a much longer process – not product of any one moment. But instead one bad idea, upon another, upon another and another and another and another and the wheels that move the country began to grind slower and slower; rust covering their once shiny facades. Revolution – cold and angry. Hate, as a political strategy. Law, used to divide and conquer. Regulation used to punish. Elections used to cement dictatorship. Corruption bleeding out the lifeblood in drips, filling the buckets of a successive line of bureaucrats before they are destroyed, only to be replaced time and again.

There are of course many more that I could mention; and I certainly could go on. Peggy Noonan, who thoughtfully catalogs our changing world. The Seattle Stranger which captures hate in America and serves it back to us, for those who feed on it to grow and become stronger while those of us who don’t choke. Quillette which has become our “Intellectual Dark Web”, a job that entails holding up a full length mirror so that we see ourselves in all our full, horrible nakedness. All this is the goal of a good writer, yes even those who peddle hate – to be heard to show people a world they might not want to see and to make a difference. To have our voices heard above the cacophony of screaming and howling; to find a mind which our ideas can penetrate in a world which ever-more resembles a zombie apocalypse.

Looking back up at the top of this post, I guess I might have gotten my question wrong. I should have asked not “Where have all the good writers gone?” but, perhaps, “Where have all the good readers gone?” Because the ideas have not gone away, they are only bedraggled and atrophied for want of those who would care for them. So we keep writing and thinking and dreaming of a curious world – a world which probably never existed except in our utopianism – as we catalog our next arriving ordeal.

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Burmese Days – A Book Review

This was a novel about loneliness. Most people who post on travel blogs or the quotidian social media photograph parades of beachgoers and beer do not do justice to the loneliness of a life lived away from what one knows, understands – the cues and signals that remind us that we are home. Back in the suckling days of American travel we even brought the feeling of desolation and abandonment into our popular psycho-jargon, for we do love our maladies so. We called it “Culture Shock” leading into “Culture Stress”. It had stages and phases and even some lightly suggested remedies.

The reality is that it was just loneliness; and the more foreign the place the greater the sense of desolation, the greater the bizarre turns into something morbid and horrid – especially after time. “Burmese Days” by George Orwell is about this. We all know Orwell from “Animal Farm” and “1984” – showing us the dystopian futures we would face if we did not fix our politics. “Burmese Days” is not a novel about politics or epic struggles of authority and legitimacy; instead about only one man, one lonely man, a British Civil Servant in a lost corner of Burma during the apogee of colonial power, before it all started to fall away. It is a human story, not a pleasant one perhaps but being human is so seldom pleasant.

Now on style; “Burmese Days” is masterfully written. You can feel the heat and the oppression; you sense the sallowness spreading from your own liver to the outermost appendages of your frail body, drink, the last final life-boat of the desperate. The boredom, the frustration, the bitterness – Orwell makes you think all these are your own. There is rarely any sympathy for the protagonist, though with a mite more compassion than the other members of the “British Club” he is still an inexorably awful human. His saving grace I suppose is that he knows it – and seeks salvation in the only place where he thinks it can be found, in a quest for a wife who will free him from the loneliness and give his life meaning. I will not reveal the end, how that search turns out for our uncouth protagonist. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out.

I picked up this book in a used bookstore back home, on a brief trip myself from somewhere far to somewhere even farther and finished it in a manner of days. A traveler myself, I did find common cause with the feelings of otherness portrayed; feelings which can only ever be understood if you too have spent 20 years away from what you know. I highly recommend you read the novel; for it is Orwell after all – and it will make you think even as you enjoy a good story. What else is literature for?

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