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The Tragic Art of George W. Bush

5 Apr

merkelToday, former President George W. Bush opens a public exhibit of his works – more than 24 portraits of world leaders he met while president. Painting has been the primary extra-curricular activity of his post-White House years; he paints daily, and receives a lesson once a week. Bush told his art instructor to help him “unleash his inner Rembrandt,” and these 24 paintings are the result.

A friend remarked to me that is was nice to see the former president “humanized” by this new hobby. But to me, this turn of events seems downright sad.

Certainly, there’s the tragic waste of potential. Former President Jimmy Carter travels the globe building houses for Habitat For Humanity, eradicating disease, and fighting for human rights in third world countries, for which he received the 2002 Nobel Peace prize. Former President Bill Clinton may be a spotlight-seeking fame-junky, but he’s wielded his influence to the tune of 2,800 Commitments to Action, worth $88 billion, to improve some 430 million lives around the world.

George W. Bush has spent 5 years creating an amateur pastel of Angela Merkel.

Now, unless you get sentenced to community service, no one is required to do good things for others. But being a former Leader of the Free World is a rare opportunity. Spider-Man once said that “with great power comes great responsibility.” For George W. Bush, with great power comes a ranch in Texas where you can golf, clear brush, and paint.

Perhaps it is the stark contrast to the image he presented as President that makes this new artistic pursuit so queer. George W. Bush was a cowboy. He was The Decider. The Commander-in-Chief who proudly stood in his flight suit in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner after his rousing military conquest of Baghdad, liberating the people of Iraq.

Of course, those images were always something of a ruse. Bush was not a cowboy; he was born in New Haven, Connecticut and attended Yale and Harvard. He was not a warrior; he had avoided deployments to Vietnam while his peers fought and died. He did not liberate the people of Iraq; on the contrary, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died in the bloodshed following the American invasion of that country. Bush was a man who, whether aware of it or not, seemed to be wearing costumes that did not fit the reality of the skills and passions he actually possessed. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to see him abscond from power and turn toward other pursuits. While his old contemporary Vladimir Putin still gets to invade countries and command armies, George has slinked off to the sidelines. He is no longer an invader; he just paints them.

This image — of a man fleeing from his towering station, and turning to, of all things, art — seemed eerily familiar. And then it struck me: We’ve seen this character before, in none other than Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The book’s primary antagonist, architect Peter Keating, is a spoiled rich kid who skates though school, rising to the highest levels of society through nepotism, cronyism, and the guiding hand of a powerful parent, despite having no real talent of his own. While he is rewarded with wealth and accolades, he winds up empty inside, knowing he was forced into a profession that others chose for him, when what he really dreamed of all along was to become a painter. Late in life, after years spent causing misery and even death, Keating brings his artwork to his architectural rival, Howard Roark, desperate for his opinion:

“I haven’t shown it to anyone.” His fingers fumbled, opening the straps. “Not to mother or Ellsworth Toohey … I just want you to tell me if there’s any …”

He handed to Roark six of his canvases.

Roark looked at them, one after another. He took a longer time than he needed. When he could trust himself to lift his eyes he shook his head in silent answer to the word Keating had not pronounced.

“It’s too late, Peter,” he said gently.

Keating nodded. “Guess I … knew that.”

When Keating had gone, Roark leaned against the door, closing his eyes. He was sick with pity.

He had never felt this before … the complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. 

For better or worse, George W. Bush will be remembered by history. Presiding over 9/11, two wars, hundreds of thousands of dead and the near collapse of the global economy will earn you that honor. But through it all, he seemed to be more pawn than king. Not an evil man, but a man miscast by history, in a role he never fit and was eager to abandon. So it comes as only half-shock that while others go on to play large roles in world affairs after leaving the White House, Bush is showing us that he has other things to offer society, passions closer to his heart. Like painting. This, it seems, is what George W. Bush may actually have been destined for, had fate not played a cruel joke on him, and I suppose, the planet as a whole.

Bush has embraced this new opportunity. What’s done is done; he’s ready to be true to himself, to start fresh. He has put his art on display in Dallas for all to see. He wants to know: what do we think?

It’s too late, George.

 

 

Sentimentality Is Not A Justification For War

14 Sep

We often think of pacifists as tree-hugging, touchy-feely hippies driven more by emotion than reason, and of war hawks as cold, calculating, and unfeeling. But the run-up to war in Syria has shown that often it’s the hawks who are being sentimental.

Journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger crystallizes this point in his Washington Post op-ed, where he argues for the justification of war in Syria on moral grounds. He recalls working in his first war zone in Bosnia and seeing the dead body of a young woman who had been raped and murdered by Serbian military forces. Despite being raised anti-war, Junger “found it hard not to be cheered by the thought that the men who raped and killed that girl might have died during the 78-day NATO bombardment that eventually brought independence to Kosovo.”

While the gruesome sight would surely be enough to make any decent American want justice, in reality we know that the United States cannot simply declare war on every country where people have been raped or murdered. And when it comes to genocide in Congo, Sudan, Uganda, or Somalia, our government doesn’t even bother to ask us citizens if we’d like to intervene.

But they’re asking for Syria. Whether the reasons are moral, strategic, or simply financial is a subject others may discuss. But our government’s appeal to us is clearly sentimental. Yes, there are issues of international law, but in truth the public is being stirred to action by videos of children dying slowly in the aftermath of a brutal sarin attack. The images are sickening enough to make even the hardest heart weep.

But does weeping necessitate a military response? I can’t help but feel that we are being manipulated into action, the same way Sarah McLachlan solicits SPCA donations with heartbreaking commercials of abused puppies. She guilts us into donating to her cause by essentially saying “Are you going to let these animals be tortured, or are you going to give me money?” And it works. Our government is doing the same thing by releasing videos of dying children in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry has essentially asked us, “Are you for murdering little kids, or are you going to support this war?” But this isn’t true morality. It’s emotional extortion. And the appeals are insincere; no matter how much money you send to Sarah McLachlan, she’ll always have more abused animals to show you. And no matter how many wars this country fights, it seems there’s always a bad guy somewhere who needs Tomahawk missiles shot at him.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with emotional reactions to these videos. Humans—and in fact many mammals—can be triggered quickly to violence upon seeing the innocent slaughtered. Evolution has favored those who reacted immediately, and lethally, to the sight of harm befalling their friends and family, and a hair-trigger for violence and retribution undoubtedly helped our ancestors survive. But modern, civilized humans have done well to tame these knee-jerk emotional responses, and when examined with reason instead of emotion, the morality of military intervention in Syria starts to look different.

Why are we so easily roused by this chemical attack and not by other atrocities? The chemical attacks are reported to have killed 1,400 people; the larger war has already cost 100,000 lives. Sentimentality aside, I find it offensive to value one death over another based simply on the method by which the murder was committed. And why is sarin the trump card of weapons? I shudder to think of any child dying in a sarin attack, but I shudder equally at the thought of a child riddled by bullets, ripped to pieces by mortars, or impaled upon bayonets, and yet for some reason those did not warrant military intervention.

Furthermore, even in choosing ideal outcomes, sentimentality may be clouding rational judgment. Bashar al-Assad is a monster and a tyrant who is slaughtering thousands for personal greed. Should he be brought to justice, I, like Junger, would cheer his death by firing squad. But putting our lust for vengeance aside, is punishing Assad the best thing for the innocent people of Syria? Will average Syrians benefit from a punitive strike against regime targets that will kill, exclusively, military grunts and innocent civilians, while leaving senior military and regime leadership unscathed?

The best thing for Syrians is to have this civil war end quickly and return to the (comparative) calm of domestic peace. But can we Americans stomach such an outcome if it means the tyrant, Assad, stays in power? If we were forced to choose between avenging a child’s death or saving another child’s life, which would we choose? This is the difference between morality and sentimentality. As prospects of a Putin-brokered deal improve, we may achieve our military goals (the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal) while forsaking our visceral impulses (the punishing of a villain), and this leaves us with an empty feeling in our guts, a feeling of injustice. But war isn’t about seeking justice. If that’s what we want, we should go watch Gladiator. Real-life war is about weighing the cost of taking lives against the benefit of saving lives. Answering that question quickly and hot with anger makes us sentimental; answering it analytically and cooled by reason makes us moral.

Intervening in Syria may in fact be the right thing to do. It may save lives. But our support cannot be based simply on an emotional response to tragic images. It must be based on sober, perhaps even callous analysis of what is best for Americans and Syrians. Yes, images of dying children are heartbreaking, but if our government can seduce us into war with the same ease that Sarah McLachlan manipulates people watching late-night infomercials, it doesn’t make us moral. It makes us a nation of marionettes, being danced around by our heartstrings, oblivious to the true goals of our talented puppeteers.

Turning 30 Sucks, Quit Sugar-Coating It

10 Aug

Olivia-Wilde-house-md-2144145-1163-1526I think Olivia Wilde is terrific. She’s a wonderful actress, donates her time to worthy humanitarian causes, and possesses not just golden age Hollywood beauty, but the class to go with it. And after reading her Do’s and Don’ts of Turning 30 in Glamour this week, where she describes how much she’s looking forward to the big 3-0, I’ll add witty and honest writer to the list of her attributes.

That being said, I cannot think of anybody on the planet who understands what it is like to turn 30 less than Olivia Wilde.

For starters, she’s still 29. I’m hardly a wise old sage at the age of 33, but one thing I do know is that turning 30 is not something you really understand until it has actually happened. The reality of turning 30 doesn’t set in until your 31st birthday. That’s the first day you realize you have failed to accomplish all of the things you said you would accomplish by age 30. When we’re kids, and envision ourselves as adults with perfect families, exciting jobs, and the recognition of our peers, we subconsciously assign a number to that ‘adult’ age, and that number tends to be 30. So no matter what you have or haven’t accomplished in your twenties, and even the 30th year itself, there’s still time left on the clock to achieve it. Until you turn 31. Then, officially, you are behind. That’s when the real anxiety sets in.

But of course we all know that, even in her thirties, Olivia Wilde is just not going to have the same problems that average people have. She advises us: “DON’T freak out about all the brilliant people who have accomplished more than you by 30.” Easy for her to say! She’s already accomplished the universal dream of becoming a movie star.

And while I applaud Ms. Wilde for insisting “DON’T cut your face,” I can’t help but wonder how many middle-aged actors and actresses rolled their eyes while reading it and thought: Let’s see how you feel about plastic surgery when you’re 50 and haven’t been offered a role in ten years. Not worrying about your looks is a nice luxury when you’re oh, say, one of the ten most beautiful people in the universe. Her alternative to surgery is to drink water, get eight hours of sleep, and never go to tanning booths. Simple as that, eh? Olivia Wilde giving those beauty tips to the average woman is like David Beckham giving kicking tips to a quadriplegic. It’s more condescending than helpful.

She also cautions women: “DON’T propose to the next guy you meet just because you worry he’ll be your last chance at lifelong companionship.” Good tip, I guess women should just be patient and wait for handsome, funny movie star Jason Sudeikis to propose to them. Oh wait he won’t, because he’s already engaged to Olivia Wilde, because she’s stunningly gorgeous and most women aren’t. Has Olivia Wilde ever wanted for a date in her life? Dating for most of her single readers probably involves some combination of logging onto Match.com in their underwear and drinking enough vodka to suppress their aching loneliness. At least that’s what my Tuesday was like.

In short, Olivia Wilde’s advice on turning 30 is to just travel a lot, drink plenty of water, marry a movie star, get voted PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity, and you will be quite happy at 29, and we can only assume, seamlessly continue that level of happiness into your thirties despite the physical and emotional realities of aging.

Olivia Wilde’s “do’s and don’ts” aren’t wrong. They’re just misleading. The reason so many people struggle with turning 30 is because of missed expectations. When we’re young, we all hope that when we grow up we’ll be famous and awesome and engaged to a celebrity and doing what we love. For 99% of us, the disappointment of turning 30 is that this dream did not come true. How can Olivia Wilde understand that? She’s in the 1% it came true for!

The problem is the collision of primitive brains with our modern world. Throughout most of our 200,000 year history, Homo sapiens lived in tribes no larger than 150 people, and usually closer to 70 or 80. And back then, just like today, people were competitive with each other, struggling to get the most food, live the longest, get the hottest mates and have the most kids. The difference is that in a group of 80 people, everyone has a realistic shot at working hard and reaching the top of the social ladder. But in our modern world of seven billion people? Good luck even getting close to the top.

That’s why so many people are miserable. Despite the fact that everyone reading this is ten times healthier, safer, and smarter than even the luckiest stone age human, you can’t appreciate it because your tribe got too big and you’ve become lost in it. Our brains, which evolved to handle the social dynamics of 150 people, are being exposed to thousands of uber-successful actors, musicians, models, and athletes every single week. Our brains weren’t built for this.

But there’s hope. The key is to constantly remind yourself that your real tribe–the 100 or so friends, coworkers, and family members who actually know who you are–probably love you and respect you and think you’re doing fine. And for them, just like for you, turning 30 does suck if you don’t have the job or spouse or kids you’ve always wanted. To be honest, turning 30 sometimes sucks even if you do have those things. But feeling that way doesn’t mean you’re weird. It means you’re normal. And once you realize that struggling at 30 is normal, you can relax and go about achieving your goals without the pressure of feeling like you’re behind everyone else.

So if Olivia Wilde wants to actually contribute to the well being of Glamour readers about to turn 30, she might instead tell them: DON’T aspire to be like me. I’m a freakishly lucky human. DO give yourself permission to get a few wrinkles, to have a boring job, to date a bald guy, to worry that you’ll never reproduce, to make mistakes and question your choices and, hopefully, take it all in stride. That’s an honest portrait of our thirties. And by being honest, we actually have a shot at happiness when we do beat our expectations.

Like Ms. Wilde, I want you to “go–be awesome.” But you’ve got a better chance at awesomeness if you know that most people don’t turn 30 with the same carefree, naive bliss as Olivia Wilde.

Now go–be realistic.

Gay Kids…It Could Even Happen To You!

15 Mar

 

In 1971, philosopher John Rawls postulated that an ideal world would be one we created based on a “veil of ignorance”…that we should design a society as though we had no idea where, and to whom, we would be born. If you don’t know if you’ll pop out of the womb black or white, rich or poor, handsome or ugly, smart or stupid, you might be more likely to make sure all of those groups have at least a fighting chance at achieving happiness.

This idea is crystallized in the recent double-revelation by Republican Senator Rob Portman that not only is his 21-year old son gay, but that he is reversing his long-held position against the legalization of gay marriage. It’s a move that I, for one, applaud, although it should remind us all of the fragility of our convictions. For many of us, our principles are a luxury we’ve been afforded because we haven’t had to walk a mile in anyone’s shoes but out own.

Rob Portman went his entire political career thinking that gay marriage was wrong, or at least, that it wasn’t his problem, because he wasn’t gay. He never took two minutes to wonder what he might think about it if he were gay. Or if one of his children were gay. Well, today we found out what he would do: completely reverse his opinion.

While Senator Portman is enjoying his involuntary crash course in Rawls’ Theory of Justice, here’s some other fun scenarios he can ponder:

Rob Portman could imagine that instead of being born to an upper middle class family that owned a successful business and sent him to Dartmouth, he was born to an uneducated, single mother on welfare. Does he still think children of all socioeconomic backgrounds shouldn’t be guaranteed health care?

Or he could imagine that instead of being born in the United States, he was born in Baghdad, Iraq. Does he still think the invasion of that country, which cost 100,000 Iraqi lives, was a decent thing to do? Or he could imagine that he’s the unfortunate neighbor of some suspected militant in Yemen. Does he still think unmanned drones flying overhead, assassinating villagers at will, is a fair weapon to use against people you aren’t even at war with?

He might for a moment ponder that instead of being in good health, he had Parkinson’s disease. Is he still against stem cell research that could cure his illness? For that matter, he could imagine that instead of being born tall, white, intelligent and good-looking, he was born short, Mexican, with a learning disability and facial disfigurement, and see if that maybe has any impact on his ability to win elections.

Or if he really wants to stretch his mind, he could imagine that, instead of being born a boy in America, he had been born a girl in the poorest area of Nepal, and sold into sex slavery for a few dollars by parents who couldn’t afford to feed her. Does he still think tax breaks for billionaires in America are good, and foreign aid to poverty stricken countries is bad? Or has briefly imagining life as the least fortunate among us informed his world view in any different ways?

I’m not trying to pick on Rob Portman, who I’m sure is a decent enough guy. But like so many of us Americans, he seems to walk through life mostly unaware of a simple fact: There are objective right and wrongs in this world, but we often ignore them, because we’re only thinking about what’s right for us. We may have worked hard and earned everything we have, but at the end of the day, don’t forget that we happened to pop out of a nice, middle class vagina in the 20th century in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Little baby Rob Portman didn’t earn that, he just lucked into it. He had already won the social lottery before he was even born. I know we can’t snap our fingers and solve the problem of global inequality, but we can at least act like we’re aware of it, be humble about our good fortune, and think twice before further improving our own lot at the expense of another’s.

I’m glad Senator Portman was able to open his mind a little after considering what would be fair to another person, his son. If our elected leaders could do that for the other 300 million Americans—and the other 7 billion people on the planet—then I’m sure America would become the great champion of freedom and justice that we all imagine it is.

Adam Farasati is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, CA. He recently published his first novella, The God Killer.

One Pope To Rule Them All

13 Mar

I think I speak for everyone when I say WOW, WHAT A GREAT PAPAL CONCLAVE! No, that’s not your annual test for cervical cancer. It’s a gathering of Catholic cardinals who have just chosen the next Pope, Francis I of Argentina. And what a handsome empanada he is! If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, then you were as thrilled as I was to learn that there is still a group of old wizards in the world who can fix everything that’s wrong with you by having you recite magic spells they read from an ancient book. The Pope has fancy robes, grey hair, and a magic wand…he’s like Gandalf with bling!

pope-gandalf

You may, however, be sad to learn that the council of wizards has a somewhat checkered past. Of the 265 popes in history, surely many were decent and pious. But it’s important to note that many of the popes of the Middle Ages were among the greediest, cruelest, most vile human beings in history. They fought among themselves for power endlessly: In one example of papal pettiness, Pope Stephen VI had his dead predecessor’s corpse dug up, put on trial (they literally put the corpse in a chair and gave him a lawyer), found guilty, cut off three of his fingers, buried him in rags, then exhumed him once again and threw him in a river. They were greedy: Benedict XI sold his papacy to another guy for 1500 pounds of gold, came back a month later, took back the papacy, sold it again to his godfather, then took it back again and sold it a third time. They were perverse: John XII raped female pilgrims and stole church offerings, and was later beaten to death by the husband of a woman he was having an affair with. They were crooks: Leo X sold indulgences, so anybody could do anything as long as they paid him cash per sin. The list of bad popes goes on: many partook of prostitutes and booze, lavished themselves with material possessions, raided the church’s wealth and gave it to their families, and frequently had their enemies, and often fellow popes, murdered to further their own goals. They replenished the church funds by encouraging people to donate their land to the church when they died—at one point, the church owned one quarter of all the land in Europe (on top of the fact that they were taxing the peasants separately, and in addition to, the kings). And their monopoly on divine knowledge was so absolute, common people were not even allowed to read holy scripture for themselves. At one point, possession of a Bible by non-priests was punishable by death. Popes were burning Christians at the stake…for reading the Bible. Not cool, grand wizards, not cool. But surely that’s the worst of it, right?

Nope! Turns out popes authorized this other thing: Torture. The church certainly didn’t invent torture, but man, did they perfect it. During the Inquisition, where tribunals of bishops would force suspected heretics to confess, any number of delightful mechanical devices were used to illicit confessions or punish sinners. People were stretched, sliced, impaled; eyes and limbs were cut off; people were burned alive; guys were castrated, gals had their breasts ripped off. Women convicted of adultery were subjected to “The Pear,” whereby a stretching device was inserted into the…you know, let’s just not get into it.

Sunday Funday Wizard Party!

And this was all when the Popes were in a good mood. When they were in a bad mood, they made everyone go to the Jerusalem and fight in holy wars known as the Crusades. Fortunately, these horrible wars lasted for a mere 200 years, and cost only 3,000,000 Christian and Muslim lives. Kinda makes Mt. Doom look like Legoland.

I know what you’re thinking…these medieval church wizards sure sound like a-holes. Well, thankfully, the Middle Ages are over. Life in the western world is considerably better for us simple folk, who have traded the miseries of toiling in the field for the luxuries of iPhones and Big Macs. We’ve also traded brutal, opulent kings for democratically elected leaders who we can remove from office whenever we wish. And we’ve traded our unelected, magic-wand wielding Popes for—oops, no, my mistake! Still got’em. Of course, they’ve mellowed out quite a bit. The only torture they inflict is with their boring Latin sermons, and they haven’t stolen any money from me except the ten bucks I spent on that second Da Vinci Code movie.

Still, modern Popes tend to cling to the trappings of power. The fancy throne, the jewel-encrusted mitres, and outfits that Lady Gaga thinks are “a little over the top.” There’s also the glimmering wizard city, Oz The Vatican, and its army of cooks, maids, and servants, the Papal apartment, and its own police force, and even standing army, under the Pope’s command. Plus the billions of dollars worth of property, land, and rare art, all of which is tax free, since technically it’s for God, who apparently treats Earth like his own private Swiss bank account. If this opulence bothers you, it should, since it’s all paid for by the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, most of whom are of modest means in poor countries like Brazil, or Mexico, or the Philippines, and can ill afford to be donating 10% of their meager wealth to build more big, fancy wizard temples.

And say what you will about Dark Lord Sauron…he never diddled any altar boys. It is estimated that at any time, 50% of priests are not upholding their vow of celibacy, and at least 6% are engaged in full-on pedophilia. Just this week, Cardinal Mahony, former head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, settled a lawsuit for millions with four boys molested by a priest…a priest who confessed his crimes to Mahony, who then sent him to a church-run pedophilia rehab in Arizona. Six months later, he was brought back to work at a different parish, where he—surprise!—molested many more boys before eventually being caught by actual, non-wizard authorities, who sent him to jail. Mahony even went so far as to request the pedophile priest not talk about his crimes with others, as it could incriminate the church. When informed that the priest had been specifically instructed to avoid talking about his sickness even with his therapist, Cardinal Mahony responded with a handwritten note: “Sounds good—please proceed!!” You can tell by the two, count’em two exclamation points that Mahony thought this was a great idea. Certainly this particular cardinal has been cast into exile?

Nope! Cardinal Mahony was one of the 115 moral luminaries inside the Sistine Chapel, partaking in the closed-door pajama party to pick the new president of MagicTown.

Look, I still love wizards. I do. But Francis has a tough job ahead of him. And I don’t just mean convincing people that a guy who died 2000 years ago lives in the clouds and gets angry when teenagers masturbate. The new Pope’s biggest task is going to be convincing a world that now has the luxuries of science and democracy that a council of wizards is still necessary and helpful to society. Personally, I’m down with praying to tiny statues of virgin goddesses, and eating magical wafers, and pledging my unquestioned allegiance to the angry Sky God. It’s a small price I pay to not get sent to an underground fire jail after I die.

So good luck, new head Wizard! Your predecessors include thieves, murderers, torturers, and warmongers. I didn’t think modern popes could beat that, but I’ll be damned if the last guy covering up for child rapists didn’t take the cake! Those are some big wizard robes to fill, Francis. I’m sure you won’t let us down.

UPDATE 3/28/13: Pope Francis has refused to live in the lavish papal apartment, and is emulating Jesus by washing and kissing the feet of young convicts, including non-Catholics, and even Muslims. It’s a good start! Maybe he reads Blunt Monkey…?

UPDATE 7/16/13: Francis continues to bitch-slap papal opulence in the face, ditching the fancy golden throne for a wooden one, as well as wearing humbler robes and using an iron scepter instead of the diamond encrusted pimp cane used by his predeccesor. And he is even downgrading the papal car to a modest Ford Focus, although this is a catch-22 because while I was pleased to learn he was saving money on the vehicle, I was disappointed to learn that lavish prick Pope Benedict had been scooting around in a Mercedes, BMW X5, and a custom built Renault, among others.

Vatican Conclave 2013: Newly elected Pope

Don’t Be Angry At Richard Mourdock, America…Be Angry At Your God

25 Oct

American Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is in hot water this week after saying during a debate that pregnancy caused by rape is “something that God intended to happen.” Understandably, this pissed everyone right the fuck off. It seemed to imply not only that God sometimes sanctions rape, but also that it serves some purpose. So, silver lining, 14-year old girl who is gang raped in an alley and wakes up pregnant: turns out God wanted that to happen! Just like he wanted Richard Mourdock to have a nice, rape-free existence and become a Senator. Guess you just drew the short straw, metaphysically speaking.

But I’m not writing to pile on Mourdock. There’s been more than enough outrage to go around. I’m writing to point out that, if you’re Christian or Jewish, your outrage at Mourdock’s comments are completely hypocritical, and it may be time for you to reexamine your spiritual views.

First, Mourdock was only expressing what I have heard Christians say countless times: That “everything is part of God’s plan.” Often we say this to a child whose dog has died, or a friend who just got dumped. “Oh, don’t be sad. It’s all part of God’s plan.” Most people have the good taste not to say it to a recent rape victim, as they might not be in a “glass is half full” kind of mood. But I’ve never seen a Bible quote from God that says: “I am all-powerful…except when it comes to pregnancy caused by rape. That was someone else’s bad.” You can pass the buck to Satan if you like, but this is a meaningless exercise in faulty logic, since any all-powerful God who created the entire universe also clearly created evil, created Satan, could stop Satan, describes vividly in the Book of Revelation how he will someday stop Satan, and yet for whatever reason chose not to do so while you were being raped by your uncle. Again, vile as it may be, Mourdock should actually be given credit for accurately describing this obvious theistic reality.

Most religious people I know are very good people, disgusted by rape, and they find it easy to reconcile their moral views and their religious views. They can do this because the cheerful, modern preachers of their churches describe a God with a non-interventionist policy…he is abstract and distant, concerned with our well-being but not directly responsible for every moment of our lives.

Unfortunately, that is simply not the God described in the Bible. I don’t care if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon. Your notion of God—one all-powerful being who created the Earth, Moon, Sun, stars, people and animals—is the God of the Old Testament. That book, and the oral tradition that inspired it, is 100% of the basis of your God. When Jesus Christ was talking about God, that was the God he was referring to. I know many religious moderates have been taught that in 2012, God is sort of a chill, happy, hands-off guy who answers the occasional prayer and takes care of Grandma when she dies. Sounds lovely, except that guy must have been made up somewhere along the way by your church; the God of record is the one described in the Bible.

And that God DOES intervene in human affairs, DOES condone rape, and DOES act like a complete fucking prick, rarely with greater evil and bloodlust then when his ire is directed at women.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s read his official, authorized biography:

 Deuteronomy 22:28-29

    If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.

Got raped? No problem. Your dad gets fifty bucks, and you get to marry your rapist. Hopefully you got raped by Johnny Depp, or else that might suck!

But let’s cut to the chase, in this passage about Moses’ legendary journey out of Egypt:

 Numbers 31:7-18

   They attacked Midian just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men. Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet [the victorious Hebrew army] outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.

Yes, that’s beloved hero of the Bible, Moses, ordering the Midianites (a peaceful people, mind you) to be slaughtered after a battle and their virgin women—probably a bunch of 12-year olds—enslaved by the Hebrews. Their only crime was not worshipping the Hebrew God. And who would blame them! If this happened somewhere in the world today, the Midianites would be martyred victims, and Moses a genocidal war criminal the likes of which we only see during civil wars in Sub Saharan Africa. And yet this story, of Moses leading his people to the promise land, is the crown jewel of the Old Testament, although Jews tend to leave this passage (and the dozens of others like it—I omit them for brevity) out of Passover stories. For some reason, the fact that Moses ordered the slaughter and rape of tens of thousands—on God’s direct orders—just isn’t important enough to get mentioned.

I could stop there, but then you might say “he just cherry picked a few passages.” Well screw you, here’s several more:

Deuteronomy 22:23-24

    If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife.

Penalty for rape is the same as the penalty for getting raped: death. Taliban-tastic!

 Deuteronomy 20:10-14

     As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.

“Thanks for stopping by to exterminate our people Moses, don’t forget your free gift bag of rape and goats on your way out.”

Starting to feel kind of icky yet about The Bible’s view on women’s rights? Here, let’s do just one more, for good measure. This is God’s punishment for King David (who committed adultery):

2 Samuel 12:11-14

    Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’

    Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answered David: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.”  [The child dies seven days later.]

God sure is fair. He realized that the perfect way to punish a cheating husband was to deliver his wives (plural) to a neighbor so they could be ravaged in public. And then God killed his innocent kid for good measure. Divine justice? ‘Done’ and ‘done’!

Noticing a trend here? No, not that rape and murder might be part of God’s plan…it’s quite obvious that rape and murder are, literally, PART OF GOD’S VARIOUS PLANS, usually plans centered on revenge against people who don’t worship him. No, what’s interesting isn’t the rape itself, but the fact that women are nothing more than extras…worthless characters in God’s divine play. In these passages, rape is only even bad in the sense that some other guy damaged your goods. Any human with a vagina is essentially on par with livestock, property that need be mentioned only insofar as it relates to the rewarding/punishing of men.

I do not know any Christians, Muslims, or Jews who condone these horrific passages. This speaks highly of their morality, but poorly of their bible knowledge, and to be honest, even more poorly of their taste in deities. How any woman—or decent man, for that matter—can swear allegiance to this type of God, and to people who use this book as a guide to governing, is simply beyond me. You modern-day, non-extreme churchgoers can sugarcoat your religious affiliation all you want, but understand, you’re lying to no one but yourself: Your God is a jerk. He did bad things, he bragged about them, and he had Moses (or someone else) write them down, and then he ordered everyone to worship him for it. If you’re Jewish, this is your God. If you’re Christian, this is the God that Jesus was raised to worship. If you want to tell me that these passages are outdated, that they are just metaphor, be my guest. It just makes your blind allegiance to a deity all the more astonishing—why choose this all-powerful God, who speaks to you only in metaphor, and only in the most horrific, vile metaphors at that? Do you pick and choose which metaphors and passages apply to you? Did your priest or rabbi tell you this is okay, to take a red pen and just cross out the nasty bits you don’t like? Is it okay to you that priests and rabbis have been doing that very thing—parsing and modifying this sacred text—for thousands of years, before it was ever even translated into English, before it ever got into your hands? Does it give you pause that the only evidence for your God is this book, a book which you may even admit to be full of exaggerations and outright fiction? Is this book—one of the most amoral books ever written—really where you want people to think you get your moral views from? And if you don’t agree with the morality of these passages, is it maybe time to think about what else in this book you don’t agree with? Can’t you follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth—a man recorded by history as a peace-lover, a teacher, a defender of the poor—without subscribing to all this other hatred, pettiness, violence and vitriol? Have you actually read the book that is the foundation of your views for the entire universe, or have you just had it summarized to you by others? Is it maybe time that all of us, as a species, take a closer look at this one book that has so much control over the western world and say to ourselves: Hang on, we’ve been basing our entire civilization on this?

Christians do not own a monopoly on following the teachings of Jesus—all humans are free to help the meek, to do good onto others, to turn the other cheek, without having to defend outright fairytales like the first woman hanging out with a talking snake, or Jonah living inside a whale, or Jesus walking on water. And, yes, the most abhorrent fairytale of all: That our creator’s plan is to have scores of innocent women and children be raped, enslaved, and murdered for no sin other than being born into a world where God is an all-powerful tyrant and humans are powerless to stand up to him.

The Bible is a book written a long time ago, about people who lived a long time ago. I don’t fault the authors for their violent ways; it was the only world they knew. And I don’t blame them for making up myths to explain the world around them; they were born thousands of years before the advent of modern science, before Charles Darwin explained the origin of human life through evolution, before astrophysicists explained the origin of the universe through the Big Bang. But I refuse to stand by while brainwashed rape defenders like Richard Mourdock are elected to govern me, to serve on Senate committees that take Bible passages like the ones above into account when deciding whether or not my sisters or daughters can control their own bodies. Rape is not part of God’s plan. Global warming is not part of God’s plan. War in the Middle East is not part of God’s plan. These are the plans of men, and they can be prevented by men, and women, should both decide to release themselves from the shackles of ignorance and stop outsourcing responsibility to priests, presidents, deities and dharma. There may in fact be a higher power out there, an all-knowing, all-loving universe creator that started this all, and if you are one of the many, many Americans who feels like finding a way to reach out to that power, please do so with my blessing. But I would suggest that you start your search for that being in a different book; whoever told you that’s what The Bible was about was lying. And every day you spend scouring this book for moral positives while ignoring its moral negatives is another day you drown in absurd contradictions, written thousands of years ago, by men who would probably have worshipped an ice cream truck if they saw one driving by.

The only people who have a right to be outraged by Richard Mourdock’s comments are atheists. For those who want the freedom to judge morality without the hypocrisy of worshiping an amoral God, simply give your Bible away and join the decent, caring, freethinking non-religious masses. Our ideals may not be perfect, but at least we don’t claim them to be. Plus our membership is open to all, we demand allegiance to no one, and you don’t even have to cut your foreskin off.

Adam Farasati is a screenwriter and author of the fiction novella The God Killer, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Occupy All Streets

31 Oct

Six weeks ago, a couple dozen protestors decided to camp out in New York’s Zucotti Park and began a movement dubbed “Occupy Wall Street.” Their numbers have since ballooned from dozens to thousands; ‘Occupy’ movements quickly spread to Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and dozens of other U.S. cities. In the last month the movement has successfully jumped the Atlantic Ocean; tens of thousands have gathered in cities across Europe, with protests now springing up in an astonishing 900 communities worldwide. And yet despite the size of the ‘Occupy’ movement, and the viral speed with which it is spreading, the question I hear most often asked of these protestors is: “What do they want?”

Well, if you spend a day marching with this group, you’ll quickly learn the majority want some basic improvements to our democracy: campaign finance reform, more corporate regulation, and an end to bank bailouts. You’ll find some folks demanding stronger environmental protections and affordable healthcare as well. These are policy demands, and good ones at that.

But this is not what they really want. They don’t want something new. They want back what has been taken from them.

They want back the Original Freedom of a Human Being.

Whether you believe in Darwinian evolution or Adam and Eve, we can all agree that early humans were free to roam the world as they pleased. We all had the same job back then: finding food, raising children, and avoiding predators. If our nomadic ancestors could do these three things, they were successful, and we can assume, happy.

Then, ten-thousand years ago, things started to change. A technological advance occurred in the form of agriculture, and that meant humans could now stay in one place, growing crops that would feed them year in and year out without the burdens of traveling long distances to hunt. With agriculture came civilization, and with the concentration of people came the concentration of wealth. Before farming, no man or woman could “own” much more than the clothing on their backs and the tools in their hand. Yet after the agricultural revolution, land suddenly had value. Livestock had value. Buildings had value. The strongest leaders, those most capable of imposing their will on others, came to control more and more of these treasures. The earliest kings were born.

In the time since those first civilizations in ancient Mesoptomia, the only thing that has fundamentally changed is this: We have traded strong, worthy kings like the fabled Hammurabi for a feeble class of politicians, bureaucrats and CEOs. That these men may be stupid, or weak, or both—is irrelevant. We have become so accustomed to the paradigm of servitude that we have forgotten why it exists in the first place.

Of course, most people don’t think of modern day America as built on servitude or oppression. In fact, most Americans are brought up to believe that this country is the freest place on Earth. Yet contrasting our modern freedoms with those of our pre-civilized ancestors reveals how few freedoms we actually have.

For instance, this country is known as the land of opportunity. But those opportunities have eroded significantly in recent years. While the official unemployment figure stands at around 9%, when you factor in people who are underemployed, quit looking for work, or forced back to school because there just aren’t any jobs for them, that unemployment number is closer to 20%. And even if you have a job, actual incomes haven’t risen at all in the past twenty years, while everything else has gotten more expensive. We are all working harder, and longer, for less. And the trend is getting worse.

Primitive man didn’t have this problem. Hunters and gatherers were not employed by anyone; they worked together to obtain food by whatever means necessary. The food itself—animals to hunt, vegetables to pick, fruits to eat—were free to whoever could procure them. They were not owned by a corporation. While food may not always have been plentiful, freedom to acquire it was. Any man could go anywhere and work hard to get what he needed. No degree, no application, no permit was required to feed yourself.

Today, if you’re lucky enough to have a job, your biggest expense is probably a simple home for you and your family. The cost of this home is merely that you work 50-70 hours a week for thirty straight years, during which time if you fail to make payments, or if something called a “housing bubble” bursts and your home loses 40% of its value, the bank has the right to kick you off of their land and onto the streets. They used to call this “indentured servitude” back in colonial times.

Primitive hunter-gatherers didn’t have this problem. Their homes were wherever they built them. Land was available to whoever chose to occupy it. And it was, of course, free.

In the modern day, citizens of western countries enjoy many basic freedoms that are the envy of our third world counterparts. For instance, in the United States, the first amendment grants ‘Occupy’ protestors such rights as freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble. These are among the most sacred freedoms bestowed by our democracy.

Yet if I shared these wonderful freedoms with our primitive ancestors, I doubt they would see much merit in them. Why, exactly, should I need permission to speak freely? Why does that right even need to be written? Exactly why should I be thankful that I am allowed to peaceably assemble? Primitive man, from the first moment he created language, could say whatever the hell he wanted to. Freedom to assemble, to practice religion, to speak your mind…these are not privileges I need granted to me. They are not even inalienable rights. These are freedoms I possess intrinsically, by simple virtue of having been born a human being. That so many modern people have consented to having these rights taken from them is no doubt the reason why Americans are foolishly glad to have the rights at all. But make no mistake; even one iota of erosion of these and other freedoms is no minor offense. Someone is stealing something from you that should never have been stealable in the first place.

I don’t mean to say that pre-civilized society was a utopic paradise. Let me be clear: The human condition has always been one of hardship. No matter what century you are born in, the universe places pain and peril in front of us. You can die of disease in the jungle, or cancer in a hospital; you can be eaten by a bear in the mountains, or hit by a bus in Manhattan. You can be bullied and oppressed by the leader of your hunter-gatherer tribe, or by the guy behind the counter at Bank of America. That life will be hard, that men will compete with each other…these are givens.

What is not a given is the degree to which we accept it. In ancient times, when we lived in tribes no bigger than one hundred people, the strong also rose to the top. But their power was checked by the majority…if they went too far, if they became too oppressive, the 99 would topple the 1. And it wasn’t that hard to do. No one man possessed the strength to defeat the will of the mob. So the one generally kept his greedy paws in check.

Occupy Wall Street, perhaps without knowing it, has rediscovered this truth. They, too, are champions of the 99%, seeking to recover some of the autonomy that has been slowly and painfully leeched from them over the centuries. They aren’t asking for much. Just the basic freedoms and dignities that they know, deep down, they should have always had anyway. Homo Sapiens have been walking around this planet for 200,000 years. For the first 190,000 of those years, we were totally, unconditionally free. Only in the last ten millennia did our ancestors begin consenting to concepts like slavery, servitude, and oppression of the many by the few. And with every day that we leave this perverse power dynamic in place, we consign our children to the same servitude that our parents left us.

Of course, contemporary society has its perks. Modern man enjoys new freedoms that our ancestors could only dream about. We are free from predation, and in the West, fear of starvation. We are free to develop and employ technologies that have increased human efficiency a thousand fold. We are even free to fly, from city to city and continent to continent. But must these gifts really come at the cost of oppression by the few? Steve Jobs, standing on the shoulders of other technological giants, created tools that are enjoyed by millions, enriching himself in the process. He was rightfully admired by his countrymen, probably because we all benefit from having wise men at the top. I like to think that Jobs would have been elevated to leader of his clan were he born 15,000 years ago, just as he was today.

The same cannot be said for Healthcare CEO’s who earn bigger bonuses by denying heart transplants to children. Or Countrywide brokers who intentionally defrauded taxpayers to line their own pockets. Or our elected politicians, who enjoy a 98% incumbency rate so long as they sell favors to lobbyists against the better interests of the American people. If some primitive version of Steve Jobs would have been an exalted tribe leader, these thieves and manipulators would have been at best exiled by the tribe and, at worst, set upon with spears and rocks as punishment for putting their greed so far above the well-being of their tribesmates. But we cannot truly blame these modern exploiters of our flawed system; they have assumed, correctly, that people are so comfortable with the status quo that no one will lift a finger to stop them. There is no mob at the doorstep. And when we do march on places like Wall Street, modern man tends to leave the spears at home. Which, if you think about it, defeats the purpose entirely.

I doubt we’ll ever get back to a true hunter-gatherer society. I don’t think that modern people could do without their cell phones and espresso machines. But perhaps the important thing to note is that, even if we wanted to, we can’t. That’s the Original Freedom that has been taken away. There is no longer anywhere in the world where you can simply go and be free, immune from the tentacles of governments and corporations. There is simply nowhere to hide from the modern oppressors. That’s why people are angry. They have had the taste of freedom described to them, they have even been told they are enjoying that taste. But they know it isn’t true. Something is missing. And for all our modern intelligence, the one person who truly understands what we hunger for is, ironically, a caveman. He conquered this planet, and partook of all of Earth’s bounties, free and unencumbered. And each and every one of us is a blood relative of his. No part of this planet belongs to any one human in particular, but to all of us. If you want to take back your birthright, your Original Freedom, don’t stop with Wall Street. Occupy All Streets.

Republican presidential nominee Herman Cain recently said of the ‘Occupy’ movement: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.” Fair enough, Herman. But you miss the point. Unlike you, most of them didn’t make ‘getting rich’ their life’s goal. They just want to be free. And you’d be wise to remember that banks, corporations, and the very notion of wealth is a mirage. It all exists only because the current system allows for it. But if things get bad enough, if your fellow tribesmen feel that your thirst for money is infringing on their personal human space, their Original Freedom…they may revert to the old system. And in that system, even the very strong can be deposed by their tribes in a heartbeat should they lose their claims to legitimacy. In fact, it just happened in Libya. A strongman of forty years had a stranglehold on power one minute, and the next, found himself being dragged through the streets, beaten and bloodied and spat upon by his subjects, before being shot in the head.

And that was the work of a mere six million angry Libyans. I’d hate to see what three-hundred million angry Americans, rediscovering their sense of freedom, could do to a guy like Herman Cain.