Category Archives: Good and Evil

Does Money Make You Mean?

“Human nature has a flaw. Under conditions of apparent competition, when a hierarchy of relative winners and losers is created, no matter how, the people at the top tend to fall for something called a self-affirmation fallacy which causes them to attribute their high status to their own merits and qualities, even if they became rich by winning at some gamble which could have gone the other way. Being rich literally makes people change, makes people less sympathetic, less compassionate, less law-abiding, less honest.”—Helga Vierich, Professor of Anthropology, Yellowhead Tribal College (Spruce Grove, Alberta)

LordvoldemortAfter years of being an overweight sweetheart, this guy I knew in high school started working out, lost all of the weight, and eventually looked like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Before this dramatic transformation, he had plenty of female friends who adored him and confided in him (but alas, never hooked up with him). The girls saw him as a sweet, understanding, empathetic guy. But soon after his manly metamorphosis, he became a repulsive “bro” who used girls with the indifference of a sociopath. And, just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about a garden-variety player. I’m talking about a full-blown misogynistic asshole with the conscience of a turnip! At one point I confronted him about his nasty behavior: “What happened to you? You used to be such a nice guy.” “I’m hot now,” he said, with a sleazy smile, “and you don’t have to be nice when you’re hot.”

That’s when I realized that he was, in fact, always an asshole; he was just really good at hiding it. The power that came with his newfound hotness afforded him the opportunity to behave in ways that accorded with inclinations that were always there. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s aphorism—“You will never know for sure if someone is an asshole until he becomes rich”—follows the same logic: money doesn’t make people mean, it just allows mean people to be mean. Or, to put it another way, as Taleb once did on his Facebook page, in a clarifying remark: “People reveal their temperament when they have choices.” Paul Piff’s research into the relationship between social class and unethical behavior suggests that Taleb may be wrong about this. In numerous experiments, he has demonstrated that you can turn a completely normal person into a sociopathic jerk. It’s actually quite easy: just give them some power. If Piff is right, then it’s not so much that latent asshole tendencies are brought out by wealth but that wealth (in and of itself) can turn many perfectly normal people into assholes.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Ethical Followership

flock-of-sheepA well-functioning society cannot consist merely of leaders. We can’t all be leaders at the same time. Most of us have to be followers most of the time. Yet you won’t see any wealthy suburban kids going to Followership Camp this summer. Nope, they’ll be going to Leadership Camp. Nor will you see any of the same kids enrolling in Followership Programs next semester. Nope, they’ll be enrolling in Leadership Programs. It’s laughable, when you really think about, and dangerous: because the biggest ethical challenges these young people are likely to face in their lives will be about ethical followership, not ethical leadership.

As sophisticated moral dramas like NCIS make clear, ethical followership is all about balancing the competing claims of equally noble virtues. It’s about knowing when to acknowledge the claims of loyalty and when to listen to the cries of justice; when to follow orders and when to disobey them; when to trust your boss’s judgement and when to question it; when to play by the rules and when to break them; when to cover for your colleagues and when to blow the whistle on them.

Moral dilemmas such as these are resolved easily by none but the single-minded. After all, die-hard supporters and die-hard detractors have at least one thing in common: they’re never forced to make difficult choices. Because it’s easy to say YES all the time or NO all the time. What’s hard is to know when it’s time to say YES and when it’s time to say NO.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

The Ring of Populist Power

As Lincoln well knew, politicians can appeal to the better angels of our nature or they can appeal to what is ugly in us. It’s a temptation every political movement faces: to what extent are we willing to flirt with the dark side—tap into its power—for the greater good of our cause? Sooner or later, every politician, and almost every activist, comes to the conclusion that they can get away with this Faustian bargain, that they will succeed where most have failed. Some do. Most do not. Because, as Tolkien makes clear, when you slip on that ring of power, it soon owns you far more than you own it. Trump put on the ring of populist power awhile ago. Will it end up owning him? Only time will tell.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

The Great Wall of India

10626817_10152382893102683_6818992889370798341_nIn my dream, the pretty South Asian reporter with a British accent was talking about something called the The Great Wall of India. They had built it, she said, along the north end of the Bay of Bengal, on the southern limit of the continental shelf, about 200km from the vulnerable shoreline shared by India, Bangladesh, and Burma. Composed entirely of materials manufactured out of captured carbon, the seawall continues along the edge of the continental shelf for a staggering 500km.

Part of the Global Marshall Plan Initiative, the original purpose of The Great Wall of India was to protect the most densely populated place on Earth from the worst ravages of climate change; however, quite unexpectedly, it has become an excellent source of habitat for marine life (especially baby fish). As a direct result of The Great Wall of India, fish stocks in the Bay of Bengal (as well as the Indian Ocean) have been bouncing back at an astounding rate. Local fishermen are reporting catches the likes of which have not been seen since the early twentieth century.

Though they had originally hoped to be done by 2032, unforeseen engineering problems delayed completion of The Great Wall of India by a little over seven years. As such, though it was supposed to take 15 years to build it, it ended up taking closer to 22 years. Even so, when construction came to a close six months ago, in the fall of 2039, the citizens of the world beheld it with a kind of divine awe. Paid for completely with worldwide carbon taxes, The Great Wall of India is now (in 2040) the largest human-made structure on Planet Earth. It can be seen clearly from space.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2017)

p.s. It occurs to me now, and only in retrospect, that the reporter in my dream looked a whole lot like my friend Sara Nuzhat Amin (minus the British accent, of course).

The Last Duel

tumblr_lngin6s4w21qa3ssoo1_500Do you want to hear the tale of the last sabre duel to be fought in Europe?

Of course you do. In a world where powerful people pretend that lying is honourable, or that to be a tough guy means running crying to your lawyer when insulted, who doesn’t want to remember “an elegant weapon for a more civilised age” as Obi Wan Kenobi put it in Star Wars?

Actually—the Star Wars connection is more than a coincidence, as I will get to in good time. And where is the psychology in this? Well, this all happened in living memory, and the mechanisms that underlie duelling are still present in modern humans—and other animals too.

But first, some back story. Sixty years ago this year, the Hungarians rose up against their communist invaders. The Hungarians—a people once described as folk who could follow you into a revolving door and come out first—have long been known to be the best sabreurs (sabre fencers) in the world. The sabre is a tricky weapon. Whip-fast and, in its duelling form, capable of slicing a human body into long strips of dangling bloodied flesh in seconds.

Hungarians have won half of all the gold medals at sabre in all the Olympics since 1896. But to the old style Hungarians, sporting sabre was just a side-line. In Hungary the sabre was still used to duel right up until 1956. Illegally, of course. And, of all the swordsmen in the army, the best sabreur was Akos Moldovanyi.

I came to know Akos when he was an émigré in London in the 1990s. He taught fencing to a huge range of abilities, from Olympians down to neophytes like me. He was possessed of an old world charm such as, without a trace of self-consciousness clicking his heels and kissing ladies on the hands when introduced. He was, to us youngsters, a vision into an older, more direct and honourable, world. Incidentally, lest it be thought that all this hand-kissing meant a general sexism, Akos had a number of lady students at a time when the teaching of sabre to women was deeply frowned upon by the ultra-conservative fencing fraternity of the time. He was the one who once told me admiringly of the lady duelist Julie de Maupin—but that is a story for another day.

Akos’ old-world charm had teeth too. At the time I was studying sabre, I was training in a lot of mixed martial arts, and had something of a reputation as a scrapper. The story went around that Akos had chased off four thugs who were menacing some young lady. After training that day Akos approached me and asked mildly what I would have done had the four decided to cut up rough. He was asking me for advice! This eighty-year old man, mark you, had without a second thought taken on four men a quarter his age and chased them off. Only later did it occur to him that things might have gone badly if they had been more determined, and sought advice from someone he thought of as more used to this sort of thing. I just looked at him open mouthed. You can’t take on odds of four determined thugs to one and come out on top—fantasy movies notwithstanding. But, Akos would not have cared about such trifles.

Akos was the only man I ever saw who could fence two of us at once. I promise that most of you have never even seen pictures of anyone capable of doing that for real.

We loved him. Every year his students would take him out for his birthday and every year he would have a few too many and tell us the story of the last sabre duel. Inevitably, drink and memory being what they are, minor details might vary from year to year. Anyway—this is one of the versions of the last sabre duel (and not too different from the others):

There were once two Hungarian army officers. The Hungarian army was a well-disciplined group, but men were expected to defend their own honour. To someone who has no concept of honour, the logic of it is quite simple. In a lawless region your only protection is your own reputation. Those who look askance at the fights between lawless gangs and drug dealers, but extol the ethics of the Three Musketeers, are being deeply inconsistent. Once you gain a reputation for being a soft touch in a rogue environment—as a man you are done for. Even if you survive physically, in reproductive terms—you may as well be dead. (1)

And you don’t need to be a historian or travel to exotic places or inner city dives to understand the importance of honour as a protection in lawless places. Anyone who has experienced the law of the schoolyard already has insights into how honour works on young men.

Anyway, one of these Hungarian army officers had insulted the other in ways too terrible for a simple apology. I will leave the details of the insult to later, so heinous are they. Suffice to say—only blood would satisfy the issue. Seconds were swiftly summoned. Would the principals shake hands and forget the deadly insult? They would not. The captain of the unit was summoned and consulted. Clearly a duel would have to take place. The honour of the principals and the regiment itself demanded it.

Now, duels were strictly illegal, so it was imperative that the police would have to be informed, so that they could cordon off the area of the duel and make sure that no-one was offended by such an illegal spectacle. The chief of police duly had the Town Hall surrounded by armed officers to keep the public at bay.

A duel must be conducted properly. Akos was the best sabreur in the army—he was summoned to preside it.

Shortly before he died in 2011, Akos presented me with his old book—in French of course—for the proper conduct of a duel. Somehow, he thought this would come in handy for me one day. But, until it does, I can check its contents against his description of events, and I can assure you that they tally. This is how a duel should be conducted, and how it was conducted:

Akos summoned the principals to the piste (the duelling strip). They were naked from the waist up—apart from some padding under the arm to protect the radial artery. Bleeding out too soon would be tough to explain to the authorities. But—bare chests make it easy to swiftly spot injuries. A doctor examined the blades and washed them in antiseptic. We don’t want anyone dying of a post duel infection—that would be embarrassing. The blades were offered to the fencers—with the insulted party having first choice. A duelling sabre is not a toy. Light, but razor sharp. Two pounds of pressure are all that are required to open up human flesh. Speed would matter far more than strength. Speed and courage.

The principals are brought to the centre line and asked if they would, at this late stage, shake hands and forget matters. Too dry mouthed to speak, they shake their heads. No one could countenance backing out at this stage—it would destroy one’s honour—but the question must be asked, for form’s sake.

Akos nods at them and indicates that they should take their places. Looking at a half-naked man holding a three foot razor blade, with the avowed intent of carving you up with it, focuses the mind wonderfully.

“Êtes-vous prêt?” He asks each in turn. Both nod. Almost imperceptibly. Their necks as tense as the rest of their bodies.

“En garde!” The sabres come up. Ready to both attack and defend. It’s tough to defend against sabre cuts–which can come in at any angle and with bewildering speed in the hands of an expert. Often the win goes to the fighter who lunges first and fastest.

“Allez!”

The fight begins.

At this point, however, it becomes rapidly obvious to the on-lookers that neither party had the faintest idea how to handle a sword properly. Tentatively, they move forward and back. Looking like an amateur dramatic production where the actors think that tapping at each-others blades will pass for a fight, they nervously prod and shake. People start to get bored.

Perhaps now would be a good time to mention the details of the insult? These two army officers were quite fresh in the army. One was a potato buyer, the other a potato seller. The potato buyer had accused the potato seller of putting too much earth in his potato sacks. This was the insult that could not go unpunished. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the potato trade is not famed for its swordsmanship. This was very evident now.

More by luck than judgement, one fencer took a wild hack at his rival and, much to everyone’s surprise, managed to catch him a glancing shot on the wrist. Blood had been shed. Finally.

“Arrête!” Akos commanded.

The wound was examined. First blood. Was honour satisfied? The duelists nodded gratefully that it was. The duel was over.

That was the last sabre duel—but Akos’ influence goes well beyond that. He was an exceptional teacher who passed on not mere skills, but a way of approaching the world. All his students have strong memories of him and deeply mourned his passing—well into his 90s—on December 3rd 2011. (2)

By an odd coincidence one of his students—Bob Anderson, the legendary fight choreographer, died at about the same time. Anderson is famous for the fights in a number of movies like The Princess Bride and the original Star Wars. In fact, because David Prowse (the body of Darth Vader) never really got the hang of handling the sabre, for the fights in long shot Bob Anderson was under the cowl—he was Darth Vader. So, technically, that means that the person who taught us sabre was the person who taught Darth Vader sabre. Which was Obi Wan Kenobi.

Conclusions

Where’s the psychology in all this, you might ask? The logic of male-male competition has been set out most clearly in Maynard-Smith and Price’s 1973 paper on evolutionary game theory. (3) All across taxa, males engage in sub-lethal (but still credibly dangerous) forms of fighting to establish status because in males status equates to reproductive fitness. These forms of fighting often use specific modes (like antlers) specially grown for the purpose that are not used in other fighting (such as against predators).

Humans don’t grow antlers—they grow cultural practices instead. We often develop highly stylised fighting forms with specific overtones—such as fencing and the ones I explore in my 2013 paper on boxing. (4) Humans are more socially complex than deer butting antlers but the logic is much the same. Violence is often portrayed by social psychologists as necessarily anti-social or pathological but a little thought reveals how superficial such a description is. It may not be the best way of settling disputes, but it can be highly social. I would just point out that, historically, the rise of lawyers is in neat correlation to the fall of duelling as a way to settle disputes. I suppose I have to concede that this is more civilised. Grudgingly.

References

  • Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. Transaction Publishers.
  • Maynard-Smith, J.; Price, G. R. (1973). “The Logic of Animal Conflict”. Nature. 246 (5427): 15–18.
  • King, R. (2013). Fists of furry: at what point did human fists part company with the rest of the hominid lineage?. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216(12), 2361-2361.

Glenn Greenwald Sucks

“This appears to have been a hoax, Glenn. You retweeted it 3 times to 779K people. Got anything to say?”—Sam Harris

g9hhnjiiSo, let me get this straight, an internet troll named “Godfrey Elfwick” pulls off a hoax of Sokal-level proportions on The Guardian, one of the most well-respected newspapers in the world. This fake-news story, which includes a nasty denunciation of Sam Harris, goes viral. Glenn Greenwald retweets said fake-news story. Sam Harris and others let him know that it’s a fake. Does Greenwald apologize? Nope. He doubles down. Says the story speaks to a deeper truth about Sam Harris even if it’s not factually true. If we were talking about something like Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games, this might fly. But we’re not. We’re talking about a story in a serious newspaper, which was enthusiastically retweeted by one of the most well-respected journalists in the world. What does it say about the state of journalism when one of its leading lights publicly declares that the truth doesn’t really matter?

Glenn Greenwald reminds me of this crazy woman I met at a wedding in the early 2000s. It was a beautiful ceremony but a terrible reception. I was stuck at the worst table in the room, sitting across from the worst couple in the world. A real match made in Hell. They were in the middle of some sort of fight. She was mad at him. Really mad. Furious actually. But he didn’t know why. Poor guy kept sheepishly asking her what was wrong. Eventually she told him. Apparently she was mad at him because he’d said something horribly hurtful the night before. At dinner. He stared at her with the doe eyes of an innocent man. He really didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about. Seriously, if you looked up “WTF?” in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of this dude’s face. Didn’t last though. Second or two later, color in the dude’s face went from Scared-Rabbit White to Righteously-Indignant Red. Faster than you can say “Johnnie Cochran”. Guy was so mad he was shaking. Could barely speak.

He reminded her that he was on a plane last night. That they didn’t talk last night. That he’d been back home for a funeral. His grandmother’s funeral. Took awhile, but eventually she realized that she wasn’t remembering something that actually happened, something he actually said; she was remembering something he’d said to her last night in a dream. Did she apologize? Nope. She doubled down like Glenn Greenwald. Said the dream spoke to a deeper truth about their relationship even if it wasn’t factually true.

If you’re writing historical fiction, you can tell the truth whilst fudging the facts. The same cannot be said of journalism. Different rules apply. A journalist who thinks the truth doesn’t matter is like a comedian who thinks being funny doesn’t matter.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

The Standing Rock Sioux Won, But They Won Ugly

2016-09-16-1474044012-2676960-defend_the_sacredTwo cheers for the Standing Rock Sioux. They fought and they won. But they won ugly. They won by leveraging the fact that white lives matter and some white lives matter more than others. The Army Corps of Engineers folded their cards at 5:30 PM on Sunday evening, after the veterans’ color guard was formed up and moving in the direction of the police line. Another 10-15 minutes and white war veterans were going to be killed or maimed and the Corps wasn’t going to wear that. They don’t care about Indians. They don’t care a whole lot more about white civilians. But they care about their own.

Go back two weeks and the only reason the vets got involved was because the Morton County deputies maimed a white girl. Is this really the way it has to work now? Do we all have to become the International Solidarity Movement and deliberately try to get pretty young white girls injured or killed so we can leverage the sympathy when it happens?

The precedent I’m worried about is that Standing Rock is going to be the model for a lot of future protest campaigns, some Native, some not. And they’re going to know in advance, the way the Sioux didn’t know at the time, that they’re going to need to wave a child’s bloody shirt. Sophia Wilansky’s injury wasn’t incidental, it wasn’t just this horrible thing the cops did to her along the way to her campaign winning. Without it, there’s a fraction as much national press, there’s no 2000 veterans, there’s no last-minute reversal by the Army Corps of Engineers, there’s no win. That’s why I called it “ugly”. It’s an ugly position to be in, even if nobody on our side did anything wrong.

When some other group, one more willing to cut ethical corners, decides they’re going to try and replicate Standing Rock’s success, the ethical corner they’ll want to cut first is sort of obvious—they won’t tell the photogenic young true believers how much danger they’re really in. If the kids figure it out for themselves, they’ll be gut-checked over and over and over until they’re less afraid of getting injured than they are of saying no.

I’ve seen this children’s crusade stuff go on on a small scale in New York 30 years ago. I’ve seen a guy my own age just mercilessly gut-checking this 18 year old kid in the Montreal anarchist scene maybe 10 years ago. I won’t name the older guy but if I did, you’d recognize it.

I also reported on a group in Palestine who lied to and manipulated their own people on a large scale and ended up getting two of them killed. I found plenty of evidence on my own to call them “criminally negligent” but none to call them anything stronger than that. Right after I filed my half of the story I was handed the rest of it. It went far beyond just criminal negligence. They expected one of their people to be killed. They wanted her to be killed. Just so they could get paid off in sympathy.

I’m happy Standing Rock won. I wouldn’t wish that part any other way. I’m not crazy about the way the more cold and cynical operators in our movement might take it as validating their methods.

Apparently this victory confirms what I’ve been saying all along. (John, if your boy Aaron Haspel wants royalties for the phrase, he can have them. I’m going to use it that often.)

For the last 15 years I’ve been saying “Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics” and “Staying power beats firepower”. When I went off to cover the Afghanistan War, I was pretty confident the Afghans were going to win. I just needed some evidence more concrete and compelling than “Because they’re the Afghans. They always win.” I found it in the material aid drives all over Pakistan. Once I had a sense of how long and how deep the Taliban’s supply lines really were, I had something to point to that said “They are prepared to outlast us.”

Outfighting the police is no longer the winner strategy it was 30 years ago. They have better training, better gear and looser rules of engagement. But outlasting them can still work. We just saw it.

I spent my two days at the Standing Rock helping out at the donations and supply tents. Partly because it’s just what you do. If you go to one of these things, you bring all your own shit, from weather gear to drinking water. And you help out. It takes a vast amount of work to sustain a permanent camp. It’s not cool to treat it like a hotel. But I also wanted to check out their logistics from the inside. They were good. Somewhat in panic mode over the camp doubling in size in a week. Caught off guard by the number of veterans who showed up without winter clothes, bedding or tents. (Side note: If you’re an American soldier and you’re reduced to begging blankets from the Indians, you made a wrong turn somewhere. Just saying.) And they were completely overwhelmed by dozens of tons of swedow (“Stuff We Don’t Want”).

But they were coping with all of it and getting everyone what they needed when they needed it. Just about everybody working on the camp logistics was young white kids with an activisty look to them. Occupy types or else they wish they had been.

Here’s something I wasn’t saying all along. The Occupy campaign was so unfocused I never stopped to think about the skills being developed there and what they could do for a campaign with a clear, specific and achievable goal. But it’s obvious in hindsight. Thirty years ago, the movement really only had a dozen people in a single group (Seeds of Peace) who knew how to support a permanent camp of several thousand people. Now there’s hundreds of people who have done it, thousands who have seen it done, in every major city in North America. This capability is going to be as important in the next couple of decades as Black Bloc tactics were in the 1990s and 2000s.

More about the swedow thing: I get it. People mean well. Their hearts are in the right place. And you can’t be too careful when it comes to money. Can’t take the chance it’ll be stolen or misspent. It’s just . . . sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. If you’ve spent several days outdoors in a cold climate in the winter, you know what kind of clothes and bedding that requires. If you haven’t, you probably don’t. This is specialized stuff. Nobody just has it lying around the house. And it’s not even that one person’s old tennis shoes by themselves are a BFD that cost the recipients real money. It’s those old shoes, plus a hundred thousand other peoples’ that are a BFD.

Once you’re talking about tons of material a day, it costs money to transport it. The camp was renting two of the biggest u-haul trucks there are, just to shuttle donations from Bismarck to the camp every day. They had to collect it every day because the Bismarck post office and courier companies all had their storage space overwhelmed by the volume of stuff. That’s close to $200 a day, every day. It costs money to store it out of the rain. Once the stuff is in the camp, every pair of truckloads needs one army tent (about $1500 used, that would otherwise shelter 24 people). Then it’s got to be picked through. That costs people’s time. Maybe a tenth by weight is the same items, same quality as what the camp would buy for cash if it had the cash. Maybe another tenth isn’t really up to standards but it can be made to work if there’s nothing better. Separating the usable items from the junk takes the work of dozen people for a full day. That’s a dozen people not available for building, cooking, distributing usable gear to people who need it, etc. And then the rest of the donations have to go to Goodwill. Back in Bismarck. Another $200 a day to get it there. It adds up.

—Ken Hechtman

p.s. There’s something a little bit obscene about burning five full tanks of gasoline just to put in a personal appearance at a pipeline protest. I’m still going, don’t get me wrong, but I just want to be clear that the irony isn’t lost on me. Somehow it never is.

The Year of Living Homerically

emile_levy_-_circeGetting sucked into the insanity of the 2016 election was like getting sucked into an ancient myth. One minute you’re living your life, next minute you’re a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Seriously, I feel like I should write a sequel to A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically (2007) entitled The Year of Living Homerically (2017). Were we not, like Odysseus’s men, turned into swine? Were we not, like Odysseus, bewitched? Did we not lose track of time, trumping till two, night after night? Waking up this past weekend, after a thoroughly unhealthy, year-long obsession with American politics, I felt like disoriented Odysseus, coming to his senses on the Island of Ogygia.

Angry people are incredibly easy to manipulate. Same is true of the self-righteous. The more “political” you become, the more you become a mere pawn in someone else’s chess game. Your ideas are no longer your own. They’re not even your friends’ ideas. They are, instead, prefabricated ideas, manufactured by spin-doctors, mad scientists of the spirit, who understand human nature better than most, and are practiced in the art of deception. These master manipulators understand that the pleasures of politics may be ugly pleasures, but they’re pleasures nonetheless. Anger feels good. Self-righteousness feels good.

But these pleasures come at a cost. Politics erodes your creativity far more than it erodes your humanity. I can’t believe how boring I’ve become. I can’t believe how boring many of my friends have become. Thinking prefabricated ideas all the time is sort of like moving into a prefabricated suburban row house. You get to choose the drapes, what color to paint the walls, little else.

Oh Aristotle, stop snickering in the back row! Yes, yes, yes, I know! Man is indeed the political animal. But it’s equally true that the political too often brings out the animal in the man. And you, Edmund, for God’s sake, save your breath! I know what you’re gonna say: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Of course there’s truth to what you say, much truth. But can you not conceive of a species of evil that’s akin to quicksand? Can you not see why Epicurus admonished his followers to shun politics?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Saudi Barbaria

saudi_arabia-flag-with-swordSaudi Arabia is like that degenerate junkie you see everyday on your way to work, the one who’s always getting worse but never seems to die. Every time you think he’s hit rock bottom, he does something so depraved and disgusting, like mugging an old lady on her way home from church, that you shake your head in disbelief and mumble: “Wow! New low, dude, new low.” If you doubt me, consider the following: a government-run newspaper in Saudi Arabia recently attacked Iran for allowing Jews to live in Iran. Yes, you read that correctly: live. There are about 20,000 Jews living in Iran right now. I can’t imagine that life is especially easy for Iranian Jews, but at least they have full citizenship rights; the Saudis don’t even allow Jews to visit Saudi Arabia!* Makes me sick to think that my country just signed a $15-billion arms deal with this disgusting regime—which still beheads people, in public, for things like sorcery. Is Saudi Arabia even a country? Or is it really just a family business masquerading as a nation state.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

*If you’ve got an Israeli government stamp on your passport or you’re openly Jewish, you’re not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia. That being said, apparently, in recent years, they’ve had a sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for highly-skilled Jewish guest workers.

Turn That Fucking Thing Off Right Now!

recording-policeOnce upon a time, in a city whose major streets have been subject to full-color video surveillance 24/7 for quite some time, in a shopping mall that subjects shoppers and staff to 24/7 surveillance, in a store that has its own private surveillance system, a brown-skinned man found himself surrounded by four hostile police officers—who, I hasten to add, have full-color video recording devices on their uniforms and cruisers. A 17-year-old bystander, a Dawson College student, who happened to be in the store, and was horrified by the way the officers were treating the guy, started recording the altercation with her cell phone. As soon as the cops realized what she was doing, one of them charged over to her and said: “Turn that fucking thing off right now!”

The surveillance state’s double-standard is made manifest in moments like this. We’re allowed to spy on you 24/7. We’re allowed to spy on your journalists. We’re allowed to read your emails and texts. We’re allowed to listen in on your phone conversations. But don’t you dare try to record us!

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)