Sauve Qui Peut

This evening, I’m fighting several conflicting feelings at the same time. I’ve mentioned in some previous posts my depression, which seems to have suddenly gotten worse over the course of the past week. My usually volatile emotions now have a hair-trigger, at least the negative ones do. It’s gotten bad enough that a couple of days ago my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. If I thought it would help, I would. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation two years ago. So, I know what will happen if I’m hospitalized and it is, at best, a temporary fix. I take my medication. From inside a hospital, I can’t work on the things that are making me depressed in the first place, which is basically the loneliness. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in Baltimore but I know no one here. All the contact I have with people outside of my immediate family is via the internet, which is part of the reason that I go nuts when my connection goes down.  I didn’t get quite so bent out of shape when that happened when I lived in New York.

A few days ago, I read a blog post called “How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen.”

Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.

Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.

You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.

Nobody likes crazy.

Well, I’ve already discussed my feelings when I’ve been in the throes of a depressive episode, so I guess I’m not a Good Depressive Citizen. Worse yet, I am about to do so again.

Have you ever had that moment in the immediate wake of a highly emotional event and you feel like a little thing in your brain goes “ping?” That intense crisis that make your response to something suddenly switch? Something you liked, you now hate. Something you once could tolerate you can no longer tolerate. You say to yourself, “I will never again do x,” “I will never again love anyone,” “I will never again trust anyone…” Of course, I’ve had responses like this many times in my life and, somehow, by the next morning, I’ve usually gone back to my previous position, loving people, trusting people, or doing whatever it was that I thought I could never do again.

A song by Steely Dan that sometimes makes me feel better has the lines,

Any major dude with half a heart surely with tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more.

That always seemed to sum up the feeling well. So I write what I’m writing tonight, knowing full well that tomorrow I might feel as I did this morning.

A few days ago, on someone else’s blog, a Christian brought up Thomas Paine and said that on his deathbed he regretted writing The Age of Reason. Being American and a bit of a francophile, it would be hard for me to avoid knowing a little bit about Paine who was active in both the American and French Revolutions and generally considered to have been a Deist. I never read specifically about Paine’s death, I only knew that he had been abandoned by most of his friends in his later years and few people attended his funeral. As someone who stood by his radical convictions through many trials in his life, it did not strike me as plausible that he changed his mind as he was dying. I attempted a quick search on the internet, but most of the websites which came up were Christian, which I didn’t trust. It seems that for plain old historians without an agenda this isn’t an interesting topic. Finally, I found this post on Ask.com.

There are twenty death-bed witnesses, Madame Bonneville, Dr. Romaine, Dr. Manley, Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Milledollar, Mr. Pigott, Mrs. Redden, Willet Hicks, Mrs. Cheeseman, Amasa Woodsworth, Thomas Nixon, Captain Pelton, Walter Morton, Thomas Addis Emmet, Mrs. Few, Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jarvis, B.F. Haskin, Colonel Fellows, and Judge Hertell, many of them Christians, all affirming or admitting that Thomas Paine did not recant.

It was one of those tiresome things that, even while I was doing it, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I care?” However, I know that the radical right has been fabricating a strange view of history and I think that’s unhealthy. For what it’s worth, I’ve never much liked Howard Zinn, seeing him more as a propagandist than an historian. The truth may be difficult to grasp and subject to interpretation, but in order to know where one stands on contemporary issues, it’s important to examine the past. On the other hand, time marches on. We seek to make the world a better place, which is not possible if we think the country should be frozen in amber in 1776 or 1789. It is probably more relevant to know the words and deeds of Thomas Paine in the course of his life and the effect he had on the politics of several countries than to know what his last words were. Still, I decided to make an effort to counter the lie the Christians tell.

Freethought Blogs is a website that hosts the blogs of a score of people. Until recently, Chris Rodda had a blog there. Today it was missing. I wondered what happened to it and I searched on the internet for her name. I had never before taken note of her book Liars for Jesus. She has the introduction and the first several pages of each chapter available on the related website. I drank some coffee and read a little bit. I only got as far as the second chapter before doing other things, however that second chapter was strangely relevant to what happened later that day. By a funny coincidence, the chapter is about the Northwest Ordinance. Before I go further, let me state that I keep on my bookshelf a book called The American Pageant. It is a high school text-book that has been used to teach U.S. History since 1983. I frequently turn to it, not because it is the best book on U.S. History every written, but because it can give me an idea of the “standard” narrative. This and other U.S. History books have been criticized by the left for ethnocentrism. The American Pageant is a broad survey and covers very little in depth. I can’t imagine a class that wouldn’t supplement it with many other items. However, here is what it has to say on the Northwest Ordinance.

While still British colonies, several states-to-be were given “sea to sea” charters, while others had much more limited lands. The states that had claims to lands far to the west were Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states without Western claims were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. At the end of the Revolution, the new States each found itself burdened with debt.

A major complaint was that the land-blessed states could sell their trans-Allegheny tracts, and thus pay off pensions and other debts incurred in the common cause. The states without such holdings would have to tax themselves heavily to defray these obligations. Why not turn the whole western area over to the central government?

Unanimous approval of the Articles of Confederation by the thirteen states was required , and landless Maryland stubbornly held out until March 1, 1781. She finally gave in when New York surrendered her western claims, and Virginia seemed about to do so. To sweeten the pill, Congress pledged itself to dispose of these vast areas for the “common benefit.” It further agreed to carve from the new public domain a number of “republican” states, which in time would be admitted to the Union on terms of complete equality with all the others. This pledge was later redeemed in the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The book then goes on to talk ever so briefly of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Then it notes two effective laws that were passed during that period, The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

This law came to grips with the notion of how a nation should deal with its colonial peoples…. The solution provided by the Ordinance was a judicious compromise” temporary tutelage, then permanent equality.

The book as very little more to say on the subject beyond a celebratory line about the “unstinted praise” deserved by the “wisdom of Congress,” probably exactly the sort of language the gets the book a thumbs-down from the left.

Since Rodda only gives the first four pages of the chapter on the internet, I was not able to read her entire version, not that it mattered. I was just engaging in a little idle reading while waiting for the wash cycle to be done so I could transfer my laundry to the dryer.

In her introduction, which I basically skimmed because it bored me a little, she writes about how she came to decide to write the book Liars for Jesus. She writes how she followed a link in a story. “Little did I know that when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history.”

I haven’t had one watershed moment, but for the past year, since I’ve been blogging and engaging with people on the internet more frequently than in the past, I am beginning to realize the same thing.

Then I went back to the Freethought Blogs site, and I happened to see a post that mentioned that May 1 was the “National Day of Prayer,” something I had never heard of, nor had my mother when I brought it up to her this evening.

Earlier today, I put up a very short post noting that, although today was a “National Day of Prayer,” I wouldn’t be praying. I didn’t offer any opinion about whether or not the designation was constitutional or not. My laundry was in the dryer. As soon as it was out, I was going to jump in the shower, throw on my clothes and meet my mother for our workout at the gym. I went on to do other things, but checked my computer again because someone owes me an email. There was a comment from a Christian who frequents atheist blogs seeming to pick fights. I have learned to avoid him. He says strange things about U.S. History the source of which is unknown to me, but frequently is quite far afield from anything resembling what I learned in high school. It’s one thing to argue with someone about interpretation. It is quite tedious when the other person seems to possess their own private set of facts.

I guess it’s hard to argue with the statement, “I did not pray today.” Despite the fact that I never brought up whether or not the National Day of Prayer was constitutional, this commenter went on a strange rant about the Northwest Ordinance. I would have had no clue what he was talking about if I hadn’t by chance just read portions Rodda’s book earlier that day. I dislike this person. He is very aggressive and has said vulgar, unkind things to me in the past. I have countered with my own unkind statements, and now avoid him. I dislike him so much that I sometimes avoid commenting on blogs where he might show up because I don’t want to have an argument with him. He frequently cites U.S. History, but not any history I ever learned, but his own Alice through the Looking Glass version. I thought about going back to Rodda’s site and responding to his argument. One thing I do not like to do is to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged in comments. Not because I want to have an argument, but because I do not want to lead people astray. I do not want my blog to be used to spread known falsehoods. Then the timer I had set for the dryer went off.

I ran down to the laundry room and came back unsure of what to do. My blood pressure mounting by the second. Feeling like I was going to have a stroke, I wanted to delete his comment, explain why I deleted it, but since he is very aggressive in his argument I wanted to block him from commenting. I’ve only done that once before and I couldn’t recall how to do that. My mind clouded by anger, I tried searching, but felt that the words were swimming before my eyes. My mother was waiting for me. I took down the post and wrote the “I Hate Christians.” Quite obviously, that is an outburst. I can’t decide whether or not to take it down, now that I’m calmer. Maybe it’s good for Christians to see what their inability to be civil reduces people to.

And this is where I feel like my mind went “ping.” I’ve never considered myself an anti-theist, just an atheist. I’ve always tried to be an atheist who gets along well with religious neighbors. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we can’t “coexist.” Some people make the argument that religion will always lead down this path. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to blow-up a school.

And this is where I become a bad depressive citizen. All evening, the same subject has been swirling around in my mind. Why do I bother? I virtually ooze privilege.  I look white, I was raised middle class and have a middle class accent, I got a reasonably solid secondary education, I have a B.A., I’ve been enrolled in Master’s programs, I have a successful supportive sister who is married to a supportive man, my mother tries to be supportive in her own way, I grew up with a really nice father who is unfortunately now deceased, I’m able-bodied, highly intelligent, in good health and very pretty according to standard norms of beauty when I bother to fix myself up a bit. Except for the fact that I’m female, petite and now middle-aged, I really exist in a surprisingly comfortable world. Why should I care about anybody else? Let’s face it, it has absolutely no impact on me if someone in Oklahoma teaches their kids Creationism. Mainly, Christians want to hobble their own children. Why am I fighting?

Then I thought to myself, “You can still write what you think, just turn off the comments.” Then I remember how isolated I am here in this town and maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I could only write about things that don’t bring contentious people to my blog and start avoiding other people’s blogs, something I’ve already started to do.

Then I have other moments when I think about the frustration I’ve felt the past few days and feel that I should instead make my blog about U.S. History to counter the falsehoods. Then I think again and I feel exhausted at the notion. If it were my job, that would be one thing, but it would be a full-time job to even make a dent in it.

Then I get angry at Christians again. Where are the moderate Christians? Where are the people who are always bothering atheists that we haven’t thought about sophisticated notions of theology? They’re always up for an argument when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” Why do I rarely (not never, I should point out) see them arguing with their fundamentalist coreligionists.

Then we get the people who are just out to lunch, like my mother. Honestly, I don’t mean anything against my mother, but a couple of weeks ago she wanted to talk about that missing plane and yesterday she wanted to talk about the racist basketball team owner.

I feel exhausted, I feel defeated, I feel alone in this fight and I would rather not care. Now, if I can only succeed in not caring.

So maybe I should just cocoon myself in my privilege and keep in mind that all of this has comparatively little tangible effect on me.

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