But first, some housekeeping:
Thanks everyone for their sympathy on the loss of my dog. A few among the 14 Regular Readers went so far as to email me their condolences personally, for which I am truly grateful.*
In the post below, some folks are sharing where they first heard of Rotten Chestnuts. It’s humbling and frightening at the same time. Humbling, because every author, no matter how deservedly obscure, wants his work read, and it’s crazy to think people have been discussing this stuff elsewhere, even overseas, if only in a “check out this silly lunatic” way. Frightening, in that it scares me shitless that any but the most idiosyncratic stuff — the stuff that’s obviously just me going off on my pet obsessions, like Conan the Barbarian — is anything other than obvious. What I mean is, there’s value in someone finally saying what we’re all thinking, and I sincerely hope this is that for everyone, but I’m such a weirdo that if these are new thoughts for people, they’re much likelier to be offput by the expression (and the expressor (it’s a word)) than converted.
Now, on to today’s weirdness…
Ever seen an addict up close? Ever seen someone become an addict? There’s an interesting progression that can be extrapolated to other things, including political behavior.
I had a buddy in grad school, let’s call him Todd, who became a drunk. When we started the program, he didn’t drink at all. By the time I finished, Todd had racked up a string of citations for public intox; he was actually looking at some jail time. He wasn’t homeless, but he was damn close. He was an utter wreck of a person.
Now, as everyone knows, there’s a heavy genetic component to addiction. Yes, anyone can become an addict — a mad scientist could create a drunk in the lab by forcing alcohol down someone’s throat every two hours for months on end — but some of us have an inherited propensity for addictive behavior. Todd was definitely in the latter category, and knew it — he didn’t drink when we started, at least in part, because he had lots of family members who struggled with alcoholism.
Then epigenetics took over. Grad school is the ground floor of the ivory tower; the in-processing center for Never-Never-Land. As such, regular use of behavior-altering substances is pretty much required — I don’t know of a single person in academia (in the Humanities at least) of whom I can say with complete confidence, “xyzrhm doesn’t have at least a Xanax prescription.” Booze, pot, the endless cornucopia of Big Pharma’s little happy pills… everyone uses one or all of them. Myself most certainly included — there’s a reason I know so much about what Todd got up to while his behavior was becoming “problematic,” as the kids say.
I could easily have been Todd. Lots of drunks in my family, too, and of course we shared the same environment. But I didn’t, and thereby hangs a tale… which shall bring us, at long last, to the point.
I’d always been a heavy drinker. Not in the crazy Drew Barrymore, chugging-a-fifth-as-a-sixth-grader way, but in the normal way of most college kids. I discovered this fascinating thing called “beer” my freshman year of college. It was great, it made me so much funnier and more attractive to the opposite sex — and they, of course, to me — and whiskey and whatnot worked even better, so party on, dude.
Then I went to work in an industry in which, at that time and place, the ability to hold your liquor was an unstated but crucial job qualification. If you’ve ever been asked to rush a frat, they’ll give you the spiel about how once a Delta, always a Delta, and it’ll help you in your career. In that field, at that time and place, it was actually true — nothing but not-so-ex frat boys as far as the eye could see. And if you can’t join ’em, you’ve got to beat ’em, the one and only universally valid method of which involved drinking them under the table.
I soon became an honorary member.
Then grad school, where I met Todd, and soon enough we were famous drinking buddies. I use the word famous advisedly, because that’s the point I’m trying to reach. You see, at some point — long before anyone uses the word “alcoholic” — you get this rep. Oh, that Severian, he’s a fucking wild man. I heard “Hey, betcha don’t remember that thing you did last night” almost as much as Todd did… and Todd heard it pretty much every Monday morning (and then, of course, pretty much every morning). What happens next is one of two things: You either get awful damn tired of having that “holy shit, what the fuck did I do last night?” feeling… or you kinda get to like it.
Long before he gets to the point where he can’t clean up, I’m suggesting, the potential drunk makes a decision — I think it’s really, truly, actually an all-but-conscious decision — that he doesn’t want to clean up.
Both Todd and I suffered from identity crises. There’s no other way to put it, as fruity as that sounds. Trust me on this: “impostor syndrome” is very real. It is, in fact — and obviously — the source of the benzo bottle in every egghead’s medicine cabinet. And the reason all eggheads feel like frauds is equally obvious: Nothing you do can possibly justify your paycheck.
There are no Dead Poets Society teachers in real life in any case, and even if there were, and even if you were one of them, well… congrats, buddy, you’ve managed to reach one student, one time, out of the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands you taught before reaching tenure, the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands more who will drift through your classroom, fish-eyed and phone-addled, for the rest of your academic career. One kid, one time, and meanwhile you live a life that 90% of Americans would be ecstatic to have. (As for your “research,” knee-grow please. Unless your book revolutionizes a field — good luck with that — maybe twenty people will read it, and fifteen of them will hate it). You’re a fucking fraud, pal, that’s all there is to it….
Which leaves you with two options, if you want to avoid the kind of crushing cognitive dissonance that turns a guy like Todd into a gutter drunk: You embrace the make-believe, or you quit. Todd quit. Becoming a gutter drunk was a spectacularly gaudy, self-destructive way of quitting, but it was quitting nonetheless. I quit too, as y’all know… but the funny thing was, I didn’t quit drinking until I did. I didn’t go out and get wrecked every night like I used to do with Todd, but I was still a drinker, often quite a heavy one. I just did it in private. It was only when I quit the ivory tower for good that I stopped drinking.**
This, I suggest, is the ultimate source of the Poz: The crushing impostor syndrome that all Americans feel, who haven’t built their lives up from scratch. Unless your day-to-day is a struggle, a real one — a “need to choose between buying food and making rent” one — you can’t help but feel, at some level, that you’re a fraud, a sham. You don’t deserve this, because no one deserves this who didn’t earn it, didn’t hew it out of the wilderness himself. And the more “white collar” you are, the stronger your latent impostor syndrome. Is it any surprise that Karen, who has never earned anything in her entire life, is the most pozzed? That “Human Resources” is just the Poz Gestapo?
That’s why I’m urging my Sis to get the fuck out of America, y’all. I acknowledge that there’s no escaping the Poz. We have been living in rat utopia since at least 1950; the Poz is the displacement activity for the impostor syndrome that afflicts us mindless, purposeless, overfed, pointless fucking rats. There will be no end to the Poz until rat utopia collapses. It will be far, far better for the human race in the long run when the collapse happens….
…but we don’t live in the long run. We live in the now, and this now, in this place, is the most Pozzed of all. Everyplace is less “socialist” than the best part of America, but no place is more Pozzed than the worst part of America. And the worst parts are growing exponentially. One has a duty to posterity in both runs, the long and the short. Long run, I’m going to preach to whoever will listen about the inevitable collapse of rat utopia. I will pass on to my nieces and nephews all the wisdom I have, such as it is, so that they can preserve it, add to it, so that when they, or their children, or their children’s children, or (please God) their children’s children’s children are digging out from under the rubble, they can build back better.
But short run, I’m going to do my level best to get them the fuck out from under the collapse before it happens. If New Zealand or Poland or Chile or Diego Garcia are even 10 years behind the leading edge of the Poz, then that’s where I’m going to send them, if it’s at all within my power. Because America’s frauds, our terminal impostor syndrome cases, are in the ascendant….
… and they have a huge military, chock full of really nasty weapons. It’s time to get the fuck gone before they decide they’re going to burn rat utopia to the ground. Better in the long run for rat utopia to burn, but I’m not going to consign my actual people to the flames for the benefit of possible future people.
*The link on the homepage takes you to a “page not found,” I realize, but the address can be located in the URL. Since this seems to be opsec enough to put off trawling bots and Nigerian princes, I think I’ll just leave it that way. Y’all feel free to use it though. It’s like that cheesy old 80s tv show — If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can email… Severian.
**Not germane to this post, but it raises the fascinating question of “social drinking.” Stephen King — yeah, him again — said somewhere that he knew he was an alcoholic when someone asked him how much he drank, and he replied, as if it were the most commonsense thing in the world: “All of it.” I get that, y’all. I really don’t understand “social drinking.” Never did. I can, and quite often do, have A glass of wine at a party, A beer with an old bud. But it always seems pointless to me — if we’re not going to get comprehensively fucked up, why are we bothering? Let’s go, man! I don’t get alcohol cravings, I can’t even remember the last time I had a drink, but if I do drink, man, I want to drink all of it. What could possibly be the point otherwise?