Vote for America this November!

This is something I originally wrote for Facebook, but I feel it’s relevant to post here as well.

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Dear Friends and Family,

I do not know whether anyone will care to read this, as I haven’t been using Facebook lately for personal reasons, but my heart is heavily burdened by everything that is going on in the world today, and I am frightened by the future that I and my kids may inherent. I know that for many of you, these words will fall on deaf ears—but my conscience is telling me to speak out.

We have not been so divided in this country since the Civil War. America today is not the land I was born in. I remember an America that valued freedom and equality. I remember an America that cared about truth. More importantly, and this is something I feel gets overlooked in the media, I remember growing up in a country where I knew, with certainty, that we were the good guys. Every other nation looked to us as a shining example of what they could aspire to be. Now I do not tend to get sentimental when it comes to patriotism. I have never valued American lives over foreigners, because I hold equal measures compassion for all humanity. But I did get teary eyed when I visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. This had less to do with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” and more to do with what the plaque, and its poem, The New Colossus, was expressing about what America represented. America was going to be different. This nation, built upon a foundation of liberal ideals, was to be the end of kings and tyrants and “rule through power.” Humanity was growing up, leaving behind the primitive mindset of tribalism, in the formation of these United States. The torch of liberty was a beacon for all nations to follow, into a future where rule of law would always prevail, and truth would hold more sway than greed and influence.

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Now I look at what is happening in this great country and compare it to everything I studied in college, and I am both disheartened and afraid. The history of the world is a dark tale, full of wars and oppression and devastation, where mostly evil men reigned, but where occasionally our better natures triumphed. It happened in Athens, Greece, and it happened during the early days of the Roman Republic, and again the torch of democracy was passed down through the ages to a bunch of young political philosophers who had the audacity to form their own government in these United States of America, based on the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It was not a perfect union by any means, blacks were still slaves and women could not vote, but they had planted the seeds for utopia. Democracy was and has always been a struggle toward a better world. But just as in Athens and Rome, I feel that the torch of democracy is fading.

We are scarcely a democracy when all of our politicians are bought and paid for; we cannot hope to cling to the illusion that rule of law applies when so many of us look the other way as our constitutional checks and balances are dismantled; we cannot pretend that we live in a land of freedom when a great many minorities are routinely treated with inequality.

I do not doubt that many of you, reading this, will think to yourselves, “Yep, I agree with you, Nick, and that’s why I am a Republican!” More than any time in human history, we are mired by the most powerful tool for propaganda ever conceived: the Internet. So, whatever your political affiliation, you cannot be blamed for believing the wrong things. It is so very difficult in this day and age to separate the truth from the lies. But perhaps the biggest lie we must address is that of “there are two sides to every argument.” Clearly, there are times when one side is wrong. If I were to say to you that 1 + 1 = 3, that would be incorrect, and it would not matter how many people I could find to agree with me. So our goal must always be to seek the truth, wherever that truth leads us, however greatly that truth makes us feel uncomfortable or tears down our illusions. The alternative to not seeking truth, to remaining complacent in a cocoon of lies, is to surrender everything that makes America what it is, and just as in Athens and in Rome, this grand experiment, these two centuries of freedom, will end.

So how do we separate truth from lies? I think there are three ways, that I use, at least:

1) Educate yourself. Don’t learn your history and your science from political pundits or web blogs. I don’t get my information from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Visit a bookstore or a library. Knowledge is inoculation from those who would manipulate you. Every tyrant who ever lived, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jong Un, worked to curb the flow of information.

2) Listen carefully to what the politicians actually say. Don’t judge them by any other analysis (this is called spin) but specifically by their own words and actions. Soon after the election, one of the liberal leaning sites I used to follow kept posting articles insisting that Trump had raped a thirteen year old girl. Is it possible that this happened? Of course. But, I did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I promptly unfollowed the site.

3) Who benefits? Ask yourself this question. Who benefits by stating that Global Warming is a hoax? Or that Obamacare will ruin healthcare? Or that gun control will lead to a repeal of all guns? And when you ask yourself that question, consider who has the most money and influence to disseminate false information. Is it the 98% of scientists who are the deceivers, who really have nothing to gain aside from the grants used to pay for their research, or the billionaire tycoons who rely on fossil fuel revenues to keep them in business? Are we to trust the insurance companies who stand to lose billions by offering health care to those who most need it? Are we to rely on the gun lobby, who represent not gun owners but gun manufacturers, when they tell us that any limit on the SALE of guns will turn America into Nazi Germany?

Perhaps America was not meant to last. But I do not want to live the last days of my life in a fascist state, and we have never leaned so closely to a fascist state before now.

Today we learned that pipe bombs were sent out to Obama, Clinton, CNN headquarters, and to basically everyone Republicans consider their enemies. Now, this isn’t to say I blame any Republican for this, although the never ending stream of vitriol certainly didn’t help dissuade anyone. What I will say is that this reminds me of something my mother used to ask me. “Why is it,” she would say, “that it’s always the good presidents who get killed?” And she was right. Lincoln was shot and killed. Kennedy was shot and killed. My answer to her was, “Well, because they were good, and their political enemies were evil.” When we have an evil president, the moral opposition cannot in good conscience commit an act of evil, even if to stop those who would do harm to society. And this is why we cannot rely on violence to bring about a better world. Sure, there have been exceptions. The Civil War. The two World Wars. But we are not at that point yet. We still have the power to affect change through peaceful measures.

I urge you, BEG you, to GO OUT and VOTE this November. You cannot possibly imagine how much this matters. And I pray that each and every one of you reading this tirade looks into their hearts and asks themselves, “Who are the good guys?” and votes their conscience.

 

Thank You.

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

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I am angry. And I am sad.

Every time we have a mass murder in this country, I feel obligated to do something, to help in some way, if only just to add my voice to the chorus for change. I am deeply troubled, not just by this senseless loss of life, but by the utter callousness of those who insist we can or should do nothing. The NRA and their supporters do not seem to care about the facts. It does not matter one bit that in every country with stricter guns laws, there is a significantly smaller number of gun-related deaths. In this post-truth world, each side finds whatever facts it wants to support its cause. So all we are left with is values. So what does the Pro-Gun lobby value most? Keeping our children safe? Or keeping gun manufacturers in the black? The answer, I think, is obvious.

But I find hope in this new generation, exemplified by the high school students of Parkland, Florida, by outspoken and passionate individuals like Emma Gonzales. Young people have the audacity to believe in a better world, and it is precisely their belief, their naivety, which so often leads them to accomplish what older generations fail to do or lack the will to do. In light of this current administration, these kids have renewed my faith in the future, and in humanity as a whole.

 

Can Nudism Save the World?

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Image courtesy of Searching4Eden

Can nudism save the world …?

Not really. No. Thanks for stopping by.

OK, wait. There’s more! But you probably guessed that, right? Nudism/Naturism won’t save the world, but it can make the world a better place. Now, I am not going to go into the usual spiel about body acceptance and freedom. Too much nudist rhetoric is hyperbole, and its end-goals arbitrary. Like I wrote in my earlier post, Why Nudism is Wrong*, we don’t need to expose our genitals to see that humans come in all shapes and sizes. Rather, I intend to examine the concrete, practical effects of a world without clothing taboos, a world where public nakedness is not only accepted, but the norm, a world where words like ‘naked’ and ‘nudist’ are superfluous. What kind of world would that look like? And what benefits could we derive from such a world?

First and foremost, we should dismiss the idea that rape, or sexual violence, would increase in a naked world. Compare the rights of women in Scandinavia, where body freedom is more commonplace, to those in repressed states like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. We might instead end up with a more sexually liberated community, but this in itself isn’t a bad thing.

In the middle ages, much like today, there was the fear that nakedness could only lead to sex. More specifically, the patriarchal societies at the time feared wanton sexuality in women. As acts of rape were sanctioned by the Church during the Crusades, wives awaiting their husbands to return from war were said to be forced into chastity belts. Myth or no, the chastity belt emphasized the need to curb female sexuality, as an unwanted pregnancy was a great burden, and having a bastard childborn of a cuckoldwas a worser fate.

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But we are living in a post-Pill age. Moving into the future, newer contraceptive technologies are divorcing the age old connection between sex and childbirth. For women, this has had mostly positive effects. Women are no longer required to devote their lives to raising a dozen or so children. Like no other time in history, they are free to choose the life they want to live, whether that means earning a college degree or starting a career. And they can do this without giving up sex. More importantly, birth control leads to less children being born, which is a net benefit for the environment and on humanity as a whole.

Almost every problem we face today can be directly related to population. With more people comes a greater need for land, water and food. A shortage of these resources leads to poverty, starvation and war. An increased human population causes an increase in pollution, resulting in the devastation of our oceans, the razing of our forests, and the mass extinction of animal species. According to Seastewards.org, Americans generate 10.5 million tons of PLASTIC waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash–most of it plastic–is dumped in the world’s oceans every year. Christine Dell’Amore, at the National Geographic, reports, extinction data revealed a rate of 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year, mostly due to human-caused habitat destruction and climate change. […] That analysis revealed that before humans evolved, less than a single species per million went extinct annually. The study authors suspect that the extinction rate will only increase if trends continue—possibly resulting in what scientists call the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. 

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I can foresee a future where children are born outside of the womb, in birthing pods. This would give women even greater freedom, from pain and the health complications associated with delivery. Birth defects could be detected earlier and more easily. DNA editing, enacted outside the body, could affectively eliminate diseases like diabetes and cancer. In this not-so-distant future, sex will exist purely as a social construct, for pleasure and ritual. It will become, for better or worse, what kissing is today. In such a world, fear of nudity leading to sex will not exist, because fear of sex will not exist.

Now, we might look at the above example as putting the cart before the horse. Certainly, we don’t need to be naked to become more sexually liberated, or to curb unwanted pregnancies. We should not confuse correlation with causation. However, there are other major benefits we can directly relate to a global nudist movement.

 

Clothing and Resources

There will never come and time when humans stop wearing clothes altogether, and no nudist or naturist I’ve ever spoken to has entertained the possibility. And yet the myth persists, that nudists want to do away with clothing in the same way textiles (that’s you non-nudists) enforce mandatory dress codes anywhere and everywhere. From a nudist’s perspective, the textile world is utterly obsessive. When you sleep, you wear pajamas, or underwear. When you wake up, you take a shower and immediately put on something casual, like an undershirt and shorts. You leave the house, you change again into a T-shirt and jeans. You visit the beach, the pool, or go camping, you need a bathing suit. It’s just clothes, clothes and more clothes!from the moment you are born to the moment you die. Even when you’re lying dead in your coffin, you’re in a tux. Nudists, on the other hand, dress when appropriate. You won’t find me in zero degree weather without a coat on. That being said, why do I need clothes on a perfect day? Every summer, I find myself sweltering under the Florida sun, my shirt and pants trapping all of the heat trying to escape my body. Why do I suffer? For no other reason but an outdated, cultural taboo.

Now imagine a beautiful spring day. It’s 74 degrees, without a cloud in sight, and there’s just the slightest breeze, and your body is simply begging to experience the sensations around you. In our post-textile world, boys and girls could run freely about the lawn, dashing through sprinklers, jumping in mud, perspiring, drinking Kool-Aid, without any concern for stains. If it rains, take a second to towel off, and you’re dry as a bone. All the while, dad can do yard work, wearing only gloves, without the hems of his clothes turning green. If the temperature pushes past a hundred, there’s no better way to adjust to the heat than allowing the body to regulate itself. Want to jump in the pool? Or into the lake? No need to run home for a bathing suit.

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As the sun melts into the horizon and the mosquitoes start to wake, the family gathers inside. Nobody needs to change. Everyone sits on their bare butts for dinner and, later on, a movie. Mom doesn’t need to do laundry, as she only ever washes for winter and the occasional formal outing. It’s a beautiful, practical world, although a bit 50’s inspired. The future is likely to be far stranger. But in our hypothetical nudist world, we could greatly help the environment by saving on water, and by using our land exclusively for crops. We would also eliminate the pollution that comes from clothing production.

The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil,” Eileen Fisher, industry magnate, told a stunned Manhattan audience earlier this year. Fisher was honored by Riverkeeper for her commitment to environmental causes.

When we think of pollution, we envision coal power plants, strip-mined mountaintops and raw sewage piped into our waterways. We don’t often think of the shirts on our backs. But the overall impact the apparel industry has on our planet is quite grim. Fashion is a complicated business involving long and varied supply chains of production, raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment.”

While Fisher’s assessment that fashion is the second largest polluter is likely impossible to know, what is certain is that the fashion carbon footprint is tremendous. Determining that footprint is an overwhelming challenge due to the immense variety from one garment to the next. A general assessment must take into account not only obvious pollutants — the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the great amount of waste discarded clothing creates — but also the extravagant amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping. While cotton, especially organic cotton, might seem like a smart choice, it can still take more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Synthetic, man-made fibers, while not as water-intensive, often have issues with manufacturing pollution and sustainability. And across all textiles, the manufacturing and dyeing of fabrics is chemically intensive. Globalization means that your shirt likely traveled halfway around the world in a container ship fueled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels. A current trend in fashion retail is creating an extreme demand for quick and cheap clothes and it is a huge problem. Your clothes continue to impact the environment after purchase; washing and final disposal when you’re finished with your shirt may cause more harm to the planet than you realize.

As a nudist, it seems utterly absurd to me to waste so much energy and resources, when a lack of energy and resources is fast becoming the greatest challenge to human survival. There are certainly times when clothing is necessary, for comfort and survival, but those times are far and few. Mostly, we dress because society expects us to.

 

Our Warming World

Most of the electricity we use goes to lowering the temperature in our homes. But if cultural norms did not dictate that we remain clothed even indoors, we could greatly diminish our dependence on air conditioning, saving energy, and reducing our carbon footprint. According to the Department of Energy: Three-quarters of all homes in the United States have air conditioners. Air conditioners use about 6% of all the electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost of about $29 billion to homeowners. As a result, roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year. This is an awful waste, just to maintain a taboo from the middle ages.

The irony here is that, as the carbon in our atmosphere increases, the global temperature continually rises, necessitating a greater need for AC, requiring more and more energy. 2017 was the hottest year on record, followed by 2016, which held the previous record, as did 2015 before that.

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We are seeing a definite, upward trend toward a hotter, muggier world. Clothing was largely developed during the Ice Age, when most of Europe and North America was covered by glaciers. Today, the glaciers are receding, as other icy landmasses, like Antarctica and the Arctic circle, are disappearing. Perhaps, in our inevitable future of hotter temperatures, communal nakedness will become the only practical solution.

 

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Security and Safety

OK, you may be thinking that the environment isn’t all that important, or that changing the culture to lessen the effects of global warming is a long shot. How can nudism help me today, you may be asking? This is an inherent problem when dealing with global issues. Having lost jobs in coal, many Trump supporters care little for rising sea levels. We haven’t yet evolved to consider the impact of our actions on the people who live furthest from us.

That being said, there are still everyday, practical benefits to a clothes-free world. Imagine a gunman trying to shoot up a school, where the only permitted uniform is bare skin? Forget taking your shoes off at the airport, if everyone were to simply board the plane naked, terrorists would have nowhere to hide their guns, knives or bombs. This may seem ridiculous, at first, until you discover how lax airport security really is. According to Fortune magazine, Just a few days after the busy summer travel season started—a time when inexperienced and nervous air travelers clog the nation’s airports—word leaked that the TSA screeners missed 95 percent of mock explosives and banned weapons smuggled through checkpoints by screeners testing the system. This means that if a terrorist were to try and sneak a weapon onto a plane, airport security would only catch the guy 5% of the time! Now, if we were to ban both carry-on luggage and clothing, that percentage could only go up. Heck, I can’t imagine anything short of 100%. Even if we were to contemplate a man fitting a bomb up into his anus, it’s unlikely anyone of the Islamic faith would attempt it. For one thing, nudity is forbidden in Islam, and secondly, any member of ISIS posing as a nudist could only recoil at the sight of hundreds of naked women. Again, boarding a plane in the buff may seem absurd, until you ask, why do we think so? Many things were considered absurd before becoming commonplace. More importantly, planes will be hijacked, no matter how much money we throw at security. Are the lives of hundreds of people worth maintaining an outdated cultural taboo?

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Health

So far, we have looked at the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing and the effect a nudist world would have on terrorism, but how well do these arguments hold up to the genital test? I discussed the genital test at length in my other post, Why Nudism is Wrong*, the basic premise being, we don’t have to go Full Monty to attain many of these benefits. Surely, we can trade in our pants and shirts for simple briefs. We can hold on to our modesty, or taboowhichever word you preferwhile greatly diminishing waste. And a terrorist may be just as hard pressed to hide a weapon in his underwear. But there are still other, undisputed benefits to nudism that require we expose our genitals.

Firstly, nudism is more hygienic. Some people consider the opposite to be true. The fear is that fecal matter and urine spread more easily, unconstrained by clothing, onto surfaces that then come into contact with your (in this case) exposed skin. But most infections we suffer from are cultivated by our own bodies. Poop is poop and urine is urine, and whether it’s someone else’s or your own, it’s just as unsanitary. Usually, we are forced into the same undergarments throughout most of the day, without a proper place to change. There is nothing more disgusting than (sorry!) the soiled textiles we keep pressed against our nether regions. This often leads to urinary tract infections, which is caused by bacteria, bacteria that grows in dark, damp places (where the sun don’t shine!). In my nudist world, I would have a shower kiosk (similar to those at the beach) stationed randomly throughout town, where anyone could clean themselves should the need arise. These could be as common as bathroomswould literally be bathrooms. Think about it this way, we wash our hands only so far as our hands are exposed.

Secondly, and far more importantly, nudity offers early warning signs of serious illness. When I last visited my dermatologist, he told me I had a lot of moles. Too many. I’d say I have more moles than there are stars in the universe, but I digress. He recommended he check me over, finding a number on my back that looked questionable. “Six months,” he said. “All it takes is a six months, and if it’s cancerous, you could be the richest man on Earth and it wouldn’t matter. There’s no cure.” But here’s the thing, the doctor checked me everywhere except … you guessed it, my private area. Why? I imagine it had a lot to do with my least favorite taboo. So, even as he’s stressing the dangers of cancerous moles, he’s neglecting a large section of my body because of what some Christian monks impressed upon our culture a thousand years ago. And, as it so turns out, I do have them “down there,” and I did have him check, and more were removed. You could argue that I check myself in the mirror, but how easy is it to see yourself, every part of yourself, even in the best of mirrors? In our naked world, hundreds of eyes would be upon me, everyday, all the more to notice something dangerously wrong.

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Nude is more hygienic and more environmentally friendly than sportswear

The Future 

Cultural taboos are often difficult, if not impossible, to change. But all that is required is the will to change. Nobody could have imagined, twenty years ago, how embraced the LGBT+ community would become. As I suggested in Nudity is the Future, in forty years time, what we deem indecent will undergo a dramatic shift. Our nation has been leaning left for hundreds of years, our religion is losing its influence, and we are fast becoming a society in which personal identity is paramount. Current and future generations will be raised on PornHub. We simply cannot remain prudes forever. Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Orlando Bloom, among others, have already exposed themselves with little to no outrage.

One day soon, nakedness will take the place of bathing suits. Nudity will be a thing for the home, for backyards and public parks, for beaches, pools and camping. Showing up naked at a restaurant, school or office building will not invite shock, or calls to the police, but amusement. Clothing will continue to be worn, of course, but its function will change. It will no longer be associated with status, morality or shame, but be customary, a matter of tradition, of personal expression. Just as no one is judged by their sexuality or sexual orientation, no one will be judged, or condemned, by what they wear or don’t wear. This is the world I dream of. Perhaps by then, our cities will have moved, our religions will have become myths, and a hundred-degree weather will be the norm. But it will be a better, freer, more enlightened world.

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I’d like to give special thanks to the amazing photographers over at Searching4Eden, who continue to capture the spirit of naturism in their art!

You can find them on Twitter and Instagram and support them on PATREON!

 

Aenya Newsletter 9/01/2017

Greetings, fans!

The question I am most asked about Aenya is the most obvious one: when the heck is the book coming out? All I can say is, be patient. I admit to being a bit slow, but it’s only because I abhor the thought of releasing anything but the very best possible work. I’d also like to point out that, as a struggling writer, I, among others, are embarking upon a new age of independence. The big publishers are bleeding money, and as a result, have become increasingly mired by conformity. Vampires. Zombies. Apocalyptic teenage romances. Gritty Game of Thrones wannabes. And when something like 50 Shades of Grey makes a bajillion dollars, we get inundated with bondage porn, and an entire new section at Barnes & Nobles. Now, I don’t really blame the booksellers for this. They are simply doing what they need to survive. As I put it in my new bio:

Since starting out on this journey, nearly three decades ago, the literary landscape has changed. My dream of dropping a manilla envelope at the post office, to have a cigar-smoking editor in New York scream with delight at having found the next great author, is just that, a dream. We are living in a time when bookstores are shutting down and publishers are going broke. People have more addictive things to do these days, like staring at their phones and Netflix. We may be living in the last days of the written word, before the novel goes the way of the play, and I am well aware that the demands of the writer are greater than ever. On the other hand, the stigma associated with self-promotion is quickly fading. This is largely due to things like Kickstarter and YouTube. We are fast discovering that, not only can an independent entertain us, but that they can often be more humorous, and more sincere, than what’s on TV. In the literary world, the advent of e-books has become a double-edged sword, delivering a lot of pulp but also, some pretty great out-of-the-box writing we might never have otherwise seen.

In other words, independents have an even higher bar to jump than your average published writer. The Aenya series must not only be as good as your Tolkien, Martin, Rowling clones, but superior.

OK, getting off my soapbox now.

This summer, I took the family to London, because frankly, it is the world’s capital of great fiction. Being the literary geek that I am, I was only too thrilled to pick up C.S. Lewis, and the late great Terry Pratchett in the original Queen’s English. I was also frothing at the mouth touring Oxford University. But it was in the British museum where I rediscovered my inspiration for Aenya.

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Hero fighting a centaur

This is part of the “Elgin marbles,” named after Lord Elgin, whom my people blame for “stealing” from the sculptures of the Acropolis complex. Greek politics aside, this frieze, which originally adorned the pediment of the Parthenon, shows a Greek hero, possibly Heracles, fighting a centaur, possibly Nessus. For those of you in the know, I first featured Nessus in The Dark Age of Enya. He is responsible for giving Xandr his scar. Unfortunately, I had to cut the scene from Ages of Aenya, but that doesn’t mean I retconned the story. Nessus makes appearance in The Princess of Aenya and will probably crop up in future novels. Notice, also, how the hero fighting the centaur is entirely naked. This is a big part of my heritage. The Ancient Greeks envisioned their heroes sans clothing. It was, for them, an ideal, what has come to be called, the heroic nude. This is something I have long tried to revive in modern culture, through my heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Hero fighting a guard

To be fair, you won’t find any women, naked or otherwise, in combative positions on the Parthenon, or anywhere else. But this had less to do with modesty and more to do with sexism, in that the Greeks could not conceive of women as heroes.

The following day, in the Tower of London, I made another inspiring discovery. Will you just look at that sword:

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Holy crap! It’s like 7′ long!

 

OK, this might not have been a real weapon, used by a real person in battle. The Brits, just like the Greeks, loved their legends. Either way, it compares to Emmaxis, the sword hauled around by Xandr, which I have long considered too big to be practical. But just like the heroic nude, the protagonist’s weapon is an ideal, a storytelling tradition, and I do not pretend to be a historian.

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OK, if this is just making you want the book more, I give you a sneak peak at nickalimonos.com, my upcoming author site. Once it goes live, you will be able to order the book directly from there, for yourself and your friends, and every person you’ve ever met, hopefully. Ages of Aenya will also be available on Amazon.com

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It Can Happen Here 3: Orwell’s 1984

 

1984

This can’t be a coincidence 

 

Whoo-boy

 

Rarely do words fail me like this, but after finishing George Orwell’s 1984, I am utterly at a loss for what to say. Nothing I can put into words, other than the words Orwell uses himself, can accurately describe the depth of despair, the hopelessness, the utter nihilism bound in this book. The most tragic ending you can imagine cannot begin to prepare you for the story Orwell has written. Something along the lines of Hamlet might as well be a Disney cartoon. At least Hamlet gets his revenge, and is ultimately vindicated. Nothing of the kind can be said of 1984. In the world of the book, there is no glory, no heroism, and no possibility for happiness. You couldn’t make a heavy metal song about this, because even the darkest metal lyrics contain an element of rebelliousness, a strength fueled by rage and angst. This kind of fuck you to the world is not permitted in Orwell’s universe, because freedom of thought is not permitted. What I once regarded the ultimate expression of nihilism, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, cannot even come close to 1984, because the life of Hester Prynne, however awful, becomes a stepping a stone to a greater future for others. I am also reminded of the absurd controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3, with its supposed “nihilistic ending,” that somehow ruined the franchise. To these people, I say, you do not know the meaning of nihilism until you’ve read 1984.

Even if the entire world were obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, I would greatly prefer it to the future imagined in 1984. Or send me to Westeros on the worst day. In the Hub of All Worlds, board up the door leading to 1984 and let’s never speak of it again. As you may have probably guessed, 1984 is a dystopian novel, the standard by which all other dystopias are judged. Having read Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America, among others, I thought I was ready for this book. I wasn’t. And yet, 1984 is of paramount importance to the literary world, serving as a warning, and a very likely prophecy we must do everything in our power to escape.

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Imagine a world where you are not allowed to think, or to believe, what you want. Imagine a world where your sense of logic, your reason­—sanity itself—is torn down. To resist is to commit thoughtcrime, and thoughtcrime can be anything that contradicts Big Brother, the physical embodiment and face of “the Party.” It isn’t simply a matter of professing allegiance to a particular ideology. There is no real ideology in 1984, only total—not obedience—but agreement with the Party. Obedience is too easy, as it leaves room for hope, and for freedom within one’s own soul. Anyone can be made to obey, while sheltering rebellion in his heart. The black plantation slave could still sing about freedom while imagining a better day for himself or for his children. Under the Party, the Negro would be forced not only to work under the lash, but also to love working under the lash.

Long before the start of the novel, the Party has determined that the only way to maintain total control is to force its people into agreement. To avoid the Thought Police, you must believe, in you heart of hearts, that what you are being told is true. The Party manages this by brainwashing everyone from birth. Every book, film, newspaper, and TV channel is a carefully manufactured work of propaganda. No evidence contradicting the Party is allowed to exist, and when propaganda is the norm, it becomes impossible to separate the truth from the lies. In essence, the lies become true. Even the dictionary is used as a tool of obfuscation, as no words are permitted within the language to allow for seditious thought. In the most disturbing example of the politicization of reality, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced into believing that 2 + 2 = 5. Again, he does not have the luxury to simply state the truth of this claim. He must literally believe it. Winston is also forbidden from having basic human emotions, other than devotion to the Party. No one can love their spouse, or their children, only Big Brother. This might not be so bad if the world were composed of unfeeling robots, or if the Party was in possession of some Borg-like technology, but the price for thoughtcrime is imprisonment and torture. If you are even suspected of guilt, you are made to suffer until you sincerely believe you are in the wrong.

The truly scary thing about 1984 is how plausible it all is. We will likely never be invaded by aliens, or be taken hostage by AI, but the Party feels right around the corner. Orwell paints so complete and convincing a picture, in fact, it all seems inevitable. The technology now exists, from hidden cameras to microphones, to record everything a person does, from your facial expression to the pitch of your voice, to determine what you may be thinking. Modern day computers can make the process even more efficient. We know, thanks in part to Edward Snowden, that the NSA can be watching your every move. Before Orwell, I had never fully appreciated the Right to Privacy. I had always considered, quite erroneously, that if I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, privacy doesn’t matter so much. But when a political party comes into power that criminalizes the things you strongly believe in—being a nudist, an atheist, or LGBTQ+—then privacy is the only way in which you can be protected. Already, we are seeing our right to privacy being eroded. Add to this the dilution of our cherished values, the right to a fair trial and laws against torture, both of which were diminished following the Patriot Act, and 1984 edges closer to reality.

I started this series, It Can Happen Here, as a response to the Trump election. But even after comparing Trump to Hitler, I am hesitant to mention Orwell’s Party in the same breath. There is no greater evil than Big Brother, no more Hellish a place in all of literature than the world of 1984. Mitch McConnell’s wildest imaginings have yet to touch upon such a dystopia. That being said, Orwell has forced me to reevaluate and even to course correct some of my earlier assumptions. The Party is, after all, a government institution, and conservatives have long maintained that the greatest thing to fear is big government. Between the out-of-control capitalist corporatocracy in Cloud Atlas and the Party of 1984, I’ll take the former any day. No doubt, many conservatives turn to Orwell to reaffirm their ideals. But the most pressing question at the moment is whether the current administration resembles the Party in any way. To this I would answer that the parallels are too close for comfort, particularly when it comes to matters of science, history and, to a finer extent, truth itself. Consider how conservatives perpetually strive to rewrite the history books, to omit the atheist assertions of Thomas Jefferson, to refute slavery as the cause of the Civil War, to continually insist that America was founded as a white Christian nation. Consider their opposition to evolution and climate change. In 1984, the very idea of history and science, and of objective reality, has been expunged, politicized to the point of losing all meaning. What is true or not true is based on the dictates of Big Brother, which is how 2 + 2 = 5.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party […] Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. 

p. 222

While the relative nature of truth may seem absurd, at first, Orwell’s antagonist argues the point with such twisted logic, he almost convinces the reader. After all, how can we be certain that 2 + 2 = 4? Or that George Washington was America’s first president? Or that the year is really 2017? Or that the Earth is round? Everything we know or think we know was taught to us in a school, and public schools are government institutions. The same paranoid sentiments are echoed today by the Flat Earth Society, who accuse teachers of brainwashing children with the “globe theory.” And while we can make simple observations to determine the shape of our planet for ourselves, it is easy to see how everything we believe could turn into a matter of politics, particularly if we are forced into a left or right leaning bubble, wherein lies become omnipresent.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient […] to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies …

p. 191

Considering the book was written in 1949, it is remarkably prescient when looking at how carelessly Trump lies, and how his adherents are expected to deny or to accept objectifiable truths. We have never seen a political movement like this before. It has given rise to anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxxers and the Flat Earth Society. At this very moment, the Trump administration is robbing us of our health care, our clean air and water, and every institution established to help the sick and the needy. They threaten anyone who stands beyond their control: the free press, the scientific community, any and all educated “elites” who disagree with them. All the while, those who voted the administration into office stand to lose the most, and yet they are convinced that every action taken by Trump and his cronies is for their own good, that while big government is the enemy, it also, paradoxically, represents their own interests.

All that was required of them [the lower classes] was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.

p. 63

Orwell called this doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously. So while millions of the poorest Americans will lose their health care, it’s all for the best, because the government says so. In this nation, facts are ceasing to matter. You can no longer argue objective reality because reality has been politicized. Stating that a million people attended Trump’s inauguration, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were bussed-in from other states to vote illegally, is equivalent to two plus two equaling five. Evolution, climate change, even the shape of the Earth is being called into question. And so now I ask you, what year is it? Are we living in 2017? Or are we closer to 1984?

I can think of only three authors whose names have become adjectives: Shakespear(ean), Lovecraft(ian), and Orwell(ian). What greater mark on society can a writer hope to achieve? Without question, Orwell is deserving of his spot on this mantle. His brilliance is effortless, his writing without flaw. But more impressively, his insight into human nature, political philosophy and metaphysics and the interplay between them is without peer. 1984 is a timeless masterpiece. It is a story that, quite frankly, needed to be told. And it is as important today as it ever was, perhaps more so.

****

It Can Happen Here 2: “The Plot Against America”

md8057491406TRUMP SUPPORTER: “What’s that you’re reading?”

ME: “Oh, it’s a book about Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I remember that.”

ME: “What?”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I learned about that in school.”

ME: “Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly a plane over the Atlantic, from New York to Paris.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “Right. And then he became president.”

ME: <<rolls eyes>>

It should not surprise me that Trump people don’t know their history. If they did, they would never have voted for a fascist. In our universe, of course, Lindbergh never ran for office, and Roosevelt went on to win an unprecedented third term in office, wherein he lead the United States into World War II. It’s easy to paint a rosy picture of the past, to imagine a government full of wise, determined men like Roosevelt, who, with little opposition from the American people, bravely charge into Europe to save the day. History is murky, however, and the history of politics even murkier. While it may seem a no-brainer that America should have joined the war effort, in the 1940’s, there was considerable contention over the matter. Republicans, namely, felt the need to “put America first,” and not get involved. Sure, Hitler may have been massacring Syrians Jews by the millions, but that wasn’t America’s problem. We had our own economic depression to worry about. But thanks to the charismatic leadership and foresight of FDR, the isolationist America First-crowd lost the argument, and the world as we know it is free from the grip of fascism (at least so far). What Roosevelt understood, even back in 1940, was that the world’s problems eventually become our problems. It isn’t only unethical to ignore the plight of nations, but downright dangerous to our security.

 

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At least Lindbergh was a looker! And he could fly a plane!

 

This is the crux of Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, wherein Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in his third run for president, leaving America deaf to the genocide across the Atlantic. In both reality and in the novel, Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer. The result of his presidency was to delay America’s insurgency in World War II, as Lindbergh and Hitler agree to a treaty of non-engagement, leaving the Nazi blitzkrieg to steamroll over Europe and into Russia with only Great Britain to contest them. Aside from the odious politic of non-intervention, what I found most timely and disturbing is how accurately the book mirrors current events. If I did not know better, I could accuse Roth of blatantly ripping the plot of his book from today’s headlines. Here’s just a few of the similarities between Lindbergh’s and Trump’s presidencies:

 

  1. Before his election, Lindbergh is demonized for his racist comments.
  2. As a non-politician, Lindbergh becomes the surprise Republican nominee, winning against great odds and considerable controversy.
  3. Lindbergh is said to speak off the cuff, without prepared notes, telling it “like it is.”
  4. Lindbergh runs his campaign his own way, frustrating Republican leaders.
  5. Lindberg runs on a platform of putting “America First.”
  6. Lindbergh loses in the polls, but wins the presidency anyway, to the shock and consternation of many, against a popular career politician and Democrat.
  7. After Lindbergh is sworn in as president, he tones down much of his racist rhetoric.
  8. Lindbergh is said to admire a foreign power (Hitler) and is accused of having secret ties with Germany.
  9. Lindbergh is repeatedly accused of being a fascist.
  10. Lindbergh’s followers belong to white supremacist groups. They commit acts of violence against Jews, destroying businesses and synagogues.
  11. Lindbergh stifles the free press. Those in the media who speak against him lose their jobs.

 

Did I mention the book was written in 2004? Which begs the question: Is Philip Roth a time traveler? Or does he simply understand that people are predictable in their hatreds and prejudices, and that such happenings (albeit with eerie specificity) are simply inevitable?

While political in theme, The Plot Against America is far from a political treatise. Roth does not seek to find or give answers here. Instead, he examines fascist America from an intimate perspective, the story unfolding through the eyes of a young Philip Roth in a kind of pseudo-autobiography, wherein the author imagines the childhood he might have had—had Lindbergh won the presidency in 1940. This unique approach helped lend credibility to Roth’s reimagining of the past, and I do not doubt that anyone reading this book, ignorant to history, might take it for one. Roth conjures real world people, places and events, tweaking them just enough to service the story.

It doesn’t happen right away, of course. But ever so gradually, the rights ensconced by the Constitution are eroded away. And as always, it is the minorities, the immigrants, the others who are made to fear, and ultimately, to suffer. What I found particularly poignant was the way in which the author portrays America. Through the lens of his Jewish heritage, he paints two contrasting pictures. We are a nation of promise, where differing ethnicities, races, and religions find acceptance and equality. The other, more sinister portrait, is the hidden face of America, with its undercurrent of prejudice waiting to burst at the emergence of a demagogue—someone to push into the fore the undying resolve that the only true American is white and Christian.

I had planned to review this book in the usual way, critiquing for style and content, and if you are questioning whether you should pick up this book, I will only say that Roth’s style can be off-putting, at first. He leans toward page-long run-ons and has a tendency to trail into wild tangents. But when I consider the importance and, dare I say, necessity of this book, especially now, these seem like minor quibbles. The Plot Against America is a warning against fascism and the politics of hate. I found myself reading ahead just to see how everything was going to turn out, as if it was a book of prophecy, with a chance to quell my fear of the next four years.

How tenuous is our democracy, really? Can the Founding Fathers’ checks and balances endure the onslaught of a tyrant bent on dismantling them? A man who runs on a platform of discrimination? Who challenges the right of the courts? Who demonizes the Free Press? Who puts America first at the expense of the world?

 

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This has happened before.

 

Without giving too much away, I found Roth, ultimately, to be an optimist, and his love for America all the more genuine in that it stems from his Jewish roots. Only here, in this country, could his people have found a respite from the hatred that has dogged them for millennia. America is defined by its inclusiveness. It is a promise, and owing to this promise, people have chosen to live here from all over the globe. But that promise has never come without challenges. In The Plot Against America, it is Lindbergh against the Jews. Today, in the story that is our lives, Trump is the villain, and Muslims and Mexicans the protagonists. But what kind of a story are we living in? A tragedy? A triumph? A cautionary tale? Only the ending can tell us, can give answer to the question—will the promise of America endure?

My friends voted for Trump

I have a problem, and it’s a problem that I think many Americans share. My friends voted for Trump. The fact that they could do this utterly mystifies me. Since the day we elected this monster, I have been trying to rationalize the choice they made. But as news reports continue to lend credence to the very worst of our fears, any excuse I can imagine falls apart. It might be different if my friends were to show some measure of remorse, if one were to say to me, “Hey, I didn’t realize it would be like this. Sorry, I was duped.” But that hasn’t happened yet, and I do not imagine it will.

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I am truly at a loss for what to do. I don’t want to excommunicate people I have known for decades, who have gone out of their way to help me in times of need. Of my co-workers, friends and family who are Trump supporters, I have only discussed the matter with one. The others, I suspect, are aware of my disappointment. I haven’t hung out with my cycling buddy since the election. It’s not that I hate him, or don’t ever want to see him again. It seems a petty thing to end a friendship over politics. Aside from that, I feel it’s important to keep the channels of communication open between people with dissenting views. To do less would further the harm caused by our echo chamber culture. A divided house cannot stand. We need allies to fight tyranny. But the hurt inside of me is great, and the normalcy of my relationships has been irrevocably disturbed. How can I be expected to go on like nothing unusual has happened? News breaks daily to confirm we are living in a dystopian nightmare.

Trump wants to bring back torture. Trump wants to sell federal parks and landmarks to private business owners. Trump wants to get rid of the Endangered Species act. Trump bans Muslim immigration and denies visas to Muslim countries (except for those countries with whom he has business dealings). Trump makes it so that Christians can enter the country more easily. Trump wants to make a Muslim registry. Trump wants to report on all illegal activities by immigrants, legal or otherwise. Trump wants to build a border wall, a 20 billion dollar project at taxpayer expense, while breaking up Mexican families. Trump wants to take away healthcare. Trump wants to take away tax breaks for new home buyers. Trump removes mention of civil rights and LGBT rights from the White House website. Trump appoints Exxon CEO and climate change denier to head the EPA, and threatens the jobs of any scientist believing in climate change. Trump appoints a Wall Street banker to head the Treasury. Trump calls the news media liars, and limits their access to the White House. Trump appoints a white supremacist to his cabinet, to write his speeches, and in doing so fails to mention Jews in his visit to the Holocaust memorial. 

This is just off the top of my head. Have I left anything out? Any one of these things should disqualify him from the office. And we’re only weeks into his presidency. What is the country going to look like in four years, if he is not impeached? Is there any doubt he is an evil man? A criminal bent on the destruction of every value we hold dear? That all he does is for his own personal gain? Whether you are Muslim or Mexican or white Protestant, how can you watch your rights be eroded day after day, and not begin to fear? How can anyone put their faith in a man so clearly delusional, who argues facts—like the size of the crowd at his inauguration—as if they could be debated? We can see the pictures for ourselves, and yet we are supposed to accept what he is telling us, and ignore reality. We are supposed to shut our ears to the media because, according to him, they are all liars. Trust in him alone. Because his ego matters more than the state of the union. Are these not the words of a tyrant? The actions of a dictator? A Hitler?

So I am forced to ask, are my friends not aware of all this? Do they not watch the news? Are their Facebook feeds really so different from mine? I find it hard to believe, when all anyone can talk about these days is Trump. And if my friends see these things, as I suspect they have, what does that mean?

I tried to illicit some sympathy from my friend, explaining to him that I was scared. For my wife. For my friends. I could lose them, I said. If not from Trump directly, from those he has inspired, from bigoted fanatics, Nazis and KKK members encouraged by the knowledge that the president echoes their sentiments. My friend argued that he was more afraid of Clinton. How? What did Clinton threaten to do to him? To his family? I suspect it may have had something to do with his NRA leanings, but Clinton was never in favor of banning the 2nd Amendment, whereas Trump made his threats clear. To export millions of immigrants —calling them rapists and drug dealers—and to ban those traveling from undesirable countries, many of whom are women and children seeking asylum. Assuming Clinton had run on an anti-gun platform, a gun is a material thing. You cannot equate banning a material thing with banning a human being. You cannot equate a disagreement over the minutia of the 2nd amendment with a show of outright hostility toward religious and racial minorities. My friends’ vote, however insignificant, reflects the values they most care about.

I had a black friend in college named Marcus. We weren’t that close, but I thought he was a cool guy, and a great writer. Now, if I had come to school wearing a shirt that read, “I Hate Niggers,” how could I expect our friendship to remain unaffected? I could argue, “Hey, it’s just a T-shirt.” I could go so far as to say, “Listen, this shirt isn’t really going to cause you any harm,” and it most likely wouldn’t. And yet, wearing the shirt would be indicative of my beliefs about Marcus and those of his race. Now I’ve heard the argument that not every Trump supporter is a racist. A lot of them can honestly claim they voted for Obama, but that this time around, for want of better jobs, better lives, they threw their hats in for the man they thought could best deliver. But still I ask, “How could you?” Does your personal, financial situation matter to such a degree, that you throw out all other values? Do guns matter so much, does abortion matter so much, that you risk destroying the lives of those closest to you? Does your compassion for others—for minorities, religious groups, LGBT people—STOP at the first sign of personal hardship?

Before I was married, I thought I understood racism. I’d seen movies. TV shows. Then, during the Bush years, I came face to face with the ugliness and, more importantly, the fear of bigotry. While waiting for his pizza in my restaurant, an older gentlemen started to rant about a certain group of people. “Even if I saw one dying in the street, I wouldn’t raise a finger to help him.” Hearing him say that got my blood boiling. I wanted to reach across the counter to punch him. I was dizzy with rage. Shoving the pizza in his face, I told him never to come back. I recall another incident where I had to tell my wife and daughter to sneak out the back door. A guy had walked in wearing a trench coat with a huge swastika emblazoned on it. Let me reiterate, if you’ve never had an experience like this, you do not know what racism is, and I still can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be black or Hispanic or Muslim. To be the object of scorn. The object of violence. There is no excuse for a racist president. No excusing your vote for one.

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I am scared and I am angry. And I am forced to wonder, is there a tipping point? A point at which Trump will do something so heinous, that even his most ardent supporters will be forced to open their eyes? When did Hitler’s most vocal advocates realize they’d made a mistake? Was it when the ovens started? When friends and neighbors started losing their lives? And in that point, could any Jew truly call a Nazi his friend?

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!

The Death of Truth

This is something I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I originally planned to write a (more lengthy) post about this, and I probably will someday, but after this past election, wherein Americans voted for a Fascist, I felt compelled to express my concerns.

It is a dangerous time for civilization when truth no longer matters, when the difference between fact and fiction becomes a matter of political preference, when science can be challenged by ideology. Truth matters. Facts matter. With climate change, the destruction of the environment, the mass extinction of species, Islamic terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, facts matter now more than ever. We are living in a unique time in history, a time when we have the power to destroy all life on Earth, including our own. We are caught in a race between ignorance and knowledge, and a growing anti-intellectualism that threatens our very existence. Without truth, we cannot make the  necessary decisions to steer clear of the apocalypse. This is not hyperbole. This is not some sandwich-board doomsday prophesying that has yet to come to pass. No. We are witnessing the results of our ignorance on a daily basis.

When we elect, as leader of the free world, someone who rejects the findings of science, who does not understand the dangers of nuclear war, who appoints a climate change denier as head of the EPA, and another who denies evolution as secretary of education, when we accept these things, we reject reality. And how did we get to this point? It happened when journalism became entertainment, when history and science textbooks gave way to political subjectivity, when the Internet became a haven for those seeking refuge from reality and a confirmation of their biases. This has happened before. It happened in Athens and in Rome; it happened to the Aztecs and the Islamic Empire. No civilization has ever endured the loss of truth. Ours won’t either.