Corporate Feudalism

[Written sometime in 2003, at the outset of the invasion of Iraq, as a young journalism student. Some of the claims in this strike me as a bit bombastic now, but as I write this, 14 years later, my ‘it can’t happen here’ o-meter seems to be malfunctioning. So I suppose we shall see. ]

The United States has become embroiled in the most controversial conflict in modern history, and the entire planet is poised at the edge of its bloody event horizon, waiting to be pulled into the fray. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, and other hot spots to be announced, the United States has led the world into another phase in history, a global war which could spell the end of nations as the dominant form of social organization.

Is this merely the first global Oil War? Is this the first phase of a tiny right-wing cabal’s vision of American global hegemony? Is it, as they would claim, a global police action to secure America from fanatical terrorists? Perhaps all three are true, after a fashion. About the only thing everyone can agree upon is that we ARE at war, but beyond that everyone’s rhetoric gets a bit fuzzy.

The United States is the last imperial nation-state. For 200 years it has stood with unassailable borders, and ushered in the modern age. The American system is the most flexible and adaptable system of mass control ever devised, and the American value system has unleashed the creative powers of its citizens to an unparalled degree, allowing for cultural mutation and adaptation never before seen. No nation before the U.S. would have been able to withstand the wild nature of dissent and relatively free thought and still exist. But the vast majority of creative thought is channelled into increasing production and profit. This is the American value system, where freedom means choosing between slavery and starvation.

Nonetheless, the American economic system, with its crown jewel, the middle class, is the most brilliant self-regulating system of control in the history of mankind. Acting as a buffer zone between the poor and rich, the middle class has enough to lose that it will always side with the perpetuation of the system. At least until it is absorbed back into the ranks of the poor.

In the last hundred and fifty years a new form of organization has been gestating and becoming more prominent in human affairs- the corporation. While there have always been guilds and interest groups to promote economic considerations upon the minds of kings, the corporation is a somewhat more virulent strain. It is largely a child of the industrial revolution, when new technologies made mass production- and thus mass profit- a defining aspect of society. With its emphasis on increased individual profit and decreased individual responsibility, the corporation’s relationship with nations and people has been overwhelmingly parasitic.

In America, where royalty was abolished, the only status symbol has been raw wealth. A corporation is merely amassed, focused wealth without individual culpability. Thus these macroviruses have been able to eat away at the foundations of states’ legitimacy: their laws.

Now, the United States (along with other nations) is much like a house fully infested by termites. The corporations dictate government policy nearly verbatim, albeit from behind closed doors. The most powerful tool corporations have is the public’s belief that the system works; that they, in effect, are free. This is an act of faith on their part, one that requires them to turn a blind eye to many aspects of modern life. The stock market can be seen as a sort of thermometer to indicate that faith.

But when some aspect of the system crumbles away, the underlying corporate hive-structure is revealed. When government programs are threatened by financial shortages, politicians often suggest “privatization”, which is to say, corporate ownership. This means that the functions of governance are being managed by corporations. It is a gradual but unavoidable process. Governments are not made to be profitable, but they no longer value anything else. This is a symptom of the corporate virus.

As more functions of government become privately controlled, the corporations gradually come to BE the government. The nation, which was once bound by geography, ideology, and culture, becomes little more than a broker for population, leasing out its information and labor to the highest bidder.

So eventually, perhaps fifty to one hundred years from now, the world will be overtly run by multinational companies, unfettered by considerations of geography, public opinion, environmental concerns, and other problems given lip service by nations these days. They will have their own military services, money, and people tied to the company for perhaps generations. An era of corporate feudalism will most likely be the next step in the evolution of governments. Combine this with the structural need of a corporation to constantly expand, and a state of perpetual inter-corporate warfare reveals itself.

However, the old nation-state, its open sores bleeding a mass identity crisis, will not go quietly. The ties of nationalism are too deeply ingrained to fade away without a massive discharge of political and military power. In short, a war, perhaps several, will be fought when the crumbling old model of the nation resists final absorption into the corporate consciousness. The nation of one’s geographic origin could become a rallying cry for resistance against the new structure, much as the religious ideal is against the onslaught of nations.

The Gods of the Americans

I’ve written on this subject before, but it’s worth contemplating what our American holidays say about us as a people. Many of our most sacred days (all of which are suffused with ultimate deference to the dark demon Money) are ritualized warfare. New Year, Independence Day, and the Super Bowl are all, in their own way, orgies of ritualized violence, infused with nationalist fervor that seems unsettling and unnecessarily murderous to the outside observer. It is with the Super Bowl (arguably our high holy day in many circles) that we replace ritual artillery of fireworks with the more primal catharsis of tribal bloodshed. As Mark Edmondson said in this LA Times  op ed from 2014 “Football is America’s War Game”, the transition from baseball to football paralleled our transition from isolationist republic to global empire with constant conflict:
“…then cadoodle-1016-money-bagsme Korea, Vietnam, three wars in the Middle East and no end of flare-ups around the world. One may think that our military engagements have been justified. One may think they have been necessary. But it is no longer really possible to think that America is a deeply peaceful, or even a peace-loving nation…
Eagle-GodHaveMercy
…Granted, almost all games are sublimations of war. But no game is as close to war without slipping over to war as football is.”
 
Those of you who are students of ancient future history may wish to ponder how, in 500 years or more, Americans will be remembered, and what gods they will say we worshipped. In my travels I visited a decrepit library in the distant future, and found a history of the world before the Cataclysm. I was able to save one page before the building collapsed, and barely escaped with my life. At the risk of causing a rupture to the timeline, I present to you an excerpt from that tome:
 
“The Americans were a warlike people, who founded a republic modeled after the ancient Romans, and whose ascent and decline resembled their forbears in many ways. They were a sturdy, industrious people, and, it seemed, beloved by the gods. Originally a loose confederation of rebellious colonies, they united as their neighbors were stricken with great plagues, and as they conquered and expanded, they quickly grew to be the equal of any other nation. After several wars which weakened the older European empires in the 20th century, the Americans emerged as the inheritors of a great global empire.
For a time, they were the envy of the world, and were said to worship the twin virgin goddesses Justice and Liberty; one blind, to weigh the worth of each soul, and the other bearing a torch to light the path of righteousness and to welcome the stranger. The gods granted them the power to destroy the world or save it, and they declared themselves the protectors of all mankind.
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But the fruits of empire curdled in their mouths, and they became arrogant andcovetous. As with empires before them, they began to feast and revel while their subjects starved and burned, and the Americans became both cruel and weak. They began to neglect the fires at the temples of Liberty, preferring the worship of the top-hatted god Dollar, and of Uncle-Sám, the half-man, half-eagle god of War. Liberty was chained to a mountain, they say, and the Eagle feasted on her liver every four years. Dollar stood behind the virtuous Justice, weighing down her scales with gold at every judgement.
Sometime in the 21st Century, the world shook off the American yoke, around the same time as the Cataclysm purged the earth with fire and poison. Sources
do not say if one caused the other. But the priests of War had warned that their god had grown in strength, and that His hunger could no longer be sated with ritual battles, but needed to walk the earth and harvest his offerings with flaming sword. The other nations invoked the old gods of Justice and Liberty, but, it seems, the Eagle had already sent his messengers across every ocean, to feast upon every nation…”

So Your Jaw Is Broken; What To Expect

[In 2004 I was jumped in West Oakland and beaten with a 2×4. My jaw was broken in three places and had to be wired shut for six weeks. It was not fun at all. Several months later, my friend Kairsten told me about a friend of hers who, visiting Oakland on tour suffered a similar fate. She asked if I might have any advice while he lay recuperating in hospital. What follows was my response….]

Bummer. As a veteran of a broken jaw from Oakland street violence, I feel your pain, Matt. Kairsten asked me to compile a compendium of tips, tricks and hardships to expect from the coming weeks. First, the bad news:

  • the long haul – I understand they told you your jaw would be wired shut for 2 weeks. I hope they’re right, but I was told three weeks and my jaw was wired shut for just over six weeks. Expect to not chew anything for at least four weeks, and then perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised if the doctors are right.
  • You are going to lose weight and muscle mass. You simply can’t get enough food past your teeth. As a result, after the first week you will find yourself with enough energy to play video games and maybe go for short walks, but not much more. Do what I did: Relax, get your aggression out with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Be sure to stretch your muscles every day or two. Optionally, you may find yourself smoking a whole lot of weed. It helps, and you deserve it.
  • The worst part about a wired jaw is yawning. If you feel a yawn coming on (like now), hold your jaw shut with your hands. Seriously.
  • You can’t brush the inside of your teeth, or the areas under the metal. After a while your tongue may be scraping up against an indescribably hideous, gritty mess. Once your wires come off, schedule a good thorough cleaning ASAP.
  • As a singer and communicator, I felt pretty crippled when I couldn’t speak clearly. You will also find yourself lacking the energy to really belt out a tune. For an artist, this can be depressing, but it is also an opportunity. My advice is to divert that energy into a new, nonverbal skill. I started writing a comic book with my illustrator buddy.
  • Along these same lines, your social life will be a little different for a while. People who don’t talk become invisible at parties, after the initial sympathy has ebbed. Try not to resent this different treatment. Take advantage of this new position to observe just how people waste their ability to speak on meaningless conversation.
  • Once the wires come off, you will be weak. Don’t lift anything heavy for a few weeks afterwards, because your neck and jaw muscles are a big part of that function. Take up a soft martial art like aikido, or start swimming to build up your endurance and muscle tone. If you have the moolah for a physical therapist, that couldn’t hurt. I would stress the martial arts though, because it will help you get over the lingering fear you may be dealing with.
  • You may have nightmares or mild flashbacks, where your body jerks like when you watch a really scary movie. Your mind may start running through different scenarios of what you could have done, or how to get revenge, or so on. You may start being paranoid about minorities (I know I get a little skittish around large groups of young black males, because the last time I wasn’t skittish I got beat with a 2×4). This is basically a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, your mind trying to get rid of the fear and helplessness. My advice is to let go as much as possible. You’re spending mental energy that is going nowhere useful. I feel sorry for the kinds of people who commit these acts (not that I would have hesitated to kill them to prevent it). What kind of world do they live in where they can bring themselves to do that kind of shit? How terrible it must be to live like that. Maybe that sounds really hippy-dippy, and maybe it is, but anger and fear aren’t going to get you better, and that is your number one priority right now. We’re artists. Turning shit into cupcakes is what we do.

Some advice:

  • Don’t drink alcohol while your jaw is wired shut, especially to excess. The main reason: What happens if you have to puke?
  • Stay occupied. Even sleeping is doing something. If you feel yourself getting depressed, get some fresh air. Write a letter. Build a bomb.

Blending for cripples

You may get absolutely sick of smoothies after a couple of weeks. I know I did. Tough titties, my friend. Try getting creative with the blender. You may also want to consider getting a Champion Juicer, if you haven’t already. Those things’ll make juice out of anything, from carrots and potatoes to acorns and raccoons. Toward the end of my term I was blending pizza with canned tomato sauce. You will almost certainly be blending bananas into just about everything. Creamy peanut butter is another good ingredient. Lots of protein, too help slow down the loss of muscle mass. Fruits are good but AVOID ANYTHING WITH SMALL SEEDS. I can’t stress that enough. Fruits like blackberries have seeds that will get stuck in your teeth and make eating anything impossible. It will make you cry.

Alternately, Ensure (the canned stuff for senior citizens) is crappy but also kind of good in a way. Drink a lot of that. Try and avoid soda because like I said before, you can’t brush your teeth.

I hope some of this helps. Again, take care of the damage to your soul/mind/whatever you want to call it, because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. And take your time getting better. Don’t stage-dive until you know you can take it.

Good luck, and if you need anything else, get ahold of me.

So Your Jaw is Broken…What to Expect

[In 2004 I was jumped in West Oakland and beaten with a 2×4. My jaw was broken in three places and had to be wired shut for six weeks. It was not fun at all. Several months later, my friend Kairsten told me about a friend of hers who, visiting Oakland on tour suffered a similar fate. She asked if I might have any advice while he lay recuperating in hospital. What follows was my response….]

Bummer. As a veteran of a broken jaw from Oakland street violence, I feel your pain, Matt. Kairsten asked me to compile a compendium of tips, tricks and hardships to expect from the coming weeks. First, the bad news:

  • the long haul – I understand they told you your jaw would be wired shut for 2 weeks. I hope they’re right, but I was told three weeks and my jaw was wired shut for just over six weeks. Expect to not chew anything for at least four weeks, and then perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised if the doctors are right.
  • You are going to lose weight and muscle mass. You simply can’t get enough food past your teeth. As a result, after the first week you will find yourself with enough energy to play video games and maybe go for short walks, but not much more. Do what I did: Relax, get your aggression out with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Be sure to stretch your muscles every day or two. Optionally, you may find yourself smoking a whole lot of weed. It helps, and you deserve it.
  • The worst part about a wired jaw is yawning. If you feel a yawn coming on (like now), hold your jaw shut with your hands. Seriously.
  • You can’t brush the inside of your teeth, or the areas under the metal. After a while your tongue may be scraping up against an indescribably hideous, gritty mess. Once your wires come off, schedule a good thorough cleaning ASAP.
  • As a singer and communicator, I felt pretty crippled when I couldn’t speak clearly. You will also find yourself lacking the energy to really belt out a tune. For an artist, this can be depressing, but it is also an opportunity. My advice is to divert that energy into a new, nonverbal skill. I started writing a comic book with my illustrator buddy.
  • Along these same lines, your social life will be a little different for a while. People who don’t talk become invisible at parties, after the initial sympathy has ebbed. Try not to resent this different treatment. Take advantage of this new position to observe just how people waste their ability to speak on meaningless conversation.
  • Once the wires come off, you will be weak. Don’t lift anything heavy for a few weeks afterwards, because your neck and jaw muscles are a big part of that function. Take up a soft martial art like aikido, or start swimming to build up your endurance and muscle tone. If you have the moolah for a physical therapist, that couldn’t hurt. I would stress the martial arts though, because it will help you get over the lingering fear you may be dealing with.
  • You may have nightmares or mild flashbacks, where your body jerks like when you watch a really scary movie. Your mind may start running through different scenarios of what you could have done, or how to get revenge, or so on. You may start being paranoid about minorities (I know I get a little skittish around large groups of young black males, because the last time I wasn’t skittish I got beat with a 2×4). This is basically a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, your mind trying to get rid of the fear and helplessness. My advice is to let go as much as possible. You’re spending mental energy that is going nowhere useful. I feel sorry for the kinds of people who commit these acts (not that I would have hesitated to kill them to prevent it). What kind of world do they live in where they can bring themselves to do that kind of shit? How terrible it must be to live like that. Maybe that sounds really hippy-dippy, and maybe it is, but anger and fear aren’t going to get you better, and that is your number one priority right now. We’re artists. Turning shit into cupcakes is what we do.

Some advice:

  • Don’t drink alcohol while your jaw is wired shut, especially to excess. The main reason: What happens if you have to puke?
  • Stay occupied. Even sleeping is doing something. If you feel yourself getting depressed, get some fresh air. Write a letter. Build a bomb.

Blending for cripples

You may get absolutely sick of smoothies after a couple of weeks. I know I did. Tough titties, my friend. Try getting creative with the blender. You may also want to consider getting a Champion Juicer, if you haven’t already. Those things’ll make juice out of anything, from carrots and potatoes to acorns and raccoons. Toward the end of my term I was blending pizza with canned tomato sauce. You will almost certainly be blending bananas into just about everything. Creamy peanut butter is another good ingredient. Lots of protein, too help slow down the loss of muscle mass. Fruits are good but AVOID ANYTHING WITH SMALL SEEDS. I can’t stress that enough. Fruits like blackberries have seeds that will get stuck in your teeth and make eating anything impossible. It will make you cry.

Alternately, Ensure (the canned stuff for senior citizens) is crappy but also kind of good in a way. Drink a lot of that. Try and avoid soda because like I said before, you can’t brush your teeth.

I hope some of this helps. Again, take care of the damage to your soul/mind/whatever you want to call it, because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. And take your time getting better. Don’t stage-dive until you know you can take it.

Good luck, and if you need anything else, get ahold of me.

Pre-coffee thoughts on radicalism, the New Deal and looking past 2016

I gotta say, I really enjoy Dan Carlin. He’s better at history (check out his truly excellent Hardcore History series) than political analysis, and his thinking in Common Sense runs a bit conservative/Libertarian for my taste at times. But his “Martian perspective” is refreshing, and he opens up some interesting channels of thought.

In his latest episode of Common Sense (ep. 301), Carlin looks ahead to the 2020 election, given this year’s rebellion against both major parties. Should one of the establishment candidates succeed, the underlying distrust and dissatisfaction will only grow in intensity. What kind of candidates will rise to prominence THEN? It’s a disturbing thought to ponder, when you consider that the leading Republican candidate is surfing a populist wave of xenophobia, willful ignorance and race-baiting. What happens if the many voices who feel left out of the political process have another 4 years to stew in their rejection of mainstream politics?

It turns out that society is a cultural artifact, a fantasy castle in the clouds held aloft by our belief. As people start to see through the illusion, to recognize that it was not designed with them in mind, what are the real-world consequences to that loss of stability? The saga of the Bundys is, I believe, an outlier of things to come. Occupy Wall Street is another example of that sort of dissatisfaction. And since that protest withered away (or was choked off, depending on your sources) many more people actually live in tents on the street full-time. Desperation and anger have to be expressed, and if they are not channeled productively, those feelings will bubble over at inconvenient times and places. The Sanders campaign may be the last peaceful protest against economic inequality before the pitchforks and torches come out. None of us are any more than four or five meals from committing a crime.

It got me thinking about FDR. Perhaps at some point I’ll write about this in more depth, but it has been argued by better minds than mine that Roosevelt saved capitalism from itself, with an infusion of ‘socialism lite’. The system that existed in the post-WWI period was unsustainable, and during the Depression there was pressure from both the left and the right for radical solutions. Before WWII, both communism and fascism were openly espoused as utopian solutions, though after Pearl Harbor that changed dramatically. There’s a bit in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Jailbird” in which a character is blacklisted in the postwar period for communist leanings:

“All I had ever accused him of was membership in the Communist Party before the war, which I would have thought was about as damning for a member of the Depression generation as having stood in a breadline.”

Roosevelt’s level-headed response was essentially an inoculation against radicalism, and it is only now, as FDR’s work has been largely dismantled or defanged, that seemingly radical solutions are once again being widely considered. I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to interpret whether that is a good or bad thing. Certainly the safety net of the New Deal created a stability that forestalled any real revolutionary impulses for an entire generation, and even the tumult of the 1960s was more about building on that society than dismantling it. And the optimistic conservatism of the postwar period took a dim view of any contrarian voices suggesting that something was rotten at the very core of the Empire.

It remains to be seen then, what American truly needs; someone to steward a graceful descent from global Hegemon, or a race-car driver who will accelerate us all to “victory”, even if the finish line stands at a cliff.

Compromise vs Retreat: Why A Sanders Presidency Might Be More Pragmatic than Clinton

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between Sanders and Clinton, and what that would mean in terms of the kinds of legislation they’d be able to get passed. I mean, a Republican-controlled Congress isn’t going to roll over for either candidate while they enact legislation. Clinton has portrayed herself as more pragmatic, a “progressive that gets things done”, even if the things that she gets done are rarely progressive. I keep coming back to a quote from a book I first read back in high school, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, by an old labor organizer named Saul Alinsky:
“…to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 percent, then compromise for 30 percent, you’re 30 percent ahead.”
From what I’ve read, Sanders has been pretty much a one-note tuba, railing about economic injustice even while caucusing and voting with Democrats. In other words, compromising on legislation in order to further his bedrock ideological goals, albeit incrementally.
 
Bill and Hillary Clinton (I mention them both because they essentially function as a single unit, for good or ill), on the other hand, seem to have been willing to compromise larger principles in order to gain the ability to maneuver politically. It’s hard to pin down exactly what they stand for, which makes them hard to trust. What is the Democratic Party about, anyway? What did Bill Clinton do for America, exactly? The Clintons (and much of the Democratic Party) moved the center to the right in order to take wind out of the GOP’s sails and win in ’92. Soon the Democrats were pro-Wall Street deregulation and tough on crime.
 
The Republicans gave no ground in response to this ideological retreat; why would they? Instead, it emboldened them – hell, forced them – to advance further to the right to distinguish themselves. This process has continued for the last 25 years. In fact, looking at the GOP’s current ugly implosion, one could argue that the Democratic Party gave the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves with. But that’s some expensive rope; I don’t buy a 25-year Democratic conspiracy to act like cowards, cowering behind the flag while neoconservatives and religious fanatics looted the Treasury and set the world on fire. I’m pretty sure it was just the Clinton’s myopic and selfish election strategy that started a nasty chain reaction.
 
Anyway, I think about likely scenarios with Clinton in office. Look at her platform. It’s pretty good. Much of the proposed legislation she has on her website, I would support as-is. But compared with Sanders’ very ambitious platform, it is a collection of half-measures, seemingly designed to gain bipartisan approval from the start. Which is to say, Clinton is coming out the gates yelling “I’m gonna compromise!”
 
And what will the Republican response be to the woman they’ve demonized for a generation? The party that has become known for filibusters, solidarity pledges and petulant obstructionism, attacking anyone who shakes hands across the aisle?
 
The Republicans will not yield, because they know they don’t have to; indeed, they have painted themselves into a corner where compromise is tantamount to treason. Clinton, barring a decisive Democratic majority in both houses, will be forced to heavily water down her legislation to get it passed. And they know she wouldn’t walk away from a bill with her name on it. She wants a legacy, badly. So she’ll keep coming back, just to get SOMETHING passed. And she’ll keep the rank and file Democrats in line. So they’ll vote for whatever steaming turd the Republicans pass back to them, regardless of how odious or what horrific riders they’ve stapled to it. That’s not pragmatism, that’s spinelessness.
 
What would be different with a President Sanders? Well for starters, he’ll come into the deal with a comparatively radical agenda with lots of planks, which gives him a lot more room to bargain. It will be possible to get a lot of tiny victories, rather than as in Obama’s case, spending a huge amount of time and political capital on a large issue like health care. If he can keep the crowds motivated on a by-issue basis, get people physically in the streets, he can start grass fires in every Congressional district. This will be absolutely necessary, particularly for the stuff that restricts lobbying and corporate spending. Sanders isn’t lying when he says:

…no matter who is elected to be president, that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country.
They will not be able to suceed becuase the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors is so great that no president alone can stand up to them.That is the truth. People may be uncomfortable about hearing it, but that is the reality. And that is why what this campaign is about is saying loudly and clearly: It is not just about elected Bernie Sanders for president, it is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country.
Ultimately, though it comes down to compromise. Sanders will meet with Republicans and other Democrats, and they’ll hammer out a bill. If Sanders starts with a bill that makes all public universities tuition-free and everyone gets a PhD and a pony, and through negotiation we end up with a bill that makes community college free OR puts and end to student loan profiteering… well, that’s a big win. Yes, fight for your principles. Aim high, if that’s where your principles really are.
 
So I keep coming back to that Alinsky quote:
 
“If you start with nothing, demand 100 percent, then compromise for 30 percent, you’re 30 percent ahead.”
 
It’s not as exciting as the campaign rhetoric. Sanders knows this; there’s a bit of idealistic theatrics going on, for sure. But you know what? If you’re aiming for 100 percent, and you’ve got a howling mob of pissed off voters outside your office, also demanding 100 percent, maybe you can negotiate a little further. Maybe you can get 35 or 40 percent. Maybe more, if you get the media on your side.
That’s not to say a Sanders presidency will be free of disappointment. It’s hard to remember sometimes that you’ve gained 30 percent when there’s so much more work to do. But that’s how the sausage is made, and Sanders isn’t being naive or starry-eyed with these proposals. He’s basing legislation on his principles and what he believes needs to happen, not what his ideological opponents will swallow with a smile.
 

At the Urinals by Bryce Van Nye

So they have these little urinals at Fox Hills Elementary. It’s a small school, just outside

Salt Lake City, Utah. They’re just something you used to piss in; I’d never given them much

thought, until that day. You don’t have occasion to think much about them until you’re right beside

one, slamming and raking your tiny bloody hands into someone twice your size.

 

I was seven. A very silently damaged seven. You couldn’t put the mark on what was

wrong with me, but it was there. I was numb, just a little blond monster. I’d been emptied of my

personage– eaten up by uncle, and then cousin, until there was nothing left of me. No child, but

the convincing shell of one. I was playing pretend, and making it look like a small growing life.

I was at the urinal peeing. I had a hall pass, and because I had very little bladder control, I

owned a fancy free pass. Then this 12 year old entered, and stood at the urinal next to mine. He

looked at me, reached across into the urinal, and grabbed me. I froze. Everything went black, but

this time instead of withdrawing inward, and away, I flew out at him. Hatred oozed out of every

pore in my body. I have never felt so enraged in my entire life, either before or since. I don’t even

remember attacking. He was so much fucking bigger than me, yet still smaller than the others. It

did not matter, it didn’t even warrant a single thought.

 

So there I was clawing my way up his body, scratching and hitting him, as I rode his larger

body to the ground. I punched one hand after another into his face. I remember feeling his nose

break; it felt like a secret seed exploding into a full tree inside my tiny chest, with pure,

unadulterated, euphoric satisfaction. Then I was standing over him, kicking him as he cried.

They wanted to expel me, but I was gone again, I wouldn’t even say a word. The angry

voices were like a distant buzzing in my ear. When my mother arrived, she got them to leave.

With a calm voice while looking right at me, she asked what had happened.

 

“He’d touched me,” was all I’d say, and she knew what I’d meant. She cleared everything with

them, but I honestly don’t remember a thing about it.

 

I was buried again under walls, and was a ghost for many years to come. I could always

feel the joy as they pulled me off of him, that joy of release. Like a tree top poking up past the

piles of trash, that feeling of being free for the first time never quite left me. Of course I had no

clue as to just how far I had to go. Even now after so much work, it’s the fight in me that counts on

the darkest of days. I can only drown for so long before it boils back up. What I learned on that

day, is that I will not leave this life without a struggle. I will not be a silent victim.

The Knife, by Sarah Mello

I have a lot of good “conflict” stories from when I was a kid, but perhaps my favorite was when I pulled a knife on the neighbor boy @ the age of 6.

He was meaner than a snake, but I always played with him anyway. There were some creepy Pentecostal kids up the street who I would visit from time to time, but their parents would always try to convert me & I always left their house gripped with fear that the world was going to end at any second or that the almighty lord was going to come and take my parents for “playing cards for money and drinkin’ all the time…SINNERS!”

So, all I had was the neighbor boy. That particular day, we were at home with our babysitter. I remember him coming over and we went out into the backyard to play. He ended up whacking me in the eye with a chain from our swing-set and then, proceeded to make fun of me for crying. I have always been the type of person to take shit for the longest time…and then, one day, I’ll snap (we’re talking wind-blowing, people running away screaming, world-ending type of “snap”). This kid sent me over the flipping edge. It was ON.

I ran inside and I remember specifically picking out a steak-knife (because it was sharp). I didn’t intend to hurt him with it, I just wanted to show him that I meant business. I took it outside, picked up some leaves/dirt..etc and started to cut them up. He walked over and asked me why I had the knife. I remember looking at him and saying: “See how sharp it is? Look how easy I can cut this stuff up! You’d better leave me alone or this might be you!” Saying this scared the hell out of me, but I was tired of this kid’s shit..so I had to put on a good front. I remember feeling like the situation wasn’t real and that it was more comic-book-y/no consequences type of feeling. Which makes sense to me now when I hear stories of little ones committing crimes.

He ran off and I went back inside feeling super triumphant. I put the knife away and I didn’t say a word to the babysitter or my older sister. IN YOUR FACE NEIGHBOR BOY!!!

Well, about 30-45 minutes later, the cops showed up. His mother had called the police AND family services. I remember being completely gripped with fear and I honest to god thought that I was going to be carted off to jail any second. The cops and the woman from CPS came into the house and we all sat down in the front room. The babysitter called my parents and my dad (who was close by) came rushing home. I remember them all sitting there, staring at me like I was some feral child & talking about me like I wasn’t there.

Finally, the woman from CPS asked me what happened. Here was my chance to set the record straight:

“I was making a mud-stew in the backyard and I needed a knife to cut up some leaves and grass”

“Did you want to hurt Michael, Sarah? Did you point the knife at him or threaten him at all?” The woman asked.

“Nooooooo. Michael had to go home. I don’t know why he left.”

She then asked me to go find the knife that I used. So, I walked into the kitchen and (knowing the damn well that getting the actual steak-knife would just make shit way worse) found the most innocent looking butter knife I could find. I remember bringing it into the front room and feeling a wave of relief as the whole room started to giggle. One of the cops patted me on the head and told me everything was going to be okay. The whole room seemed to forget that I was there and they all started talking to each other. I just ran into my room, into the comfort of my stuffed horses and blanket shield. When I finally did come out of my room, everyone had gone.

My dad went over to their house and flipped out on the kid’s parents for calling the cops. The kid’s mom (think “truck-driver realness”) pulled a shot-gun on him…and so, the cops ended up having to come back! When I think about this now, the whole situation seems extremely fucked up, but at the time, it just seemed unreal and like I was watching it unfold behind the safety of some magic curtain that just sort of melted away when the danger ended.

I never played with the neighbor boy again and we moved not too long after that. Crazy shit. I don’t know what I learned from the situation, or that my life is any different as a result. I just remember thinking that violence or it’s consequences did not seem real; like a cartoon…or something I saw on television. I don’t think I would have actually hurt the kid with the knife. To this day, I have never had a bone in my body that would want to hurt anyone, no matter how evil they may be. I just wanted to SCARE him…and I did.

My First Fight Zine Project

My First Fight is a zine project I’m gathering together. It’s a collection of stories about people’s first fights, drawn from as wide a selection of humanity as I can get. Sometimes, first fights can be pivotal experiences, teaching lessons that last a lifetime. Other times they are pointless and forgettable. They may be funny, horrific, sad, or triumphant, sometimes all at once.

In a society where violence of all sorts is a very big problem, I became curious about people’s first encounters with it. I want to distinguish between one-way violence; abuse, police brutality and other state violence, etc. I’m interested in that moment when you first balled up your fists to injure another person. Did that moment change you? How? I’m hoping that these stories may provide some insight into how violence touches us in unexpected ways.

I am accepting submissions for this project. You can be anonymous, or use a pseudonym if you like. I’d like to put these up here with your permission, but the goal is also to produce a photocopied ‘zine. Send me your mailing address along with your submission and I’ll mail you a copy when it’s done.

Email submissions to my1stfight@gmail.com.

Gunslinger kit for 2nd Ed AD&D

the+dark+tower

Here’s a character kit for a gunslinger, based on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

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Gunslingers are the defenders of the world of light and order, a world that often has left them behind. Originally a kind of knighthood, much like King Arthur’s knights, the gunslingers are unflinchingly devoted to the preservation and defense of the Dark Tower, a black spire that stands at the nexus of all the worlds in the Prime Material Plane, and holds it together. There are ancient forces of chaos and darkness which seek to rule the multiverse. To do so they must destroy the Tower and its aspects throughout the Prime Material, before they can reshape existence in their own image…or not at all.

These agents of evil have destroyed whole worlds in their pursuit of their goals. The gunslingers stand in their path, even when the world has moved on and forgotten them.

Gunslingers of Gilead are born into the role, raised from early childhood to be respected dispensers of justice, and to wear the guns of their fathers. They learn both extraordinary martial prowess and deep devotion to their cause. Gilead gunslingers tend to be lawful good. However, gunslingers may come from all walks of life and any race. Non-Gilead gunslingers must be lawful, good, or both. They may not be evil.

The Tower is everything. All things serve the Tower, goes the old gunslinger adage, and they will sacrifice anything- or anyone- to defend it. Gunslingers may have to commit terrible acts, acts they know will damn them. Still, they soldier on, determined to stay alive through even the harshest conditions. For the Tower, they will pay any price, and will travel across worlds to defend it.

Most gunslingers pick a weapon at an early age and train with it, treating it as an extension of their soul. This intensive, almost religious training gives them +2 with pistols and rifles, and -1 to their initiative in combat, for every 3 XP levels. Usually these are ancestral six-shooters (d6 dmg, see six-shooter rules below), forged long ago from the swords of their ancestors. However, gunslingers are nothing if not practical survivalists, and they seek perfection with any weapon. He must specialize in a missile weapon (pistol, rifle, bow, sling, blowgun), but in a style of his choosing. Gunslingers are automatically proficient with any missile weapon. A gunslinger may become proficient in a melee weapon for secondary weapon, but only those of Small size (ex: dagger, whip, hand pick, hand axe, etc.).

If someone becomes a gunslinger, usually it is because the Tower wills it. In service of this strange calling, they are often blessed (or cursed) with a wild psionic talent (DM’s discretion). This talent becomes apparent once the gunslinger finishes his training, as the martial awareness he develops enhances other parts of his mind.

Many who train to be gunslingers fail the final test of their training, usually a quest or single combat against their teacher. For their failure, they are banished and live out the rest of their lives in shame.

Minimum stats: 14 Dex, 15 Wis, 16 Con

Classes Allowed: Fighter, Ranger, Paladin

Alignment: L and/or G

Wild Psionic Talent

Bonus proficiencies: legends and lore, direction sense/Planar sense, meditative focus, survival (players choice of environment)

Recommended: Portal feel, tracking, hunting, etiquette, weaponsmithing [3] (bullets), hypnotism, planar knowledge

Max Armor: Studded leather (AC7)

Six-shooters are revolvers which (duh!) must be reloaded every six shots. PCs proficient in six shooters get 1 shot per round (per pistol; double weapon penalties apply). Specialists get 3/2. Every shot beyond this incurs a -2 cumulative penalty to hit. Technically, a gunslinger could fire all six shots in a round, but probably would not hit much.

Reloading:

In the heat of battle, reloading takes cool nerves and precision. It also takes time.

For a non-proficient player, reloading takes one round per bullet.

For proficient players, 3 bullets can be reloaded per round

For specialists, six bullets can be reloaded in one round.

Special abilities: Once per day, the gunslinger can choose to concentrate for one round, making no attacks. For the next 2 rounds, he can hit targets which normally require a magical weapon. His attacks are treated as magical attacks.

Level abilities:

3rd level: 1 initiative in combat

6th level: 2 initiative in combat.

7th level: The gunslinger may form a ka-tet, a clan of three or more gunslingers bound by a common destiny. The kat-tet, when complete, can detect evil within 30 yards and pools psionic points for any psionic ability.   The gunslinger may also train other PCs or NPCs to be gunslingers.

9th level: 3 initiative in combat. The gunslinger also gains the psionic ability to travel astrally in dreams.

12th level: 4 initiative in combat. Once per week, the gunslinger may open a gate to any plane he has been to before, even if only in a dream.

Straying from the Cause:

1) When a gunslinger commits an act against the Tower or fails to defend its interests, for whatever reason, he loses all experience points beyond his current level. PSPs are cut in half. He also loses any special abilities related to his kit and is plagued by horrific nightmares until he redeems himself. Basically he doesn’t get to sleep until he rights what is wrong. This means he begins to go insane, gaining one insanity point for each 3 days without sleep.

2) Whenever a gunslinger violates his alignment in service to the Tower, he gains an insanity point. Each violation adds 5% to the chance of insanity. Every six insanity points, and at each level, the gunslinger rolls for insanity, then on the 1st Ed. insanity table. A gunslinger may gradually build up a whole host of mental problems. When a character goes through a whole level without committing an act against their alignment, one mental affliction is cured, and 5% is subtracted from the insanity risk.

Special proficiencies:

Bullet casting (Int -2; 3 nwpn proficiency slots): This is similar to weaponsmithing, but is the skill of crafting ammunition for firearms. A character with this nonweapon proficiency can create a cast with which to make shells, and can manufacture gun powder if the proper materials are available (It is left to the DM’s discretion to determine what materials will suffice). The character declares beforehand what kind of bullet they want to make (six-shooter, shotgun, etc.) Each time a cast is made, the character makes a -2 Intelligence check to create a mold for the right caliber bullet. An additional check is required to create gunpowder. If the check for gunpowder fails, the bullets may misfire, or there could be a terrible explosion, or any number of calamities (DM’s discretion).

Each mold can be used to create 4d6 bullets. This process takes three days, and only one check may be made each day.

Runecasting (Wis -2, 2 nwpn proficiency slots) (Prerequisite, Bullet casting): With this skill a character can create d6 bullets capable of harming creatures normally only hit by magic. For each level of this proficiency, a character can confer a +1 attack bonus to his bullets. A successful Bullet Casting check must be made before making a Runecasting check, and these bullets take a full day to create. This proficiency may not be taken before third level.

These special bullets, which must be made of a high quality material (silver, gold, mithril, ruby, etc.), are capable of holding magical charges. These shells may be imbued with magic spells of up to two times the level of Runecasting proficiency used. Thus, a character with 2 levels of Runecasting could imbue d6 bullets with a single spell of up to 4th level. The character must have a scroll of the spell in question, and must fast for three days before undertaking the Runecasting process. The scroll is consumed in the casting.