Alexander Gordon Jahans
I walked through a graveyard today. A grave where one of my own relatives is buried, the only funeral I ever witnessed. I felt nothing. There were complicating factors of course. I was having to plaster on a smile as I walked with a living family member whose anger could give the hulk a run for his money. The walk itself clouded my head with all sorts of distracting stimuli, aching feet, uncomfortable heat and bitter musings on the route taken. Yet I still felt the unease at being near the church.
See hypocrisy is fundamental to my character, I am the atheist who went to a C of E primary school. The rituals and mythology of the Church of England are indelibly marked upon my soul as the foundations of my personality, even as I dismiss the notion of a god and miracles. I am fast realising that I am in many ways an anti-theist C of E Christian. C of E Christianity is arguably one of the more harmless and positive forms of religion but the hatred at having it forcibly absorbed into who I am has created a quiet simmering rage. It is a rage that is not content with the red heat of violence and lashing out. It is a rage that burns cold. A rage that seeks nothing more or less than the complete and total destruction of religion as an active force in the world.
Something you should understand about me, that even I am only just beginning to understand, through my fiction, is that if I go dark side I don’t do it loudly. See I have been writing a lot of truly abhorrent dystopian organisations lately in my fiction and I can’t help noticing that they lack the chaotic bluster and loud violence of real life monsters.
It’s like a friend asked me today if the Valeyard could come back as Toxic Masculinity because they saw it as a buzzphrase amongst the douchebros. Here’s the Irony, Toxic Masculinity is almost exactly what the douchebros criticise black men as being. Toxic Masculinity is an obsession with wealth, displaying said wealth, bragging about sexual exploits and collecting anecdotes about sexual exploits like someone filling a pokedex. Toxic Masculinity is the performative aspects of masculinity - fast cars, cool tech, nice suits, pretty girls and alcohol - taken to a dangerous extreme. That is not the Valeyard.
The Valeyard is a quiet calm calculating viscious predator. If Toxic Masculinity is a riot or James Bond bringing an entire base down because he had orders or someone wronged him, the Valeyard is the quiet man in the corner who nobody notices but just passively accepts and subtley but surely brings about your end and topples entire empires because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and you have been selected for destruction.
I have rules to counter my anger but there is another aspect of myself which I am only beginning to understand and is if anything far more ugly and dangerous. I’m not Toxic Masculinity, I am much more like the Valeyard. I am the man who just quietly decides I hate something then starts plotting to undermine or change it. Sometimes even I am not fully aware of plots I’m working.
I’ve mentioned before that as an autistic person I can get too close to something or someone. I remember everything, it’s stored as a sequence, or story, whenever I’m doing something associated with that activity. I can’t reread books or rewatch films because every passing moment refreshes the experience of the prior experience through my brain. People are the same and of course my social skills are conscious so I shape myself to better respond to the person I’m with. I can even make myself temporarily believe things contrary to my character if it suits the social ettiquette.
This causes problems when my natural personality comes unstuck and reasserts itself. It’s the social equivalent of your computer rebooting mid session and suddenly that hackintosh has reverted back to windows 7. Except I’m the computer. The whiplash for me and the person I’m with can be astonishing. You repeat a lie often enough and I will believe it until one day when the truth reasserts itself.
This is why I can have plans even I don’t know about. I said before that I was lurching in the dark from one disaster to another. Not entirely true. Indeed I recently snapped back to full awareness after months in a kind of cognitive hibernation where I left more basic logic and emotions in charge. There has been a very pronounced period of whiplash. The cognitive hibernation was necessary for a reason. It does not do for a mind that solves problems to stare too long into a shit hole where there is no quick or satisfying solution. So for months I have lived for the moment, focused on the things that make me feel good and distracted myself from the present.
There have very definitely been plans that I have been passively working on, even while the part of me that makes such plans was offline. Not evil plans you understand. I have rules. These rules incidentally are why people on the left hate me. Because I need my rules to be action based not context or reason based because I know I can come up with whatever damned context or reason to justify to myself.
Justice as a contextual understanding of power structures and dynamics sounds very good in theory. In practise man can come up with an excuse to justify horrendous barbarism. Indeed if Trump were a smarter man he could even use feminism as part of his arsenal to oppress the people and pervert American democracy. Justice may have firm logical foundations but in practise it is a story used to justify hate and horror. The white supremacists committing acts of terrorism believe they are enacting justice after all. Yet our perennial problem as a species is we so often fail to recognise our own flaws and hypocrisy.
If I thought like a radical feminist? If I allowed myself to make such stories to justify amoral actions? Then I would be the Valeyard. Consider this. I know of two instances where my rage has burned cold and I have calmly done things I would otherwise never have done. When I walked away from school for the last time and when I tried to make my abusive father leave. Both times I broke my own rules. Both times I did so calmly and calculatedly. I have already shown myself to be problematic but more than that I am a proud supporter of true regulated capitalism (not this neoliberal horseshit). These rules that make me hold back from relentlessly pursuing those I disagree with, the ones that are anti the thought police, are much the same as stop me from say making plans to save capitalism.
I mention all of this, the plans, the morality and how I can believe a lie, to explain why I have of late become more spiritual and religious, why churches still bring me great unease. You see I’ve been listening to the Kurt Vonneguys podcast and in many ways it feels like Kurt Vonnegurt writes like me but that he is ahead of the curve. You see that podcast put into words what I have been grappling with for a while. You can know something is horseshit, it can be completely and utterly false and inaccurate but what matters is that it brings you meaning and solace.
It’s like I know Doctor Who is fiction. Hell I’ve shook the hands of the people whoo made my favourite bits of it up. Yet it still matters in a very fundamental way to me. There are better shows and better characters. Farscape, Babylon 5, Blakes 7, the Culture novels, the Watch books. Doctor Who is poorly paced, campy, broody, manufactured, artificial, monster of the week, poorly serialised garbage. It is also a show that defines my identity and if you aren’t willing to give it the time of day or at least bite your tongue when I mention it then we cannot be friends or associate with each other because Doctor Who matters to me. You accept that or you get to fuck. No discussions, no debates, no fucks given.
Which is where capitalism comes into things. Capitalism fundamentally is the science of desire and incentive. I think Paul Mason best summed up why capitalism matters and works with my brain where in one passage he mused on how a post scarcity society might simulate the effects of Nike not investing so much money into the Nike swoosh of rates of young male depression. The brutal reality is brands matter. Advertising matters. It’s just that brands and advertising are not as rigidly defined as people think.
Feminism is a brand, Christianity is a brand, Communism is a brand. Advertising works both ways. You stick pretty girls in adverts to sell products to boys and men then you reinforce those standards of beauty in women by associating them with all the cool products. What was it Daniel Craig said about Apple products? Bond only takes the best? So what message do you think it sends that Bond only fucks skinny young white women?
Here’s the truth: Capitalism works. Advertising works. Brands matter. Advertising matters. Truth is secondary to a compelling narrative. The problem with the system is always those other evil people and their evil ways because evil is innately subjective. Something both the left and the right hate as an idea because rallying behind hatred is a lot easier than agreeing on actual solutions.
I walked through the graveyard and while felt the weight of all that belief I also just saw buried rotting meat. Empty flesh. I know that graveyards help the living mourn the dead. I know that rituals are important. I have small rituals in my own life that help me work and exercise. I’m not talking about pentagrams or incense or anything like that. Just reassuring patterns of behaviour to ease transition into a different head state. Music on at a precise volume, writing gown on, then to work.
It is odd. I feel like I’m looking at the world like an alien slightly removed, commenting on my observations. I am noticing how ritual matters even in matters of sex. Through ritual, through Doctor Who, I am coming to understand the usefulness of religion and so the last great fire of my life starts to simmer down.
I am still lost, in a kind of cognitive hibernation again. I can’t take the life I currently lead, not full blast, not with full thought. I can hibernate until it changes, if it changes, but I can’t live in the middle of such a shit hole and think to the best of my ability. I need a change of location, a lock that abusive monster does not have a key to, a house he has no right to enter. I can’t work while so imperilled.
Anyway, I have been me, you have been you and the writing progresses well.