The price of inheritance

The price of inheritance is obedience, to the exact degree demanded.   Dissident children don’t get shit, except for furious punishment while the bequeather is still alive.   Getting nothing, and being cast out of your family, is a very high price to pay for a fleeting feeling of personal integrity.

We spent five days with old friends in a beautiful rented house near Woodstock.  At one point I was sharing my long-running painful estrangement from my niece and nephew, my only two direct blood relatives, with one of my oldest friends.  I haven’t seen either one since my mother’s funeral in 2010.  My attempts to remain in touch have been mostly futile.  Now I don’t even hear back from either one when I reach out.  My friend, at a loss for any idea we haven’t already talked about, seeing how much this seemingly insoluble situation hurts me, looked at me with sad eyes and said “that’s very painful.”   I nodded and we sat there for a minute, just acknowledging how much this kind of thing hurts.

In the case of my niece and nephew I understand what they’ve been told by my brother-in-law and his wife.  Your uncle is an insane, judgmental, vengeful, lying prick.  He stole your inheritance when your grandparents died.  He will eventually kill you, if he ever gets the chance.  He’s a person incapable of love, forgiveness and honesty, though he pontificates at unbearable length about the importance of all three.  He is the lowest form of vicious hypocrite imaginable.  Picture Hitler, only much worse.

Fast forward a year and a half.

My periodic attempts to make contact with any of my old, formerly sympathetic friend’s three adult children, all of whom I have known since birth and fondly played with all during their childhoods, as well as advised and helped as young adults . . . crickets.

My own fault, really, since I refuse to acknowledge that to some people talking about conflict, with an eye toward preventing future strife, is exactly the same as viciously attacking them in their soul.   To speak about any kind of mutual role in conflict is to blame them, 100%, when they are unshakably certain that you are 100% to blame and a very dangerous fucker too, capable of all kinds of satanic appeals to love, fairness and vulnerability, which always come at their expense.  They will explain this to their children with passion, telling them to think of Hitler, only much, much worse.

I understand now that if you have a competitive view of life, see the world as black and white, win or lose, pride or humiliation, no compromise is possible with someone who does not do what you need them to do.   That’s just the way it is.  Keep whatever you want in your heart but keep any look off your face that shows defiance of a will that needs to be right.  Have as much integrity as you want in the quiet of your own soul, but show any glint of that and we’ll cut you dead as we cut our dear, old friend, Hitler, dead.  Clear enough for you, my beloved child?

To change or not to change

This dawned on me out of the blue yesterday, as my mind intermittently tries to work out another puzzle that has never made sense to me.   I realized that someone who lives in terrifying anticipation of unbearably painful shame and humiliation lives in a different, scarier, much more threatening world than most people.   In their world, someone they love, someone their children trust, can become an implacable Adolf Hitler clone in an instant.   Think of how terrifying that world would be to live in.

I had a long running debate with my father about whether people can change or not.  I believe that people can change, particularly if repeated, reflexive  behaviors keep causing you the same pain.  My mother confirmed the best of these changes in me over the years, but I myself know how much better I handle things like frustration, anger and depression than I used to.  

Change is certainly hard, it takes a lot of work and concentration, but it is possible.  When you can finally sit with your pain without crying out, you begin to see its causes more and more clearly.  If you see how your behavior, responding to a perceived threat,  makes the problem worse, you can little by little improve how you respond.   You will see cause and effect, understand the steps in behavior that lead to the bad result, and most importantly, learn to catch yourself before you react badly.  You will do a little better over time, if you are serious enough about changing things that torment you.   To believe otherwise is to accept that we’re doomed to a life of enduring constantly repeating misery.

My father believed that people cannot, on any fundamental level, change.   His position was that if you are born with a reflex to react with anger, that’s all she wrote about your ability to ever have significantly better control of your temper.  He told me, the night before he died, that his life had been basically over by the time he was two.   

He was referring to what had happened to him in those formative pre-verbal years before he could develop any memories at all, years that were all fear and pain.  This was a subject he never spoke of, but that I discovered a few years before he died when his older cousin Eli sadly revealed it to me. 

He angrily denied everything when I began to bring it up, denounced Eli as a fucking liar, but he acknowledged it the last night of his life. 

“Whatever Eli told you,” he said, referring to the beloved older cousin he denounced as an unreliable narrator and an idiot, “he spared you the worst of it.  Nobody could ever describe the true horror of the home I grew up in.”

What was this horror?  That he grew up in soul-killing poverty and that his mother was a tiny, religious woman with a Hitler-like temper and no threshold for frustration.   Whenever she got frustrated she took it out on the giant baby who had caused her such pain coming into the world, grabbing the nearest whip and lashing him across the face.

“In the face?” I asked my cousin Eli when he told me the story of watching his beloved aunt mercilessly whipping her toddler son.  He nodded with the saddest possible expression.

To my father, we are doomed when we start, however we’re born, whatever our predispositions, genetic tendencies and earliest experiences are, that’s essentially how we will always be.  What happens, according to my father’s view, is you put together a certain social veneer, you develop a talent for making jokes, have intelligent conversations, enjoy things like college sports, you can be fascinated by history, a one-time idealist and a keen student of politics, a philosopher, even, but all that is a social construct you make to cover whatever demons are churning inside yourself that you cannot change or influence in any meaningful way.  We are doomed, as the victims of whatever trauma befell us before we could defend ourselves, and there’s nothing any of us can do about, my father believed, until the last night of his life.

Fuck that”, was always my position.  If you suffer from a terrible temper, would it not help to understand why you get so fucking mad?  If, say, your mother had repeatedly whipped you in the face with the coarse cord of her steam iron, when you were less than two, wouldn’t that be a good reason to be a bit touchy later in life?   Or, let’s say, you first went to kindergarten with 20/400 vision, legally blind, and no adult discovered this until you were about 9, when FDR mandated that poor kids should have free eyeglasses as part of the New Deal (legislation that also outlawed child labor in the US, when my dad was already 8, working age).  Up until that time you’d been regularly mocked as a big moron for not being able to tell an A from an F on the blackboard.  Got your first pair of glasses in third grade, and went on the honor roll from fourth grade on.   These details are important to consider before condemning yourself as doomed to having an explosive temper and having been a big dummy when you were a young kid, no?

My father might have said “maybe for a novel, or some kind of rumination on human nature, but for the average person trying to get through life, support a family, work two jobs to give his children a good life after the grinding poverty of his own life, all that is more than enough to have on your plate.  Besides, no matter how many of the hideous details you relive, the pain involved in putting that puzzle together to the extent that you would be able to change anything meaningful about your life, which you know I believe one can’t, is unimaginably terrifying.   Why feel that nightmare again when we can do nothing to change our lives, in any fundamental way?”

Circular logic if there ever was an example of it.  Logic, of course, is not the right word to apply to that analysis.  Though my father was capable of sophisticated logic, and was a skilled debater capable of arguing either side of any position, this loop was not an example of any of that.  In formal debating, debaters learn to strategically deploy logos (intellectual argument based on facts and logic), ethos (moral argument) and pathos (appeals to emotion).  The inner world people like my father cannot escape from is ruled by pathos.   Have enough unbearable emotion in your soul and the greatest logical and moral arguments fall off you like rain off the proverbial duck’s back.  

I understand now that for someone like my father, wounded in his heart as deeply as he was, change was impossibly painful to even consider possible.  He simply could not imagine putting himself through the unnerving pain that would have been necessary before he could try to change.  To acknowledge that anyone else could change, but that he couldn’t, would only have added to his shame and humiliation.  His position that people cannot actually change was psychologically necessary for him because, for him, it was true.  

Logos, ethos and pathos, the only one operating full tilt, in many lives right now, is pathos.   Strong emotions rule the world in this age of Alternative Reason.  His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Fucking hell.

Fascism is mass submission to a narcissist’s will

It occurs to me how on point the “arguments” of authoritarians are to the “arguments” of narcissists.  They are simple and direct frontal attacks on everything you believe.  They can be summarized as “I am right, only I see clearly, and no matter what you say, fuck you, if you show the slightest defiance I’ll kill you (and everyone you love) and make you regret you were ever born.”   

The essential, deliberate irrationality of fascist argumentation was neatly summarized in a recent conversation between Brian Tyler Cohen and the great Mehdi Hassan.  The Gish Cohen refers to here was a “creationist” who was famous for raising dozens of false arguments in a short time and overwhelming the person he was debating.  Since it is impossible to refute all fifty falsehoods in a given debate, the Gish Gallop leaves the impression in the audience that many of the false statements, since unrefuted, may well be true.  Trump is a first ballot Hall of Fame Gish Galloper and his MAGA cohort, wielding their high pressure firehose of excrement, all regularly use this technique.  Here’s Cohen and Hassan:

Cohen:  … referring to Steve Bannon’s quote about flooding the zone with shit, the writer Jonathan Rausch once remarked “this is not about persuasion, this is about disorientation”. He’s right, when the likes of Trump and Gish engage in the gallop, their purpose is often not to try to win over but muddy the argument for everyone involved so they can bewilder and confuse while hopping from one falsehood to the next…

Hassan:  yeah, and it also has implications far beyond rhetoric, debate, argument.  It also has implications for democracy, Brian.

Cohen:  It destabilizes everything because then you don’t know what’s true …

Hassan:  That’s exactly what facism thrives on.  If you read the works of people like Jason Stanley, they make this point.  The point of the fascist, the authoritarian, why they lie, why they discredit the media, why they don’t want to live in a reality based universe, why they want alternative facts, is not because they want you to believe them over the liberal or the progressive.  They want you to believe no one, they want to leave you confused.  And what happens then?   Then you are more susceptible to the strongman who wants to lead you into the light.


If you have ever struggled with a narcissist who angrily blames you for all bad feelings in the world, you have had a direct, bitter taste of the essence of fascism.  Who is the fascist strongman?  A malignant narcissist capable of unimaginable cruelty toward masses of his fellow human beings, someone who has never, ever been wrong about anything, and has a violent mob of fanatical loyalists willing to die to prove it.

Impossible letter # two (prelude)

The impossibility of the letters themselves makes writing them an almost impossibly steep uphill drag.  If your words have no chance of being heard by the other person, that’s literally all she wrote. 

If it’s already been demonstrated over and over that the other person will not listen to you, why would writing those same words on paper and mailing them have a better effect?  If you know your words will never be read, or, if read, never acknowledged, or, if acknowledged, never responded to, clearly you are attempting the impossible. 

Still, there are times when the letter may begin to form itself in your mind, seem like the best idea on the subject, impossible as it also is.   One benefit of exerting yourself to write an impossible letter, of course, is setting the issues out as clearly as possible for yourself as you write.

You hit on a new angle for presenting resolution of the conflict that disrupted a long, loving relationship, say the idea of introducing death, our inevitable fate in our declining years, as a way of playing a poignant chord.  To the person who will not hear, that is merely a crude emotional ploy for undeserved sympathy.  Now you are pathetically playing the violin to try to move them to feel sorry for you, even though you don’t deserve even a hearing after the unforgivable crimes you’ve committed.

Tender memories you offer as proof of affection are cast aside as manipulation.  A factual point you make is more proof that you are a joyless reciter of biased facts to support your insane lawyerly arguments.  A gift you send need not be acknowledged to be another offensive example of this kind of dirty emotional game.

The facts won’t work, no agreement is possible about the scope or nature of the conflict, no softening of a rigidly defended position, no acknowledgment of a mutual problem — and no appeals to caring, sharing, love and sentiment.

Add those restrictions up and you get one impossible letter.  The letter itself, no matter how well you craft it, has zero chance of persuading that person of something they are programmed to reject, if you can even get the letter read.  If these letters ever are actually read, you will almost never get any acknowledgment.  In the rare case that you do, it will be to use the letter as a stick to poke you in the eye with.

A few months back I sent a letter, a last attempt to make peace, during the ten days after the Jewish New Year, days set aside for settling debts, seeking forgiveness, making amends.   I wrote this letter after my old friend, a Jew who prays at dawn every day, in the manner of the most orthodox Jews, stormed out of a restaurant a few days before Yom Kippur (the day religious Jews believe that God inscribes the future for every human for the coming year) when I “blindsided” him with a conversation about forgiveness that he didn’t want to hear, was not able to think about without becoming indignant.

A few days later I sat down and wrote him a letter I somehow didn’t yet understand was impossible.  I felt better once I’d set the thoughts and feelings down on a page.  I actually slept better right after I mailed it, the burden of fixing a long friendship suddenly turned to senseless, total war off of my shoulders.   The issues were clear enough, the letter was simple and short. The next move now belonged to my friend and his wife (I’d written and mailed a short note to her, assuring her of my love).  I had three or four nights of untroubled sleep for the first time in a year, since our sudden, traumatic falling out.  

2:45 a.m, a few days later, my phone rings.  My friend was very upset, he’d received my letter and he couldn’t sleep.  He wasn’t going to talk about anything in the letter, or what particularly upset him, but I was apparently again unfairly using my power to express myself clearly as a way to oppress him.   Close to tears he told me he’d sat down and written me long letters on at least six occasions, letters he never sent me, or even mentioned to me.  He was very hurt that I didn’t seem to appreciate that at all.  And so on.   

What do these impossible letters have in common?   They ask the reader to be fair, to consider another point of view, and the mutual hurt and damage involved, when the reader believes he has already been more than fucking fair.   Impossible letters require that the recipient hold a letter they feel is written by Hitler and read it dispassionately, calmly, open to being persuaded by Hitler’s golden words.

The common factor, I realize at my advanced age, is that all these letters involve an attempt to counter the determined narratives of people bent on never feeling humiliated again.   If terror of shame and humiliation causes a person to build and cling to a persona that can never be wrong, all perceived criticism is a deadly attack that must be repelled with overwhelming force.  An untrue statement they make is not a lie, and it is humiliating to be called a liar, they are merely defending themselves reflexively and if the truth is a sharp, deadly weapon they parry it by first denying it.   Narcissism 101, baby.

Take any story insisted on in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is not true.  The lie that Biden stole the 2020 election, with the help of many powerful traitorous Republicans, debunked 1,000 times, thrown out of every court, the fairness of the election confirmed with broad bipartisan acknowledgement.   Can a political party continue to insist that the election was stolen, that rioters were fully justified to attack police and stop the joint session of Congress to prevent the certification of a rigged election? 

They can if they’re mad as hell, and if you’re mad enough to assault police you have to believe you’re right, and if you’re right, how can you listen to fucking assholes who tell you you’re wrong?  You know what you do to them? Bash them in the fucking face.  Take away their right to vote.   Those who assaulted the cops were right to do so, the ones convicted of violence are viciously persecuted political prisoners, etc.

If you find yourself on the other side of a narcissist’s visceral terror of shame, watch your ass. In the end, the best you will be able to do is write an impossible letter to their children, trying to explain that they sre not alone, weighed down with deep, vaguely understood hurt it will take them decades to begin to understand, if ever, but that there are adults out here, willing to listen and talk, who do not share their parent’s maniacal determination to blame them for everyone’s unhappiness.

Tuck you, Carlson

The families of every one of the 140 Capitol and DC police officers injured by the violent mob on January 6th 2021 should sue deliberately lying, entitled patrician Tucker Carlson. Let their lawyers come up with the theory of the case.

Tucker’s got the money to pay them. He was born with a shitload of it, and is paid millions more by ancient Australian salt water crocodile Rupert Murdoch to keep the credulous watching as he simply asks provocative questions and fans their fear and hatred.

In Carlson’s telling, none of these injured officers were hurt by any member of the throng of meek and respectful tourists who peacefully entered the Capitol, legally, to express their legitimate hurt that the 2020 election had been stolen from their preferred candidate. Carlson’s recent Josef Goebbels impression is below.

According to him it’s a fact that everyone who said there was violence on January 6 is a liar who deserves no credibility.

Carlson tells his viewers that lying Democrats, and Kinziger and Cheney, would have you believe that the real crime was not the stolen November 2020 election but a peaceful assembly of concerned citizens engaging in what the RNC called legitimate political discourse (disrupting a joint session of Congress). Tucker says they were justified, and peaceful. He describes the lying Commies’ “grave betrayal of American democracy” so simply, so clearly.

They were “meek” “respectful” “sightseers” who, although rightfully angry, revered the Capitol building and law enforcement. They legitimately believed lies repeated by people like Carlson himself, who knew he was lying, while insisting on the truth of his lies in spite of all the evidence. The angry, peaceful crowd of Trump supporters knew for a fact, in spite of a vast bipartisan conspiracy against him, that Trump had indisputably won by over a billion votes.

The 30 million dollar cleanup cost to repair the Capitol building, cleaning up defecation left by some of the meek, respectful tourists who were there legitimately after presumed FBI provocateurs, heavily disguised Black Lives Matter and antifa terrorists presumably smashed the windows and overran the police who they greatly outnumbered… fake news spread by lying woke sickos. Like the 140 law enforcement officers taken to the hospital with various injuries, a bunch of America-hating liars.

If you have the stomach for it, here’s five minutes of this brazen piece of shit, doubling, tripling and quadrupling down on his version of the truth, to the sound of a cah-chinging cash register.

Both sides

Another very short reminder, if one was needed, that there are at least two sides to every story.

This doesn’t mean that both sides of a given conflict are equally true, equally based on what actually happened, equally easy to defend.  It just means that for every truthful statement of fact there are a thousand less truthful ones that can be made.  Among these less truthful versions are outright lies, motivated by malice and designed to convince people of “alternative facts” which, they argue, are just as good as those old fashioned verifiable ones captured in actual recordings, especially when deployed in an existential war between good and evil.   

Here is today’s 15 second example, from people who try their best not to lie to their viewers.   Your opinion on which people I mean will vary according to the devoutness of your faith in your deepest beliefs about reality.