Sunday, December 27, 2015
Many out there in the blogosphere would be astonished to see me writing this review. In some circles, after all, I’m now known mainly as an incorrigible homophobe and “bigot” (see post and comments here). My gay friends, familiar with my writing and thinking, are amused by the shrill labels I get online. Myself I’m less amused, but not surprised. The young American left, with its current LGBTQwerty fetish, with its discovery of “microaggressions” and “safe spaces”, has gone completely off the rails. Everyone who isn’t a nitwit can see what’s happening. And they are disgusted.
But here I’m going to write this review of a very gay novel, a supremely gay novel, because it’s also a damn good novel. And honestly, I’ve nothing against gays. My choice of academic study, back in the 1980s and 90s, was determined by two gay writers: Arthur Rimbaud and Max Jacob. It was also during those years of study that I set out on the road that later led to my conversion to Catholicism. Go figure.
The novel in question, The Mystery Religions of Gladovia, is by Bradley Winterton. An expat in Asia like myself, Winterton has worked over the years as a book and classical music reviewer in Taiwan and elsewhere. He’s reviewed my own books (for example here and here) and for a decade now I’ve been prodding him to take up literary writing. He’s finally done it.
But one shouldn’t think I’m writing this review to return Bradley any favors or claim some credit for the genesis of his book. No, I’m writing it because The Mystery Religions of Gladovia, out just a few months ago, is an impressive piece of work.
It’s the tale of two gay British men and their respective social circles, first in Europe, then later in a fictional South American nation named Gladovia. Matthew, who starts the narrative as a love-smitten teen in an English boys’ school, and “Lily” (an ironic nickname) who starts as a brutal young headmaster at the same school, switch off narrating their respective journeys to Gladovia, a developing nation of citizens with a lust for life and parkfuls of eager and silky-skinned young men. Winterton’s cast of characters comes to include European and other expats, as well as a variety of ethnicities of locals, many of whom follow a pagan mystery religion which makes an appearance early in the novel in the form of a Sybil, and which later comes to play a major role in Matthew and Lily’s awakening.
The book’s opening chapters established a sense in me that Winterton is here strategically compressing historical time. Although according to chronology the narrative begins somewhere in the 1990s, there’s a timelessness in Winterton’s early pages, evoking an English school environment that seems not so much 1990s as simply 20th century. Older readers might be reminded of Another Country and the other handful of boys’ school films to come out of Britain since. And it works. Without sinking into cliche, Winterton balances this background against his main opening theme: the pain of falling in love for the first time as a gay youth.
It is through the love-smitten schoolboy Matthew’s eyes that we get our first glimpse of the school’s brutal headmaster Lily, and learn something about his deftness with the cane. Matthew, showering with the other boys, glimpses the bright welts on the bottom of one of his schoolmates who’d recently been punished by Lily. He begins to suspect the world around him is not what it seems.
There will be many more sexually charged showers, and many more welts too. One reviewer in Asia has called Winterton’s novel a gay Fifty Shades of Gray. Though I consider the comparison an insult to the serious writerly craft of Gladovia, BDSM is indeed one of the novel's main themes.
Becoming an adult, Matthew goes off to life in Holland. We also soon learn in great detail how Lily, deeply closeted in his school community, must take junkets to Europe to satisfy his desire. Winterton’s prose, whether on nature and geography or on the customs of gay men in different locales, is always smooth and fast, light of touch and precise.
In fact it’s this masterful style, along with the writer’s knack for suspense and structure, that is among this novel’s main pleasures. At the risk of turning off some American readers, I really should point out: Winterton is a thoroughly British writer, continuing a long tradition of literary prose. There’s absolutely nothing of Hemingway here. Winterton’s classic style is part of what establishes the feeling of timelessness in this book. What’s compelling about it, to me at least, is that it almost never sinks to stuffiness or the excessive wordiness of many of the classics. The writer has pulled off a great balancing act in this respect: his writing echoes the classic without the baggage that burdens many classics for 21st century readers.
Some might see a flaw in the fact that Matthew’s and Lily’s narrative voices aren’t distinct enough. I find some distinction, but not as much as might be necessary to give these two men markedly different voices. Still, it’s only the younger man, Matthew, who is eventually narrating sexual encounters bout for bout. These narrations occasionally edge on the pornographic without quite stepping over the line. Gladovia is an erotic novel, but not what often passes for “erotic fiction”.
Much of the book concerns the rules of the hunt: the nearly daily routine of Gladovian men and the book’s assorted foreigners in the capital city’s gay pickup spot, a spacious wooded park called the Royal Gardens. For the heterosexual reader, like myself, the dynamics of this routine reveals much about a certain sort of gay life. As do the two narrators’ musings on what it is that sets gay men apart from straight society--musings that often dwell on their marginality and oppression, but also on the advantages of being gay.
As for oppression, I neglected to mention that Headmaster Lily only ended up in Gladovia because he was forced to flee England. He’d been caught in a sting operation trying to engage in sex in a public restroom and given a citation to appear in court. Knowing that his career was henceforth ruined, regardless of how the case was judged, Lily contemplates suicide, but then decides to acquire a fake passport, drain his bank account, and flee Britain. It turns out to be the smartest thing he’d ever done.
Indeed Gladovia is something of a gaytopia, and both Lily and Matthew begin to lead the lives of erotic variety and adventure they were, as the book implies, created for. I won’t go into how the Gladovian religion relates to this, but will only say that the pilgrimage and ritual that occupy book’s latter pages are stunningly narrated, while the doctrinal end, the supposed mystery that the hierophant gives the seekers, is not all that impressive. At least not to me. But then I’m Catholic.
How does this book look through the lens of my Catholicism? At various times the characters engage in thoughts on the Church that are embarrassingly shallow. Lily, having seated himself in a Gladovian church during Mass, muses that Western science has basically disproven Christianity: “Science has long ago consigned all this talk of miracles and blood sacrifices to the rubbish heap.” The idea that the universe had a creator or that something of this creator can be known from the Bible? It’s all been disproven by science.
Of course this is nonsense. Science can only be said to have “disproven” Christian revelation if one reads biblical texts as if they’d been written as science treatises. Of course they were not; Winterton knows they were not; he has in fact very positively reviewed one of my own books which included an essay where I lay out the stakes of this widespread modern misconception of what biblical writers were up to.
I wouldn’t carp on this except that, once having dissed Christianity as a religion consigned to the dustbin of history by science, Winterton finishes his book by presenting the supposed power and truth of a different religion, the pagan religion of the Gladovians, which, somehow, amazingly, retains its mythic truth regardless of what science might have to say. In fact Winterton’s characters do not hold the ritualized paganism and nature worship of the Gladovians to the same standard they hold Christianity. The exotic foreign religion is powerful and deep, whereas Western religion is outdated nonsense. It’s a classic double standard, in the well-worn mode of Western romanticization of the foreign other. For after all, any empiricist of the dumb New Atheist sort could easily look at the Gladovian rites and priestly teachings and answer flatly: “All of this is mumming and nonsense. Science shows that all these actions and supposedly profound words are nothing but primitive mumbo jumbo.”
I don’t think pagan religions or Christianity (or any of the world’s religions for that matter) are mumming and nonsense. Rather, religion and its myths and rites is one of the key matrixes from which existential truths may reach us. Myths are not, as many modern people understand the term, stories that are lies. Rather they are stories that give narrative form to our deepest human sense of what we might be here for. This is true whether one believes in miracles or not.
But perhaps my presentation of Winterton’s approach to Christianity vs. paganism is a bit too schematic. He might argue, reasonably, that his characters’ response to religion is not so clearly polarized as I imply. Further that he never intended Lily to be a spokesperson for his own thinking on Christianity and how it relates to the paganism that finally plays such an important role in the book.
I could write more on Winterton’s suspenseful scenes of sexual servitude and mastery, the interesting struggle in some of the characters between love and pure physical pleasure (the hunt), but I will not. I haven’t read much gay writing to which I could compare this book, and as for my experience of BDSM literature, it’s largely limited to Sade’s work and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs--i.e., I know the writers that gave us our words sadism and masochism, but not much of the later literature.
The SM theme is first brought in via Matthew, whose experience of being caned sets him into near transports. It’s deepened through the introduction of an Italian devotee of the BDSM cult. This latter character gets to narrate a handful of the books pages, his English a bit too heavily peppered with Italian phrases to be quite convincing. The novelist should have cut down this tic a bit. The SM theme culminates in a group scene involving Matthew, Lily, the Italian fellow and one other, the drama enhanced by the fact that Lily, the ex-headmaster, doesn’t know Matthew had once been a student under his tutelage.
What do Lily and Matthew’s lives in Gladovia tell us about the meaning of life itself? This is not an idle question, since ultimate meanings are often explicitly on the characters’ minds. In the view of both these men, the goal of life is the pursuit of beauty, youth and sexual pleasure. My question here would be: Doesn’t a steady diet of erotic adventure make one jaded? I would certainly guess so.
Winterton himself is a highly educated aesthete and bon vivant and is doing his best here to present both the pluses and disappointments of such a life. As a Catholic, I think beauty, youth and pleasure play crucial roles in human experience. But a life given entirely over to their pursuit is not exactly what I’d call a good life. And we are created, in my view, not to pursue fuck after fuck, but to pursue the good life, in other words: virtue. Virtue might include beauty (many great artists have been examples of virtue through their contributions to humanity) but it usually is not just that. In our contemporary world, with its mayhem and war and grinding poverty, with the machinery of capitalism run amok across the planet, virtue should also include engagement: activism, struggle against the dehumanization wrought by the system, acts of selfless love for concrete people in their trials and suffering. I’m afraid sex as presented in this novel risks being merely a form of self-centered consumption, which is bound to happen if sex is understood mainly as fulfillment of an itch. And if self-fulfillment is seen as getting as much sex and as much variety of sex as one can get.
If I decided to write this review, regardless of my thinking on the “consumer” ethics that drives so many of its chapters, it’s because Winterton’s book is so well written. It is not, after all, just a trashy romp through fuck after fuck. Rather, it seems to be an honest presentation of the struggles, moral and otherwise, of pursuing such a life. And yes, there’s no small sacrifice in writing a serious novel.
Near the end of Gladovia Matthew returns to England, heads to the idyllic Lake District made so famous by Wordsworth, and begins to feel lonely when a message arrives that someone is coming to visit him. Matthew isn’t quite sure who sent the message. I had my own ideas about who it would turn out to be, but was wrong. I won’t be a spoiler and reveal who it is. In any case, the book’s ending is a happy one, though a bit too happy I’d say. As in highly improbable.
But because I was wrong on my guess as to Matthew’s mystery visitor, I had to face the fact that one of the key utterances of the Gladovian hierophant would never be revealed in the book’s pages. Thus an additional shade of meaning is added to the mystery in Winterton’s title.
Is this the writer copping out, keeping the fateful words secret because, quite simply, he couldn’t compose them? Perhaps. It would be no small feat to write these words.
It sometimes happens that a novel appears, gets a few scattered notices in the press, then disappears. Were Winterton’s novel to be read by the right readers, get written up in the right places, I think it would be a hit. It could even make the author some money, which is rare for books that aren’t hyped by publishers. Gladovia was a pleasure to read, even for me, and I’m a bigoted homophobe. And a Neanderthal. And not a writer, but just a troll.
But I’ll spare you my thinking on gay politics these recent years and the authoritarian excesses of the LGBT movement. And on how they and I get along. For background you might go here if curious.
The Mystery Religions of Gladovia is now only available as an ebook. I think this is unfortunate, that a print version should be made available. But perhaps one is in the works, or will be soon.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
with “mainstream” Democrats.
[Update 10/21/16: A lot has happened since I posted this piece. A hell of a lot. And all of it has only confirmed my basic position. I will be voting for neither of the major party candidates. --E.M.]
I’ve voted Democrat in every election I could since becoming an adult--now thirty-plus years worth of Democratic votes. Still, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. As an American Catholic on the democratic left, it's clear to me Hillary will not work for the things I believe in, and will in fact work for many things I don’t.
To anyone paying attention, certain unavoidable truths have hit home in recent years. As follows: Mainstream Democrats never actually fight on issues where they risk conflict with Wall Street or the corporate boardrooms. Obama, on whom so many hopes were pinned, including my own, was a depressing enough example of this. The Democratic Party represents a politics I can no longer support.
Since the Bill Clinton administration, Americans have lived in a one-party state. At present, the only substantive differences between our Democrats and Republicans, the only issues where they dare stand strongly for or against a policy, are when the outcome doesn't matter to the corporate elites now pushing our country, and our planet, into the ground.
Thus Democrats can be for Planned Parenthood, Republicans against it, because at the end of the day the 1% doesn't care if you're a mother of two or have had three abortions. The 1% doesn’t care because it doesn’t affect their bottom line. Likewise with gay marriage. Wall Street can continue its smoke-and-mirror games with our economy regardless of how marriage is redefined.
If you’ve been watching, like me, you’ll have noticed that these sex and reproduction issues are the only ones where mainstream Democrats actually take a strong stand, or indeed any stand.
Frankie Boyle in the Guardian put it perfectly. Assuming the Democrats will nominate Hillary:
The reality of what [Americans are] voting on in this election is something nobody dare express. They’re voting on the exact speed of the drift toward a future of armies run by corporations corralling permanently traveling communities of cooks, cleaners and sex workers, as they underbid each other outside the entrances to gated communities to ensure they’re the ones let inside to service the fortunate.By playing out sex and reproduction issues, Democrats somehow manage to bill themselves as "progressive", as “securing our future”. The American public, now childishly enamored of anything related to sexual rights, takes the bait. The public falls for what I’ve previously called the Progressive Corporate Agenda.
Meanwhile Republicans play the other side of this same small spectrum of issues, and get away with portraying themselves as "conservative" or "standing for tradition".
Looked at through the lens of left and right political theory, our Democrats aren't "left" or "progressive" in any meaningful sense and our Republicans aren't "conservative" or "traditional". They both abet the continued corporate takeover of our democracy and they're both big government parties, each handing out the bulk of their welfare checks to Wall Street and the corporations. It’s a bait-and-shift scam, and those who continue to call it "democracy" can only do so because they refuse to step back and look at the bigger picture.
And so we've finally come to live, as I’ve said, under One Ruling Party, with the difference that our ruling party, unlike China’s, dresses up in two different colored jerseys so as to play out the same rigged game every few years. It’s bread and circuses, now without the bread.
Hillary Clinton is a circus candidate. Of course “everyone should like her”, as she said in the last debate. Everyone likes circuses, no?
I for one will no longer give the Democratic Party a pass on this fake leftism. I'm Catholic, politically on the left, an old school left, and hardly enthusiastic about the party’s current obsessive priorities. In years past, regardless of my differences on certain issues, I've stood with the Democrats because real democracy and social justice matter to me. As a Catholic, I’ve been able to put Democrats' mistaken support for abortion aside because I counted on the party to bring substantive progress in other areas: protection of jobs, sane conduct of war and peace, solid public education, a fairer playing field. Our current president’s performance (the ever-expanding surveillance state, the TPP, now this) has brought a turning point in my thinking. No more mainstream Democrats for me. No. For me, it's Bernie or bust.
Come what may, I won't be voting for Hillary. I am on the left, she is a right-wing, pro-corporate candidate who can be counted on to stand up for abortion, an ever-growing LGBT dogmatism, the corporate elite, and precious little else. There’s nothing in it for me, as I support neither abortion so-called “rights”, nor the growing arrogance of gay activists’ witch hunts against any who dissent from their ever more stringent orthodoxies. (BTW: Though I’d always stood on the side of gay and lesbian rights, going back to the 1980s, I believe America’s new “marriage equality” agenda needs to provide space and dignity for those in dissent. Rather than reasonable constitutional legal protections, however, people of faith now face ostracism, crippling legal suits, the destruction of careers. This is wrong; it is un-American. Marriage is not a reality that has been “decided” by the Supreme Court, which has no mandate to decide any such thing. No, marriage at present is contested. As a committed pluralist, I believe both sides in this contest deserve space to live in conformity with their beliefs. That is not however what is happening, by any stretch of the imagination. Whether law suits, ruined careers, attacks directed at religious charities and schools--it is all due to a new gaythoritarianism that grows more arrogant with each passing season. My earlier support for the LGBT movement has waned to near zero. Once bullied, they have become the biggest bullies on the block. To assert that LGBT activists have no right to dictate the whole culture’s marriage beliefs, education policy re: gender, etc.--this is not “homophobia”, it is merely life in a pluralistic culture.)
Yes, Sanders is with Clinton on these gender and reproduction issues. But it seems clear to me that Sanders, in distinction to Clinton, might very well deliver in terms of the fight against corporate control of our republic. And for this, and for the key importance it has in relation to safeguarding our planet, I will give him my support.
I am on the left, in the way that Pope Francis, the leader of my Church, is on the left. I see the West’s real challenges in the growing economic inequality we face, the reckless militarism, the ongoing corporate-sponsored degradation of our environment. Hillary has nothing to offer on any of these fronts, regardless of what she might claim on the campaign trail. In any instance where some initiative conflicts with what corporate boards want, it is clear which policy she will support. Look only at her cheerleading for the TPP and one sees what she is. She and her corporate masters do not deserve the support of any committed person on the left. If Sanders does not win the nomination, I will either write in his name on the ballot or vote for a third party candidate. I’ve pledged to do so, and will keep my pledge.
Unless Democratic candidates fight for our collapsing middle and working class, unless they fight for actual democracy, they deserve to lose. The 2016 election is an opportunity to send a pointed and nastily barbed message to the Democratic establishment. We Americans are not requesting that our elected officials finally start working for us; we are demanding it. Politicians who think they get a pass just because they shine rainbow lights on the White House do not deserve the support of the left.
And yes, even if the GOP nominates Trump, even if they nominate Kim Jong-un, I will stick to my pledge. That, after all, is the meaning of pledge. Hillary Clinton will not get this American's vote.
Monday, December 7, 2015
To forestall any misunderstandings I ought to begin by acknowledging that I fully respect Richard Dawkins’ right to speak his mind. That such a mind has spoken, and at such length, can only be seen as a boon to the scientific community. With Dawkins, after all, we finally have incontrovertible proof that zombies can speak.
Of course we already knew, starting mid-1980s, that zombies could tie a tie. But the proof Dawkins has provided of linguistic competence raises the zombie debate to a whole new level. And now many other zombies (as demonstrated by “lively” discussions now splattered over the Internet) are themselves entering the lists in greater and greater numbers.
Though recent studies correlate high-functioning autism with atheism, I think for Dawkins and the other New Atheists the diagnosis isn’t apt. No, with this latter crowd I believe we are dealing with full-on zombism.
Whether Dawkins and these other newly vocal zombies are what is called philosophical zombies or whether they are rather the traditional flesh-eating zombies is not a question I can determine here. Personally I incline toward the theory that finds in them elements of both. In any case, it is not the type of zombie that concerns me, but rather their sudden ascent to language.
What does it mean?
We are still at a loss to answer this question. Admittedly, my current interests are not so much in their recent acquisition of speech, but more in what they actually say when they do speak. Or when they write. Because Dawkins has also proved that zombies can write human-like prose.
From the start, when they first began talking back in 2004, I noticed that New Atheist zombies were liable to toss out all manner of interesting material. It’s the striking oddness of their pronouncements, floundering there at the edge of human language, that’s kept me following their “work”. That they self-identify as atheists is secondary for me. Because in their pronouncements, it’s not so much the atheist element that stands out, but the zombie element. Non-zombie atheists have been around for centuries, and one might at any time have a beer with them. But with Dawkins? Could one have a beer with Dawkins?
Others have remarked on this too. With Dawkins and his fellows there’s a certain zombie panache that both attracts attention, if only for the curiosity of the phenomenon, and horrifies. There's a manic, mechanical flippancy one almost never finds elsewhere.
For instance, Dawkins last year opined that we in the non-zombie community would do well if we aborted infants with Down syndrome. The remark was worthy of note for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrated a nascent zombie “desire” to play some kind of directive role in human affairs. Why? That zombies would even presume to give us advice on social issues is striking in itself, almost as if my electric range were to start telling me how it wants the French toast made.
Still, regardless of the politically lame and often horrific things Dawkins and other New Atheist zombies say, I believe we should allow them the right to say on. If only to keep an eye on them. Further (because many have already started to think along these lines) even if we did have prenatal tests that could determine a child would be born with a mind like Richard Dawkins’, I would not be among those in favor of aborting it. Why not? Well, for one, the tests might be inaccurate. It’s happened before. And ethically speaking, the possibility of error more or less ties our hands. Myself, at least for now, I'd rather let a hundred babbling zombies live than abort one healthy baby by mistake.
Perhaps some will see my position as extreme.
To what degree a person suffering from Dawkins syndrome is a human person like the rest of us is still hotly debated, but again, I think we must err on the cautious side. Zombies like Dawkins do have rights. Though I grant that their work does tangible harm to the larger culture, we must keep in mind that their innate idiocy has so far managed to undermine the influence they might otherwise have. Their own speech clearly proves their inhumanity to anyone with ears to hear. Rather than outright censorship, then, I think it sufficient for now if we simply keep an eye on them, all the while adamantly resisting their crazed efforts to change us.
Yes, I'm aware that some fear we may be on the brink of a Zombie Apocalypse. But I think that fear is premature. Given the limited number of actual zombies out there (a few thousand perhaps) added to the aforesaid stupidity of their discourse, I highly doubt a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent. So far most people are smart enough not to be swayed by the shabby rhetoric zombies deploy. We must hope this continues.
There are so many sad questions raised by Dawkins syndrome. Why it broke out so suddenly and with such virulence in the first decade of this century no one knows. We still don’t really understand the etiology of New Atheist zombism. More research is needed, and needed swiftly. Once we’ve got a clearer understanding of what is turning these men (it is mostly men) into zombies, we can begin work to decrease incidence of zombism in coming generations.
A careful study of the early years of the most prominent New Atheist zombies might provide helpful clues. With Dawkins himself, some have speculated that an accident at the time of birth or in youth may be to blame. Did perinatal asphyxia perhaps shut down the parts of his brain capable of spiritual intelligence? Or did he maybe, as a child, drink a bottle of laundry detergent, thinking it was soda?
Dawkins and Sam Harris are very possibly walking/talking evidence of the need for better child-proof packaging. It’s a tragedy really, for everyone. On the one hand, the whole English-speaking world suffers from their drooly pronouncements, their frantic construction of straw men; on the other, they themselves suffer from their inability to comprehend the human minds around them.
I often wonder what it’s like to live inside such brains, where all the neural activity is located in the mechanical and calculative sectors.
Oh, and the moneymaking sectors. The “Dawkins Circle”, after all, which Dawkins himself launched some years ago, is certainly proof that zombies can make a quick buck. There is a clear cult-like hierarchy to the organization, carefully designed to lure others who may have drunk laundry detergent. And the price exacted from sycophants each time they try to move up a level--it's repugnant really, but has so far proved surprisingly successful in English-speaking countries. Which makes one wonder: What is in our drinking water?
So how does the sycophant proceed once he's joined the Dawkins Circle?
Consider: For $1,000 a year you enter the first level, what is called the “Reason Circle”, which allows you discounts on cult merchandise and the chance to meet “personalities” from the Richard Dawkins foundation; but not Dawkins himself.
For $2,500 a year, the price of joining the “Science Circle”, you get a chance to actually attend an event where the Alpha Zombie will speak; but you won’t necessarily meet him.
Then come the “Darwin Circle” at $5,000 a year and the “Fifth Horseman Circle” at $10,000 a year. Those who have attained to the Fifth Horseman Circle will get to sit at a table with . . . Richard Dawkins Foundation Executive Director Robyn Blumner.
It's mind-boggling almost.
In fact if you want to get close enough to the center of this Zombie Circle Jerk to actually kiss the Ring of Reason, you’ll have to come up with a staggering $100,000 a year. That’s the entrance fee for what is called “The Magic of Reality Circle”, which I take to be the very rectal center of the organization. For your $100,000 cheque, you’ll get a "private breakfast or lunch" with Dawkins himself.
Don’t ask about dinner. Dinner is a different price scale entirely.
This is all as ingenious as it is zombiesque. Can one imagine non-zombie scientists like Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein creating such an organization? Or any of the prominent Western scientists who are also Christians?
Yes, it’s sad what can happen to otherwise normal humans when they fall under the spell of the Dawkins. Or at least it’s sad what can happen to those with money. Because look--the lower classes (even the middle classes!) are not meant to attain Reason in this particular cult. And really: Why in God's name would anyone pay such money to sit by and maybe, just maybe, talk with a tie-wearing zombie?
I can talk with my coffee grinder any time for free. Like a zombie, my coffee grinder is entirely lacking in spiritual intelligence. I don’t much see the need to spend my hard-earned money on the Dawkins model. But others, perhaps because of the water, beg to differ.
As a zombie is a human-like creature adept at simulating humans but lacking consciousness, so New Atheism is a religion-like phenomenon adept at simulating human meaning but lacking soul. With the Dawkins Circle, Richard Dawkins is using a religion-like hierarchy to soak money, in sometimes substantial sums, from deluded admirers who want to say they sat next to him. Founding this little cult does demonstrate business acumen, as I've indicated. But money is, here, largely a matter of the merely calculative. What do zombies need money for anyway? Dawkins’ success in building this cult doesn’t do anything to controvert the sad reality of his zombie state. He and Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett with them, have brains in which all the eggs are in one basket--the calculative. And the three of them together, along with a few frothy others, are swiftly on their way to becoming one huge, messy Omelet--an insipid, spreading, tasteless Omelet that those of us with human brains had best keep a close watch on. Because if these zombies aren't using their financial power for human means, what in the end will they use this power for?
A crucial part of our close watch must be the constant work of keeping zombies and their repellent ideas away from Christian children. And Jewish children. And Muslim children. And Hindu children. This task is especially difficult because the young are so susceptible to the lure of virtual or mechanical things, as anyone knows who sees how quickly children take to computer games. We must remember that the relation zombie discourse holds to human language is similar to that which computer-generated images hold to the real world. In short, it is seductive but deceptive; it is empty. New Atheist zombies clearly recognize that enticing our children into alignment with them is their surest route to dominating us. It's a perilous mix of factors we face here. We must not let them succeed.
It is my thesis that the arrogant and eggy certainties of the zombie mind are aimed specifically at engulfing our more flexible and receptive human minds--especially those of our children: Christian children, Hindu children, Shinto children, Shia children. To defeat this threat, we must point out the irreality of zombie discourse at every turn.
As I’ve already mentioned Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I should probably say something about Christopher Hitchens, the so-called Second Horseman of the Arsepocalypse. Hitchens passed away three years ago. Though there's still some debate on the question, I personally believe Hitchens was not in fact a zombie, though he did exhibit increasing zombielike symptoms in later years. Hitchens attributed his esophageal cancer to a life of drinking and smoking, but I suspect a different culprit: the existential pressure wearing him down as the zombie part of his psyche struggled to push out the remaining human elements.
Which raises a frightening question: Is zombism perhaps infectious? Did Hitchens maybe contract his condition from the wrong drinking buddies? God forbid. And yes, I mean the real God.
To conclude, I believe we must continue, at least for a time, to allow the New Atheist zombies to speak and write as they will. But even as we do so, we must be wise enough to see the serious threat their discourse poses, and we must take every single utterance they produce with a big grain of salt.
Like I do, when my refrigerator tries to tell me what juice to buy.
“Thanks for the advice, Siri,” I say, “but you can’t taste the juice, so why get involved?”
And Siri shuts up. Unlike our New Atheists, she at least knows when she’s out of her league.
Which is why I prefer dealing with the simpler mechanical devices. They may say impertinent things now and then, but at least they’re not likely to go and start their own fake religion. I mean--Can you imagine a vacuum cleaner trying to tell us our place in the universe? Before the rise of the New Atheism, I couldn't imagine such a thing. Now I can.
This and 42 other important public service announcements can be found in my new book Idiocy, Ltd.