Thursday, October 16, 2008

The whole story 5

Writing this blog, even after less than a month, has been an education. It had been my intention at the beginning to write at least five posts a week. But I’ve experienced in actuality what I originally suspected: this blog isn’t real life. Real life is the family medical crisis, or the friend who needed my help, or the faraway weekday benefit/gig, or even the day-to-day responsibilities that have all intervened since my last post (which, to the ear of an old altar boy like myself, makes this blog sound like the sacrament of confession—which I suppose, for me, it really is).

Something I didn’t expect—but should have—was to be sidetracked into a lengthy explanation of a personal insult that was itself the culmination of a tragicomedy of errors. The secret of life is the mathematical symbol Pi, a number that divides itself into infinity and is necessary to find any measurement of a circle. Life is a series of interlocking circles. It was foolish of me to think that this particular story wouldn’t circle around again, in some mysterious and unexpected way. But today, I’m coming round the bend to the finish line.

While I’ve been slogging through the swamp of my psychological confusion, the world’s been dropping deeper into economic Wonderland. And then we had the last presidential debate last night. As the media and polling have recognized, there’s not much change in the dynamic. Once again, Obama looked presidential, and McCain looked like an eccentric old man, wound up waaay too tight to trust with his finger on either the economic or the nuclear trigger. Not much more to say about that.

I’ll be back tomorrow with regular posts. But now, onto the conclusion of our story…

When I called Sallie See, editor of the Hampshire Review, a couple of weeks ago to apologize for screwing up the email address when I sent her the op-ed, “Reflections an a lawsuit” (posted here last month), I mentioned that I had intended my post, “Spiritual conundrum,” to be an answer to the previous week’s column on the Review’s “Religion” page.

The column is written every week by Don Kesner, an evangelical minister as well as a full-time reporter for the Review. Don and I have been friends since I first started at the Review twelve years ago, and have often discussed religion and the Bible, which we of course approach quite differently. Some of these discussions have been in the paper, both while I wrote my column, and afterwards, on the letters page.

I had sent Don a notice when I first started publishing this blog, and had been struck by the fact that Don’s next column, titled “Identity theft,” touched on some of the very topics I had discussed in my first post, “Radical Pantheism”—drug use, identity crisis, the creation of humans in God’s “image and likeness,” and the identity of Jesus as the “only begotten son of God,” among them. Don talked about the “darkness” into which those who use drugs or deny the divinity of Jesus descend. It was natural for me to think, given our history and my now-public conversion from “Gnostic” Christianity to pantheism, that Don was sending me a message. And even if not, I thought his column needed an answer. I emailed him when I posted “Spiritual conundrum,” to let him know it was online.

After I mentioned him in our conversation, Sallie told me that, at that very moment, Don was undergoing spinal surgery. He had recently had some hardware internally attached to his spine, to correct a worsening spinal degeneration, and a titanium rod they’d put in had failed. I asked Sallie to pass along my best wishes.

Two days later, Sallie emailed that she had changed her mind about publishing my op-ed, and I sent my (now infamous, locally) reply, “Fuck you,” and posted the exchange here on the blog (“Intercepted email”).

Two days after that, Don emailed me about “Spiritual conundrum.” He was uncharacteristically angry, and his email seemed rather confused. Twice, he misspelled the word “sacrilegious” (differently each time), which was his general reaction to my post. I figured he’d seen my reply to Sally, and was angry about that, and was probably on some pretty heavy pain meds—which would be extremely ironic, under the circumstances.

What Don found most “sacrilegious” in the post was the hypothesis advanced by Dead Sea scrolls scholar John Allegro in his book, “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross,” that Jesus and the apostles developed their spiritual ideas in a psychedelic state of ecstasy. For some reason, Don thought that this was my idea, and it only confirmed the “darkness” (that word again) in my soul, the foul residue of my own drug experiences. I had insulted the only son of God, the sacred object of Don’s worship (I may as well have been drawing cartoons of Mohammed, so similar was the emotional response). I was a hypocrite for singing gospel songs that I didn’t believe in, in his church. Don never wanted to hear from me again, and said he’d block my email.

I emailed him back anyway, pointing out where he had misinterpreted my thinking, and that he and I just had different conceptions of Jesus, as Christians have throughout the centuries. I assured him of my continued friendship, despite the email, and wished him well in his convalescence from surgery. I cc’d it to the Review, to make sure he got it.

It was sad to get that email from Don, but I’m glad he sent it anyway. Because it opened my eyes to the possibility that the Review’s rejection of my op-ed was neither political nor personal, as I initially thought. Instead, it opened my eyes to the fear with which Charlie and Sallie and Don see the world, and if this were indeed the case, it makes their actions more understandable, for being so completely human.

What all three of them have in common is an irrational fear of the unknown—drugs, in this case. And I am challenging their fear with my writing. They do not allow any kind of a positive message about drugs, either in their newspaper or in Don’s church, and they are afraid of the repercussions if such a discussion were to take place. They fear that even by simply drawing attention to a positive drug message, they will themselves be tainted with the stain.

There is naturally a certain amount of provincialism in this fear, in that the conjunction of government, church and media is more intense in America’s small towns. But even in the rural areas, it is not uncommon for young people to experiment with drugs (though it was probably less common when Charlie and Sallie grew up around here).

However, it is also a major problem in our national political and media culture that an honest discussion of the full spectrum of drug use is disallowed. It is rare in the mainstream media, even from advocates of drug legalization or decriminalization (which, after a brief period of interest in the early ‘90s, is itself rarely discussed anymore), to hear about positive benefits of drug use—spiritual, social, artistic, or physical—other than medical benefits. And even those are underreported. How many people know that the US government has funded at least four peer-reviewed studies that indicate that marijuana is a cancer preventative? Let me repeat that: a cancer preventative. Do you think people might have a different attitude about it if they knew?

As I wrote two decades ago, the war on drugs is a war on the American people. The majority of American adults have experimented with illegal drugs. In most cases, when presented with the facts, citizens will vote with their common sense—for example, in the eleven states where medical marijuana initiatives have passed, even in the face of opposition from politicians, police and the prison-industrial complex. But anti-drug propaganda nevertheless keeps most people frightened, and incapable of proper judgment.

The war on drugs is a multi-billion dollar industry that destroys lives. We imprison more people per capita than any other nation on Earth. It’s sick. The worst of it is, it’s also the key to understanding how the world really works. A 30-year counterintelligence veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration once told Congress that, throughout his career, he had never investigated a major international drug operation in which the CIA was not involved. American drug policy is the way it is because that’s the way the “black” operations, intelligence and military, that keep wealth funneling into the pockets of the global power elite, are funded.

The relentless decimation of the Bill of Rights that began with the drug war has brought us to our present fascist state, where schoolchildren are taught to sit with their hands on their desks, and are forbidden to use the restroom, while sheriff’s deputies search their classroom with drug-sniffing dogs—a bit of totalitarian conditioning that is regularly applauded in the pages of the Review. Small town newspapers all over America are the New World Order’s most effective propaganda. And usually it’s because the editors are simple people like Charlie and Sallie, who still believe that America is the fantasyland they read about in their civics books. All the evidence to the contrary exploding every day all around them, from the lies about Iraq’s WMDs to the collapsing economy, just intensifies their cognitive dissonance.

Closer to home, the Sees are afraid of something else—offending their mostly conservative Christian readership, or even worse, their advertisers. A friend of mine told me, several years after I quit, that he knew of a concerted effort that was made by enemies of my column to pressure Charlie to fire me. Looking back, and knowing Charlie better now, I’m surprised that he was able to withstand it long enough to let me go first. I’m sure it accounts for some of the tension I was feeling in those last months.

Charlie and Sallie not only have a position in the community and a successful business to protect. They also have a payroll to meet, and a certain responsibility for the welfare of their employees. So giving them the benefit of the doubt, I can see why, alarmed as they must have been by ideas so radical that they would cause even an even-tempered man of the cloth like Don Kesner to go ballistic, they would choose to think about their employees first. They are generous people, however fearful.

As a pantheist (by way of Gnosticism—not to throw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater), I have a forgiving nature. How can it be otherwise, surrounded as I am by God in every human form. So there’s nothing preventing me from extending a hand of forgiveness to Charlie and Sallie See, however much I may think they have wronged me over the years. I may no longer trust them, but I can forgive them. And I’m sure they have their own side of the story. It can’t have been too easy for a couple of solid burghers like them to have an unpredictable radical like me in their employ.

You never know where life is going to take you. I certainly didn’t expect to be spending all this time, right after starting my blog, on this tortuous personal history. But I’m glad I’ve gotten it out of my system, and I hope that you’ll forgive me, if you’ve been offended in any way, for my own all-too-human weaknesses (like surrendering to my temper, for an obvious immediate example).

I’m also glad to be able now to finally move on in this blog, away from my personal history and back to the rest of the world, with all its mysterious and confounding ways.

I hope we can travel together, and see what tomorrow may bring.


Jim D said...

1967 – The Summer of Love. Three stone gone long hairs on a trip – to Appalachia. A place more comatose than sleepy, with more nooks and crannies than a fat mountain momma. America’s reputed home of the poor, poorer, and poorest. Isolated and subjected to the masters of the estate. King Coal in the southern and western regions and pompous lords dispersed throughout. A place where filling the people with the spirit referred to the stills in the “hollers,” and the bootleggers on every mountain top. A place with more taverns than churches, unlike today, where the snake handlers have prevailed.

1974 – An invasion by the urban masses descending on Cold Stream Campground for a music festival with featured artists Arlo Guthrie, John Prine and the Earl Scruggs Review. The era of peace and love – a vague and long gone memory in the drug and alcohol soaked brains of the invading aliens who turned Cold Stream into a hot bed of sex, drugs and violence. When the hordes receded they left Hampshire County with a hangover. It’s remedy? The “Festival Ordnance” and serious scrutiny of any and all outdoor concerts, an attempt by the natives to hold their children near. An ordnance used against us four years later for having a private party not unlike the county’s politicians’ family reunions, where they cater to their political base.

Circa 1979 – enter Warren Duliere, publisher of a weekly newspaper, “The Advocate,” a real newspaper, not just a waste of paper and ink. Warren went after the good ole boys and their cronies -- to their dismay. After a few years of publication Warren was found dead in his driveway, a bullet to the chest. The official verdict: suicide. Speculation: murder.

Dogma Don suffers from sensory deprivation, caused by the protracted pressure on his cranium exerted by his gluteus maximus, causing tunnel vision.

Must Read: Allen H. Loughery’s Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide, about corrupt politics in West Virginia, including Hampshire County.

Jim D

Winnacunnet JAG said...

To my much loved "alternative father",
I feel forced to respond to your continued comments on the many positive effects of recreational drug use and the portrayal of Charlie and Sallie as "simple people" who, because of their lack of experimentation, are outside of the norm and therefore their anti-drug stance is simply a "fear of the unknown". As someone who has a close connection to today's youth, I must point out that the world of drugs today is a very different world than the world where people gathered to smoke pot, eat mushrooms, take LSD, and become enlightened as to their place in the world and the meaning of life. Young people's natural inclination to experiment and take risks is now being exploited by people cooking meth in their homes. Kids are dipping joints in embalming fluid, inhaling fumes from computer "Dust-off" products, and popping a wide variety of dangerous prescription pills in the school bathrooms. This information is not the product of some crazy anti-drug media, but from my direct experience and the kids that I know. We have had two kids die in the past two years from methadone overdoses. I personally know 2 kids addicted to oxycontin - 16 and 17 years old. Yes, there are still people out there "tuning in" and creating incredible music and art, but that is not the norm. If I was an editor of a newspaper, I would not want to publish a piece that in any way condoned drug use (medical uses excepted) unless it included a lengthy context of what, when, where. It is too dangerous now. Lives are on the line. I do however agree with your view point regarding the war on drugs. There is no money in my state to treat addicts yet plenty of money for helicopter crop sweeps, etc. Anyway, I am sorry for this rant, but I had to throw my 2 cents in! I am also happy that you took this time to talk about the whole experience with the paper, because this is the one place where you can write exactly what you want and don't have to worry about being judged or edited.
I enjoy reading it!

masterymistery said...

sorry to choose to comment on just one small part of a substantial piece of writing. your transition from gnostic christianity to pantheism has many parallels to my own 'spiritual awakening' but I do take a much more militantly pantheist position than you do, as for instance illustrated in the concept of the whole of reality being alive, aware, intelligent and mindful of what happens to zir parts, eg you and me and others.

Keep up the great work on your blog -- very interesting stuff here.

masterymistery at cosmic rapture