Sunday, January 31, 2016


It seems to me I’ve always seemed to others extraordinary.

To some I’ve seemed extraordinary in a good way, To others, in a bad way.

Some saw me as being wiser and/or in some way better than they; a person who, when they didn’t know what to do, could tell them what to do. Even more, a person who could do for them what they couldn’t do for themselves. Someone Christians call a Savior.

Others were sure they knew what to do, what everyone ought to do; it was self-evident. If I said it was not self-evident to me, they accused me of being a liar, a charlatan trying to fool people into thinking I was wiser and/or better than they.

It’s true I gave advice to people who asked me what to do; but I never claimed I could do for them what they couldn’t or wouldn’t do for themselves (which usually disappointed them, and convinced them I was a charlatan). 

Contrary to what others assume, I never considered myself extraordinary. I’ve always thought of myself as exemplary, a microcosm of the macrocosm. 

Just as in biological evolution ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, so it seems to me that my life recapitulates the social evolution of my species.
As my species lived at first in tribes, whose members are all related, and then moved to the anonymity of cities in which what used to be called society is now called the market, so did I move from a large extended family to a social isolation in which the only people I meet are salespeople.

If my life is in any way extraordinary, it’s because I've always striven to be exemplary in the Kantian sense of doing what I wish everyone would do. 

It seems to me few people now believe they know what everyone ought to do. That could be because I now see few people. But of the few I do see, most do not seem to see themselves as extraordinary, in the sense of being exceptions to the rule. Most people don’t seem to know of any rule which they might follow, or to which they could be exceptions. Most people now seem to see the world as a chaos in which we all struggle to survive. And it is a chaos at some level; or it seems a chaos to us, at our level. If it has an order, it’s not one we can understand. That’s why we built our own order.

But we no longer believe in the order we built; or rather, we no longer suspend our disbelief in it. We always knew it was built on convenient fictions, which we no longer find convenient.

We no longer believe in the old fictions, and seem unable to imagine new ones; therefore no rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to give birth to a new order. We are the beast, and this is the hour of our death.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


The New Yorker and the NYRB arrived on the same day this week. The first contains another review of Steven Shapin’s book about autism, and the second contains another review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book about black life in the USA.

Those who pass for intellectuals in this anti-intellectual nation have focused their attention on these two subjects for different and apparently unrelated reasons: autism because it’s being redefined in a way that calls into question the distinction between normal and pathological behavior, and black life in the USA because the surge in shootings of unarmed blacks calls into question the claim that the election of a black president means racism is a thing of the past. 

These two subjects do not appear unrelated to me. They merge, at a fundamental level, into one subject.

Having known people diagnosed as autistic, and read books by people like Temple Grandin, it seems obvious to me that autism is not a pathology, but an attempt to withdraw from a pathological society. The world we’ve made for ourselves was always irrational, but now it’s become completely insane.    

Having known black people, and read books by people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, it seems equally obvious to me that a society which appears increasingly irrational to me has always appeared completely insane to them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


I don’t usually remember my dreams any more, but this morning I woke with a clear memory of last night’s dream.

In it I was in my office again, or an office.  The place was a combination of every place I’ve ever worked in, and the people in it all the people I’ve ever worked with.

They were as tall as I, but the proportions of their bodies were those of pre-adolescent children. And they were all adorable.

Nothing got done, of course, because they were only playing at doing work, not actually working. Even so they waited eagerly for the day to end, and dashed out the door at five o’clock.

I’ve always known in my dreams that I was dreaming, and what the dream meant, so I remembered them fondly as I watched them run. I was grateful to them. I had pretended to be one of them, and they had pretended to believe me.

Friday, January 15, 2016


I’ve always done what I had to do, not what I should do.

I’ve done what I had to do in order to survive; and I had to survive, even when I wanted to die, because people told me they needed me.

Most people live in a prison of their own making. They claimed they didn’t know how to free themselves, and told me only I could save them. And I believed them.

I used to wonder if I had a Christ complex, because I believed I could save them. I believed it because they told me I could. It was they who had the Christ Complex.

Those who claim to believe in Christ claim he died so that others might have eternal life. I don’t believe anyone’s suffering has the magical power to heal others (but this isn’t even magic; it’s just schadenfreude), so I doubt I have a Christ Complex. I doubt even Christ had a Christ Complex.

I believe Christ lived as he knew he should, as we all know we should; and he hoped others would follow his example. He died because the people who claimed to be his followers would not follow his example. He died from despair at their self-destructive stupidity.  


All my life I’ve waited for my life to begin. Now my life is almost over, and I'm still waiting. 

Others expected great things of me. I expected them of myself. But I’ve done only what I had to do, not what I knew I should do.

I think most people live this way, never doing what they should do. Or rather they don’t live, any more than I do. They waste their lives doing what they have to do, not what they know they should do. 

I’ve always tried to take pride in doing the things I had to do as well as I could, but it wasn’t easy to take pride in doing well what I knew was a waste of time. Even worse, I knew the things I did not only needn’t, but shouldn’t, be done. Most of the things we do to survive are harmful not only to others, but to ourselves.

How can they live – or not live - this way? Aren’t they depressed, as I am, by the knowledge that they’re wasting their lives? 

If they are depressed, they hide it better than I do. But apparently I hide it well. 

People have always come to me for advice and/or consolation. I used to tell them the truth, but they never listened. Now I tell them what they want to hear.

She once said people come to me because I'm strong, someone whom others turn to in an emergency. Everyone is strong in an emergency, because they know it’s only temporary. People become less willing to help others when hardship becomes the norm, as it is now.

If I am strong, it’s because I know that not only is life temporary, but I can end it whenever I choose. Nietzsche said thinking of suicide is always consoling; it gets one through many a sleepless night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I was sitting at the computer when the following started pouring out of me like urine. I completed it in under half an hour.

It was the result of reading an early one-act play by Eugene O’Neill that had recently been rediscovered. Bookforum published it in full, as though it were a significant literary event. I’m not O’Neill, but I knew I could write a one-act play as good as this juvenilia. So I did.


Dramatis Personae

Nathan, a Jewish merchant

Dathan, another Jewish merchant

Vainglorius, a Roman officer

A Roman soldier

SCENE: The marketplace, in the shadow of the coliseum. 

As the curtain rises, Nathan and Dathan enter from stage right and stage left, meeting in the center. Both wear yarmulkes, payots, long curly beards and many-colored coats.  

Nathan (excitedly): Dathan, did you hear the news?

Dathan: Tell me, bubeleh.

Nathan: The Romans have a new god. 

Dathan: How is this news? The Romans have a pantheon full of gods.

Nathan: Actually he is not only a god, but the son of a god. He's the Messiah.

Dathan (incredulously): Our  Messiah?

Nathan: Is there any other? 

Dathan: That's ridiculous. No way the Messiah would reveal himself to the goyim and not to us, his Chosen People. 

Nathan: But they say he performs miracles, just as was prophesied.

Dathan: What miracles?

Nathan: Walking on water. Casting out demons. The usual.

Dathan: Any magician can do that. 

Nathan: He also raises the dead. They even say he died himself, and came back to life.

Dathan (stroking his beard thoughtfully): That is a good trick. I’ve heard about it, but never seen it done myself.

Nathan: What if he really is the Messiah?

Dathan: No way. If he really did perform these miracles, he must be a devil.

Nathan: Are you sure?

Dathan: All the Roman gods are devils. What do they call this new devil of theirs?

Nathan: Jesus.

Dathan: Not Jesus of Nazareth?

Nathan: You’ve heard of him?   

Dathan: I have.

Nathan: They say he’s one of us, a Jew. Is it true?

Dathan (spits): He’s a bum! He brings shame on our people.

Nathan: How? What does he do?

Dathan: He runs around with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and other riff raff. (snorts derisively) Some god he is! 

Nathan (grinning): Maybe he is a god. He sounds like Dionysus!

Dathan (laughing): These Romans and their gods! But Jesus is neither a god nor the son of a god. I know his father. Joseph is a good man, but no god. 

Nathan: What’s so good about him? 

Dathan: When he discovered Mary, his betrothed, was with child, he did not have her stoned, as most men would do. He married her anyway.  

Nathan (admiringly): What a mensch. That explains why the Romans say this Jesus is the son of a god.

Dathan: Why is that?

Nathan: Caesar’s astrologer predicted that a new king would be born to a virgin.

Dathan (guffaws): Mary a virgin? I said she wasn’t married when she got pregnant. I didn’t say she was a virgin. 

Nathan: Bit of a nafkeh, is she?

Dathan: Of course. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? 

They both laugh.

Dathan: I heard she was fooling around with some Roman soldier while Joseph was courting her. That soldier is probably Jesus’ father.

A phalanx of Roman soldiers marches by. Nathan nudges Dathan and points at their captain. 

Nathan: Speak of the devil. Isn't that Vainglorius?

Dathan: It sure looks like him.  

Nathan: Perhaps he is Jesus’ father. They say no virgin is safe when he's around.

Dathan: Boy or girl.

They both laugh. 

Vainglorius orders the phalanx to halt, then he approaches Nathan and Dathan

Vainglorius: Did I just hear you two question the divinity of our new god? (He whips them)

Nathan and Dathan fall to their knees, then raise their arms in the fascist salute.

Nathan and Dathan (shouting in unison): Hail, Caesar!

Vainglorius: Don’t be ridiculous. I’m noble, but not that noble. 

Nathan (feigning incredulity): Aren't you the great Constantine?

Dathan (also feigning incredulity): You look great to me, noble sir.

Vainglorius (simpering): Don’t try to flatter me. 

Nathan (earnestly): We would never do that, noble sir.

Dathan (equally earnestly): We have too much respect for you to try that. 

Vainglorius (mollified): Good, because I hate flattery. You may rise.

Dathan: Thank you, noble sir.

Nathan and Dathan stand up.

Nathan: You may not be Constantine, but you are indeed great, noble sir.

Dathan: Truly a god among men.

Vainglorius: Enough of that. What were you two saying just now? It sounded blasphemous.

Dathan: We're not blasphemers, noble sir. 

Nathan: We sacrifice to Jupiter and all his children.

Dathan: Venus is my favorite. I got a venereal disease in her honor.

Vainglorius: Forget Jove and his bastards. They’re yesterday’s gods. Do you worship the new bastard, Jesus of Nazareth? 

Nathan: Then it’s true, noble sir? You Romans are Jesuits now?

Vainglorius whips Nathan

Vainglorius: Not Jesuits, you dolt. The Nazarene’s followers are called Christians.

Nathan (cringing): Forgive me, noble sir. I didn’t know.

Vainglorius (graciously): That’s all right. I wouldn’t have known what they were called, either, if it hadn’t been in the loyalty oath we took when Caesar declared Christianity the new state religion. 

Nathan: But noble sir, how can you Romans stop believing in your old gods and start believing in this new one so quickly?

Vainglorius (laughs): Do you imagine we Romans really believe in any of these gods?

Nathan: Don’t you?

Vainglorius: Certainly not. We leave gods to fools like you.

Dathan: Noble sir, if I may dare to ask - what do you believe in?

Vainglorius: Ourselves, of course. We Romans are gods among men. You said it yourself.

Nathan (aghast): You don’t believe in any gods but yourselves?

Dathan (glaring at Nathan):  Shut up and kneel in the presence of greatness.

They kneel. Vainglorius watches them grovel at his feet, fingering his whip thoughtfully

Vainglorius:You may rise.

Dathan: Thank you, noble sir.

Nathan and Dathan stand up.

Vainglorius: We Romans have no need of religion. We leave that to our women, our slaves and fools like you. 

Nathan (aghast): We Jews never allow our women to discuss religion. Their small brains would burst.

Vainglorius: What about your brains? 

Dathan: Jewish men are great scholars, noble sir. We spend all our time studying our sacred books.

Vainlorius: No wonder we conquered you so easily.

Nathan: It doesn’t take a scholar to see you Romans are gods among men, noble sir. 

Vainglorius (disgusted): Stop cringing and show a little pride. Remember you are subjects of Rome. That's an honor for a foreigner.

Dathan (still cringing): Thank you, noble sir, for deigning to conquer us. We are honored indeed.

Vainglorius: You should be. But it does us Romans no honor to conquer cowards. You were already slaves to your priests before you became ours.

Dathan: We apologize for disappointing you, noble sir.

Nathan: We will try to be more like you Romans, noble sir.

Vainglorius (scoffing): Impossible. But even if you could, it’s too late.

Dathan: Too late? What do you mean, noble sir?

Vainglorius: You Jews killed our Lord, so Caesar has ordered us to kill all the Jews in Rome. I’m arresting you and sending you to the coliseum, where you will be crucified, just as our Lord was.

Nathan and Dathan gasp.

 Vanglorius turns and waves to one of his soldiers, who approaches and salutes

Vainglorius: Take these two blasphemers to the coliseum. They will entertain the mob by dying this afternoon.

Soldier: Yes, noble sir.

Nathan and Dathan raise their arms to heaven and cry, in unison: Hallelujah!

Vainglorius (nonplused): This pleases you?

Nathan: Indeed it does, noble sir. We will be martyred for our faith.

Dathan: Suffering here on earth will guarantee that we sit at the right hand of God in heaven. From there we will look down and watch you unbelievers burn in hell for all eternity.

Vainglorius (shrugs): I don’t care what you do in the next world, so long as you don’t give us any trouble in this one. The Nazarene gave us enough trouble for an eternity.

Nathan: We’ll give you no trouble at all, noble sir. We render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.

Vainglorius: That sounds like something I heard the Nazarene say. Are you sure you aren’t Christians? Jesus was a Jew before we crucified him.

Dathan: A bad Jew. I spit on him. (he spits).

Vainglorius: Why do you call him a bad Jew?

Dathan: He threw the moneychangers out of the temple. 

Vainglorius: That does sound bad. Fortunately no one remembers what the Nazarene did when he was still alive, and a Jew. He’s our god now, so we decide what he does. (Vainglorius turns to the soldier) What are you waiting for? Take them to the coliseum

Soldier: First allow me to congratulate you, noble sir, on capturing today’s first Jews.

Vainglorius whips the soldier

Soldier (cringing): What have I done to offend you, noble sir?

Vainglorius: You’re trying to flatter me. Do it again and I'll have you crucified in the coliseum alongside these two blasphemers.

Soldier: I was not trying to flatter you, noble sir.

Vainglorius: Are you sure?

Soldier: I swear it by the sacred blood of Jesus.

Vainglorius: In that case, I believe you.

As the soldier leads Nathan and Dathan away, they look at each other and smile

Nathan (chuckling): Boy, are these goyim in for a nasty surprise when the real Messiah comes.

Dathan (also chuckling): You better believe it, bubeleh.

Exeunt omnes