Big Bill’s Black Mama Vs. The SJW Cat Ladies

The first thing you have to understand about Big Bill is that he’s a good kid. I know this because his auntie Marie told me, and auntie Marie doesn’t lie when it comes to things like that – if there’s a bad apple in her family tree, she’ll tell you true about it. But she’s proud of Big Bill, and talks about him a lot. Last time I ran into her – down at the Emeryville Public Market, where we caught up with each other over some ramen and shared a box of macaroons – she got onto the subject of what he was up to these days, and the news was not all good.

Big Bill is one of only four black students at his high school in “upscale” (read: heavily white/east Asian and ranging from upper middle class to Silicon Valley rich) Marin County, just north of San Francisco. Marin County is the galactic center of limousine liberalism – electorally, they’re even further left than San Francisco itself (believe it or not), but that doesn’t stop them from consistently voting down public transit initiatives so that the riffraff don’t have any way to get into their neighborhoods. Big Bill’s family isn’t exactly rich – they get by okay – but they’ve lived in Marin since it was a lot less expensive than it is now, and the house has been paid off since Big Bill’s grandmother’s day. This leaves Big Bill as a token Non-Asian Minority in a school that is highly-rated and flush with cash, which is, all told, a pretty nice situation. Big Bill loves his school, and his school loves him in return. Like I said, he’s a good kid. He gets decent (not exceptional, but decent) grades. He’s popular with his classmates. True to stereotype (and Big Bill is the first to laugh about this himself), he tried out for the school football team and became a star running back in no time flat, which made him even more popular than he already was. Big Bill is happy with everything at school, and so is his mama – or at least, they were until recently.

The trouble started almost immediately after the new school year began. There was an announcement over the PA system calling Big Bill to the office. For a few moments he was genuinely worried – thoughts of a family member in the hospital – or worse – came to mind. In fact, he was being called into a private session with the new school counselor; a white lady in her 40s with short hair, a social work diploma, and impeccably progressive social views. For two solid hours, she interrogated Big Bill, looking for any evidence that he had been the victim of bigotry-driven mistreatment at the hands of anyone at the school. He repeatedly explained to her that he hadn’t. Racism? Nope. Classism? Nope. Homophobia? “No! Look, I’m not even…” Transphobia? “Wait… what?” Toxic masculinity? “I’m on the football team for heaven’s sake…” Bullying? “Did you hear the part about being a football player? I’m 15 years old, 6′ 3″, and 250 pounds, so…” Teasing or hazing? “There’s the normal teammate locker room banter, but I’d feel left out if they didn’t…” AHA! What do they say to you? “Look, it’s not even important. Can I go back to class now? We have a math quiz coming up at the end of the week, and if I don’t…” Are you SURE you haven’t experienced ANY racism? Think hard about this! “Yes! Really! I’m sure! Now can I please just go back to class?!” And on it went. Finally, a deeply dissatisfied counselor sent him back to class, with the pleading assurance that her door was always open if he experienced the slightest degree of bigotry and would like to inform her about it. He promised he would, and other than telling mama what happened that evening, gave the matter no more thought.

Until the event repeated itself three weeks later – this time with both the counselor and someone from the district office (another 40something white lady with short hair, Big Bill noted) there. This time, Big Bill ended up missing something important in class, and at the end of the week, missed questions on a test that he knew he would have gotten right if he hadn’t been in the counselor’s office having to tell her over and over again how fine everything was. Big Bill went home very annoyed by this, but not as annoyed as mama was when he told her about it. They had the good fortune of living in a nice neighborhood, but neither of them was so far removed from the streets that they didn’t recognize someone trying to play Captain Save-a-hoe when they saw it. But Big Bill isn’t a hoe, and didn’t need saving. They both hoped that now that he’d told them twice that everything was perfectly okay, maybe this would be the end of it.

It wasn’t. A month later, he got called in for a whole afternoon, which included missing football practice. On this occasion, a board of five short-haired white ladies grilled him about any possible signs of bigotry, including asking more than a few questions that Big Bill thought were intentionally worded to trip him up. They also gave him some kind of multi-page form with a bunch of questions on it that he had to write out answers to. After they finally let him go, he was both genuinely angry and no longer naive enough to think they would stop until he’d given them what they wanted (whether it was true or not), which he had no intention of doing.

That’s when Big Bill’s mama decided that she’d had enough. She arranged an afternoon off from work (which wasn’t as easy for her to do as it would be for most of Marin’s limousine liberal population), made an appointment with the counselor, put on her Sunday best, and marched up to school to put a stop to all this nonsense. In no uncertain terms, she informed the crestfallen counselor that Big Bill was fine, that the only two personages allowed to save him were 1) mama and 2) Jesus and that all other potential saviors had best mind their own business, and that if Big Bill was pulled out of class at any time and for any reason other than that he was in imminent danger of death and was being rushed to the hospital, mama was going to be back down to the school to make the lives of everyone there extremely unpleasant until they agreed to cut this bullshit out. And with that, she wished the counselor a good day and left.

So far, this seems to have worked. It’s been two whole months, and Big Bill has been left alone to get on with his high school days in peace. When I asked auntie Marie whether that meant the short-haired white lady brigade had simply moved on to one of the other three black students in the school to see if they’d have any better luck at getting them to crack, she shot a worried look down into her empty ramen bowl and said that she sure hoped not. She didn’t sound very optimistic about it, though.

* * *

Much like one of Rod Serling’s protagonists surviving an encounter with the Twilight Zone, Big Bill and his mama seem (for the moment) to have survived their encounter with the zeitgeist of the age. The decisive factor here was both mother and son’s unusually keen understanding of one critical fact: none of what went on was happening in order to actually help Big Bill. There is a difference – and one that perceptive people must always be attuned to – between cause and pretext. Here, the SJW cat ladies’ pretext for all this bother was to help Big Bill overcome the oppression that surrounded him (so thoroughly, in fact, that like a fish in water, he might not even realize it was there). But the true cause of it was that Big Bill’s nonexistent oppression is a force that gives them meaning. Too late in their lives, they discovered that a cubicle and a cat were not emotionally-fulfilling substitutes for a husband and a family, and it makes them quietly miserable. With their innate instincts toward motherly protection unable to be focused on children that they never had, they redirect them outward toward one world-saving cause after another. Where none exist, they will do anything they can to create one – out of thin air if need be. The fact that the external object may either not need help, or that reality shows us they have not really been helped by the actions taken, is irrelevant. Half a century after the “war on poverty” was declared, the nation’s ghettos do indeed like like a war has been fought there, but there is little evidence of any victory against poverty. The effort to save black people has ended up with W. E. B. DuBois’s “talented tenth” being brought high in white society (in the process, leaving blacks without the leadership of their own natural elites), while millions more of them are left to rot in hellish, crime-ridden squalor. As for the effort to save women, the very SJW cat ladies from which Big Bill managed to narrowly escape serve as testament to its failure. But none of that matters to those who began or sustain those moral crusades, which is why bringing their failures to their attention never works at getting them to reevaluate their strategies. If you try, you’re just engaging the pretext instead of the cause, which is all useless.

Nietzsche once counseled: “Beware those in whom the impulse to punish is strong”, and while this is certainly true, it is also true that the history of the world since his time has shown us that those in whom the impulse to save is strong can be even more dangerous. All too often, what is at their core is a misery born of the helpless feeling of needing their own form of salvation, and of being unable, either through bad fortune or (more often) their own limitations, to ever find it. The emptiness inside them makes them desperate to feel important, to feel needed, to feel as if they can save somebody, even if it can never be themselves. Their desperation turns to fanaticism, and that fanaticism inevitably produces more misery, sustaining the cycle infinitely. The only way out is to understand all of this, and to pick your saviors carefully. Know who’s playing that role, and why – and be doubly cautious about it if the one struck with the savior impulse is you, because the impulse to save run amok destroys both those the potential savior and those who they wish to save.

Big Bill is a good kid with a good mama who saved him from the savers. If only she could deliver our whole society from them!

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The Day They Tore Down The Future

They tore down the Randall Park Mall a few months ago. I’d never been to it – it was out in Ohio, a couple hundred miles away from where I grew up – but The Bechtloff used to go there all the time when he was a kid, and the loss of the place gave him occasion for some melancholy reflection. I didn’t really need to have been to Randall Park to know what it was like; I was a child of suburban America in the 80s, and that was the height of the mall and of mall culture. So I felt that sense of loss right along with him, and started thinking about what it all meant.

There’s a lot to complain about in being over 40, but I still feel rather sorry for anyone too young to remember what the 80s were like. We live in an angry, worried, fearful age here in the 21st century; and what’s worse, the young have no memory of a day in which things were any different. And yet, it did exist. It was a time when you could say that you were proud of your country and mean it. It was a time when it still seemed like the system could work; that it still might find ways to fix all the things that were wrong with our society. It was a time when it still looked like the bad guys would be defeated in the end. People had more pride in themselves back then: the morbidly obese, the garishly tattooed, the grown men dressed like adolescent boys in falling-down pants or in t-shirts with obscene slogans on them – these were all still rare and freakish. Some of the hairstyles may seem silly now, but even those took an amount of time and effort to pull off that showed us for a people who still took care of ourselves.

And everything was happening down at the mall, the epicenter of 80s social life. For those who aren’t old enough to have seen it yourselves, or who are and want a blast of nostalgia, a photographer named Michael Galinsky recently published a book called Malls Across America, which features pictures he took in malls during a road trip in 1989, and which will take you right back to those days. The Daily Mail did a feature on it, which includes many of his pictures. I remember the world that Galinsky captured in those pictures clearly, though I suppose it was all very long ago now.

My dad – sour old lefty that he is – always hated the mall. He thought it was an artificial and consumeristic replacement for Main Street, USA. But he was wrong about that – it wasn’t a replacement for Main Street, but an update of it. Yes, its economic purpose was to sell things (as was the purpose of the shops on Main Street). But as Galinsky’s pictures show, people went there for much more. They went to do all the things they did on Main Street: dining, meeting friends, promenading, or simply going there to see what everyone else was up to. It wasn’t merely retail space, it was social space where friends gathered and communities formed.

But that wasn’t why I liked to go to the mall. I went because to me, the mall looked like The Future.

Here we must make a distinction between the future and The Future. Chronologically speaking, the future is merely that which will happen at a point further along in time than the present, whether by milliseconds or by aeons. I am writing this sentence in the present, and in the future – maybe by a few days, or even a few years – you will read it. But that’s not the same as The Future. No, The Future is what we have been told about by authors, filmmakers, artists, and even creators of ten-cent comic books for the better part of a century and a half now. The Future is what we have been promised by scientists, politicians, industrialists, and even revolutionaries. All over the Soviet Union stood statues of Lenin with his hand outstretched, showing the way forward to The Future. In America, men like Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Walt Disney (the latter two of whom were the primary influences behind the character of Howard Stark in the Marvel superhero films) not only showed us The Future, but built it with their own hands.

The Future is a place of massive buildings, of gleaming cities, of wide multi-level highways, of stiletto-shaped supersonic planes, of rocket launches, and of enormous video billboards (perhaps with something vaguely Japanese displayed on them). Everything in The Future is fast and sleek and clean and safe and automatic – but above all, everything in The Future is big and imposing; it strikes you with a sense of awe at its sheer size and scale.

That’s how I felt as a kid walking around the mall. The mall was big and beautiful and comfortable and even a little overwhelming. All of the wide passages, lined by stores, were multi-level – two in most places, but three at the food court and the movie theater. Everything there was new and gleaming and clean and safe, and automatic sliding doors and escalators were all around the place. There were walkways suspended in midair over wide indoor plazas and courtyards. In one of these, there was a small skate park, complete with quarter pipes, vert ramps, and a funbox, where kids could bring their skateboards all year round; in another, there was an indoor waterfall surrounded by palm trees that were green even in the depths of winter.

And then, of course, there was the arcade. It was pitch dark and full of glowing screens, and the sounds of all manner of electronic beeps and chiptunes were overwhelming. It felt like no less than walking onto the bridge of some spaceborne battlecruiser in the midst of combat. And the games! I cannot – there is no possible way to – make you understand just how much like The Future something like Pac-Man or Zaxxon or Defender looked to us, even if now they seem crude or even quaint. But we were in awe of the fact that we were playing a game against a computer – a computer! – that was drawing things recognizable as representations of real-life objects on its screen. None of us had ever been launched into orbit on the Space Shuttle or gone to Paris on a supersonic jet, but all of us played video games down at the mall arcade – and we were living in The Future when we did.

They tore down the Randall Park Mall a few months ago, and when they did, they tore down The Future. What does it all mean?

But wait – it was the internet that killed the mall, and what is the internet except the very embodiment of The Future? What indeed! Was The Future supposed to be an age of people sitting inside, passively staring at screens that displayed endless banalities (cat videos, Facebook selfies, and internet porn)? If so, that was only the very darkest vision of The Future – it is The Future of Mrs. Montag, of Edison Carter, and of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. And it’s not as if a few decades has made the experience of going out to shop any better, either – now it is both less like Main Street and less like The Future than ever. The decline of the mall coincided not only with the rise of the intenet, but also with the rise in earnest of Walmart and other big-box warehouse stores. There are no skate parks or indoor waterfalls at Walmart. The increasingly impoverished remnants of what was once our middle class shuffle in to buy cheap junk made by political prisoner slave labor in some dismal factory in faraway China. You’ll find no sense of community there, nor, considering the degree to which the former middle class has degraded, would you likely want to.

That isn’t The Future that we were promised; it isn’t The Future that was supposed to come. And here is a dark thought: What if we reached The Future, and then passed it? What if it has come and gone, and now we are in a post-Future future?

Consider: none of us kids in the arcade had ever been launched into orbit on the Space Shuttle or gone to Paris on a supersonic jet, and now it is decades later – decades into the future – but the chances that we ever will do those things have, in fact, decreased all the way to zero. The Space Shuttle has been retired for years now, and the Concorde for yet longer. Nor is either likely to ever be replaced by a newer version of the same thing. Occasionally a government agency or an aerospace company will release a concept drawing and a press release full of promises – good material for an eye-catching Popular Mechanics cover – but they always come to nothing.

When was the last time you felt like you were in The Future? How about the last time that didn’t involve staring at a screen?

Yes, the future is always ahead of us, but it is more and more beginning to look like The Future is behind us. Evidence of this is everywhere, even in what are supposed to be the most futuristic places. Living in what the technology writer John C. Dvorak calls the “northern Silicon Valley”, I am friends with a few Google employees, and have a handful of occasions a year to be invited to lunch at the Googleplex, the company’s headquarters in Mountain View. The food is excellent, and the place is pleasant enough, but going there is always attended by a sense of disappointment. If we lived in The Future (in the world of the classic cyberpunk of the 1980s and 1990s) Google – the world’s most powerful and influential technology corporation – would be housed in a hundred-story jet-black skyscraper with a huge neon “GOOGLE” sign on top like Channel 23 in Max Headroom; or perhaps, like the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, in a massive ziggurat that would cover whole square miles worth of territory. Instead, it is sprawled out across a dumpy, nondescript industrial park full of two-story concrete office buildings, indistinguishable from the one that housed the company that made postcards at which my grandfather worked when I was a child.

The Future had style: whether utopian, dystopian, or something in between, it was always imposing, breathtaking, even intimidating. But the future has no style, no sense of the grand or wondrous, no desire (or no ability, or both) to impress. It is so very different from my childhood days at the mall, which felt like The Future, and all the more so because it existed in a time of prosperity and optimism; a time that’s now long gone. And what of the mall these days?

There are a few that are still doing well, mostly those lucky enough to be located in places where they can cater to the bored wives of the elites in the handful of cities that currently represent our centers of power. There’s the Pentagon City Mall in Washington for the wives of congressmen and lobbyists; Valley Fair for the wives of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires; Garden State Plaza, which caters to Wall Street wives. But these are the exceptions. Many malls that were once beautiful and were filled with the then-prosperous middle class are now occupied by seedy discount stores, and the people to be found there long ago started tending towards the unsavory. Things started changing, and you started to hear of fights at malls, then of people being shot there, and finally of full-scale riots in them – all unthinkable at the time of Galinsky’s photos. And of course many more, like Randall Park, have simply been demolished.

I remember when they used to tell you that when old things were demolished, it was in the name of progress. But what was Randall Park demolished in the name of? What lay beyond it? Was it really progress, and if so, what have we progressed to?

Well, we may not have The Future anymore, but we certainly do have The Current Year. Don’t you know that it’s 2015? That means gay marriage! Women in combat! Even the first rumblings of the normalization of pedophilia! Say what you will about the Classical Marxists of the past – Lenin, Stalin, Mao – but they built massive hydroelectric dams, intercontinental missiles, skyscrapers, and atom bombs. Yet in The Current Year, they and their grand projects have been replaced by the Cultural Marxism of Gramsci, Marcuse, and Alinsky. To the leftists of The Current Year, global warming means we can’t build big impressive things anymore, so now we simply declare the cutting edge to be increasingly degenerate sexual and cultural practices. There is nothing of The Future in The Current Year – any caveman could have smoked dope, had weird sex, or dressed up like a girl.

Is this how The Future dies? And what becomes of us when it does? The Current Year can provide sensuous pleasures and validation for our degeneracy, but didn’t we used to aspire to more than that? America is a modern nation that grew and developed during the Industrial Age; we have always been a people oriented towards The Future. We built steamships and cotton gins and giant radio towers and Santa Fe Streamliners and B-29 bombers and Shelby GT350 Cobras, because these were the things of The Future. We built the Saturn V rocket and then we went to the moon in it. What happens to such a people when they don’t have a Future ahead of them anymore? I suppose we will find out, but I have a feeling that the answer will not give us much to be optimistic about.

As The Bechtloff put it, the future ain’t what it used to be. And it probably won’t ever be again.