Temporary Id

Who am I, really?  I can’t help but ponder this whenever I apply for a new form of identification.  While at the Department of Motor Vehicles I observed a room full of strangers—if there’s a melting pot in the United States, it’s the DMV.  Outside those cloistered in the major cities, you must drive to survive in this country (or at least to thrive) and the ritual of waiting your turn by number at the DMV is part of it.  I glanced at my application while waiting.  I’ve held drivers’ licenses in at least four states, but I’ve lived in at least six—how do you count where you live, really?  I think I must’ve had an Illinois license at some point, but I could find no record of it.  Who am I?  Are the Illinois years lost?  Big brother will find out, no doubt.

To apply for a license in Pennsylvania, as in most states, you have to prove you are who you say you are.  Swapping in your old license just doesn’t work any more.  While the actual “who” depends on government-issue documents (social security, birth certificates, or passports) the where question is more financial.  To prove your residence you must present bills with your name and current address.  You’re defined by your money.  Bills demonstrate that you’re integrated into the system, the matrix.  I spent one day, as a temp with Manpower, working for Detroit Electric (no, I didn’t have a Michigan license; I kept the Massachusetts one), processing requests for new service.  Despite not being asked back because they had expected a woman (really!), I learned that to get service you had to prove you were part of this matrix, with a history of paying your bills.

None of these agencies ask the deeper, more philosophical questions of identity.  None seem to care that each day is a struggle to define our spiritual selves in a world hopelessly secular and financial.  Yes, my birth certificate “proves” I was born in Pennsylvania.  The DMV records “prove” I learned to drive here and had my first license in this state.  They show nothing of the real question of who I am.  A reasonable facsimile of my visage appears on the plastic card that certifies my citizenship within these artificial borders.  But now my home state stamps “Temporary” on the card so that a security check can be run.  They want to discover if I am who my records say I am.  What the powers that be don’t seem to recognize is that although where we are born influences us every day for the rest of our lives, no little plastic card, despite the amount of information it conveys, can say who it is I really am.  “Temporary” may be the truest word on it.

For the People

The complex of holidays that make up the transition from light to darkness represents a different mix, depending where you are. Life on the equator, for example, experiences no real variation in daylight hours and I would expect that equinoxes and solstices are relatively meaningless. Or at least less so than where darkness encroaches. For those of us in temperate zones the difference in day length can be quite dramatic and our holiday calendar guides us through it. Getting through the darkness. So this weekend, on Bonfire Night—also known as Guy Fawkes Night, or November 5—I watched V for Vendetta again. This isn’t actually an annual practice, but some years the need to remember the fifth of November is quite strong. This is one of those years. I can’t remember having ever been this anxious about a presidential election. Tomorrow we are voting on whether we want democracy to continue or if we want a dictator who can stir hate like no candidate I’ve ever seen. He even makes Ronald Reagan look tolerable.

I’ve posted on V for Vendetta before, so I need not go over the story. The theme, however, that governments are to serve the people is a message that bears repeating. Governments are to serve the people. We’ve come to a crises point in self-government. A vote for Trump instead of Hillary is saying “I give up, I want Big Brother to take over.” Perhaps the movie I should reference is 1984. Orwell may have got the year wrong, but the story right. Make people afraid, stir the pot of negativity and they will act in desperation. Reactionary governments quickly become dictatorships and that message, mean-spirited and full of ugliness, has been placed squarely in our faces.

The point of V for Vendetta, and the point on which the movie ends, is that V is each of us. We have the ability to make smart choices just as we have the ability to act out on irrational hatred. Who would’ve thought that election years would become days of such terror? I’ve always felt strongly about social justice, and I always vote with a conscience. I have never voted for a hate-monger or someone who believes the way to help the poor is to give the rich even more. There is a deep perversity here, a cultural psychosis. And the problem is we’re locked into four years of the result. For the sake of human decency and sanity, we all need to get out and vote. And I sincerely believe that pulling that lever is a choice for self destruction (Trump) or a future of new potential (Hillary). I just hope we’re smart enough to make the right choice.

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R’lyeh Reality

It’s always a sign that I’ve been too busy when I lose track of Cthulhu. Few created deities receive the attention of the web like the terror dreamed up by H. P. Lovecraft. The internet has created an environment, like the bottom of the sea, where the old gods may lie dead but dreaming, ready to reawaken. It was with great pleasure that I was pointed to Cthulhu for America. At last, a presidential candidate who is willing to admit that he is merely a myth. His agenda of destruction and domination is not at all hidden. If only real politicians would be so honest!

In a world with millions of diversions, it amazes me that Lovecraft’s nihilistic creation has taken on such popular interest. Perhaps it’s because those of us who grew up with monsters have now reached a dubious sort of adulthood where we are bossed around like children and given only those limited freedoms that capitalism will allow. We can’t go into public places without seeing heavily armed guards in fatigues. We can’t get into work without electronic chips in cards to keep us safe from those of our own nation. We can’t fly without being scanned like a week-old loaf of bread. We can’t even store our own files on our own personal computers any more since some software company would rather charge us for the privilege. At least Cthulhu says what he wants. Orwell may have had his Big Brother, but Cthulhu is an obvious overlord who wants nothing but his own satisfaction.

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Watching the circus of candidates vying for position, I can’t help but think of Rome before the fall. Historians are still debating the causes—lead poisoning may be too easy a way out. Perhaps it is, as Lord Acton declared, the result of power itself. Those who taste it can’t stop eating it until every microscopic crumb is devoured. It’s shameful to watch. I’m embarrassed when Dumb and Dumber sounds intelligent next to the utterances from political talking heads. Cthulhu would have none of it. Although the website is a parody, it, like all myths, is truer than what we often call reality.

Sutton Courtenay

Sutton Courtenay lies sleepily outside the bustling business complex known as Milton Park. Over my work time at Routledge in the United Kingdom, I have been immersed in the frenetic world of academic publishing. Putting a book together and selling it may seem a simple prospect, but in reality it involves many people at multiple stages who specialize in everything from writing content to ensuring that the four-color print of the cover looks just right. Sometimes working in publishing one can get so close to the trees that the forest really does become invisible. So it was that a friend of mine took me to Sutton Courtenay over lunch one day. The hamlet was very quiet. Next to the clattering pub—the only real sign of life here in midday—stood the gateway to an abbey long decayed to dust. Iconic thatched roofs and brilliant grassy greens make this place seem very far indeed from the negotiations and dealing that take place just down the road in Milton Park.

In a silent cemetery dotted with yew trees just behind the twelfth-century Norman All Saints’ church, rest a couple of very influential people. Lord Asquith, sometime Prime Minister, holds the most prominent place. A few paces away in an unassuming grave are the remains of Eric Arthur Blair. Unless you knew his penname, you wouldn’t be aware that you were in the presence of George Orwell. Orwell never lived in Sutton Courtenay. When he died in 1950, requesting to be buried nearest where he died, there was no room in the interment grounds. Millions of people live in London and millions have died there. The image conjured in the mind is distinctly Orwellian. Sonia Brownell, his widow, with the help of David Astor, found a resting place in Sutton Courtenay.

Today one would be hard-pressed to find a school child in Britain or the United States who has not been assigned to read one or both of Orwell’s prescient novels. Orwell’s anti-fascist views were often eerily prophetic. In 1949 1984 seemed a long way off. As the latter year came and went, some heaved a sigh of relief that Big Brother never arrived. Those who labor away in busy office parks, those who attempt to board a commercial airliner, those who live in cardboard boxes on busy city streets, and those who pay taxes so that the wealthy won’t have to, however, know that Big Brother is indeed alive. He has grown crafty with age and is well adapted to camouflage. He is known by many names: Free Market, Laissea Faire, Unrestrained Capitalism. One place he is not to be found is in a quiet churchyard in Sutton Courtenay contemplating a simple stone to a man named Eric Arthur Blair.