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Scratch, Eclectic and Bizarre, Defies Simplistic Analysis

As said in Star Trek’s Day of the Dove, reminiscent of what the Buddhist Lotus sutra has to say about this reality: “Only a fool fights in a burning house.” And yet, I do feel that, when someone criticizes my work and I think misses the mark, I do have to defend myself. Perhaps I am a fool to do so in this world of ridiculous values, this world of military-industrial complexes, of mental health industries, and of sexual harassment industries. But then a fool I shall be. I suppose it is better to be a fool than to suffer from a “dissociative disorder,” such as I am now accused of, or to suffer from some other label my critics would like to give me in the future. I reject all such labels up-front.

What prompts these reflections? I have recently visited the MySpace profile of my super-villain character “Scratch,” from The Deviants, where I, as an author, playfully, and hopefully in a somewhat Kierkegaardian, pseudonymous manner, write as if I am indeed Scratch. I even have a blog entry entitled, “Scratch’s brutally honest advice column—enter at your own risk.” This MySpace profile, where I “am” Scratch, also is an attempt to advertise for my work. And I do so enjoy writing Scratch—it is indeed quite a delight.

Yet also there on my profile, within Scratch’s “brutally honest advice column,” I have recently encountered an analysis of Scratch that I find sophomoric, simplistic, and rather dismissive of me as an author—perhaps my would-be interlocutor, prognosticator, and erstwhile assailant took that title as an invitation to be brutally honest with me. But in her attempt, she entirely misses the mark.

However, her missive is somehow worthy of a response, since I predict future would-be readers and gallant prognosticators may also be quick to categorize me, explain me away, and hence dismiss me. Especially dismissive, I am sure, will be those readers who apparently are heavily invested in two things I am critical of in my work: the mental health industry and the Sexual Harassment Industry. (Even though Scratch, as a character, is not meant to say much about these issues, at least not in the original work The Deviants—though it is true that I will use him to explore some of these issues in later sequels).

As in the quote famously attributed to Kierkegaard, “If you label me, you negate me,” I feel both labeled and negated by this analysis which, though it contains some accuracy about my background, does not go much in-depth into who I am as an author, as it purports to do. Again, it entirely misses the mark.

I share it here for my other readers’ perusal, and follow it with my own comments about what I see as its dreadful inadequacies:

“Scratch,

“Are you the online manifestation of a dissociative disorder?

“Like roughly three to four percent of other adults, perhaps some trauma in your real life has been simply too difficult to deal with, too emotionally and psychologically traumatic and therefore you’ve escaped into this alternative identity.

“It is interesting, is it not, that you’re named ‘scratch.’ As a middle-aged, white male, from Alabama, with a Christian background, having pursued ministry, attended two different seminaries, and having some knowledge of the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority), it is striking that you are named after a nickname for the Devil. Perhaps you are representative of Richmond’s inner struggle over what is right or what is wrong? And your bisexuality…well, let’s just not go there.”

Thank you, sophomoric doctor, for your analysis.

I must admit that I am somewhat sympathetic to Freudian interpretations of “deeper meanings” to characters, as well as to postmodern arguments that our various social locations do impact our writings. I admit that and, to some extent, agree that such can be tools of useful and fruitful analysis. Though, of course, postmodernism does at least encourage us to look beyond “deeper” meanings and realize that there is a multiplicity of surface meanings to any character. There is not just one meaning.

It bothers me, though, as a writer that this commentator, this doctor of my mental state, this prognosticator, this brilliantly simplistic person apparently omniscient about all that I am, brings in so much about my life onto Scratch’s profile. If one wants to do that, come onto the “Richmond West” profile to talk about Richmond West. This commentator is deliberately spoiling the playful style of the Scratch profile by saying that he, Scratch, is the author, Richmond West.

I disagree—this goes too far. Scratch is a character unto himself. I think the commentator, my erstwhile prognosticator, is being far too Freudian. Rather than a “deep meaning” to Scratch that captures Richmond West, it could be that Scratch is rather a postmodern surface play of a multiplicity of meanings. Thus, I think he deserves a postmodern rather than just a quasi-Freudian interpretation. So, while relating my personal life and struggles to Scratch has its place, I also want to affirm him as a character very unique from me.

My well-meaning but erroneous prognosticator, you say I “escape” into this identity—then do not all authors do the same with their characters? All authors “enter” into their characters. Thus, what is it that you are accusing me of? Are you saying thereby that all authors have “dissociative” disorders? That may be a fascinating theory, if you universalize it so. But then it would be somewhat banal and redundant to accuse me of it, and not say anything specifically about me as an author.

As to “Scratch” being a name for the “Devil”—does my prognosticator, omniscient of all that I am, suppose herself brilliant to point this out to me, who chose the name? Of course that is part of why I picked the name! Would an author pick such a name and be blissfully unaware of what he was doing? Such is surely to insult my intelligence. If she does think I was aware, she has made no great revelation to me by pointing out what is to me obvious.

However, what she has failed to miss in such a simplistic interpretation is that this is not the only reason I picked that name, and indeed not even the original reason. Far more fun for me as an author were the playful puns I could make with it, such as how Scratch can “scratch” your itch, how his pictures end up being “scratch” paper after he loses his power, etc. Thus, there is a playful multiplicity of meanings to “Scratch,” which a mere “Devil” interpretation, while of course there, does not alone do him justice. I think that perhaps my prognosticator would have seen this, had she bothered to read my work, which I suspect that she did not, so dismissive was she to “unmask” Scratch and “reveal” the author.

Also, I admit that, because Scratch is a character who says and does whatever he wants, he is indeed very fun to write for me as an author.

Yet, this respondent, this would-be prognosticator and doctor, omniscient of all that I am, in equating me, Richmond West, with a character I am writing, Scratch, does disservice to authors everywhere. Despite my personal history, Scratch as a character does not have a “Christian” background. Such would be anathema to him. And he is not from Alabama. Nor has he pursued ministry, nor has he attended two different seminaries—such would go against everything he stands for as a character.

If future prognosticators want to bring in my background for a fruitful discussion of my writings, that is fine, and indeed I welcome it (if it is not so simplistic as to proclaim I have a “dissociative” or some other disorder). But to equate my own personal background with a specific character of mine, and dismiss the uniqueness of that character thereby, does a profound disservice to me as a writer, and indeed to any author anywhere.

Does Shakespeare’s writing of Macbeth prove that he, Shakespeare, is somehow a repressed murderer with a dissociative disorder? Do the creators of such things as comic-book arch-villains, such as Batman’s The Joker, thereby have dissociative disorders? Does every creator of a villain, or a bad person as a character, necessarily share the characteristics of that character?

Hardly so.

Or else they should cart off to insane asylums every author who dares try to write an insane character. I will dare do so. But to that I add this:

You can put me in chains, but I will always be free.

My prognosticator attempts to sound so brilliant, but she tells me nothing that I don’t already know. Yes, I’m a white male from Alabama with a “Christian” background. Wow, that’s so postmodern a point as to no longer even be original. I’m a white male. As if I did not realize that! Yes, that is important. But I also want to say this: So what? I am quite aware of that. Does any of that loose, perhaps predictably prejudiced sketch, tell anyone anything about my postmodern position? Does that tell anyone anything about the “mystical” and “agnostic” elements of my religiosity? Does that tell anyone anything of how I consider myself to fall under the pragmatic theory of truth as a philosopher, how I am not only very postmodern but also very existentialist, especially in the manner of my favorite philosopher, Kierkegaard? Furthermore, my prognosticating “doctor” brings up my “Christian background” as a writer. This is a somewhat accurate, though very simplistic, label which shows she has little understanding of me.

First of all, when I wrote The Deviants, I was technically an agnostic rather than a Christian—my views have changed and I’m sure will change over time—though it is certainly true that, looking back over the material, I do see a theme of acceptance of differences, which I do think is part of the Christian Gospel in its best, non-fundamentalist form.

However, ninety-nine percent of “Christians” would probably find me heretical. I call myself a mystical Christian rather than a Christian—key word being “mystical,” emphasizing mystery. I have been influenced by Wicca, by Buddhism, and by Native American spirituality, among other things. I perceive of God as female and hear her voice in my life (far more beneficial would be an analysis of that, in my opinion, than of my character Scratch). I am very postmodern and zero percent fundamentalist. That is, I think the Bible, while inspired, is not infallible or inerrant, and belongs with other inspired books such as The Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Tao te Ching, and so forth, all of which I have read as much as I’ve read the Bible. Does my prognosticator’s sweeping characterization of me as a “Christian” capture anything of this?

Hardly so.

Also, this does not take into account either my postmodern philosophical position or the fact that I am a student and teacher of philosophy and world religions. In the book The Deviants, I make a conscious effort to reflect on many of the world’s great religions. Johnny Knight, the central character, and far more fruitful for a comparison with me than Scratch, struggles with his Native American spirituality while at a Christian seminary. He also encounters a Hindu, a Buddhist, and a Muslim in one scene of the book. He thinks about the Jewish thinker Levinas. My characters Greg and Rusty also struggle with their own prejudice when they encounter a couple of Muslim characters.

Rusty, a lover of comic books and rather innocent, is also fruitful, along with Johnny Knight, as a comparison to me. But Greg Garrison, a member of the military and conservative, does not represent my position. I think it is a strength I have, and many authors have: when an author can “step outside” his or her own position and, with empathy, imagine another. I believe I do something similar with Scratch. I wonder, with Scratch, what the terrible corrupting effects of such a power as he has, to attract anyone he wants, could be. Does that imply I am Scratch? Hardly. Again, a comparison with my hero, Johnny Knight, would be far more accurate than a comparison with my villain, Scratch, who represents certain problematic things I find about the human condition. And by that I do not mean his bisexuality—let me make that clear.

Scratch’s bisexuality—my prognosticator says she won’t go there. Well, I will, and I challenge her to do the same, since she brings it up in her rather simplistic missive. It would be a profound mistake of anyone to read so much into Scratch that one reads the author, Richmond West, as struggling with bisexuality. Though it would not matter to me if I were bisexual—and arguably the main theme of The Deviants is uplifting and celebrating difference—this is not the case with me. I am very far over on the “heterosexual” end of the Kinsey scale, perhaps unfortunately. Yes, Scratch is bisexual. Does that mean I am, or that I struggle with that? No. Not necessarily. Except that maybe I do wish I could love everyone equally. But this is not a choice for me.

However, when writing Scratch, and thinking about the dangerous implications of such a power, I began to believe that it would be most effective, and in line with the book, to show Scratch’s power as universal—that he could have anyone he wanted. And that made him the dangerous villain I so loved, and still love, to write.

Now, if someone tries to argue that, by doing so, I am trying to put down bisexuality, that also is an incorrect interpretation and not in line with the theme of the book. It especially goes against the scene where a couple of intersexuals come to Johnny Knight’s seminary to present a version of “queer” theory, and push us all to go beyond bifurcations and see diversity and difference in sexual expression as a value. And, by the way, diversity in sexual expression is something that my prognosticator’s statement about “inappropriate” sexuality, and for that matter “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, does not adequately take into account, in my view.

If anything, I personally think being pansexual, accepting of any kind of sexuality, would be a divine ideal, more in line with what a compassionate, loving God would be, and I make that point with Johnny Knight’s character in The Deviants when he states to his asexual wife Kelly that he believes maybe God is pansexual. Perhaps an author like me is concerned with the ethical implications of such a character as Scratch. If one begins to analyze Scratch in an ethical manner, then one comes closer to an understanding of both Scratch as a character and Richmond West as an author. Scratch does represent for me a “morality tale,” of sorts. But simply to equate us does a disservice to us both. Yes, an author’s personality impacts his or her characters. But we also try to transcend our own personalities in the interest of story.

Furthermore, while it is true that I engage the issue of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law in my later works, I barely deal with that issue with Scratch in his initial book, and the minor manner in which I actually do address that in The Deviants seems to have entirely escaped my erstwhile interlocutor. Scratch hardly ever deals with the issue of making sexual advances to people under his authority, except once, with his secretary. And, because she wants his actions, everything he does is okay. This, of course, is a point my prognosticator has entirely missed in her brief analysis. In that minor portion of Scratch, perhaps I am giving hints as to how I will use Scratch in future sequels to deal with these issues in more expansive ways.

Otherwise, Scratch uses his power to trample upon those “in his way,” which makes him ironically very much like the woman who was equal to me (not my student and thus not “inappropriate” for me under my prognosticator’s simplistic definition), and who charged me with “sexual misconduct,” even though she was the one constantly coming to my school library. Just who was “stalking” who, just who was “harassing” who, thereby?

Far more important is that Scratch uses his power to climb over others on his way to the top. Thus, he has far more to say, for me as an author, about the ethical implications of having no concern whatsoever for another person you’re dealing with sexually.

Far more endemic to the ethical implications of Scratch, then, is this question, far more profound a question, I believe, for so-called “radical” feminism than my prognosticator’s simplistic account of sexual “harassment”:

How does one claim power without being domineering?

Oh, feminist Caesars, we who are about to die salute you!

Thus, I’m not just talking about myself here when I raise the question of how one claims power without being domineering, though it is an important question for me and I think for everyone. I am also raising this question to the “radical” feminists who use, in a hostile manner ironically, “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law to slam the unattractive.

Scratch is never seen as unattractive—and hence the issue of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” cannot come up for him. That’s part of the point, and indeed the only point I as an author make with him regarding this, in this initial book.

How can Scratch be accused of unwanted advances when his advances are always wanted? This is the only thing the Scratch character, at least in the initial book The Deviants, has to say about “hostile environment” sexual “harassment,” something minor to the character overall, but something my prognosticator’s analysis of “the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority)” fails to cover or even address.

What really ticks me off about my commentator, my prognosticator, omniscient of all that I am, is her mentioning that I “know” the “inappropriateness” of going out with someone “under my authority.” I do not “know” any such thing. I think professorial authority is what needs to be challenged, not some supposed “inappropriateness.”

My prognosticator has indeed gotten me riled up, which, if that is her intention, she has quite well succeeded. I guess this is good—I can use my anger as incentive for finally finishing the first draft of Witch Hunt. Nothing pisses me off more than “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law (which hypocritically creates a “hostile environment” to any sexual expression it deems “inappropriate,” even when it hurts no one), or those who use it with vindictive cruelty to slam someone just for being unattractive to them.

My prognosticator’s MySpace comment about Scratch tries to psychoanalyze Scratch into merely my own struggle. While perhaps there is some truth to that, her analysis also really bugs me—it’s like an author can’t step outside of himself or herself and take on a different character. Not so much my internal struggle is Scratch, but rather a showpiece, I feel, about the corrupting nature of sexual power.

Yes, included in that is some subtle reflection about how inconsistent “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law is in punishing the unattractive and favoring the attractive. Scratch can do whatever the hell he wants and it is “okay” because it is “wanted.” That is part of how I interpret Scratch. He is not so much my internal struggle as he is a “morality play” I want others to consider. Does my personal experience play into that? Of course. But it is a struggle I have with my society more so than within myself.

My prognosticator, by limiting that struggle to me, refuses to look critically at her own views: which is what I am trying to get my readers to do! And this is part of why I find her comment so dismissive. Perhaps she attacks me rather than looking at herself as I am calling her to do.

There have indeed been two cases when I have been charged with “sexual harassment” or “sexual misconduct.” Do they inform my writings? Sure—I’m the one who has admitted that, so my prognosticator is telling me nothing new or extraordinary. One of the cases I was charged with, the far more severe case, did not in any way involve any authority on my part whatsoever—I was a Ph.D. student, and the woman who lodged the complaint was another Ph.D. student from another program—we were equals, and there was no issue of authority. Thus, my prognosticator’s simplistic analysis of the “inappropriateness” of asking out someone “under my authority” does not even apply to what I consider to be the most profound case I faced. If anything, the woman I dealt with, as far more attractive than I, was the one with power in the relationship—perhaps, if anything, Scratch represents her, not me. Consider that next time you would-be prognosticators decide to make an analysis of my character and write me off so simplistically and dismissively. In fact, one of the things I did while writing Scratch was to think of the many attractive females I have known who were cruel because of their attractive power.

In the first of the two cases of sexual “harassment” I was charged with, it is true that I, when I was a very young and naïve instructor, and didn’t know better, asked out a student (actually, it was so innocent I hardly deem it worthy to be called, as my prognosticator wants to call it, a “sexual advance”). It seemed to me at the time that my flirtations were wanted—the woman in question even invited me out to lunch. I had no clue at the time that my advances were unwanted. And, indeed, I have been taught by all the literature on sexuality, from The Rules to How to Succeed with Women, that as a male I am expected in this society to make all advances, that a woman uses “no” to control the pace, and thus that I am expected to be gently persistent in a playful way. Since she invited me out to lunch, since she told me in an email that she was impressed with my persistence, I did not have any clue from her mixed signals that I was doing anything wrong or unwanted.

Later, of course, this student claimed that I “showed up” when I went to meet her for the lunch she invited me to—that is so ironic to me. I admit now—having far more teaching experience—that I should never have asked her out before that or gone to meet her for lunch.

However, far more problematic to me was the “zero tolerance” shown me as a young, naïve instructor by the school, and the Dean shivering at me with hatred and saying, “That’s…immoral,” when I, then in my twenties, was very naïve and unaware of the issue.

Also problematic are the lies told to me, and the cruelty and vindictiveness shown to me, simply because I had asked someone out whom I treated as an equal rather than as some underling.

After all, I had been taught by feminist pedagogical literature to break down the hierarchy between teacher and student and treat students with equality. I guess it is indeed ironic to me that I got slammed by the very ideology that I had up to then believed in—radical feminism. I still support postmodern feminism, because it uplifts and allows for differences in sexual expression. Not so “radical” feminism. I am radical feminist no more.

And I was told, ironically, by the sexual harassment officer of that school: “You can’t treat her as an equal.”

Think about that phrase—I can’t treat her as an equal. This comes from feminism? What is wrong with that picture? Students and teachers are not “equals”—why so? Can my prognosticator not see the problematic nature of that? The great teachers in history, Socrates, Jesus, etc.—taught for free…and gave no grades. And it would not have mattered if they had an affair with a student or not.

I guess universities are now trying to protect their power rather than call it into question.

As I say, I still believe in postmodern feminism, because it respects differences and realizes that people approach sexuality differently, and does not slam people for approaching it in a different way. “Radical” feminism is, in my experience, more concerned with slamming people for “inappropriateness,” which really equates to unattractiveness—at least that has been my experience.

Thus, my prognosticator’s simplistic, black and white interpretation of this as “the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority)” misses many of the marks of the issue.

Far more problematic to me is why I have supposed “authority” over students in the first place. Where is the feminist critique of patriarchal power structures here? Where is a feminist critique of grading systems here?

It seems to me that my prognosticator’s flimsy analysis keeps all structures in place.

Thus, in my humble estimation, “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law merely keeps current power structures in place.

My current place of employment keeps encouraging me to wear a tie and come in as an “authority” with the students. I still refuse to do so. This flies in the face of feminist pedagogical theory. But it does not fly in the face of a simplistic view that supports the over/under power structure regarding “inappropriateness,” as my prognosticator actually, ironically, seem to do, along with the “radical” feminists who support her position.

Finally, and most problematic of all to me, is the way my prognosticator makes some claim about my mental state and argues that I have some disorder which, of course, she defines.

I have indeed been taken against my will, though I was a danger to neither myself or to anyone else, to mental hospitals on three different occasions, when I was struggling with what had happened to me (I could not finish my Ph.D. because I considered my program’s treatment of my sexual being both harassing and hostile, terms the Sexual Harassment Industry ironically tries to claim for itself, even as it harasses in a hostile manner those it finds unattractive and also takes away their due process).

Once, in protesting the fact I was being held against my will in one of these mental hospitals, I was given a shot, drugged, until I conked out, and then was taken back to my room: all against my will, for merely raising a protest….

These visits to mental hospitals were, of course, after I had written The Deviants.

But I was not nor am I “mentally ill”—I refuse to accept that label. I knew it was a lie the moment I heard it, a lie that would have crippled me if I had believed it. I was undergoing a profound spiritual crisis and disconnect with the values of this world, including “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, incipient to a profound spiritual awakening.

One doctor, after talking with me for just four minutes, said that I was “profoundly mentally ill.”

I beg to differ.

One doctor said I had some form of “schizophrenia.” Another some form of “manic depressive disorder.” And now this prognosticator comes onto MySpace and diagnoses me with “dissociative disorder.”

Today I teach philosophy still, I have written two novels, and I am finishing a third, Witch Hunt, which does attack both the mental health and Sexual Harassment Industries, both of which my prognosticator apparently uncritically supports in her willingness to so quickly label me, and negate me.

Thus, my dear critic, my “doctor,” my prognosticator, and, since you apparently know everything about me, I might as well call you my “God”—when you label me with a quick perusal of one of my characters, without any real depth of understanding of me or my work, as someone with merely a “dissociative disorder,” you say to me far more about yourself than you do about me.

I’m sure my future readers will come up with all kinds of labels for me, all kinds of ways to explain away and ultimately to dismiss my complexity as a writer.

In light of this, I say to you and all future prognosticators: I do wish all of you who would label me in this manner would be consistent, so that I may understand what it is you are actually accusing me of being. Am I “schizophrenic,” “manic depressive,” “dissociative,” or what? In other words, please be consistent when you hurl your insults. Thank you.

I say I am none of these.

I say I am Richmond West. And your simplistic labels will never capture or contain me.

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Hey, folks. It’s my turn in my writer’s group to post a blog, and I’m not sure what to say today, but I’m reading Kierkegaard’s toughest work, The Concept of Anxiety, for like the fourth time, and it’s finally making some sense to me. By the way, I don’t recommend anyone read that until they have read Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, Philosophical Fragments, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which are I think Kierkegaard’s best works and much more accessible (not that they’re easy, of course). In fact, I wish everyone would read Fear and Trembling–I think that’s a classic. The Concept of Anxiety is just tough–I’ve bashed my head against it for some time. But it’s beginning to make some sense, like I said, and I can see how it is important to existentialism, especially his reflections on human freedom.

(By the way, does ANYONE know where, if anywhere, the famous, oft-quoted “If you label me, you negate me,” comes from? I’m reading through Kierkegaard’s works trying to find that quote. Of course, his corpus is enormous, and I haven’t found it yet. And none of the people who ever quote it seem to give a citation for it…sigh…I’d like to know what the context of the quote is.]

Anyway, this one particular quote from The Concept of Anxiety really grabbed me, because it relates to my life, in that I chose to walk away from my Ph.D. program for this: without giving me any due process over the matter or any chance to defend myself whatsoever, they held personal email from a relationship I’d had that had gone sour (email which, by the way, was not in any way threatening), holding that email within the department against my wishes, even when I begged them to move it to security. I decided not to pay that institution, Iliff and the University of Denver, another penny, and walk away from my Ph.D. program. (Talk about “hostile environment”!!!) Students of color had been protesting against the institutional racism for years, and I as a white male didn’t understand what they meant until I saw this happen to me, and in my final letter to that school I wrote to them and told them that I finally realized the students of color had been right! For the decision to drop that program, my career has suffered. But I’ve never regretted it much, because I could not put up with that institutional evil. Anyway, maybe I’m getting too personal.

Here is the quote (the endnote points out it is a paraphrase of Matthew 25:21 and Luke 17:33):

“However, in regard to all this, one has to wait for the appearance of individuals who, despite outward gifts, do not choose the broad way but rather the pain, the distress, and the anxiety in which they religiously call to mind what meanwhile they lose, as it were, namely, what is too seductive to possess. Such a struggle is indubitably very exhausting, because there will come moments when they almost regret having begun it and recall with melancholy, at times possibly unto despair, the smiling life that would have opened before them had they pursued the immediate inclination of their talent. Nevertheless, in the extreme terror of distress, when it is as though all were lost because the way along which he would advance is impassible, and the smiling way of talent is cut off from him by his own act, the person who is aware will indubitably hear a voice saying: Well done, my son! Just keep on, for he who loses all, gains all.” 

I don’t know if this quote strikes anyone else, and maybe some will just see it as a Biblical paraphrase. But it really meant a lot to me as I read it and reflected on my own life.

I think Kierkegaard is often that way in his writings. He’ll say something that will strike the reader and will really hit home.

Anyway, I suppose that is all I could think of today…sorry to be so short this time. But hey, the philosophy class I’m teaching is coming to a close, and I’m having to grade papers, so I haven’t had time to otherwise reflect on what to write today.

In fact, I’ve put my third novel I’m working on, Witch Hunt, aside until this class is over. I of course can’t wait to get back to work on it in a couple of weeks. I think that I can finish it soon, within a couple of months (but, sigh, I think I said that two months ago, too). 😉 But I am getting closer.

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Hello, everyone! I make no claims to being a Wittgenstein expert–I’m just beginning to learn more about him, having noticed he has some affinities with Kierkegaard, one of my favorites, and thinking about applying Wittgenstein’s thought in my upcoming book Witch Hunt.

It strikes me that Wittgenstein’s work is profoundly mystical and religious. I gather that the early Wittgenstein, represented mainly in the Tractatus, his first and only published work, offers something of a pictorial view of language–that words name objects, so that statements are either true or false if the real world corresponds to the statement. For instance, “The cat is on the mat” is either true or false, depending on whether we can verify it in the world. “The world is all that is the case,” as Wittgenstein puts it. The logical positivists really ran with this, people like A.J. Ayer going so far as to say, with his verification principle, that any statements that could not be empirically verified, such as religious statements like “Jesus is Lord,” are nonsensical.

But I don’t sense that with Wittgenstein. Rather, he ends the Tractatus with the idea that, of what we cannot speak, we should be silent. There’s a sense of a reverential silence there. It reminds me of Kierkegaard’s views that religious truth cannot be objectively formulated–that real, passionate truth is subjectivity for Kierkegaard.

The later Wittgenstein seems to me to reject his own initial view of words as only naming objects and realizes different types of language function differently–here he comes up with his views on language games. 

Wittgenstein argues there is no essential meaning to any word, and that the meaning of a word is its use in a particular context. Words are like tools in a toolbox–the meaning of a word is its use. A word has no ultimate, Platonic, universal definition. Thus, his example of what we call a “game”–some games are competitive, but some are not (tossing a balloon back and forth with a child), some games are team games, some are not (Solitaire), etc.–so that there is no essential meaning to the word “game.” Rather, the various things we call “games” have family resemblances to each other.

This impacts religion, for there is no single definition of religion. Some religions have one God, some many, some none. And even what seems common to all of what we call religion, such as that they have ritual, does not apply in all cases (such as a solitary monk who follows no rituals, unless you call the monkhood itself a ritual).

Thus, Wittgenstein in many ways responds to A.J. Ayer and makes room for such statements as “Jesus is Lord,” which does make sense in its own language game. Where science and religion get confused is when they try to apply their own criteria to another discourse. It makes no empirical, scientific sense to talk about Adam and Eve, for instance–science cannot deal with that. However, from a religious standpoint, that story has a lot to say about human destiny, free will, sin, our relationship with God and estrangement, etc. So scientific and religious discourse can complement each other.

I like that about Wittgenstein–he makes room for faith and the language of faith, but it’s mystical and does not have to be scientific. Of course, the criticism I would have of Wittgenstein is that, if taken too far, science and religion then have no way to criticize each other, and I think mutual criticism is beneficial for both. Religious thought should always take scientific thought seriously, and, since science cannot really answer ethical questions, or ultimate “why” questions either, I believe science has to be in dialogue with religion.

In my own work, not only do I have an admiration for Wittgenstein because of that mystical quality, but also his fight against our craving for generality, as he calls it: our attempts to universalize the meanings of words. For instance, “harassment,” and this is how I’m thinking of using Wittgenstein in Witch Hunt–we use that word “harassment” in very many different ways in sexual harassment law, especially “hostile environment” sexual “harassment”–and some of those ways seem very harmful to me (quid pro quo extorting someone for sex, and real types of intentional harassment, for instance), while others not so much (merely asking someone out and being too shy and hence awkward about it, or telling a joke). And yet, when we hear the word “harassment,” we have a craving to generalize it all as wrong and slam people for their “immorality.” (Again, I’ve been accused of it twice, in both cases I think unfairly and maliciously, and I was lied to and entrapped–I am combining those two experiences into one, fictionalizing it, and using that to form the basic story of Witch Hunt). I personally think we toss that word “harassment” around and bewitch ourselves as to its meaning, and Wittgenstein can help us clear up our philosophical confusion. That’s how I’m going to try to use his work in Witch Hunt. (I hope that made some sense–I’m just beginning to formulate the ideas about Wittgenstein and haven’t fleshed them out fully yet, plus I’m trying to be somewhat brief here.)

Anyway, that’s my .02 for today, for what it’s worth. Again, I’m not claiming any fantastic expertise in Wittgenstein. That’s why I say he is “perhaps” amazing. 🙂 I’m just saying I like him so far, even though I’m just beginning to study him in depth, for many of the reasons I like Kierkegaard–they both seem to me to go beyond a literalistic interpretation of religious language (and language itself) and instead have a mystical reverence for that which language often cannot adequately express.

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Hey, everyone!

In my philosophy class, I just taught Socrates, and the session went really well–the students were really into the discussion. I talked about how he was one of the first “cultural critics,” always helping us to question our preconceived ideas of societal “common sense.” Upon questioning, some of our widely-held opinions sometimes contradict each other, and sometimes they don’t, but even those that don’t should always be kept under the lens of further scrutiny. As Jack Forstman, one of my teachers at Vanderbilt, once said, “Everything human is not divine, and therefore should be subject to radical criticism.”

To apply Socrates, I talked about several cases of today with them, to demonstrate how important I think this is. First, I had sent to my students over email a letter from the director of the ACLU concerning our denial of habeas corpus and due process to hundreds held in places like Guantanamo Bay in our “War on Terror.” And in fact, our government has been trying to go against the Geneva Convention, and also has refused to sign a United Nations pact against holding prisoners secretly. (I have that letter posted on my MySpace blog). All this I find very dangerous–I believe that in many ways, we are entering an Orwellian age.

I said to my students that, if we look at this, we will see that we are defending American values by destroying American values, which could be seen as contradictory. One of my students protested that those rights are only for Americans, not foreigners. But then I pointed out in our Constitution we state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [we should have said people, but that’s another issue] are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”

Thus, I said to him, you don’t have to agree with me, but I want you to see that Socrates might raise a question about that. We are saying on the one hand that ALL people are created equal and deserve these rights, while on the other hand saying that only Americans deserve basic human rights.

Also to demonstrate this, I talked about a tire cover I had seen on a car recently that had an American flag and read “There’s Only One.” I imagined that, as is often the case in Alabama, perhaps the man was also a fundamentalist Christian. I told my class about how I thought Socrates would approach that through questioning. Surely we would quickly find that the man did not believe there is only one country in the world. So he probably meant that there is only one country deserving of his love. But notice that, if he is a fundamentalist Christian, he also would have to admit he believes in Jesus’ teaching “love your enemies,” which I think would imply “love other countries of the world.” So notice how he might be holding two contradictory beliefs, without even realizing it, because he has never thought deeply about his beliefs: On the one hand, I love only one country. On the other hand, I love my enemies and love all countries.

Of course, if I questioned someone in this way, I might get my ass kicked. 🙂 Which is why I think people like Socrates and Jesus had to drink hemlocke poisoning or be crucified. People don’t like having their “idols” challenged and having to confront some of their contradictory beliefs.

I also apply Socrates personally to two other aspects of our Orwellian age: the mental health industry and the sexual harassment industry. I didn’t talk to my students about this, but I may when I get to feminism. I’ll never forget a doctor telling me, after only talking to me for about four minutes, “You are profoundly mentally ill.” I tried to point out that people like Jesus and Siddhartha had also had profound disconnects with reality, and that I believed I was having a profound religious experience. He said, “They had followers. You don’t.” (As if the only thing that validated them was that they had followers!) But I thought to myself, okay, you’re having this rational conversation with me while claiming that I’m mentally ill? In other words, I believe that he held two contradictory, self-justifying beliefs at once: that I could be reasoned with (since he was trying to convince me) and that I could not (I was “profoundly mentally ill”). I think, rather, that such a position, such a claim of my “mental illness,” supported his pocketbook.

As to the sexual harassment industry, when I was in my 20’s and a very young teacher, I did very naively ask a student out, my only knowledge of that being supposedly “wrong” coming from a Friends episode, where they actually challenged that idea. In no way did I retaliate against that student. In fact, she left school to pursue a music career and even invited me out to lunch (which, sadly, was a set up–she later claimed I had just “shown up” to harass her). Anyway, I was brought up on “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” charges. I do believe I should have been reprimanded and corrected, but considering my age and experience I think they went way over the top: they fired me.

I want to say, before I begin further reflection on this, that I do support quid pro quo sexual harassment law. I do think it is wrong to force or extort someone into sexual relations. I think pressuring someone and then retaliating upon their refusal is very wrong, and that is indeed harassment.

But no, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about merely asking someone out, or telling a joke, and it then being considered “unwanted,” and you being slammed for it: I’m talking about mere “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, which I find very disturbing on many levels. And I’m writing a book about it called Witch Hunt.

I can’t go into all my arguments here, but I just wanted to focus on one thing: 

What I want to focus on is what they told me before they fired me: “You can’t treat her as an equal.”

Notice how sinister that phrase is in supporting the hierarchical teaching power structure. But notice especially how it goes, ironically, against feminism (“radical” feminism having created “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law), because feminism is about equality.

So here, perhaps, are two contradictory views of so-called “radical” feminism (not postmodern feminism, which I support): you can’t treat her as an equal, while at the same time we are all about promoting equality.

Once, when I was later denied due process at my Ph.D. program over a similar issue (even though in that case I feel I was again set up by a very cruel and vindictive person), and I complained about it, the school administrator said, “If someone feels harassed, they are harassed.” Of course, I easily turned that argument back on her, and said, yes, okay, I buy that, but I feel that this school is harassing me by denying me due process, and you need to stop. 

Therefore, by your own argument, since I am complaining about the way you’re harassing me, then I am right.

That, of course, reduced her to silence.

That argument, “If someone feels harassed, they are harassed,” tries to play on something that is really a tautology, “If someone feels upset, they are upset.” Of course, no one can deny that.

But that is not what that sentence is trying to say, I don’t think, if you look closely, because it is trying to say someone else is guilty. What it says is something like, “If I feel someone has committed a crime against me, then they have committed a crime against me.” Or, put more simply, “If I feel someone has committed a crime, then they have.” Suddenly, and I hope the reader sees this, you have a classic case of Orwellian doublethink, and this relates again to our prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

If we think they are guilty, “then they are.” (No more due process.)

Wow, we would not even need defense lawyers anymore. If I feel someone has committed a crime, then they have. I can take them to court and I automatically win every time. The judge has to admit, well, yes, I feel like that other person has committed a crime, therefore they have. I win. 🙂 The judge would have to say to the defense, well, you really can’t stand against that argument, because you cannot deny the prosecutor’s feeling that you have committed this crime.

So again, something that seems so innocuous at first, “If someone feels harassed, they are,” is actually an ultimate denial of due process.

For it means that the one accused of “harassment” is automatically guilty.

Anyway, I find it interesting that many evils of our day, such as our never-ending “War on Terror,” our mental health industry, and our sexual harassment industry, really end up resting on contradictory ideas when challenged, or when thought about with any modicum of reflection. 

I believe Socrates, by helping us to raise questions about what we say we believe and really know ourselves, is so very valuable in this increasingly Orwellian day.

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I’m not Buddhist (I’m more of a mystical Christian of sorts), but I deeply appreciate Buddhist philosophy and included a lot of it in my book Your Yesterday Is My Tomorrow, which is a tale about a man in a mental institution who believes he has discovered his past lives and his love for a goddess, whose voice he hears (and the doctors, of course, believe he has schizophrenia), and sort of has the subtitle, “What if a buddha married a god?”

I recently taught Buddhism to my Introduction to Philosophy class, and sent them this email, which I thought I’d share with you:

Hey, folks!

Before I review some terms about Buddhism, I want to say how much I have a deep love, philosophically, for Buddhist philosophy. As I mentioned when I told you a little about myself the first day, one of the things that first got me interested in academia and philosophy in the first place was the possibility of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. There has actually been a lot of books on this subject, ranging from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ to reflections by Christian theologian John Cobb on the “emptiness” of God.

 

I have always found the Buddhist idea that suffering is caused by desire very profound.

 

While in
Denver, I attended Buddhist-Christian services at a very liberal church. They did not “combine” the religions, for that would threaten each one’s uniqueness, but members of each tradition gathered together and prayed and meditated, and read something from each tradition. I wish that could happen more between different religions–gathering together.

 

Buddhism, being nontheistic (no eternal God) and with its doctrine of anatman (no soul) is, of course, very different from Christianity. However, because Buddhism so heavily emphasizes compassion (arising out of our interconnectedness), there are some ethical similarities with Christianity (and other religions, for that matter) which make for fruitful ethical dialogue. And Buddhism has much to say about protecting our environment, as we’ll hopefully talk more about next time. (Environmentalism is also one of my ethical concerns.)

 

Here are some key terms from the exam study sheet that we went over in class:

 

anatman=no-soul: The Buddhist teaching that we ultimately have no soul, no eternal, non-changing self. This idea, radically different from our Western idea of an eternal soul (Plato, Christianity, etc.), does help promote compassion, for once you see that you are not a separate self, this causes you perhaps to see that everything is interconnected, hence someone else’s suffering is my suffering, and this helps foster compassion.

 

(By the way, the book points out a similarity with David Hume’s bundle theory of the self: the idea that there is no enduring “self”–that what we call the self is simply a bundle of sensory impressions. Hume, an enlightenment thinker we’ll get to later, was a classic agnostic against religion and science, and also an empiricist–believing all truth came only through sensory experience.)

buddha=awakened one or enlightened one. This is ontologically distinct from our idea of a “god,” because in Buddhism, anyone can become a buddha. Anyone can become enlightened. Indeed, some schools say we all have buddha-nature within us. However, enlightenment is a very difficult road and a very big claim, since buddhas are omniscient, that is, all-knowing (able to see the cause of others’ suffering, etc.).

 

Four Noble Truths=the basic teaching of all forms of Buddhism: there is suffering, suffering has a cause, suffering has a cure, and that cure is the 8-fold path (right V.I.S.A.L.E.M.C., which we talked about in class).

As I mentioned, the idea in Buddhism is that suffering pervades all existence, even what we consider to be happiness, because we cling to things or states that cannot last. Since everything is impermanent and changing, such clinging invariably produces suffering when those things decay and die. Suffering is caused by desire (tanha=thirst) and ignorance. End desire, and you end suffering.

 

middle way=the best way to achieve enlightenment is a “middle way” between the opposite extremes of sensual pleasure (delight in material things) and extreme denial (asceticism, self-mortification)

 

nirvana=literally “extinction.” This is enlightenment or awakening. What is extinguished is not the self, but the false sense of the self as permanent, enduring, and unchanging. It is also the extinction of desires. Once again, if you end desire, you end suffering.

 

Siddhartha Gautama=the historical buddha. Raised in luxury, he then tried extreme asceticism. Finally, he found that the

Middle Way

was the best way to enlightenment. Once enlightened, he taught and established orders of monks and nuns, founding what became the religion of Buddhism.

 

Also, the following two terms that we had before with Hinduism apply to Buddhism as well:

 

karma

samsara

 

As we mentioned in class, Buddhism accepts the basic Hindu worldview of reincarnation (samsara) fueled by karma (action/reaction). However, there is a big distinction, since Hinduism claims that a soul is reincarnated, and in Buddhism there is no soul or self that is reincarnated. As we talked about in class, the example of one billiard ball hitting another one can help with this–there is nothing “in common” to the two billiard balls. But the actions of the one caused the reaction in the other. Rebirth or reincarnation in a Buddhist context is similar to this. Or the example of a forest fire consuming different trees and plants–desire itself, like a fire, is what spreads through existence and reincarnates, causing suffering, not any “soul” or “self.”

 

The following term we’ll go over in class on Tuesday, when I distinguish between Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism and talk more about distinctions between various types of Buddhism:

 

bodhisattva=in Mahayana Buddhism, this is one on the path to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas vow to attain enlightenment in order to help all beings end their suffering. (Some traditions say that the bodhisattva deliberately is reborn, or comes back, not out of selfish desire (tanha), but rather out of a pure desire (bodhicitta) to help all beings end their suffering. But other traditions argue that buddhas, too, can come back, so a bodhisattva is one who is merely on the path to buddhahood.)

 

I hope this was helpful!

 

If you have any questions, email me and I’ll answer them for the whole group.

 

Have a great weekend!

 

Yours,

 

Richmond

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Just an update on my life right now: I’m researching Wittgenstein in hopes of finishing up Witch Hunt soon, which is a powerful novel critical of some of today’s “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law (not quid pro quo law, which I support). I’m thinking that once I finish my research, it should only take about a month to finish the book, because most of it is already written. I plan to shop it around to agents once it’s done. I think that, since Witch Hunt will be the only novel, that I’m aware of, that goes so in-depth with this issue, there will be some demand for it. I hope so.

Once I finish Witch Hunt, I will study for and retake the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) for a possible return to graduate school.  I’m going to talk about that more below. First, let me take an aside (since I can’t figure out how to cut and paste paragraphs on this blog like I usually do…sigh…)

I just recently watched the movie Pleasantville, and wow! There are so many ways to interpret that movie. Obviously you have a political interpretation (with phrases like “family values” and “kinder, gentler”). And you have a feminist interpretation, with the mother finding herself and freeing herself from the “baking cookies” role. And there’s a queer theory and philosophical interpretation of allowing diversity and freeing oneself (like Plato’s allegory of the cave). Of course, you have a religious interpretation, with the apple evocative of the Garden of Eden and Don Knotts as a kind of God figure. And hey, there are artistic and “sexual harassment” law ways to interpret it too, with the conflict of rules for security versus freedom of one’s sexual expression. With my work on Witch Hunt, I obviously like that latter interpretation. 🙂 You could even interpret it from the standpoint of Pauline and Lutheran theology, with grace emphasized over law (and obedience to rules). And there’s an emphasis on books in the movie, so there’s an element of education that reminds one of Dead Poets’ Society. It’s just a powerful movie packed with lots of stuff. Oh, and the “black and white” people picking on the “people of color” brings in an element of racism thematically into the movie. Solid stuff! Also, the “world beyond Pleasantville” versus Pleasantville implies a world beyond this one, evocative of Jesus, Plato, and even the gnosticism of the movie The Matrix. And how one’s perception can free one can bring in a Buddhist or even Hindu interpretation. Yes, I very much like the movie Pleasantville. I think if I taught a full semester class of philosophy, that might be a good movie to show. It also relates to Kierkegaard’s discussion of the Garden of Eden and human freedom/free choice in The Concept of Anxiety. The fact that it brings up so many ideas makes me think Pleasantville is a very rich movie.

Also, as a teacher, I liked how “Bud,” or “David” (the main character) met people where they are. He taught them in a way that brought out the best in them, rather than teaching them much of a set dogma. In that sense, he reminds me of Socrates and Jesus.  

Okay, back to my life for a minute (again, apologies that I can’t figure out how to copy, cut, and paste stuff to move it around):

Lately, I’ve been researching Wittgenstein (because I think his thoughts on how language works can impact the “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” ideology which Witch Hunt deals with). And I have also been reading and taking notes on Kierkegaard.

One of my struggles is deciding whether I want to go back to graduate school. I just don’t think I can make a living writing, so maybe I need to qualify myself again to teach on the side, since I walked away from my Ph.D. program before completing the dissertation for personal and ethical reasons. If I do return to grad school, I may get an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and possibly a Ph.D., which is why I want to have Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard down pat (I would want to do a dissertation related to them–Kierkegaard is my favorite philosopher). 

Just a couple of thoughts on some evil things that happened in my life which drove me from my Ph.D program and academia to begin with, and how they actually turned out for the good by helping me become a writer: I don’t know if evil is a systematic, planned force or not. I can’t figure evil out. It seems destructive, yet when you resist it, it’s transformative. Otherwise, would God really be all-powerful? I certainly don’t know the answers to such questions, but I love thinking about them–that’s the philosopher in me. All I ultimately want to do is please God/the Goddess/the Power of Love and Compassion. That’s who I identify with. That’s where I belong.

As for works I’m thinking about after Witch Hunt, I want to write a novel based on a character trapped in a mental institution (I think I’ll call it Ward). I also plan to write a science fiction conspiracy piece critical of certain Orwellian and profitable aspects of our government’s “War on Terror” (I’ll call it World Wanderer). And I want to work on a supernatural thriller which I’ll call Frozen Ghost. Along the way, I’ll probably also work on my sequel to The Deviants called Deviants Too. Also, I’ll continue to work on Barrier, a dystopic novel similar to 1984 which also deals with some of the sexual issues of Witch Hunt; I’ve written much of it already, but put it on the backburner since it’s so thematically similar to Witch Hunt. So anyway, those are my plans right now, along with continuing to study for graduate school should the need arise.   

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Earlier today, I showed about 20 minutes of a movie to my philosophy class, What the *Bleep* Do We Know?, which I highly recommend to anyone. The movie raises a lot of questions about what we can know, and the relations between quantum physics and how we affect our reality. There’s one fascinating section about how Native Americans couldn’t see Columbus’s ships when the ships were on the horizon, because the ships weren’t part of anything the Native Americans had experienced before, so their brains couldn’t register the ships at first.

Thinking along these lines, and along the lines of the Shakespearean adage “There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy,” I told my students about how I saw a black ghost dog, a grim, one time, and how much that impacted me (for the full story, see “A Grim Reality” on my MySpace blog or at www.themagicalbuffet.com). That really threw my philosophical world for a loop, because I don’t know what to make of it.

One of my students mentioned that Christians believe in angels and demons, and that it was a demon that I saw. I rejected that idea and said that, while I admit anything is possible after the strange thing I saw, I don’t believe in demons. Another students objected, “Well, what about when Jesus had to toss out Legion?” I said something like, “Well, first of all, I am zero percent fundamentalist. So I would argue that people back in those days didn’t have categories for mental illness like we do today.” I had a couple of fundamentalist students that said “Uh uh!” and shook their heads that I dared question the Bible.

That made me think today about simply appealing to authority to support an argument, like “I believe that because the Bible says so.”

I think that, to demonstrate a possible problem with that, I’m going to tell my class about how I asked a class one time, “Why should we practice due process?” One student answered “because it’s in the Constitution.” While technically right, that is not a philosophical answer, because it begs the question, “why is it in the Constitution?” In other words, I want my students to tell me reasons why due process is a good thing. I’ll try to say something like, imagine we are the Founding Fathers and Mothers, and we have to write a new Constitution. Why should we put this in here?

All that is to say that, like saying “There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because President Bush said so” (it may be true that there were weapons of mass destruction, and it may not be true, but to argue in this way is a fallacy–appealing to Bush’s authority does not prove the case one way or the other), saying “I believe this because the Bible says so” is not a philosophical argument.

What does one do, then, when people use Biblical passages to support slavery? And even genocide? (All you have to do is point out how God supposedly ordered the extermination of Canaanite groups to make the sinister argument that genocide is okay, as long as God sanctions it.) All this is to say that there are many diverse things in the Bible, and I would argue that the genocide passages and slavery passages represented the desires of a particular writer projecting his passions onto God, not really what a loving God would sanction. But of course, I’m not a fundamentalist.

I do believe in Jesus’ teaching “Love your enemies,” even though I find it difficult to put into practice. But I would never say I believe this “because the Bible says so.” Rather, I think it’s incumbent on me to give philosophical reasons, such as how otherwise, we surrender to the same cycle of hatred that our enemies attack us with to begin with, how we end up mirroring their behavior, how I don’t want to live a life of hatred but rather one of compassion for its pragmatic benefits, how people are born in different circumstances which affect their worldviews, etc. I’m just saying all that off the top of my head–if I were really to defend such a claim as “Love your enemies,” I think I would have to take some of the above thoughts and flesh them out into a cogent, persuasive argument.

Anyway, those are my basic thoughts on the Bible–an inspired book, to be sure, but like anything human, it has to be subject to radical criticism, rather than simply submitting to its authority and not thinking about it. I believe a loving God wants us to think and to grow, not to accept thinks unthinkingly and uncritically.

That’s my .02, from a philosophy instructor once again frustrated with teaching in the Bible belt. 🙂

Richmond West  

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Okay, hopefully I’m figuring out how to post blogs okay. 🙂 I just wanted first of all to thank Nancy Greene for letting me know on MySpace about the Writers Cafe and inviting me here, and then for inviting me to this wonderful authors’ blog. I also have a very active blog on my MySpace site, www.myspace.com/richmondwest

As for any advice I’d give, for whatever that’s worth, to any fellow writers out there: never give up! I’ve found that self-publishing is very difficult, because nobody knows who you are. I sat at one book fair and didn’t sell a single book, and at another sold only two. So I’ve decided to shop my third book, Witch Hunt, around to agents. I think that, to finally make any kind of sales and any kind of living at this, that has to be my next step. Of course, it’s not about money with me. I feel like writing is my calling and my passion and I really don’t expect much, if any, money from it. But I do want at least some people to pick up my books, so that I’m not just doing it in vain. 🙂

Since I’ve figured out you really can’t make a living writing novels, unless you get really fortunate and get an agent and all, I’ve decided to study again for the GRE and apply to several Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing. I figure I’ll apply to the top ten programs, and then to all the programs in the south (I’m from Alabama). I don’t think such programs can improve your writing so much as help you get contacts and give you the qualifications to teach. (After all, to improve your writing, you can do that far more cheaply by picking up Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir for the Craft, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and joining a critique group. You will learn just as much and not have to pay so much for grad school, I think.) But to teach creative writing at a university, an MFA would be required. I teach philosophy, but only part-time, and I didn’t finish my Ph.D. to teach in it full-time. I’d love to teach creative writing so I could have insurance and a steady career on the side along with my passion for writing, so I figure that an MFA will be my next step. Gotta get that GRE score up first, though. 🙂   

I think Witch Hunt will probably have broader appeal than the philosophical sci fi and fantasy I’ve written so far, so I’m hopeful it will attract an agent when I’m finished with it. I’m hoping to be through with it soon–I’m finishing up some Wittgenstein research for it (My main character is a philosophy professor, and I thought it appropriate that he make some comments about Wittgenstein.). I’ve already finished research on Wicca and on “hostile environment” sexual “harassment,” which the book will touch on. 

I guess I’ve rambled, but all that’s to say that I won’t give up, I will never give up, and I encourage all my writer friends to keep at it. If you know you have the talent and desire, just keep going for it even as you get used to rejection.

Just remember, many great writers, like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, had a lot of trouble selling their books during their lifetimes. I’d encourage anyone to have another career, like teaching, on the side to fall back on, but to never, ever give up if writing’s your dream. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

I look forward to getting to know others on here.

Yours,

Richmond

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