In this issue of 'Banter M':
Stop Buying Crap - Ben Cohen on why being broke is actually much better for you
Going Godwin: How Very Serious Republicans Keep Getting it Wrong About Planned Parenthood's Founder - Bob Cesca looks into the strange mind of the brilliant, yet epically ignorant Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson
Losing it - Chez Pazienza writes about not being able to write.
Stop Buying Crap
by Ben Cohen
For a middle class westerner, the amount you choose to consume is largely a choice. While I am not particularly wealthy (at least in a western sense) I drive a car, live in a comfortable studio apartment in a safe neighborhood, have a netflix account, high speed wifi, and have several credit cards that allow me to borrow a fairly large amount of cash. If I wanted to, I could buy a lot of stuff - TVs, video games, clothes, shoes etc etc.
For many years, this was what I felt success in life was - the ability to purchase stuff. I wanted a big house, a nice car, private schools for the kids and fancy foreign vacations while staying in classy hotels. The problem was, I never wanted to make the sacrifice necessary to get it.
The thought of working in a large corporation or industry that paid enough money to sustain that type of lifestyle seemed like a fast track to a mental and physical breakdown. I tried doing full time jobs in the media and fitness industry, but became so exhausted from sitting a chair all day while navigating petty office politics that getting out became a physical necessity. Armed with a degree in politics and international relations and a fairly extensive background in Martial Arts, I quit my job as a salesperson at a gym and became a freelance personal trainer and boxing journalist. I was 23 years old and have never had a job since (I'm 33 now, so that makes it a decade).
To say it has been hard would be a huge understatement, and I have only survived by luck, an ability to hold my nerve, and a good deal of help from family and some generous friends. I certainly worked hard, but wouldn't compare it to a full time career job - an endeavor I simply cannot bear thinking about. I have many friends who see it the other way around and can't understand how I have survived without a proper job. Family members and close friends who have seen me struggle think I work far too hard and don't take enough time off. I don't see it that way. I'd rather work 80 hours a week rather than 40 for someone else, and for far less money.
One of the survival tricks I have learned over the years is to diligently practice the art of non-materialism. That is, I've trained myself not to want too much in the way of 'stuff'. I bought my car from a former training client who gave me a remarkably good deal, and I have no intention of selling it and getting another one until absolutely necessary. It's a green Toyota Prius, so I don't get a lot of street cred driving it (I felt this acutely when I was single...), but it gets me from A to B and is pretty cheap to run. I rarely buy clothes, and if I do, they're cheap items from places like GAP or Old Navy. I don't buy much music, don't buy DVDs and spend the majority of my money on buying high quality food - a worthwhile investment given health care in America is ludicrously expensive.
I also don't watch television, another handy trick that I'm positive cuts down costs in more ways than one. I don't pay a cable bill, and as a result, am not bombarded with advertising telling me I need to lease a new car, buy a silly fitness gadget, or get the latest flat screen television. Television to me is the ultimate dangerous drug for humans - a time sucking, mindless activity that encourages consumption of knowledge rather than discovery and exploration. I certainly haven't missed it.
Over the years, not buying things has become habit, and while there have been many times when visiting friends with fancy cars and big houses that I've felt somewhat inadequate, I have largely learned to ignore those feelings and look at the big picture. As formulaic as it sounds, most people on the planet really are far, far worse off than I am and I make a point to remember this when I have felt envious of someone else's swimming pool or new Mercedes.
Overall, I believe this strategy has made me happier - I don't dislike nice things, but I don't need them either so they have little to no impact on my happiness. I splash out on the latest iPhone every two years or so, but there isn't a single thing I feel I really need. In the beginning, this was just something I told myself to feel better about being broke, but now I genuinely view obsessions with shopping and buying things as a disease and a serious cause of suffering. I am not impressed with overt consumption and feel sorry for people for whom buying things makes them feel better. I even tend to get panicked in stores these days due to the overwhelming amount of junk they sell, and spend as little time in them as possible. The thought of going shopping for enjoyment is truly, truly horrifying and I'd rather sit in a bare room staring at the wall all day.
It also turns out that from an environmental point of view, I am unequivocally correct. We are on the brink of an environmental catastrophe due to our insane appetite for consumption, and materialism as a philosophy and driving force behind our economic system is going to have to go. Basically, this means being a cheap bastard is actually a damn good thing. So take that, capitalist pigs.
I say all of this not to preach or moralize. I am still by rational standards incredibly bad for the environment given I fly home to the UK at least twice a year, fill up my gas tank twice a month, eat meat, use excessive AC during the summer, and so on. I say it to try to make you feel better about the eternal battle of living in a society built on greed, while instinctively knowing that it is bad for the planet. We know that consumption is environmentally catastrophic, yet we're relentlessly encouraged to keep buying things. We then feel inferior because we can't buy things, because we are told consumption is the meter of success. It is a vicious cycle that will not only condemn the future of our psychological well being, but the future of the planet itself. So what better a time to recondition the way you think about wealth and buying things? If you are broke, own it! And if you aren't, then stop buying crap. You'll feel a lot better, I promise.
Going Godwin: How Very Serious Republicans Keep Getting it Wrong About Planned Parenthood's Founder
by Bob Cesca
There are human beings who excel at just one thing, while being completely incompetent in everything else. Republican presidential candidate and wold renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is absolutely one of those people. He's arguably the nation's most skilled and successful brain surgeons. But, wow, he's not very good at much else. In addition to being ridiculously soporific, Carson simply doesn't know basic history or generally known details from current events.
Not too long ago, Carson didn't know the Baltic states were part of NATO. He also completely botched a question about the general history of Islam. He famously told a reporter that it's possible for straight men to go to prison and then "come out gay." That last one is shockingly awful considering how Carson is, again, a brain doctor who ought to have a better understanding of the human psyche. And by the way, a gaffe that significant couldn't possibly have been a pander to the far-right.
One of Carson's ongoing hangups with history comes in the wake of the Planned Parenthood (fake) scandal.
On several occasions, Carson has told reporters that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was interested in control or reducing the African-American population as part of her support for eugenics. Yes, it's true that in today's context, some of Sanger's enthusiasm for eugenics seems odd. But in the 1930s, it was supported by a much more diverse audience that it is today. Why? Because it was relatively new, and in many circles there was no racial component, unlike the way it was ultimately practiced by the Nazis. And that last word, Nazis, is where Ben Carson goes every time. It's Full Godwin whenever the topic comes up, which, according to the rules of debate, ought to crown Carson as the loser of the discussion.
On Fox Business Channel's "Your World" with Neil Cavuto, Carson was asked about Sanger and Planned Parenthood.
I know who [Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger is. I know that she believed in eugenics and that she was not particularly enamored with black people. One of the reason that you find most of their clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find a way to control that population.
Of course, Carson is referring to a widely debunked accusation that Sanger once wrote: "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population." The quote sounds harrowing if you take it at face value. But in the context of a letter she wrote in 1939, it makes perfect sense. Contra-Carson, she was actually repeating a common notion in the black population at the time that contraception was a means of controlling the African-American birthrate. She went on in the letter to detail ways in which she could reach out to black communities by enlisting black doctors and black ministers to assuage any fears over those false rumors.
The rest of Sanger's paragraph read:
The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.
Yes, that's all they've got. A quote that not only represents half-a-sentence, but it's easily explained by reading the rest of Sanger's letter. Of course reality and facts never stopped these bastards from demagoguing this issue.
Here's the other problem, speaking of reality. Is it appropriate to judge Planned Parenthood of 2015 based upon the (fake) views of its founder, some 75 years later? If that's the case, let's talk about the actual views of the founders of another organization called the United States.
Here are some facts about unapologetic slave owner Thomas Jefferson:
Thomas Jefferson’s views were typical of his generation. Despite what he wrote in the Declaration, he did not think Blacks were equal to Whites, noting that “in general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.” He hoped slavery would be abolished some day, but “when freed, he [the Negro] is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.” Jefferson also expected whites eventually to displace all of the Indians of the New World. The United States, he wrote, was to be “the nest from which all America, North and South, is to be peopled,” and the hemisphere was to be entirely European: “...nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.”
What about unapologetic slave owner James Madison on, say, the segregation of the races?
“To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U.S. freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population.”
So, the author of the declaration, and the author of the U.S. Constitution were both slave-owning racists. Does this mean the United States is, in its entirety, an evil nation hell-bent on suppressing blacks? Well [cough, cough], I guess it depends on who you ask. But it's certainly not the case if you ask Republicans who simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of racism as part of America's national character, even though we're also supposed to agree when they say all of Planned Parenthood is racist because of what its founder said long ago.
A couple more before we wrap up.
Here's Ben Franklin on the white population versus the black population:
"[T]he Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably [sic] very small... I could wish their Numbers were increased…. But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."
While obviously not a founder, here's the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, on civil rights:
I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
So, in other words, Ben Carson, along with thousands of others who market in this nearsighted scam, can feel free to shut the hell up about Sanger. Not only is it unfair to scoop up her words and present them out of context and anachronistically in 2015, but in order to be consistent, we also have to do the same with the founders of dozens of other organizations, including some of our greatest leaders who Republicans regularly embrace.
by Chez Pazienza
When I was 12 years old I was a huge Rush fan. It only made sense that I was into Rush given that I was A) a little movie and music nerd, and B) a drummer, but 1982 was both the year that my love for Rush crescendoed and the last year that an appreciation for Rush was something that really mattered in my life. The Signalsalbum had just hit record stores and was, to my admittedly truncated knowledge, the best of their work so far. I listened to it day in and day out, having no idea that over the next couple of years punk rock and alternative music would come into my life and pretty much vanquish everything else for almost the entirety of my teenage years. I loved the Signals record and felt that it spoke to me personally, even though it didn't -- because I was 12 and knew nothing of suburban disaffection, the space shuttle or being a "New World Man," whatever the hell that was.
Among all the songs I felt I understood deeply, though, one really did stand out. It was a song called Losing It and it was about the pain and frustration of watching talent slip through your hands as you age. It wasn't uncommon for me to melodramatically ponder getting old or to feel a spiritual connection to art and literature about the sadness of aging and about raging against the dying of the light. I was a brooding, melancholy kid from the start and by the time I was a teenager I was finding myself completely blown away by works like T.S. Eliot's Prufrock, which conveyed themes no teenager should ever be concerning him or herself with. But Losing It was maybe my first experience with wondering what it would be like to watch something you've spent a lifetime being good at quietly fade as the years wind down. It spoke of a dancer who can no longer dance because her body won't let her anymore. It spoke of a writer who couldn't write anymore because the words just wouldn't come anymore. Maybe that's what stuck with me -- that art may only be a temporary gift for the artist.
I bring this up because something's been going on in my life lately that I'm not sure how to talk about -- that I'm absolutely not sure how to put into words. And that's the point. I can't put it into words because I feel like I can't put anything into words these days, not to my liking anyway. I understand the irony of writing this all out now, here, but please understand -- I can probably still tell you a story since anybody can do that, but what I can't do right now is make an argument, which is something I've been doing for almost ten years now on the internet. What I'm trying to say here, in the most painfully circuitous way possible, is that for the past few months I've been suffering from a kind of writer's block that's like nothing I've experienced before. It's not simply a matter of staring at the page and not being able to make the words come out -- it's looking at words differently, seeing something I've never seen before in them, something confusing and frustrating. Even more than that, it's wanting to say something and finding nothing but a jumble of chaos within my head -- like trying to locate my thoughts in a dark, foggy room where Slayer is playing at deafening levels.
I'm aware that part of the reason for my inability to make a strong argument these days is due exactly to that -- the noise, not just within but without. The fact is that the media cacophony is simply too overwhelming these days and it unnerves me to think that I might be contributing to it in any way. When I started out writing publicly in 2006 the world was a vastly quieter place, or at least it seemed that way. Social media was already a looming giant but it wasn't populated by people who seemed to take great delight in shouting at each other and there weren't so many outlets that every hot take or think-piece imaginable could be published in the aftermath of an event before you could take a single breath. I never thought my own opinions very important or insightful, something I attested to over and over again at my personal blog, but now I see no reason to voice an opinion at all because, well, why bother? There are millions of people voicing their views at any given moment. Why add to the noise? The argument that I get paid to do it isn't enough. In fact, getting paid -- submitting to an insane number of deadlines a week and living in terror that the next intelligent insight or clever quip just won't be there -- creates a stunning amount of stress. I never thought of myself as having the ability to be a writing machine -- as a good friend of mine who's also a professional columnist says, a cow that joylessly pumps out milk -- and trying to be makes me want to go jump off a bridge.
But back to the cacophony. It's so crazy out there these days and the rise of the Idiocracy seems so undeniable that half of the time that I sit down to write I type out a few decent words then slowly descend into pounding my keys shouting, "Fuck, Fuck, FUCK ALL OF THIS." That kind of statement doesn't exactly qualify as intelligent discourse and I know it, which is why I finally stop, go to the refrigerator and stare into it for a while before pouring myself a glass of Crystal Light lemonade, then come back to my computer and watch Ilan Rubin drum solos on YouTube. It isn't a matter of not being able to focus -- it's simply not wanting to focus because everything I could possibly care to write about is terrible. After almost ten years of writing online things have only gotten worse and worse out there, which means that nothing I have to say matters anyway. It's being pumped out into the ether where it'll either be swallowed whole or turned into yet another reason to have it out on Twitter. Tell me that's inspiration to go on bothering.
Setting all of that aside, there's another possibility that haunts me every time I sit down to comment on something these days: What if I'm just out of things to say? My general thoughts and views are now well known and can be adjusted and applied to any current or future event, despite the fact that I pride myself on evaluating news items on a case by case basis and on surprising people by not being a one-note ideologue. But really, what if I've already said all I need to say? What if it's time to move on to something else? What if all of this is the result of my simply having given up on writing commentary for a living and not really being willing to admit it to myself? Again, the noise is so powerful and I want no part of it -- and I can't promise anyone that I'll be able to soothe anyone's frayed nerves the way I used to on occasion -- that the thought of sitting down and writing becomes a mental blur in a matter of seconds. I'm exhausted all the time. Maybe I really am over it all.
But more than anything, I wonder whether I've reached a point in my life where I'm simply not as quick as I used to be. I'm 45 years old and while I get that that's not exactly old age, it does sometimes feel like it's too old to be spending my days writing online rants, hot-takes and think-pieces. There are younger people out there doing what I do -- millions of them. I don't think I've aged out of writing in general -- hell, Cormac McCarthy is still going strong -- but maybe eventually you really do reach a point where you're just tired of hearing your own voice respond to the relentless bullshit all around you. I'm paid to do this so I'll continue -- and God knows I appreciate the opportunity I've been given here at The Daily Banter -- but if I had my way I'd probably bow out and move on to whatever comes next. I'm already writing for TV so maybe that's the answer. Yeah -- fiction. It's a hell of a lot better than reality.