I’ve been getting a bit of the incoherent narrative full-stink in my personal life lately, and, of course, we are all subjected it to it daily in the news. Here’s a quick illustration of the difference between a coherent story and an incoherent one, so we’re all on the same page.
Coherent: Humans and animals are in escalating danger of habitat loss and extinction, in large part due to massive, destructive, human activities. We don’t need science to tell us the earth herself is regularly screaming in alarm. The largest California wildfire in recorded history is raging at the moment, along with several other wildfires in the state. Climate disruption has increased the number of these catastrophic events every year: record hurricanes, monsoons, floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes in regions that never had earthquakes, tornados in regions that have never had tornados, plus a new horror, never seen before: fire tornadoes. We regularly endure record heat waves, record cold streaks, new records for heat set year after year, “hundred year storms” coming along to devastate us every year or two.
The science only confirms the disastrous state of nature we are able to observe taking lives all over in the globe on a regular basis. Citizens of the entire world are aware of this perilous situation, only in America is there any controversy attached to this, and only because billionaire fossil fuel titans have invested countless millions to create armies of zombie-like deniers called, elegantly, “climate change skeptics”.
Incoherent version: Human liberty itself is under attack. Our government has become a tyranny. Scientists with an anti-freedom agenda have conspired to make it look like there’s a correlation, a cause and effect, if you will, between the millions of barrels of fossil fuel, and the tons of clean coal, burned every day, the lucrative, clean extraction of natural gas from deep inside the earth, and the supposed warming of the earth. The earth warms and cools in natural cycles. Humans have nothing to do with it. Government is the enemy, not humble servants of the people like us who want to make sure everyone has enough gas for their cars. Without gasoline the trucks can’t deliver food to the cities. Our very culture, our survival and our liberty, is under attack and those vicious partisans are weaponizing disputed science as the tip of the spear. The science is disputed, there is no consensus among the mere 98% of climate scientists, including at NASA, who say this is so.
We are treated to the weaponized tweets of an infantile, irrationally angry winner-in-chief every time we turn on the news. These tweets make no sense except in one way: they constantly shift the focus back to incoherence. If there is a focused discussion of some important issue being maintained in the media, there will be a nasty presidential tweet suddenly calling out son-of-a-bitch Lebron James, attempting to denigrate the NBA great with a strongly implied “nigger” thrown in there for good measure, because the people who love real winners don’t shrink from non-politically correct speech. Lebron James is overrated– not as good as MIKE! Lebron should shut his fucking mouth and stop being a loser. I could beat Lebron in a game of one on one, Lebron sucks. Etc.
Soon, that’s today’s story. “The President today attacked the NBA’s greatest player, LeBron James.” The president will double down by tweeting the name of another player, who played his last game fifteen years ago, who supposedly (incoherently) makes Lebron look like a pile of poop. Lebron will be interviewed about this, will respond with his characteristic aplomb, but seriously, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?
It is not a problem. The world we live in now is largely ruled by incoherence. Do not be fooled into thinking the facts matter, that the identical stories of fifty eye witnesses who are complete strangers to each other make any difference, same with recordings of actual conversations, videotapes of the hideous thing happening right in front of the camera phone, the world itself as you perceive it does not actually exist! WINNING exists, and LOSING. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. You’re all fucking losers, tweets the world’s greatest winner, only I WIN and you all can’t stand it, losers. Jealous, pathetic losers. SAD!
The fish rots from the head, they say. The only trickle down I’ve ever seen in my sixty-two years living in America is the trickle down of incivility, in-your-face hostility, hereditary entitlement, the corporate killer mentality coming home to roost in every argument everywhere. Never admit fault, that concedes liability. For the same reason, never apologize, unless with massive qualifications before, during and after the calculated apology. If confronted, hit back harder. If confronted with something you cannot counter, become indignant, completely change the conversation. If necessary, invent some inflammatory provocation to put the enemy on the back foot. If necessary, gather allies and threaten violence. Most people are cowards, outgunned ten to one they will usually give up like the pussies they are. People talk big, but a loaded gun talks much, much louder than any bigmouth, no matter how smart he thinks he is.
This is the only thing that trickles down, this psychopathic impulse to dominate at any cost. It’s the only game in town, yo. I note that most of us do not play this game, or that we try our best not to play it. Anyone who has whiffed this foul game full-stink will make every effort to not to replicate it. Still, it is pervasive. The values of our society come from what we see reflected in the public behavior of our elected officials, ambassadors, celebrities. The party of “I’ve got mine and fuck you, you fucking whining loser” has been prevailing the last few decades. It is America’s one truly bipartisan coalition.
I console myself by reading histories of fascism. There are always good people– on one side, on one side — who stand against the encroaching totalitarian incoherence. On the other side there are millions who go along with authoritarians out of a genuine desire to put their boots on the necks of the enemies of the people. There are also even more millions who have learned from birth to simply conform. You do what you are told, don’t make waves, and you will generally be OK. This is the tragic swing group, since they are the ones who, by doing nothing but obey, allow incoherent authoritarians to call all of the shots. The millions who hate your average Hitler type, an ill-tempered, oversensitive type who won’t hesitate to use as much violence as his enemies demand, have to tread very carefully until they can figure out the small acts they can do to put a finger on the other side of the scale. A scale that eventually, and always, tips against these ruthless authoritarians who must always rule by coercion and terror.
Yesterday I went to see the great Jose James play outdoors at Lincoln Center. I’ve had the pleasure to talk with Jose a few times at the home of my close friends. We made arrangements to get on the guest list for reserved seating on a day when the real feel temperature in NYC was 99 degrees. This was due to the high humidity which made a mere 90 degrees feel much hotter. I stayed hydrated and went to the show.
To sit in the reserved seats you had to have an orange wrist band. These were given out on the opposite side of the large venue from where the reserved seats were. It was hot, I was dripping, but walked over there on my painful knees to get my pass. The young woman who gave out the passes was there at her small table alone. There was an opening in the moveable barricade about six feet from her. I went to the opening.
A guard stepped into my path, pointed to an empty labyrinth of barricades and told me I had to go the long way around. I gestured toward the empty table, to the girl with the iPad and a bunch of wristbands, the completely empty labyrinth of barricades. I asked him to please let me pass, my knees were killing me, I’d walked a long way already, and that, please, since nobody else was waiting, might I just get my pass and go join my friends who were already seated?
The guard, a dark-skinned African man in a crisp, white uniform, told me that I had to go all the way around. That was the rule. He had no discretion to violate the rule or make exceptions no matter what, was apparently not even supposed to be discussing anything with anybody. I soon learned why, he was being watched intently by two of his bosses, who immediately made their sharklike way toward me to find out why I was giving their hired hand such a hard time.
The large man, who had a huge pallid head like an overinflated albino melon about to burst, advanced one step too far into my space and told me with a glare: “first of all, relax”. I told him to relax. One step behind him was a woman, a dead-ringer for Betsy DeVos (but with dark hair), probably from the same social class (we stood in the shadow of the David H. Koch wing of Lincoln Center, after all), and about to prove herself as brilliant as DeVos in the arts of persuasion and argumentation.
Pumpkinhead told me the rules are the rules, they’re there for crowd control and I had to walk. I told him my knees were killing me, my friends were waiting and I’d appreciate the small courtesy, which was only common decency, especially since nobody else was being inconvenienced and I was an easily controlled crowd of one person. His turd-like smile told me exactly how far this line of moral reasoning was going to take me.
At this moment DeVos’s cousin stepped forward with that famous well-bred idiot smile and said reasonably: “imagine if fifty people were here and they all asked us to just let them break that little rule, to give each of them special treatment?” You see, her smile said, just common sense, just like your’s! It’s a draw, so the rule wins!
I started asking her if this was really the kind of country she wanted to live in, where the Nuremberg Defense was the final word in any conversation, where unreasoning adherence to rules no matter what the circumstances trumped every other consideration? Neither of them, I saw, had any problem with the downside of anything I was saying. I was unwittingly describing exactly the country they want to live in, a place where people who don’t like the rules are kept strictly in line.
Before I could point out that while it might be a problem if there were fifty people simultaneously demanding preferential treatment, I was the only one in this actual, real-life non-hypothetical, and the favor I was asking could be considered a request for special treatment only by a rigid, rules-bound, unreasoningly authoritarian type, the girl with the iPad and the wrist bands came over from her table, where she had been waiting patiently for the next customer.
I thanked her and gave her my name, as Pumpkinhead said something I don’t recall. My name didn’t come up, to another eructation from the pallid Pumpkin. I gave Sekhnet’s name and that seemed to work, Pumpkinhead said something else I don’t recall. I told the girl “please, just give me the fucking wristband so I can get away from this asshole.”
This one two punch (“fucking” plus “asshole” equals “resisting arrest”) gave them all the moral ammunition they needed to leap into indignant defense of all that is decent. I’d said FUCKING, a Bozo-no no!! How dare I rape the ears of this innocent young black woman after assaulting the black hired guard with my offensive, nakedly racist insistence on my white privilege.
“That’s it!” said Pumpkinhead triumphantly, “don’t give him the wrist band. You’re not getting it!” I had one bit of restraint left, and I used it.
“Ah, not only an asshole but a vindictive asshole, nicely played.”
Just as I turned to storm off, muttering incoherently about letting him take me to court for slander where truth is an absolute defense to the charge, Sekhnet came up. Turned out DeVos and Pumpkinhead had given her some crap earlier, a variation on the same issue (she’d gone a few steps into the empty labyrinth and took a shortcut, hopping the barricades). They gave her quite a stern talking to about that, you can be sure. I walked a hundred yards, sat on a plastic chair in the sun, stewing a bit, letting the anger dissipate.
Someone I knew came up and said hi, when I gave him a 20 second capsule description of my recent confrontation his eyes turned into two ping-pong balls, lolled out of the sockets on to his cheeks. He waved a wan goodbye and I fluttered a few fingers.
Ten minutes later Sekhnet had my wrist band, texted me her location, and we sat in the “V.I.P” section to watch the show. Jose put on a great show, singing the songs of Bill Withers, songs he was born to sing. On Grandma’s Hands, a song about the love of a grandmother who always protected and comforted him when the world was kicking his ass, he did an inspired improvised section that blew me away.
It was brilliant, using the musician’s many arts to drive home the obscene incoherence of a violently angry caregiver. Grandma’s “Matty don’t you whip that boy” turned into a long, staccato, rhythmically complex, inventive reinvention of the morphing syllable that began with “whip”. Jose’s improvisation evoked the twitch of a grandmother’s pain to see her grandson mistreated, the violent idiocy of the mistreatment itself– well beyond words.  His singing and wild invention took me to another, far better world, and after the show I had hardly a thought of those two incoherent fascist disease carriers who’d tried to ruin my day.
 I described it in an email to a friend this way:
There’s a point in the song when Grandma is stopping the father from whipping the boy. Jose did a long improvisation here, where the words “what you want to whip him for?” turn into scratchy nonsense syllables, percussion, wordless hiphop, rhythmic, robotic, spastic, absurd, endless, obscenely ridiculous, the single syllable of “whip” turning into a million senseless acts of incoherent brutality. Man! Needless to say, I loved that shit, it was truly inspired and done with superb musicality. Turned to Sekhnet with a big smile and said “brilliant” and M turned, smiled and nodded. Then she looked at me one extra beat. Tears were falling out of my eyes.