Folks Don’t Follow Their Own Morals

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I don’t think that most people follow their own morals. That’s a funny thought, considering that most people have political opinions that they take quite seriously, vote based on those opinions, and sometimes engage in political activism on their behalf. Surely our political opinions are based on moral values right? Sure, the big-pictures of our politics are based on solid morals, I just don’t think that anyone, irrespective of political affiliation, really practices what they preach. Specifically, I find evidence of my claim by examining the evils that people fail to condemn:

A Trump supporter shoots a liberal protester outside of a conservative event and very few Trump supporters complain. A gang of Liberal protestors pepper spray a Trump supporter at a similar event and very few Liberals complain. By casually overlooking the bad deeds committed by our political allies I believe that we American citizens too often betray our own moral codes, engendering ever uglier environments of mistrust and corruption.

I can’t tell you how many more videos I’ve seen of political activists beating the hell out of each other: a man choked on the subway for wearing a “make america great again” hat, a protestor with a sign suckerpunched at a trump rally, a man leaving a trump rally bleeding from a head wound after a group of hounding protesters whacked him on the back of the head. The Daily Caller and Breitbart have lists with titles like “10 Violent Actions Against Trump Supporters” while Slate and The Atlantic have articles of their own with titles like “A Continually Growing List of Violent Incidents at Trump Events.”

Of course, there will always be nutballs in politics, but right now, I’m relatively unbothered by the behavior of nutballs. I’m bothered by the behavior of my otherwise ethical countrymen on all points of the political spectrum, who I expected to condemn these obvious cases of petty nonsense. I’ve seen plenty of articles that point the finger across the political fence, but I’m pretty disappointed by all the posts and articles that I have not seen by armchair opinionmakers pointing their fingers at members of their own camps.

Let me give you an example. Of February 1, 2017, conservative Breitbart Editor, known internet troll, and probable douchebag Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from delivering a speech at Berkeley after a gang of liberal so-called “antifa” protesters caused wanton violence and set fire to public property. In response, Twitter and Facebook exploded with opinion posts. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of these posts came from conservatives condemning the destruction, with little or no complaint from the liberal community.

Try this experiment: go onto twitter or facebook and search posts for “Milo Yiannopoulos Berkeley.” You’ll probably find hundreds of posts, similar to the ones that I researched myself, which include many by large news organizations like Fox or the New York Times. You’ll very quickly see that 95% of these posts are made by conservatives, posting the same videos of fire and mayhem in front of the gay-pride lights at Berkeley with text like “Liberals don’t want free speech. They are the real fascists.” At most 5% of the twitter or facebook posts are made by liberals, and of those, many are aimed against Milo and Donald Trump, such as “This is what happens when you bring hate speech to Berkeley. #shutitdown.” After scrolling through hundreds of posts, I only saw a single Liberal voice say what I had hoped for: “Shame on you Berkeley Leftists.”

On the other hand, conservatives act no better. You might recall March 19 2016, when a video spread across the airwaves of a conspicuously black Hillary supporter getting suckerpunched at a Trump rally in Tuscon.

Now try a similar experiment: go back to Twitter or Facebook and search old 2016 posts for “trump rally violence.” Of this massive statistical sample, you’ll see once again that 95% of the posts are from liberal people, posting the same videos of bleeding liberal protestors and pointing the finger at Trump: “Trump is disgusting. Anyone think he’s starting to look too much like Hitler?” And in the same way that the Liberals were silent about their own violence, conservatives were silent about this event. Only about 5% of the social media posts came from conservatives, and of those, many blamed Obama for inciting the violence: “Guess who funded the protesters to disrupt the rally? It’s the same Nazi Obama again.” This time, I didn’t see a single conservative write a post that said: “Shame on you Trump mob. Don’t count me in with your violence.”

In these two examples, it appears to me that neither side has much moral backbone or perspective. They’re happy to point the finger at their political opponents, but it hardly occurs to them to reproach members of their own camp for doing essentially the same thing. As the news site Rare.us reported in March, “Both groups continue to spiral out-of-control. Many political observers have responded tribally. One side blames ‘professional leftist agitators’ for the chaos, the other, ‘fascist right-wingers.’ Both are true.”

Actions like setting fire to private property, pepper-spraying, sucker punching, inciting mob fights, screaming insults, they are all clear injustices which violate universally accepted basics of decency. When any moral person sees such actions, they should completely ignore the political affiliations of the perpetrators and immediately condemn the actions. But we see instead we humans are, in large numbers, capable of looking past obvious injustices when political nonsense is involved.

For me, this state of affairs suggests a very large problem with political culture. This culture of tribal loyalty isn’t just isolated lunatics or twitter trolls. It comes from large news sources and respectable households. In my own daily life I experience such one-sided silence from the most thoughtful and ostensibly peaceful people in my community. To me this indifference signifies larger problem: we citizens are capable of deeply disrespecting our own personal principles.

“Wait just one minute.” says the strawman political observer. “It’s not true that we’re ignoring common rules of decency. Some of these cases represent difficult philosophical questions, not just cut-and-dry cases of right and wrong.” I disagree.

Take the case of alleged white supremacist Richard Spencer who was suckerpunched in the face on January 20 2017 during a CNN interview. Following this event was an explosion of liberal discussions on facebook and articles in the news about “whether or not it’s ok to punch a Nazi.” Some arguments were righteous: “Nazis killed people in the past and anyone who spouts nazi philosophy is recklessly inciting violence against more people. Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to this Nazi because his speech is intended to hurt people.” Others were more sensible: “If you punch a Nazi in the face, that only makes him into a martyr and makes his platform more popular.”

Similar discussions on facebook and articles in the news exploded after the very violent Berkeley protests which shut down the scheduled speech of Milo Yiannopoulos. The arguments were the same: “Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to Milo Yiannopoulos because his speech is intended to hurt people. Sources told us that he planned to report undocumented students at Berkeley and encourage the audience to call ICE.” Others were more sensible “If you set fire to a Milo speech, then Milo only gets more popular.”

I say that these questions are much easier to resolve than they appear. We only need to consistently condemn violations of common decency. As proof, try this little exercise: think of the strongest ethical role model in your life. Maybe it’s Jesus. Maybe it’s MLK or your Karate Sensei. Maybe your favorite role model isn’t a completely perfect person; for me it’s my Dad. Ask yourself, “would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. punch an apparently nonviolent person in the face?” Maybe he would take up arms in the case of a war, but would MLK have decided that there was sufficient evidence against this man to suckerpunch him? Can you imagine MLK in that video jumping up and wrecking this particular man’s face? I can tell you that I definitely cannot imagine my Dad doing it.

Do you know why it’s so hard to imagine MLK doing that? Because the person who punched that Nazi probably isn’t a paragon of ethical behavior. He’s probably just some young childish angry guy. And he probably doesn’t deserve our approval. Same goes for the thugs who set fire to Berkeley. One of them, sources later discovered, was an imbecile who posted to Twitter pictures of the beating that he inflicted on a nonviolent Milo supporter with the text: “hey come get your boy, he got ROCKED #miloatcal.” This guy is no MLK, he’s a turd.

We can’t afford to identify ourselves with these fools. When conservatives fail to condemn the suckerpunchers at trump ralllies or when liberals fail to condemn the arsonists at Berkeley, the opposition takes careful notice. This implicit approval raises the stakes in the minds of liberal activists who see that they can no longer rely on moderate Trump supporters for protection at rallies. Not to be undone, activists still show up to protests, but they show up more fearful, more angry, and better prepared for a fight which they are more likely to get. In this way, armchair enablers have made on-the-ground activists more likely perpetrators and targets of future violence.

In the meantime, I haven’t heard anybody complain that thousands of prisoners in Maximum Security facilities spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement for 30 years or that that drone strikes kill 1 intended target for every 47 innocents.

We moral thinkers have a duty focus on real issues like these, fully condemn petty violence, and set ourselves as examples for our countrymen. If we don’t, then someone else will. I’d personally prefer that they don’t.

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Unchained CH03: Scars

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The heat was oppressive.

My mind and body wandered aimlessly along the winding tunnels.

The taste of iron filled the stale and humid air.  Occasionally, a splitting headache forced me to my scraped knees but I always resumed my lonely march.  There was only the squeak of my damp sneakers and the drip of foul water from the hollow pipes along the wall.

What is this place?  What am I doing here?

The only light came from the glimmering shards that floated by.  They always appeared from somewhere far ahead and vanished somewhere far behind.  If I focused, I was able to make out a hazy image within them.

In one, a little black boy sat huddled in a corner.  He stared at the wall, eyes bloodshot from tears.  Dark bruises raced up and down his thin arms.

In another, a black couple hurled obscenities at each other.  The father clenched his gnarled fists yet the mother continued to egg him on. The pillow over the boy’s head did nothing to block out the noise.

All of the shards revolved around this small child.  There were a few happy scenes.  Most were bad.  Especially the ones with his parents.  After a while, it hurt to look at them.  So I continued forth and kept my eyes from the inconvenient lanterns.

I didn’t have a destination in mind, but the thought of stopping scared me.  That’s why I followed the first thing that caught my eye: a bright red pipe that ran overhead.

Unlike the numerous hoses and tubes that adorned the rusty walls and ceiling, this one made noise.  It was faint but I could hear the sound of a viscous liquid sloshing about.  There were countless branches and connections, but the unknown fluid only moved within that pipe.  The gentle splash calmed me.

It feels like I’m forgetting something…

Suddenly, a desperate shout rang out.  I looked about for the source of the voice, but it echoed from all directions.

That sounded like a guy, but I thought I was all alone here.  I finally got away from those monsters!  Wait, what monsters…?

Before I could probe deeper, more garbled words rattled my mind.

Him again?  Who are you?  Show yourself!

My heart raced as the terror took hold.  The fluid within the red pipe flowed faster and faster…

Again, the unknown language assaulted me from every angle.  The din was upsetting.  It felt like I was a leaf caught in a gale.  Knocked around, from tree to tree…

A tree?  Branches… From the sky…

The tunnel violently shook and twisted.  I crouched down and yelled but there was no sound.  Only the howl of the solution rushing through the crimson pipe.  I felt a sharp tug from behind.  I turned around but only saw more of the subterranean path collapsing into itself.

No!  What the hell?  Why won’t it just fucking end!?

I threw one frantic haymaker after another.  I felt something slither around me and drag me backwards.  I gasped in pain as the mysterious force tightened around my injured ribs.  I struggled to break free from the invisible grip but it had a secure hold.  Little by little, I was pulled towards the rusty wall.

Enough is enough!

The sanguine pipe vibrated violently.  My back touched the cool metal and sank through, as it were cloth.  I clawed at the surface, desperate for a hand hold but riveted iron flowed through my fingers like vapor.  Like fog.

The red pipe roared.  Its many junctions and connectors swelled up and steam burst from the seams.

Despair was replaced with fury.  I lurched forward, defiant.  The hold around my waist loosened briefly.  I used that chance to secure my footing.

I’m not going down like some punk bitch!

The mysterious fluid rushed through the empty pipes.  It surged through the hollow and unused channels, as if to carry the clamor of my last stand.

Sweat streamed down my face.  My muscles flexed with unknown power.  I used everything I had to inch away from the mysterious force behind me.  A stream of foreign words emanated from beyond the wall.  There was now a sense of urgency in that boyish voice.

A shard passed before my eyes.  Inside, that sad child was under attack yet again.  This time he was assaulted by his peers.  He fought back bravely, but there was nothing he could do against the bigger, older boys.  Whenever those cretins weren’t swinging their fists, they were tearing up sheets of paper from a tattered backpack.  There were rough yet charming sketches of mighty wizards, fearsome dragons, and elegant maidens.  All of them were reduced to confetti on the grass.

I felt the bile rise up in my throat.  I clenched my fists until the nails dug into my palms.  Then I took another step forward.

The visions continued to float just out of reach, each one worse than the last.  The little boy was trapped within a broken home, a decrepit school and a dying city.  I chuckled to myself; the crushing solitude were the happiest moments in that boy’s pathetic life.

That’s not true.

An image of that little boy running through the streets with other scarred children.  Some waved pipes.  Others lugged around heavy sacks.  They hollered and screamed as they scurried through the back streets, bags of stolen goods in tow.

A glimpse of a young black girl clumsily applying bandages.  Every now and then, she stopped to smack the little boy upside the head but he only laughed in response.  The girl tried to frown but  she couldn’t help but smile, making her starry eyes seem even brighter.

While the other fragments swirled around me, one stayed right in place.

The dying embers of the sun’s light bathed the grassy hill in an orange glow.  The little black boy collapsed in a heap.  He was surrounded by the groaning bodies of children.  Blood streamed down his forehead.  He laid there, staring up at the vermillion sky.  From the corner of his eye, a tall boy walked towards him.  His eyes were hidden under the shadow of his Phoenix Suns cap.  He stopped overhead, silent and imposing.  There was a tense moment as the two locked eyes.

Then the older boy smiled.

Then the older boy extended his hand.

Then the little boy howled in fury.

“DESHAWN YOU BASTARD!!”

I scrambled forward with renewed vigor.  I clenched my teeth so hard, it felt like I cracked the enamel.  I reached out towards that picture, towards that moment.

My fingertips brushed the edges.  Then the force yanked me away; through the wall, out of the cursed mist, and onto the cold hard ground.

I found myself at the foot of a hooded figure.  When he spoke, I recognized his tenor but not his tongue.  The rusty walls of that tunnel was replaced by drab, graffiti-stained concrete.  Cracks raced along the sides where the sewer opened up into the reservoir.  I tried to get a better look at the source of the voice but the morning sun was too harsh for my eyes.

I flinched away from the strange young man; my mind reeled from the sudden change in scenery.  When he laid his small, pale hand on my back, the binding loosened.  I looked down and saw a sturdy rope unwind itself from my body.  Then the enigmatic teen stepped back and let the strange cord retreat into his ratty robe.

I laid my head on the weather-beaten pavement.  I felt weak and dizzy.

“Did you save me?”

The cloaked figure didn’t reply.  Instead, he took my arm and inspected the now rough and gray flesh.  After a shocked gasp, he whispered something to himself.

So now I’m going to turn into one of them?

As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw the full extent of the metamorphosis.  I watched as the sickly green light traveled through my blood.  Wherever it spread, my skin resembled bark and my muscles were as dense as lumber.  All the while, my queasiness grew.

Finished with his examination, the young man released my transformed limb and stepped back.  His fair skin and crimson eyes stood out in the dark.

But it was his long, pointy ears that captured my attention.

Dogs Don’t Get Nightmares

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If you were to ask me: “what’s the most important book you’ve ever read?” I wouldn’t hesitate. “Why that’s easy,” I’d say, it’s “Cesar’s Way,” by Cesar Milan the “Dog Whisperer,” a book all about raising and training puppies. That’s a funny thing to say about a dog book, right? Do long walks and pack leadership really have that big an impact on anyone’s life? Yes, they absolutely do. I count this book among the highest demonstrations of my greater life philosophy and the strongest argument in favor of my chosen lifestyle. Allow me to explain.

As you’d expect from a dog owner’s manual, the book contains Cesar’s simple methods to calm and encourage modern dogs, all based on his consistent narrative of Dog Psychology. But these insights into the Psychology and behaviors of dogs are especially interesting to me because they provide extremely practical and formulas for producing calm confident human beings.

Believe it or not, although dogs are basically just large predators, they’re actually very similar to human beings. In fact, humans and dogs occupied such a similar biological niche long ago, that they actually managed to merge and coevolve for 20 thousand of years. For this reason, a dog provides a very useful window through we we can understand our own well-being. It’s very easy to tell if some type of lifestyle makes a dog anxious; it’ll rip up the furniture. And if that lifestyle is bad for a dog, we have very good reason to believe that it’s bad for a human.

Indeed, it turns out that many aspects of our lifestyle are bad both for dogs and for humans. Bright lights, sedentary routine, and isolation come to mind. Cesar makes one of the most significant points of the book in a casual distinction between working and wild dogs near his grandpa’s farm in Mexico and dogs in cities: he’d never seen a wild dog get nightmares, while nightmares and other anxiety issues run rampant among dogs in cities. Absolutely no nightmares eh? I find that fact amazing. And if that transition from wild to urban life could do that to dogs, there’s a good chance that it’s doing the same thing to us.

What then are the dogs missing in the cities that they were getting in the wild? If we could determine that, then we stand to improve our mental health by an enormous leap. Well now you see why Cesar’s Way is the most important book I’ve ever read: he’s got a simple proven way to calm and restore our dogs. And so I propose that Cesar’s Way is the key to calming and restoring ourselves.

Why would Dogs and Humans have so many emotional problems to deal with? If you ask me, it’s because of our unnatural lifestyles. Cesar writes that a healthy dog requires 3 things in this order: exercise, discipline, and affection. If you ask me, we modern people spend too much of our time avoiding these 3 necessities: you’ll find us mostly indoors, staring at screens, avoiding eye contact with strangers, separated from our good friends and family, separated from old people and children, doing repetitive menial tasks, outside of natural landscapes, squinting at tiny text, laboring under fluorescent light, and standing nervously in crowded elevators. I think that most people would agree with Brandon Hidaka, writing on diseases of modernity: “modern populations are increasingly overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, and socially-isolated.”

The numbers on social mental health support this reasoning. It seems that less “traditional” human nations such as the United States endure a disproportionately large epidemic of anxiety, depression, and other emotional illnesses. Atlantic reported on a global survey of 26 countries conducted by the World Health Organization which has so far shown that “over a 12-month period, 27 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience some sort of mental health disorder, making the U.S. the country with the highest prevalence.” Neel Burton of Psychology Today, writes “as with depression, so with suicide and self-harming behaviour, which though very common in countries such as the UK and USA, are almost completely unheard of in many developing countries.” I was personally terrorized by nightmares when I was younger and I still struggle to sleep soundly as an adult. And though it might be too late to interview genuine human hunter gatherers, except perhaps the Australian Aborigines, I assume that humans who still live basically like Homo Erectus sleep far more soundly than I do.

Dog psychology presents a strong solution to all this anxiety because dogs and humans are so emotionally similar. What leads us to believe in this similarity? history.com provides some background:

“During the most recent ice age, from about 20,000 years ago (see Ice Ages), large mammals such as bison roam on the sub-arctic tundra of Europe and Asia. They are preyed upon by two groups of hunters, both much smaller and weaker than themselves – but both with a sufficiently developed social system to enable them to hunt and kill in packs. These hunters are humans and wolves.”

For the next 20,000 years, humans and wolves evolved side by side, mutually domesting one another into better communicators and empathizers. By this process, we each developed a higher degree of neoteny: our bodies became more childlike as we humans lost much of our ape like body hair and developed soft facial features while wolves developed shorter snouts and floppy ears. Our puppy bodies made both of us smarter, more creative, and more easygoing.

As a result of our coevolution, humans and dogs became closely bonded and even more similar than before. We came to eat a more similar omnivorous diet, formed similar genetic diseases, and developed predispositions to communicate with one another. Studies by Daniel J. Povinelli, a psychologist at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and subsequently by Robert Hare of Harvard University showed dogs’ instinctual proficiency for reading human body language: “dogs could immediately interpret the signals indicating the location of the food four times better than the apes, and more than twice as well as the young children.”

This fact, that humans and dogs are, for all their differences, immensely similar, means that dogs represent to us an invaluable mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly. Essentially, dogs are like humans without all of the window dressing. When they’re sad, you see it right in their eyes. When they’re angry, they bare their teeth. And when they’re cooped-up and tearing apart the furniture, it makes us finally realize that we humans are also cooped-up on the brink of gnawing on the lay-z-boy. Of course, humans are better than dogs at suppressing those feelings and normalizing to weird situations, but at the end of the day, humans can only suppress those frustrations at the surface; deep down, our inner dogs are chewing on the upholstery, pooping on the carpet, and wreaking havoc on our physical and emotional well-beings.

So if we pay close attention to dogs, we can better interpret and heal human pathologies. For example, dogs hate to be isolated. An adorable 25-pound dog who’s been separated from her puppies is likely to tear through drywall to get to them. A 2014 study similarly demonstrated that dogs with at least one other dog in the house lived an average 3 years longer lifespan (that’s 21 in dog years). In the same way, Sebastian Junger writes in Tribe that veterans returning from war regularly develop serious emotional problems. This condition, often misdiagnosed as PTSD, was later found to be caused not by the horrors of combat. It was caused by the transition from their close-knit military units to the relatively crushing anonymity and isolation of the typical American neighborhood.

This example teaches us that modern human beings are not meant to be as isolated as we are. But psychologists who diagnosed soldiers with PTSD did not intuit or pay proper respect to this fact. This fact could have been unsurprising given what we’ve seen in dogs, who broadcast the “isolation is bad” message, and many others, loud and clear.

If we take these dog lessons to heart, we find that activities which work for dogs really do work for people. For example, Cesar reiterates throughout his book that nearly any destructive behavior in a dog can be relaxed by taking the dog for a nice long walk. Accordingly, a study published by The Independent showed that human beings who go on long daily adventures get an average 7 years added to their lifespans. Cesar writes that dogs, who long for reliable structure and leadership in their lives, thrive most fully when they are subject to their master’s consistent discipline. A paper by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman which discovered that self-discipline in 8th graders accounted for “more than twice as much variance as IQ in final grades, high school selection, school attendance” and other markers of success. Finally, Cesar shows that dogs with anxieties can be most easily calmed by introducing them to a pack of other self-assured dogs. In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger shows that humans with severe anxiety disorders can become iron-clad ambulance drivers under the influence of tight-knit wartime communities.

So we see that dog-solutions work well for human beings, but we need a coherent plan. Enter Cesar Milan. This man the job done, with far better than any that I’ve ever heard of in a typical human self-help book. During times of my own anxiety, I’ve read shit-tons of such media – advice about making small talk, tips for interviews, suggestions for mindfulness, rules for assertiveness, theory for willpower – and yet none of them leave me with conviction that I know how to raise a calm and confident Dorian. I know people who go to therapy every week; they’re anxious wrecks. I know people who ready every self-help book in the library; they can’t hold down jobs. And do you know who among my friends are the most self-confident, happy, whole people that I know? Yes the ones who live like dogs. They have close relationships with their families, exercise and play sports with their friends, avoid harsh lights and obnoxious sounds, and regularly adventure out in nature. They’re my old parkour team, they’re people who rock climb and bike ride, and they’re people who never left the towns they grew up in.

And if you want a coherent, simple, proven, effective plan to raise yourself to be a happy healthy dog, Cesar Milan has got it. The man cures dog phobias in one 30-minute TV program. He turns vicious terrified dogs into mellow subordinates. He has hundreds and thousands of satisfied customers, many of them high-profile clients like Oprah or Will Smith. He proves again and again that exercise, discipline, and affection can completely transform a domesticated beast.

 

To me, the evidence and opportunity are in perfect alignment. Modern humans and modern dogs the same, and we’re both unhealthy. Because we’re the same, we have every reason to believe that dog-solutions will work well for us. Indeed, we see that many dog-solutions and lessons from dog psychology do work well on real humans. And if we want an organized proven way to apply those lessons to our lives, we need look no further than a little blue hardcover, available for less than $5 on eBay. I highly recommend the investment.

 

Unchained CH02: Cauldron

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Beneath my feet, the ground shook when those massive branches impaled the earth.

Above my head, the flames from the fallen tenement licked at my chapped skin.

Within the winding alleys, the dry wind carried the agonized cries of the city’s residents.

All around me, the fetid mixture of blood and water splashed my feet and spurred me on.

There was no time for thought.  For pain.  For fear.  I clutched my sore ribs and ran with everything I had.  A sudden jolt showered me with dust, followed by the groan of stressed lumber.  I saw a light at the end of the road and jumped towards it.

The alien flora shot through the last support beam and brought down the whole apartment building.  Mangled bodies poked through the debris.  Muffled screams slowly faded as broken wood and drywall settled into place.

Damn, buried alive.  Better you than me.

Still reeling from my near-death experience, I looked up at the crowd of survivors.  Young and old, they all huddled under the few street lights that hadn’t been damaged by the collapsed buildings.

Mostly middle class, the bustling throng was a mix of Germans with deep ties to the neighborhood and fresh-off-the-boat Hatians.  While they shared the same passion in Christ and conservatism, mutual distrust had always been the unofficial rule.

“I need a doctor!  My wife… she needs help!”

“Please, please!  My son is still trapped inside!”

“This can’t be real…”

“I’ll do anything!  Just someone save her!”

“What about my son!  What makes you so special?!”

“All this fighting is getting us nowhere!”

“Calm down! This is a test from God!  Pray and we shall be saved!”

“Just shut the fuck up!”

Desperate cries turned to angry shouts.  Tension and dread made the old cracks in the community even worse.  I sighed and looked up at the turbulent sky.  During my mad dash to safety, the rift had grown even larger.  Instead of a branch, it seemed as if the trunk itself would descend upon the city.

My swan dive on the cracked blacktop tore my jeans and drove gravel into the exposed skin.  I limped away from the tomb of rubble to sit on a mailbox on its side.  Pinpricks of pain raced up my legs but I was transfixed by the verdant menace.

The ebony bark radiated an eerie green glow from within.  That same light seemed to pulse within its wide, fleshy leaves.  I glanced about but found more of the same.  In an instant, the Steinbruch neighborhood had been overrun by an otherworldly forest.

My lungs heaved, desperate for fresh air but I choked on the swirling smoke.  The acrid scent of ash and soot filled my nose.  Snobby out-of-towners had tried for decades to get rid of the crumbling tenements that made up Havenport’s old downtown.  Now those symbols of perseverance were reduced to kindling.

My vision gradually grew foggy.  I rubbed my eyes.  Instead of irritating smoke, the vapor was strangely cool and refreshing.

Huh, what the hell is going on now?

The other survivors shared my thoughts.  Faced with the unknown, everyone became silent.  Worried whispers raced through the crowd as the fog crept around our ankles.

I looked around for the source but the pearly mist flowed like a river from all directions.  A wave of white quickly swallowed up the street.

A chill raced down my spine.  I opened my mouth to shout but resisted the urge.  I drew my pistol and clicked the safety.

I got up quietly and carefully stepped around the piles of debris.  I didn’t stop until I had my back to a brick wall.  I crouched down low and waited.  It didn’t take long for the shouts to begin again.

From the soft glow of the streetlights, I caught traces of movement.  Vague shapes darted through the mist, intent on taking advantage of the survivors.

Whether it was a sixth sense or just good fortune, I always had a knack for staying one step ahead of trouble.  Back in high school, I was always the scrawny kid.  I wasn’t tall enough for basketball and I wasn’t big enough for football.  My only option was to get smart and look out for number one.

That’s life.  It’s every man for himself.

My conscience gnawed away at the pit of my stomach anyway.

The pale fog had grown thick, like a curtain drawn right over my face.  It couldn’t muffle the carnage.

Any time there was a crisis, looters and rioters were inevitable.  I expected the frenzy to take place over by Pine Grove or Las Colinas.  The two poorest neighborhoods in Havenport formed the sprawling ghetto to the west.  But this was too quick.

Usually takes a while before niggas start crossing the West River to break shit.  And the pigs start busting heads way before then…

A person sailed through the mist and landed just a few feet away with an unsettling crunch.  I leaned over and poked the unfortunate ragdoll in the shoulder.

The small woman recoiled at the touch yet she reached towards my hand.

She better be pretty.

Like a coiled snake, the black girl lunged for my arm.  She would’ve been 100 pounds soaking wet but her grip was ferocious.  If it wasn’t for my beat-up jacket, her fingernails would’ve dug into my flesh.

“What the fuck!?”  I struggled to push the crazy bitch off.  “The hell’s the matter with you!?”

When the feral girl climbed up my chest, I finally got a good look.  The veil of vapor hid the crystalline growths that twisted her face.  Thin glowing lines and jagged shards ran all along her tiny body.  Her eyes, vacant and mad, radiated the same verdant light.  The same eerie light of those cursed plants.

“Goddamn bitch!  Get off!”  I tried to bring the gun to bear but it took all my strength to keep her violent thrashing under control.

I planted my foot under stomach and kicked her off.  I heard her disfigured body slam into a pile of rock.  Then came the sound of the crowd as it rushed towards the noise.  Towards me!

I got up and bolted.  The damned mist and ruined apartments turned the familiar alleyways into a maze.  It didn’t matter how deep into Steinbruch I went, the howls and screams were always just behind.  I sprinted past dumpsters, over corpses, and under toppled buildings.

“FUUUUUUCK!  What the hell is going on!?”  The echo of my voice was drowned out by my frantic heartbeat.

I ran until my legs gave out.  Then I made eye contact with another man just as he was dismembered by the ravenous mob and so I kept going.

I ran until my lungs burned.  Then I stumbled across a woman as she stuffed the dripping chunks of her own baby into her crimson maw and so I kept going.

I ran until I felt my heart collapse.  Then I looked around and saw more and more of them step through the misty curtain to surround me.  In that empty parking lot, all was still save for my ragged breaths.

Huh, why aren’t they moving?

“You *pant* freaks!”  I took aim and pulled the trigger.  I put two in the chest of one of those monsters.  The bullets didn’t faze the creature at all.  Blood leaked from the wound yet the corrupted thing continued to stare ahead.

What the fuck is it looking at?

A branch plowed into the ground behind me.  Asphalt and concrete scattered everywhere.  The impact knocked me off my feet and covered me in dirt.  I propped myself up on my arms and let my head hang down.  I shut my eyes in agony; my head rang like St. Mary’s church bell.

When I opened my eyes, I was bathed in moonlight.  I looked up to see the stars, brighter than I had ever known.  Not only did the clouds pass but with the city in ruins, nothing kept the twinkling lights from shining down.  Not even the massive hole in the night sky.

Like an overflowing goblet, the mist spilled forth from that great rift.  A waterfall of vapor followed the branch into the wound it carved into the earth.  I stood over the edge and saw a frothing, ethereal current going god knows where.

Those husks, those former humans were not awed by the moment.  Their hesitation was replaced by a savagery I thought existed far away, in the jungles and savannahs.  The open turf wars I always feared paled in comparison to the madness and terror that mob was capable of.

And I lost my fucking gun.  Great…

Then they charged!

An instant was all that the crazed crowd needed to close the distance, but that moment felt like an eternity.

Is this how it ends?

Ripped apart?

Eaten alive?

FUCK THAT SHIT!

I got to my feet and dashed to the edge of the crater.  Thanks to the river of fog, I had no way of knowing how far it was to the bottom but I didn’t care.  The horde was almost upon me.

If I’m gonna die, then I’m gonna die on my terms!

I jumped.

From the jaws of the swarm.

Into the cold embrace of the mist.

Dallas is Going Bankrupt

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Dallas is Going Bankrupt. Did you know? Google it and you’ll find a few good articles with conclusions that range from “yes, Dallas is Definitely Going Bankrupt” found in the the New York Times to to “we’re not saying Dallas is Going Bankrupt, but Dallas has run out of money to pay for its public services” found on KUT, Austin’s NPR station. You might also find foreshadowing titles like “20 Cities that May Face Bankruptcy After Detroit” on newsmax.com and “Detroit Isn’t Alone. The U.S. Cities that have Gone Bankrupt, in One Map” on the Washington post. According to Dan Haar of the Hartford Courant, Hartford, the Capital of my very own current home state of Connecticut, is among those cities that won’t have the money to sanitize their water or collect trash.

This confluence of economic events strikes me as hilariously startling, maybe even downright frightening, so I would naturally assume that I’ll be joined by my fellow American’s in studying carefully and reacting strongly to the weird development of full-scale municipal failures; but I fear that this might be wishful thinking. To many people, Economics seems so daunting and reliable economic information is so difficult to find, that even when the public happens upon a crystal clear gem of a message, it completely misses the significance. The fact that Dallas is going bankrupt is an obnoxious neon sign and I’m very interested to see if it draws any eyeballs.

From my experiences with TV and other media, Economics is portrayed as a sort of rocket-science mathematics which only PhDs and Wall-Street statisticians can fully comprehend. But Economics is hardly that complicated; a few simple fundamentals are enough to navigate most of the big policy issues. But Economics probably seems difficult for the average person because there’s no apparent reliable consensus among Economists. If you’re trying to find the answer to any question like “is free trade with China a good idea?” you don’t get the same reassuring unity that you find in scientists warning against global warming; you end up with 10,000 articles on one side and 10,000 articles on the other. As a result of this apparent inscrutability, it might seem like average people are helpless to navigate the economy, suddenly losing their jobs and houses according to random whims of the market.

But again Economics is actually much easier than people normally assume. In fact, Economics is tractable enough that average people can personally recognize and fight back against sudden economic events. This is because, when it comes to very big catastrophes and large changes, the Economy puts out signals that are clear enough for anyone to understand as long as they’re paying attention. Paying attention to, for example, the fact that Dallas is Going bankrupt.

Take for example the the 2008 financial crisis and a corresponding movie called “The Big Short.” Based on true events, the movie portrays a few real-life investors such as Michael Burry, Steve Eisman, and Cornwall Capital who didn’t so much “predict” the subprime crisis (like you might imagine Economists doing with fancy mathematical models) as react to basic facts. One day, Michael Bury decided to do something unconventional: he examined, by hand, the hard data on the mortgages that that underpinned the all the world’s mortgage-backed securities. There in the numbers, for anyone to see, he saw that the mortgages were basically worthless; the vast majority people who took out the home loans were scheduled to default.

As the real-life protagonists caught wind of the scam, they immediately set out to see if someone could offer some alternative explanation. But instead they found that the whole financial community was in on the secret all along; it’s just that for some reason, nobody cared. All of the ratings agencies and real estate brokers and hedge fund managers knew that the mortgages which comprised the supposedly triple-A-rated securities were junk and that the whole financial system rested on a foundation of paper clips and toothpicks. But amazingly, almost no investors positioned themselves to avoid the impending crash. They were already so deeply invested, that they were unwilling to take 5 minutes to process the facts that they already knew. They wanted to believe in the lie.

Imagine that everyone’s betting on the champion horse to win the race, but when you personally take a look at the horse, you find out that it’s been unfed and starving for a week. When you run to the community to tell them what’s happened they all say “yea dude, we know that the horse is starving! But don’t be a party pooper, all the numbers say that it’s going to win!” And then they proceed to bet more money on the horse.

In real life, those few investors who actually acknowledged the mortgage problem managed to quadruple their money while everyone else, including many municipal pension funds, lost billions… which is partially why Dallas is Going Bankrupt.

Well, why exactly is Dallas going bankrupt? The story told by the New York times reveals similar madness:

“[The] fuse was lit back in 1993, when state lawmakers sweetened police and firefighter pensions beyond the wildest dreams of the typical Dallas resident. It would all work as long as the payroll grew by 5 percent every year — which it did not — and if the pension fund earned 9 percent annually on its investments. Buck Consultants, the plan’s actuarial firm, warned that those assumptions were shaky, and that the changes did not comply with the rules of the state Pension Review Board. “The Legislature clearly ignored that,” Mr. Kleinman said. The plan’s current actuary, Segal Consulting, reported in July that 23 years of unmet goals had left Dallas with a hidden pension debt of almost $7 billion. Back in Dallas, the pension trustees set about trying to capture the 9 percent annual investment returns. They opted for splashy and exotic land deals — villas in Hawaii, a luxury resort in Napa County, Calif., timberland in Uruguay and farmland in Australia, among others.

Allow me to interpret: The city of Dallas made promises that it couldn’t keep, lost billions on ridiculous ventures, and then covered up the entire snafu from the public. To me, the possibility that the servants of a city go be so irresponsible is unthinkable. When the administrator of a city enters office, they do so under the most sacred responsibility to their fellow citizens. They know that every dollar wasted is healthcare denied, jobs destroyed, and food taken directly from the mouths of their constituents. These public servants should operate the city in the most careful, deliberate, conservative way. And yet the supposedly sacred stewards of the city treated its retirement fund like a casino, lost, and didn’t tell anyone who was really affected. The dallas bankruptcy isn’t a simple “accident.” It’s not mere “irresponsibility.” It’s corruption, plain and simple. What’s more, it’s the same disturbingly contagious culture of corruption that led servants of Detroit to bankrupt their own city and to led the governors of Greece to bankrupt their entire nation.

So what is it that finally blew the lid off of the whole Dallas scam? Ah, it was revealed by a blinking neon sign that even an average person could read: a glimmering monument to incompetence called “Museum Tower:”

Museum Tower started out modestly, with a $20 million investment from the pension fund. But as the downtown Arts District flourished, the pension fund raised its stake, then doubled the height of the building, and finally took over the whole development for $200 million. As Museum Tower soared to 42 stories, its glass cladding acted as a huge reflector, sending the sun’s intensified rays down into the [neighboring] sculpture center … The glare from the tower ruined the effect, killed plants in the garden and threatened to damage the sculptures … Some retirees began to clamor for a criminal investigation. The mayor demanded a full audit. When the audit was done, it showed that the investments were indeed overvalued, and that the fund was in deep trouble.”

So at the end of the day, it was a big sore thumb that gave the incompetent pension fund away. Just as in the 2008 financial crisis the managers of the pension fund were not disturbed by their 7 billion dollar debt; in fact, they doubled down and invested another 200 million just for good measure. But when the public finally absorbed the appropriate horror, they took matters into their own hands and started cashing out their retirement accounts in droves.

The moral of this story is not that it takes fancy economics knowledge to position yourself against a catastrophe, it’s that people like you and me are always staring ridiculous shit right in the face! If you or I could somehow manage to recognize ridiculous shit when we saw it and react to well-known facts with proper horror or happiness, we’d be way ahead of the curve.

The world is filled with piles of evidence to strengthen the claim that people love to believe ridiculous shit: In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prizewinning economist Daniel Kahneman explains that the average human project takes something like 500% longer than planned and costs 500% as much money as planned. The Sydney Opera House was supposed to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, but had to be scaled down to a smaller version, got delayed 10 years until 1973, and ended up costing $102 million. Nicholas Nassim Taleb writes in his famous book Black Swan that “expert” traders on Wall Street are, on average, worse money managers than a cash-filled sock under your bed. On a darker note, in his book Remembering Satan, Lawrence Wright describes the extremely vivid memories of satanic tortures that could easily be induced in young women through suggestions by their therapists and which sent a man to jail for 18 years for a false crime that he merely “remembered” committing. (For more on these phenomena, read Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay)

It’s important to remember that we are all exactly like the incompetent opera house planners and people with crazy satanic memories. Humans have a very hard time seeing clearly what’s right in front of our faces.

With that in mind, let me list a few other facts that you may have heard before: the national debt according to usdebtclock.com is up to $13.62 trillion or about 75% of the previous 12 months of GDP. The United States has gone bankrupt 5 times since its foundation. The price of Gold has gone steadily upward for the past 200 years. According to NerdWallet, the average american household owe $132,529 of debt and according to cheatsheet.com, the average american has $4,436 in checking and roughly $1,000 in savings, though some Americans have no savings at all. As reporter Sam Becker puts it, many Americans are “one or two missed paychecks away from being in a lot of trouble.” The price of Silver has never once failed to increase during a recession.

Those facts seem pretty doomy and gloomy, and I’m not saying that the world is going to implode tomorrow (anyone who claims to know anything with that certainty is probably trying to distract you while they steal your watch), but I’m saying that these facts demand attention. These are big numbers, big events, and very simple options which you don’t have to take my word for. You can, if you want, investigate the conditions of the other 83 countries that have gone bankrupt in the past 200 years. You can check out whether gold is actually some valueless shiny metal or whether it really has gained value with the expansion of the Economy. You can look into the worrying possibility that most americans have 20 times more debt than savings and think critically about what a big round of layoffs or a sudden crapout in the retirement fund might mean for your friends and neighbors.

But whatever you do, I recommend that you rely on common sense. In my experience, it’s easy to get caught up in incomprehensible numbers and developments like OPEC and the price of oil and Russia’s embargoes and American sanctions yadda yadda yadda. What I’m claiming is simple: the hilariously corrupt mismanagement of the Dallas pension fund, in light of the accelerating balloon of municipal debt, in light of the list of 20 more bankrupt cities, might indicate that the financial managers of US cities and perhaps of US States and the Federal Government, are asleep at the wheel.

It’s ok if this information doesn’t move you; my own rule of thumb is “if it doesn’t make sense, don’t believe it.” But if it starts to become clear that the elephant in the room is headed down to the ground, I suggest that you get out of its way.

Unchained CH01: Castaway

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My mind and the moon were clouded over.  Maybe those frosty pitchers at Manny’s Pub were to blame.  Or the whiskey shots at the hookah lounge finally kicked in.  Either way, I couldn’t afford to let things end like this.

So this is how you repay me Deshawn?

My former friend’s fist crashed into the side of my jaw.  The force of the blow slammed me against the cold bricks of the alley.  I tried to prop myself up on the graffiti-covered surface, but I collapsed in a heap instead.  Surrounded on all sides, the red-capped hoodlums laughed and hollered like hyenas.  My head spun as the jeers of my former subordinates turned into a dull roar.

I laid there on the dirty ground as my eyes drifted over the fierce crowd and up towards the clouds.  They raced overhead along the autumn wind.  The chipped walls reached up towards the night sky.  The worn bricks struggled to contain the coming storm.

Can’t black out here.  If I do, I’m dead…

I focused on the pain.  The sharp ache in my mouth anchored my weary mind.  While I fought to remain conscious, I rolled over onto my side.  I reached into my jacket and clutched my piece.

If I’m gonna get stomped, I’m gonna take these backstabbing fucks down with me.

I curled up in a ball.  I strained my ears and waited for the ravenous pack to descend on me.

What’s taking them so long?

I glanced at my old friends and watched them turn away.  Within the parade of red hats, dark hoodies, and baggy jeans, there wasn’t an ounce of sympathy.  Despite the frustrated curses and shouts for blood, the Pine Grove Raiders let me live.

Didn’t I teach you niggas no mercy?

“You *cough* fucking bastards…”  I spat at the retreating mob.  “You idiots think you can run this shit without me!?”

“The fuck he say?”

“Is this lyin’ ass nigga fo’ real?”

“Ay yo you best watch your fuckin’ mouth!”

Some of the Raiders stopped.  One even threw a bottle at me.  I couldn’t help but flinch when the glass shattered on the ground before me.  The foamy brew seeped into my jacket.

Before things could escalate, Deshawn stepped in and glared at them.  He didn’t say anything.  He didn’t have to; no one wanted to mess with the Lion of Havenport.

Deshawn didn’t leave with the rest of the gang.  Tall and imposing, he fixed his Phoenix Suns cap as his wide shadow loomed over me.  The glare of the dirty light formed a corona around his stony face.  He was silent save for his labored breaths.

Deshawn’s split lip dripped blood down coarse stubble and onto his stupid $300 basketball jersey. The growing sanguine stain was the best I could do against the ex-varsity point guard.

As if we could afford to piss away the Raider’s funds like that you fucking moron.

I pointed my handgun at him.  Deshawn didn’t balk, while my hands were unsteady.  The trigger felt like a block of lead.  From his dark eyes, I only saw pity.  I clenched my teeth and lowered the weapon as the heat spread across my cheeks.

“I’ll remember this…”

He brought the brim of his faded cap down over his eyes and turned away.

Once he left, I sighed in relief.  The stench of rotting garbage never seemed so refreshing.  Havenport’s trash union was on strike again so the smell was especially potent, but I took several deep breaths anyway.

I could’ve told that douche off a long time ago and saved myself so many headaches.

This wasn’t the first time I got banged up somewhere downtown but a calm feeling washed over me.  I welcomed the solitude.

I sat up against the wall and took a swig from my old silver flask.  The bitter taste of gin and blood was better than expected but the burn made me wince.  I ran my fingers over the ram engraving as the warmth spread through me.  Then I gingerly screwed the cap back on and picked myself up.

My favorite black jacket was covered in dark splotches.  I brushed off as much grime and booze as I could but it was still a mess.  Fortunately, my jeans were in a better state.  As the adrenaline faded, the agony made itself known.

I grimaced as I lifted both my jacket and shirt.  I had a large bruise on my side.  I poked at the tender patch and almost shouted.

I don’t think he broke anything, but I should still get this looked at.  Gina’s gonna be pissed…

Her bright, starry eyes came to mind.  Gina hated it when Deshawn and I busted heads after school but she was always glad to see us come home in one piece.  No matter how much she complained, that moody cat took it upon herself to patch us up after every fight.

Looks like she doesn’t have to worry about me anymore…

My jaw was starting to swell and my ribs hurt something fierce but I would live.  While I fixed my clothes, I almost stumbled on my cell.

I stared down at it.  Then I clenched my teeth and stomped on the phone.  The crunch of glass under my sneakers was faint yet very satisfying.  With that, I was done; I had nothing more to do with the gang I helped create.

You’re a free man now Travis…

Shit!  What am I gonna do for cash now…

I rubbed my temples as problem after problem loomed on my mind.  I paced up and down the alley.  The walls of the alley closed in on me.  With shaky hands, I took another big gulp from my flask.  The juniper spirit gradually pushed away the dark thoughts and left me zen-like.

I slowly fumbled around for my wallet.  I still had eight hundred bucks; my cut from the last drug deal.

Hah!  The sonovabitch was too proud to mug me.

A wry smile spread across my face.  I straightened my back and howled at the roiling clouds.

“I’m gonna make you niggas regret fucking me over like this!”

I was ready for whatever the night had to offer.

Like ash-gray satin, the stormy sky ripped open and a writhing mass of tree branches snaked through the hole.

​Today We Turn Zero!

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Welcome to The New Old Guard. Good to have ya here! We are group of writers who understand that the solutions to our modern problems lie within the wisdom of the past. Whether the issues we tackle are political, economic, social,  magical, or poetical, we consistently argue that the solution lies in our own personal strength and improvement. NOG produces writing that states a coherent case, but our goal is always to entertain! You, our attractive and intelligent reader, have found yourself a treasure trove of engaging essays and fantastic stories tucked away in this simple corner of the web. We hope that you will sincerely enjoy our unique brand of philosophy and wit.