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Hot damn, that was a good conversation!

So good, in fact, that I’ve decided to reproduce the bulk of it, the major substantive exchanges, in their entirety. I’ve opted to go this route for the simple reason that I can find few better examples of my case against modern “liberalism” and the shit-show that is the corporatized and nightmarishly illiberal American mainstream media (or MSM).

Rather than assuming the participants in this conversation would condone my bandying their names about on my website, I have anonymized their identities. So, without further ado, thanks again, “Boris,” “Lenny,” and “Doc,” for an outstanding conversation!


James Charles O’Donnell III (post on Boris’s page) — Helloha, Boris, and thank you for recommending Peter Coffin! I particularly enjoyed his analysis of the Jordan B. Patriarchy phenomenon.

Boris — I likes me a good analysis of rhetorical methods! Dang, that Peterson guy is creepy. If only he were a quarter as talented and creative as Dave Sim…

Maybe Doc and Lenny would like this video, too.

Lenny — Boris: um. This video gets a lot wrong about JP and his rise to prominence. I wouldn’t base my opinions about the JP phenomenon on this unless you don’t care about being misinformed.

Boris — I don’t know much about this JP guy beyond the fact that some folks find him mesmerizing. I read a random excerpt from a book of his, and thought it was well-written and interesting. In videos, though, he always seems to put me off.

What do you think Coffin gets wrong about why Peterson is so popular? Peterson has this predatory vibe to me: “you and I always knew there was something basically wrong with the world, but come here, kid, and I’ll let you in on the Big Secret”. A flim-flammer, like our era gobbles up. The scapegoating thing Coffin mentions seems on target as well.

Lenny — Boris: Right from the start the guy doesn’t understand the Channel 4 interview or why it was a flashpoint and defining moment in JPs ascent into the popular Zeitgeist. It was not that the interviewer was unprepared. It was that she had a predetermined narrative of JP, and when she couldn’t get him into that narrative things unraveled for her. ‘so what you believe’ For many, including the Intelectual Dark Web, and Youtubers this is the problem with Manistream Media. It includes producers who have guests on in order to push a predetermined narrative. That’s why that interview became important to JP’s ascent. Not just that JP owns the interviewer or even that she loses arguments on multiple levels. This video misses the point of the whole Channel 4 interview so it’s hard to believe any of it.

And this criticism that JP says a lot of stuff that doesn’t make the point to purposely obfuscate is ridiculous. He’s an academic. He takes a long time to say things because he tries to present actual proof, literary, science based, and theoretical to make his point. He likes to hear himself talk. That’s what professors do. It’s like he’s trying too hard to make him seem like the devil.

JP says a lot of interesting things as a lot of professors do. The reason he is big right now is that the left has abandoned a lot of people with social justice ideology. And not just Conservatives. Liberals too. Working class people. A lot of those people that voted for Trump. His book targeted young males bc right now many young men are flailing. But he has become a target because he is challenging leftist Marxist orthodoxy, Post modernism, and social justice ideology. And many on the left don’t know what to do about it.

There’s plenty to criticize him on. There’s lots of things he thinks that are complete theory but these take downs of him really don’t get to the the reason he or Trump have risen. Liberals still think Trump is a joke but he’s also the President. That’s serious, that’s not a joke and there’s a reason for it. There’s a whole swath of the left that are seeing the world they want it to be and not how it is. And that is bc many people live in liberal bubbles or they’re not really interested in the truth, just to be right.

James Charles O’Donnell III — Lenny: If I may chime in, I think you’re correct about the “liberal bubble” and the corruption of the media, with its predetermined (and often false) narratives. In my analysis, the institution has deteriorated quite badly since the Telecom Act of 1996, signed by that towering figure of right-wing accomplishment, Bill Clinton. Today’s corporate media, owned by a handful of right-wing billionaires (thanks to that law) does nothing but peddle conservative ideology while posturing as liberal… when it’s actually purely corporate, neoliberal and neoconservative in the extreme.

The corporate media offers us a burlesque of liberal values, wrapped in an ugly, off-putting bastardization of Identity Politics. This has had the effect of making right-leaning Americans hate/misunderstand traditional liberalism (tolerance, reason, education, idealism)… and that’s by design. A major feature of the modern American political landscape is that no mainstream media institution — not even NPR/PBS — comes close to faithfully representing traditional, respectable liberal values… or traditional, respectable conservative values, for that matter.

Today’s media exists to: 1) slander/ignore genuinely progressive ideals; 2) stoke class resentment (encouraging reactionary paranoia and hatred in “Red State” land); 3) hawk senseless, genocidal, and illegal wars; 4) boost the “trade” pacts that have decimated the middle class; and 5) divide Americans along religious and cultural flashpoints.

I also agree with you that the Channel 4 interviewer was out to “gotcha” Mr. Peterson, but I agree with Peter Coffin, too: she had simply failed to do her homework (she was arrogant, thinking he’d be an easy takedown). In addition to watching some Jordan B. Peterson videos, I’ve read some analysis of his written work, which had a fair amount that was positive to say about his message — as well as some well-articulated, well-founded (IMO) criticism.

So far as my own response to the philosophy that this self-styled guru is peddling, I confess it’s been profoundly negative. By the time I’d gotten to my third JBP video, I was running out of patience with the man and his followers. At least in YouTube comment sections, his fans seem openly misogynistic, very crude, and adolescent, on average… and Peterson himself seems subtly (if consistently) misogynistic, intellectually sophisticated, and occasionally adolescent (petty, defensive, dishonest, and hostile).

To be perfectly frank, I think Peterson’s message is a regressive, establishment-supporting, and ultimately dangerous one, brimming with victimhood and loathing. And I assure you that I began my exploration of the JBP phenomenon with an open mind, hoping and expecting to find a bright new voice on the scene.

(He’d come highly recommended by a terrific young friend I’d met through our Occupy Wall Street activism, back when President Obama was bailing out Wall Street on Main Street’s backs and ensuring decades of resentment from the working class, misdirected at liberalism — even though pretty-talking Obama governed like Bush/Cheney on steroids, like a radical-right Republican, by historical standards… complete with “Kill List” and the end of habeas corpus. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of corporate subservience that was the Obama presidency.)

Regardless, I wish that more of Peterson’s followers were as respectful and thoughtful as you seem to be. Only that’s not what I have found. Here’s the conversation I’ve been having with his followers on YouTube.

(I hope you can see beyond the vehemence of my initial comments. I pull no rhetorical punches, generally, and I was truly running out of patience, as I said earlier. But I sincerely hope you’ll be able to move past the invective and consider the substance of my criticism of the man… without feeling too defensive. Like I said, I agree with much of where you’re coming from. Jordan Peterson, not so much.)


NEXT: With the arrival of “Doc,” our discussion of Identity Politics and the monolithic, corporatized, “mainstream” media (MSM) takes off!

Jordan Peterson DESTROYS British GQ Magazine Feminist” is the name the video’s curator has given this segment. It can be found here.

I’m posting this conversation on my website, because the curator of this page has apparently been deleting most of my comments and hacking the others into pieces, leaving only a fragment of my responses, usually cut off mid-sentence. This is how Jordan Peterson’s followers respond when someone criticizes their dipshit messiah.

James O’Donnell 1 day ago — Every time I hear Jordan Peterson talk, I get an even greater window into that tiny, defensive little, ugly mind. The man is well on his way toward redefining what it means to be a complete nitwit. And he’s pretty damn rude, too. (I’d be prepared to cut him some slack if he weren’t such an ass.)

Jame Jameson 1 day ago — Yet you seek him out. Like a dog to its master. Do you like abuse? Do you like being worthless. Does he make you feel worthless. You are a dog.

James O’Donnell 1 day ago — @Jame Jameson — You represent him so well. What I like is to have an open mind and give many voices a chance to represent themselves, so I can consider their perspectives… especially when those people have been recommended to me by a young, impressionable friend. I did. I gave Peterson that chance. What I found was an empty well with bile running down its walls. Pure poison.

Aaron accardo 1 day ago — James O’Donnell what’s so ugly about his mind? Tell us

James O’Donnell 16 hours ago — Thanks for the question, @Aaron accardo (much more respectful than the personal attacks of the previous clod). What’s so ugly about Peterson’s mind? To begin with, he seems to be always on the attack, even though he’s excellent at playing the victim. As he admitted to Joe Rogan, he has no patience with detractors and he handles criticism in a way that only discredits him. And his attacks are dishonest, mere tactics, not grounded in principle. His debate method is all about peppering the other person with nonsense, in order to keep them on the defensive and throw them off balance.

Furthermore, he’s a reactionary, defending the patriarchal, white-supremacist system — a neo-fascist order responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents and the ongoing destruction of the planet’s life-sustaining systems — against those bad old “feminists” (women who don’t fawn over him) and secular humanists pushing for tolerance and social justice, which his ilk views as a joke (TOLERANCE and JUSTICE, only the highest aspirations of the human heart!). And ultimately, he’s a pseudo-intellectual, tossing out phrases like “Jungian animus” in order to bamboozle his followers, when the only good advice he has — and he does have some — is as old as the mountains and simple as pie: Be good to yourself, surround yourself with people who build you up, rather than tear you down, etc.

Sorry, Mr. Peterson, oh great defender of all things schlongy, but MEN are empowered to say and do just about anything, in this world of ours… still. And the world that MEN have built — on the backs of women and slaves — is a DYING world of permanent war, environmental degradation, Nazi-like treatment of minorities, unprecedented global slavery, and rape culture (with hundreds of thousands of Harvey Weinsteins, Matt Lauers, Bill Cosbys, Bill Clintons, Bill O’Reillys and their like, who up until very recently felt they could get away with it forever… because their kind always has. Like the Wall Street lords of the universe who eviscerated our middle class (plundering especially the wealth of African-Americans, whom they targeted for the worst subprime loans, even when they qualified for prime); these men felt that they could prey on women and minorities forever… because that’s what our society has long tolerated. In this day and age, when social consciousness has been rising, Peterson represents a push-back by the filthy-corrupt old guard, in the name of masculinity… when that’s the very last thing we need. He’s not promoting strong, tolerant, courageous masculinity, but toxic, predatory, bigoted masculinity… which the world has had more than enough of.

On a personal note: I am not ashamed to be a man. My strong feminist wife is perfectly compatible with her principled, feminist, secular humanist husband… and the vast majority of people would kill to have a romance like ours. No shit. I am PROUD to be a man… like my father, a man who doesn’t serve other, morally corrupt men or the life-slaughtering systems they’ve built. I am a free-thinking activist, well aware of the fact that the 2016 electoral contest between Clinton and Trump was a contest between two reprehensible, racist demagogues, each corrupt to the core, in their own way… and that the differences between the two were ridiculously exaggerated by the corporate, “liberal” (far-right, neoconservative, neoliberal) media.

If you still feel that you’re not sure where I’m coming from, feel free to visit my website:

And again, I thank you for your courteously phrased question. Not calling me “a dog” is a much better way to start a conversation.

An Ro 14 hours ago — @Aaron accardo oh I don’t think he’s gonna answer that appropriately any time soon, this guy just wants to sound and feel more intelligent than the rest

James O’Donnell 12 hours ago (edited) — @An Ro — May I ask what you found inappropriate about my response?

J Rae 5 hours ago — @James O’Donnell Allow me to answer. It’s not exactly that your answer is “inappropriate” so much as full of vitriol. “Pure poison?” “An empty well with bile running down its walls?” It doesn’t sound as though Peterson disappoints you so much as he infuriates you – and anything that raises your ire that much deserves looking at.

You use a real name – I’ll grant you that – but otherwise, your contribution to the discussion is disappointing. Calling someone “a nitwit” or saying they’re “possessed of a defensive, ugly little mind,” is a fallacious argumentative strategy (a logical fallacy) known as an “ad hominem” attack. Where, instead of engaging in genuine discussion and making a legitimate point, someone (you, in this case), resorts to character assassination, or name-calling. It’s the equivalent of someone arguing with you making a valid point, to which you fire back, “Yeah? Well you’re fat!” In other words – disappointing.

Also? I doubt Peterson cares one whit whether you “cut him some slack.” He has a giant intellect – one which no doubt towers over both of ours – and while he isn’t warm & fuzzy with the interviewers (this one, in GQ’s own words is sent to “interrogate” Peterson), it’s interesting that you cut veritable swaths of slack to his opponents, who are the very definition of rude. So. If you have something actual to say from on-high, by all means, dismount your high horse and enlighten us – truly.

James O’Donnell 1 second ago — @J Rae — If you’ll reread my response to Aaron accardo, you’ll see that while I do reserve some well-deserved vitriol for Mr. Peterson (the petty little fraud and egomaniac), my case against him does not remotely rely on ad hominem attacks; I’ve actually offered a substantive critique of Peterson and the system he’s defending. That you do not acknowledge that fact shows that you’re no more honest than Peterson, and just as defensive and prone to go on the attack. That’s how easily threatened he and his sycophants are, completely unable to offer a principled, substantive defense of your positions. (You don’t even acknowledge that I conceded that some of his advice has validity, even if it is rather basic.) That you worship this pathetic, spiritually corrupt man and his “giant intellect” is only an indication that you are a blind follower. Go on feeling that he towers over you. You clearly enjoy that.

J Rae 3 hours ago — @James O’Donnell Given that I obviously haven’t read the other reply you refer to, how could I possibly “acknowledge” anything credible you may have said? I’m supposed to be psychic now too? Your response I replied to – the only one I saw – is full of ad hominem attacks, by anyone’s definition. Go back and re-read it with a more objective eye. Aside from being petty, calling someone a “nitwit” does nothing to move your argument ahead; that’s why it’s referred to as an ERROR in critical reasoning. What is your evidence that I worship Peterson? Because I say he has a giant intellect? Am I not allowed to respect someone without being accused of dumb, blind devotion? Surely there are people you respect highly (other than yourself, I mean) – how would you feel to be accused of worshipping them? In any case, ill have to look for your other comment because as with your first one, your reply to me still says basically nothing about why you actually dislike Peterson. Once again, no sign of intelligent life here folks!

J Rae 2 hours ago — @James O’Donnell well, I’ve looked and i can’t find the explanation you refer to. There’s 8 comments below your original one (9 counting this one) and only 2 are from you, and neither says much beyond this: gee, I really hate Peterson. Feel free to direct me to it, or to repost it’s contents. Until then, I have no recourse but to crown you the noble Lord of the Kingdom of Ad Hominem!

James O’Donnell 2 seconds ago — @J Rae — Actually, you’ve confirmed what I suspected about the curator of this page. He’s been hacking my comments to pieces or deleting them entirely. Sometimes, they’re there when I look for them, more often they are not, or 80% of my original comment has been hacked off… mid-sentence. (This marks my fifth comment, following my original statement — not my third.) Apparently, that’s how Peterson’s followers comport themselves when debating his worth: they censor and attack anyone who threatens their cardboard messiah, so incapable are they of defending the man on substance.

@J Rae — And now I have a question for you. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the comments here are so Nazi-like? Full of hate and misogyny, enamored of Van Damme-idolizing power and “curb stomping” triumphalism — romanticism of violence, especially directed at women, by this “black belt” cult leader. Here are just a few choice examples, besides referring to this perspicacious, strong journalist as a “toddler” and other ad hominem attacks on her person: “This chick looks like what a feminist looks like” and “Supercunt cuntface magoo and “This woman really needs to get laid” and “Jordan Peterson is guilty of 10 counts of gang-rape here.”

(What a guy!)

Does the type of person he attracts have nothing to do with Peterson, himself, or the vicious bile he spews? Why does he inspire such trashy followers, if his message is so positive and uplifting?

James O’Donnell 1 second ago — Since the curator of this page has apparently been deleting most of my comments and mangling the rest, I would direct any of Mr. Peterson’s followers — intellectually honest and morally courageous enough to hear the arguments of a critic of Mr. Peterson — to my website, where I have reproduced the conversation in its entirety:

James O’Donnell 1 minute ago (edited) — @J Rae — I truly appreciate your attempts to engage me in conversation, and I now understand the disadvantage you were at, only able to see a Straw Man version of my argument — only the ad hominem attacks — thanks to the censoring actions of the cowardly curator of this page. I invite you to view, at my website, the full conversation I’ve been trying to have with you:


Responding to this blog post, a very good friend asked me, “What makes this guy so appealing to some folks?” As it happens, I have a theory about the secret of Mr. Peterson’s “success” (if you can call it that — I mean, was Hitler a “successful” human being? I think most people would say he was not).

I think that Peterson’s appeal can be attributed, at least in part, to the reactionary conservative industry that’s been built around vilifying anything that smacks of “Political Correctness.”

With the corruption of the Politically Correct, yet totally regressive, corporate media, which represents the modern-day “liberal” class all too well (warmongering, right-wing, hypocritical, largely unmoored from traditional liberal values), the “liberal” media is perceived as an integral part of the tyranny that’s replaced our once semi-democratic republic.

That perception is largely accurate, and that’s what Peterson fans (and other so-called “deplorables”) are rationally rebelling against… which is a shame, because traditional liberal values — tolerance, compassion, reason — have been smeared and dragged down by their association, however bogus, with the faux-liberal despotism of the corporate establishment.

Even as the corporate establishment ignores our planet’s climate catastrophe and demonizes Muslims, blacks, genuine feminists, pacifists, activists, water protectors, etc., it projects a facade of liberalism.

That’s very dangerous, as liberal values have been conflated with neo-fascism. It’s an act on the establishment’s part, but an effective one… and liberalism is the scapegoat/target.

So, when the corporate media blatantly favored a radical neocon, Sec. Clinton, in 2016, it was favoring institutional racism (and ignoring Clinton’s ugly, Trump-like demagoguery and outright racism), neoconservatism, modern slavery, Wall Street predation, and other evils representing corporate conservatism at its most pure.

Such conduct degrades liberalism itself (which apparently no one recognizes or remembers anymore).

And the “deplorable” class, not being wholly stupid (however unsavvy and crude they are), knows that this establishment — which it confuses with TRUE LIBERALISM — is the enemy of us all, wiping out our middle class, tearing down the rule of law, normalizing slavery and perpetual, pointless wars…

So, these social/economic castaways, discarded and mocked as their livelihoods and families go down the drain, feel empowered when they rally around a pseudo-enemy of the establishment — charlatans like Peterson and Trump, who actually, ironically, represent the values of the establishment perfectly. They defend patriarchy, white supremacy, rape culture, and the anti-Muslim holocaust that’s ongoing.

Same deal with “Tommy Robinson,” about whom I blogged in March.

The cultish followers of Peterson, Trump, “Robinson,” and their ilk, think these opportunistic frauds are “rebels,” when they’re the exact opposite: venal, self-serving toadies to power.

ADDENDUM II: The conversation continues…

abandoned failer 1 hour ago — @James O’Donnell how are you to make such an assumption though? All i gathered from the above exchange is that neither of you agree that you are coming across to one another. Peterson is cool, he says whats right. I admit that i wasted a couple mins reading yr conversation, but i was at least expecting closure, like a typical moron. Dont even bother replying. Idc what you think

James O’Donnell 1 second ago — ​@abandoned failer — What assumption is that, Mr. Abandoned? If it’s about someone disappearing my posts, I’ve simply never had this problem commenting on YouTube before. Never. So SOMETHING messed up has been happening, as I’ve been debating with people who can’t even see 90% of the case I’ve been making — a case that keeps mysteriously getting 86’d or mangled. (I’d still like to know by whom, as it doesn’t seem random or accidental: i.e., how come the comments coming from those attacking me are unaffected?)

If you didn’t gather much from my exchange with the other Peterson minions, I have to assume you haven’t seen the full conversation. They haven’t. That’s why none of them has engaged me on the substance of my critique of Peterson and his followers; it doesn’t always exist on this page.

Here’s the actual conversation, in full, with no deletions or censorship:

STILL, good job working in a baseless, “he’s cool” plug for Peterson in your comment, without backing it up in any way. Just a bare assertion that “he says whats right,” with no support — as if it’s a revelation that you’re just another reflexive follower of this worthless, bile-spewing Pied Piper.

And if you’re not aware that “Don’t even bother replying. Idc what you think” is a cheap dodge, the coward’s way out, then you’re as dishonest as the woman-hating bozo you idolize.

I’m enjoying our discussion, so far, and also the book, Erpenbeck’s excellent writing, the rich characters (especially Richard and Rashid), and the timeliness of the subject, with more refugees in the world than ever previously recorded.

Other highlights include Chapter 27, which for the first time gives us a chapter offering the perspective of someone other than Richard (Awad). It’s refreshing and useful to see how Richard and his curious quest are perceived by those whose lives he’s investigating and trying to help.

Another highlight for me, however difficult it was to get through, is the passage (Pp. 233-4) about the flaying and displaying of the corpse of Soliman, Freemason brother of Mozart, etc. I thought it very telling, very effective, and a shock of ice water in the face for any reader with illusions of Western “civilization.” As Gandhi famously replied when asked what he thought of Western Civilization, “I think it would be a good idea.” And Richard’s reflections on this gruesome defilement — with his hypothetical counterpoint about “Heinrich Schliemann dressed in a Spanish matador’s costume or a traditional Mongolian garment” displayed in the National Museum in Cairo — was sheer perfection, spot on and even humorous, illustrating how absurd, unscientific, and truly barbaric was the treatment of Soliman’s remains.

Still, I confess I find Richard a frustrating fellow. As mild mannered, generous, and well-meaning as he is, from the beginning of the novel he strikes me as all too typical of the West: insular to the point of ignorance of the outside world (and of the feelings of others around him, from his wife and his mistress to the refugees he’s getting to know); comfortable to the point of naivete/detachment; and ultimately, a bit obtuse, even several weeks into his project.

I like this assessment of our protagonist from Amber Ruth Paulen’s review of the novel:

“This is a man who thinks about his lover and dead wife in the same breath without seeming to feel any guilt. Richard is a wonderful and complex character, at once meticulous in his investigation of the refugees’ lives and stolidly distant from his emotions and people, which gives him room to grow.”

I’ll add that it’s heartening to see Richard confronting and breaking down the borders that have been constructed to keep human beings apart and struggling separately. His quest and actions are undoubtedly laudable.

But were it not for the fact that he’s a widower who has just retired/been retired (“shunted off into retirement” — P. 240), it’s hard to imagine Richard taking an interest in the plight of these refugees, let alone involving himself in their travails. In the early chapters of the book, it seemed to me that Richard is a bit preoccupied with death, and not just the corpse in the lake, but the prospect of his own death. Natural enough, I suppose, considering he’s reached some important endings in recent years, but still… without his fear of death would he be thus motivated to reach out to another part of his society?

He’s a little myopic. It’s telling that we don’t even learn his wife’s name until more than halfway through the novel (P. 155). It is also telling that Richard was oblivious to the fact that his mistress was seeing someone else and preparing to leave him.

I also find it irksome that Richard invents and persistently clings to the names he’s imposed upon the refugees he’s met: Apollo, Tristan, Hermes, the Thunderbolt Hurler, etc. But as his familiarity with their actual identities grows, he seems to leave this habit behind; Awad, Ithemba, Osarobo, Rufu, Rashid, and the others “become visible” and increasingly human in his eyes. It turns out that they do not experience the deaths of their friends, neighbors, and loved ones in a lesser way than we Westerners do (if anything, the opposite is true, as Westerners are encouraged to “shop” in the wake of tragedy and close ourselves off to the world of death and suffering that’s been created, in no small part, by our own governments and corporations). Richard discovers that his new acquaintances do not “mourn their dead less” (P. 169), and to his credit, he is ashamed that he ever believed such a thing, dehumanizing an entire continent of people.

So far as Richard’s naivete/detachment from the outside world:

When Richard goes for a walk with his friends, “chubby Thomas” shares what he knows about the situation in Niger (p. 147) and concludes with, “And the only government that tried to kick out the French was quickly deposed in a coup. By God knows who.”

Apparently, none of them can imagine who could’ve been responsible… for the coup that ousted the government that “…tried to kick out the French.”

Is it possible that Richard and his friends are unfamiliar with the appallingly long list of nations that have tried to be independent of Western control, only to have their leaders deposed in coups orchestrated by the West (particularly the U.S.)? Just a short list of the democratically elected leaders deposed in such coups would include Mohammed Mossadegh, Patrice Lumumba, Jacobo Arbenz, Ngo Dinh Diem, Salvador Allende — and more recently, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Manuel Zelaya, Mohamed Morsi, Victor Yanukovych, and Dilma Rousseff. And such a list omits the long list of failed coups attempted by the West, including the CIA’s failed assassination attempt on French President Charles de Gualle in 1961, the Bush administration’s failed/immediately reversed 2002 coup in Venezuela, and the Obama administration’s failed regime-change operation in Syria.

When Richard imagines the impossible “To-do” lists of a few of his new refugee friends (p. 204), he seems to have little or no comprehension of the external realities involved. Even if they could achieve such improbable victories from within their own countries, such victories would surely be reversed, posthaste, by implacable Western powers. New governments that don’t tolerate child labor or corruption would be replaced as quickly as the reformist government in Niger that Thomas spoke of… by “God knows who.”

Later (p. 241), Richard wonders if “these long years of peacetime” — with the German citizens “at so great a distance from the wars of others” — have made it possible for the German people to condone such terrible violence against anyone threatening to disrupt their “untroubled circumstances,” anyone threatening to disrupt “the end of history” (in other words, threatening the current balance of power). The violence of the German authorities is so jarring to Richard that he concludes “…it almost looks like war.”

(That’s because it is a war. The violence he’s witnessing is directly connected to the war that the West has brought to the Islamic world… the war to remove Saddam from power, Qaddafi from power, Bashar al-Assad from power, Hamas from power, Hezbollah from power, the Iranians from power… Apparently, Richard is completely ignorant of the neoconservatives’ war to redraw the map of the Middle East in the interest of Western hegemony… once again.)

Elsewhere (p. 167), Richard asks himself “But what war have people now just been through?” This is infuriating. Richard doesn’t seem to possess any awareness that this global war is one in which his country is deeply involved, and that the individuals who launched this war (such as former CIA Director James Woolsey) have explicitly stated that the Global War on Terror is, in fact, the Fourth World War, the Third being the Cold War (with both WWIII and WWIV having resulted in millions of lives lost, from Iran to Guatemala to Korea to Vietnam to Indonesia to Iraq to Palestine to Lebanon to Somalia to Egypt to Libya to Syria to Yemen and beyond).

In a chilling passage, present-day Germany’s xenophobic and cruel attitude toward the refugees reminds him of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews and other victims of the Third Reich (p. 209). I think the comparison is apt, so it’s not exactly reassuring to learn that Richard is grateful to have “just as little idea as anyone else what’s in store” for the coming year (p. 207).

A final observation about Richard’s naivete:

Amidst wonderful epiphanies, like borders “create” opponents and the police aren’t looking out for poor people’s interests, Richard speculates (p. 211) that if the police were so inclined, they’d be out to arrest the bank managers who “embezzle so many billions.”

Following the wholesale collapse of the financial system in 2008, this silly notion about embezzling bank managers seems remarkably naive. Bank managers, who actually work for a living, didn’t have anything to do with the meltdown of the financialized economy. Those responsible for the crash occupied positions far above the pay grade of the managerial class… and I thought most people knew that (maybe I’m the one who’s being naive).

As a mature, highly educated, privileged “elite” (in his own words), Richard ought to know that he’s light years from the reality. The meltdown was a massive, global event, and many terrific books have been written on the subject, as well as some outstanding documentaries and at least one brilliant film, “The Big Short.” The well-documented history tells us that Wall Street executives, the heads of the ratings agencies, and top government regulators — including the congressional leadership and a series of U.S. presidents — built a system that was designed to collapse and subsequently extort tens of trillions (not “billions”) from governments the world over.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks to governments and agencies captured and literally staffed by the institutionally racist and misogynistic, rapaciously predatory, “Vampire Squid”-captained industry: a wholly corrupt industry that was allowed to manage the minutest details of its own bailout.

The botched bailout was not only unthinkably cruel and morally grotesque, it resulted in horrendous consequences for our country… and the world, beginning with the U.K. and Europe. And it went a long way toward creating the political environment that would make viable the candidacies of cartoonishly villainous demagogues like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Jair Bolsonaro.

The botched handling of the bailout explains why millions of Americans were illegally “robo-signed” out of their homes, especially African-Americans, who were deliberately targeted by the industry for the worst sub-prime loans, even when they qualified for prime, in a practice known as “reverse redlining.” That’s how African-American households had their post-Civil Rights Era economic gains wiped out in President Obama’s first term (per the Pew Research Center). The elite criminals responsible for defrauding millions of people and scores of polities (municipalities, counties, states, and entire nations; and pension funds, etc.) are the ones the authorities never came for, but rather bailed out to the tune of not “so many billions,” but trillions of dollars, euros, etc., transferring the pain to whole economies across the Western world, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable and discriminated-against populations, especially in the United States.

Finally, with regard to Richard’s obtuseness:

When Richard learns that the protesters on the roof are without drinking water (p. 229), he immediately abandons hope, thinking, they “can’t (even) drop a plastic bottle” (into the ocean water, as on the refugee ships). Oh, well…

As I read, I couldn’t help thinking, If that were your child on that roof you’d think harder on the subject, friend Richard! You’d be filling plastic bottles with water and getting some of the healthier young men to hurl those bottles up to the roof — if not from the ground, then from a floor with a balcony. Or at least shout up to the protesters to melt the snow and drink the water… the roof is covered in snow! For God’s sake, man, they’re dying! Think of something!

When Osarobo asks Richard if he has any work for him (p. 236), he responds that he doesn’t and reverts to his piano lesson. Later, he concludes that there is a potential livelihood for Osarobo involving the keyboard he’s purchased for him… but he hasn’t reached that conclusion yet — and in any case, that’s not what the desperate younger man requested of him. It’s a painful exchange, because the refugees rarely ask anything of Richard, even after his generosity has been established. I found it heartbreaking that Richard failed to come up with something for Osarobo to do to earn a few euros… and gave up trying rather quickly. No leaves to rake, I’m out of ideas. (No walk to shovel either? No spare, obsolete items to drag up from the basement and donate to charity? Nothing? No calling the neighbors to see if they have an odd job or two — or ten? Work for more than one of his new friends might be available, who knows?)

It’s occurred to me more than once that these gracious, self-sacrificing, downtrodden refugees are probably, in large part, just being polite to the peculiar old German fellow, going to his house to read Dante, play the piano, etc., simply because he’s asked them to. Not necessarily because they place a high value on these activities… at least, not initially.

As much as he does on their behalf, which is admittedly a great deal, I couldn’t help but agonize over the actions that Richard does not take. As he becomes familiar with not just the devastatingly sad (Tristan-evoking) personal stories of these men — but also with the cruel, impossible legal situation that the “iron law(s)” of Europe have put them in, binding them in scores of “conceptually flawed construction(s)” (p. 220) — I wanted to whisper into his ear, “Richard, write a damn letter to the editor, won’t you?” He’s a highly respected, retired Professor Emeritus, and I think his letter would be published… and conceivably have great impact. I had this thought fairly early on in the book, and when poor Richard ends up suffering through the internet bilge of “DontCare” (p. 167) and various ugly, xenophobic newspaper editorials, I knew that he’d missed a bet.

I also felt that Richard should have engaged his very good friends, Jorg and Monika, when he first realized that the couple is afflicted with some bigoted, ignorant notions (p. 196). He should have lovingly and patiently, without condescension or judgment, tried to bring his lifelong friends up to speed; after all, his own sensitivity to such matters was only recently awakened. And that’s what friends do, right? But the reader is given no indication that Richard ever made the attempt. It seems that his difficulties with empathy have prevailed again. In fact, it seems that Jorg and Monika rather precipitously plummet from the status of near, dear friends, to personae non gratae, to be called only in the case of a medical emergency, in Jorg’s case, consulted for his professional advice only. Richard apparently has scrapped decades of friendship, as he now sees Jorg and his wife as human scum.

Too easy. Too unfortunate. Too… Richard. Perhaps there was a teachable moment in there, somewhere, you dear, sweet, womanizing weirdo. And, after all, who are you to judge? For that matter, who am I? We’re all off in some way, so speak to the better angels of people’s natures, especially your friends and loved ones, and hope that they’re charitable enough to do the same for you, when your time comes!

[To offer just one example, I had a good friend and co-worker — in Redlands, way back when — who would frequently break out with homophobic claptrap. I called him out on it every time and eventually clobbered him with a few spontaneous lectures, as I am wont to do… whether folks wont to hear it, or not. Within a year, my friend and eventual roommate had not only stopped talking crap, he’d actually embarked on his first-ever homosexual relationship! When he told me about it, I just about fainted (but I certainly never mocked him, I was proud of the kid — only I did think to myself, “It’s true what they say about extreme homophobes: “Methinks thou dost protest too much” indeed)! And on the general point, if I’d ditched out on every relationship with an American, liberal or conservative, who’d revealed bigoted ideas in my presence, I’d have very few friends in this country at all. And frankly, some of the most shocking garbage has come from Bay Area folks, self-identified liberals, including a few Johnston alums. Because such thinking is prevalent in this country, in my experience. If it were not, few people would have voted for either appallingly racist candidate in our most recent presidential election.]

In conclusion, I doff my hat to the author for making me go through all of these conniptions on behalf of her refugees. I’m sure that Richard’s failures are intended to make me feel this way… and that’s good writing. Not only is Richard frustrating, he’s completely believable, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. Furthermore, Erpenbeck has created something special and urgently needed, when it comes to presenting a moving, authentic portrayal of the experiences of these modern victims of war… not so different from victims of wars past (millions of Jews killed in the last Holocaust, millions of Muslims, and counting, in the current one, which appears to have no end in sight).

And honestly, I love Richard and want to hug him and praise him every bit as much as I want to shake him and teach him. The poor, human slob, with his frailties and flaws (cheating on his wife, drooling after the young Ethiopian teacher, privately carrying such hostility for his former colleagues…). And yet I admire the hell out of him for challenging himself and growing — something that few longtime adults do, it seems — whatever instigated his actions, be it fear of death/obsolescence, or whatever.

What Richard does and tries to do for these desperate and despairing men he’s come to know, especially Karon, is really extraordinary and wonderful. I wish the West had hundreds of millions more citizens like Richard… or more specifically, like post-retirement Richard. I’m not so sure that hundreds of millions of pre-retirement Richards would achieve the same effect. In fact, I seriously doubt it.

Because it’s not insignificant that Richard was such close friends with Jorg and Monika for so long — vacationing with them on many occasions and even talking politics (p. 233). Are we to believe that Jorg, who ultimately comes across as fairly monstrous in his prejudices (p. 232), never gave any indication of his deep-seeded bigotry previously? It’s safe to assume that Richard simply never noticed before he became more sensitive to these matters — a quite recent development in his life.

Once more, for the record, I love this novel… almost as much as I loved Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, and that’s saying a great deal (amazing book, that).

The rewards of Go, Went, Gone are rich, including the frequent references to history, music, Shakespeare, Dante, and Ovid (!!!). If Richard has led an insular life — much of it behind a literal wall (good metaphor) — I readily concede that that life has been admirably filled with some of the best art (literature, music, etc.) ever created… and the way Richard has shared his knowledge has undoubtedly benefited countless lives.

The only element I’ve been missing is some sense that the author, if not Richard, is aware of the West’s (especially the U.S.’s) dominant, terrorizing, tyrannical role in the world — leading the way, in fact, to the global collapse of the rule of law and the faltering of the planet’s ecosystem.

Maybe Erpenbeck genuinely lacks this awareness, even as she demonstrates great empathy with the refugee victims of the current war.

Perhaps the wisdom that an activist friend from Ghana shared with me in 2008 applies as much to citizens of Europe as it does to Americans:

“Don’t believe your media or politicians — any of them — without skepticism. Look into the truth of things yourself. In Ghana, we benefit from the fact that we know that we are being heavily propagandized by our media and politicians. Most Americans seem not to know how much they’re being propagandized. That’s the disadvantage you’re at. You still don’t know the extent to which your institutions have been corrupted.”

Sadly, I think that my friend’s cautionary words apply today more than ever. We are divided. We are conquered. And the vast majority of beliefs that Americans hold about our politicians and institutions are completely baseless.

Our chances to turn this ship around… go, went… gone?

I certainly hope not.

Fascists need fall guys... and duopoly-only voters (shall we not call them dupes?)

This couple of minutes from Michael Moore’s flawed but important documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” has always broken my heart.

Soul-crushing, is it not?

Not only did the Democratic Party refuse to fight for the voting rights of thousands of African-Americans illegally removed from the voter rolls by Florida’s “Bush for President” co-chair, Katherine Harris (Jeb’s Secretary of State), the Democratic leadership would eventually join Bush/Cheney’s worst war crimes and their unprecedented assault on our own society and the rule of law.

Few today will recall the “Gang of Four” that, excluding the rest of the Congress, collaborated with the Bush White House on torture, unwarranted mass-surveillance, and other atrocities.

Two of “the Gang” were Democrats.

One of those Democrats is poised to resume her position as Speaker of the House this January, Representative Nancy “impeachment is off the table” Pelosi. (After all, you can’t impeach a president for crimes in which you, yourself, are complicit. That would be a sign of… integrity.)

After decades of Democratic silence with regard to the GOP’s Southern Strategy — after a Democratic president exploded mass-incarceration and slashed welfare (70% of which went to children) — I shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. Because any careful examination of the historical record shows that post-JFK Democrats have far outstripped Republicans when it comes to accomplishing the far-right’s unfathomably cruel and colossally stupid agenda.

Nearly two decades ago, I had much to learn about “controlled opposition.” Feigned differences. Rhetorical “values.”

And even though over 300,000 registered Florida Democrats voted for George Bush in 2000, the Democratic establishment and our corporate media have managed to place the blame for Bush’s “victory” squarely on the shoulders of Ralph Nader and the Green Party.


In a testament to the efficacy of corporate propaganda, many otherwise intelligent Americans believe that unconscionable horseplop to this very day. They blame moral and intellectual paragon Nader and continue — even after the catastrophic, neo-fascism entrenching tenure of Barack Obama — supporting the other right-wing party of corporatized white supremacy, the neocon-infested, neo-McCarthyite, Wall Street Democrats.

What a nightmare.

Yes on Prop. 10 (rent control) in CA!

No on Prop. 8 (reduces care for vulnerable patients) in CA!

Yes for Robert Daulton and Cullen Tiernan for Fremont City Council!

And so far as the U.S. Congress is concerned…

Unless you have an opportunity today to vote for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Barbara Lee, or Rep. Nina Turner, you should seriously consider casting a vote to Make America GREEN Again!!!

Seeing as the U.S. Congress is probably headed for a split-decision (Rs keep the Senate, Ds take the House, after spending the last two years inadvertently helping Trump by attacking him from his right), you could actually vote for someone, for a change, instead of being cowed by neo-fascists into voting against the slightly more terrifying (to you) of two patently monstrous, equally racist, warmongering evils — both responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents (mostly Arab Muslims) and the collapse of the rule of law… and the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem, ongoing as I type these words.

Conversely, you could vote your corporation-programmed conscience (unfazed by genocide/mass-incarceration/ecocide) and keep evil riding high.

For instance, you could vote for California’s own RussiaGating neo-McCarthyist, Adam Schiff, the neocons’ best pal, or NRA-owned Trump-booster, Jon Tester, in Montana, or Claire McCaskill in Missouri, who supports Trump “100 percent” when it comes to migrant refugees and his immigration policies (and has helped confirm the vast majority of his judges)… and don’t worry, they’re all big fans of fracking!!

You could vote for any of the other “liberal” or “Christian” frauds who simply do whatever the Koch Brothers, Saim Haban, and the CIA tell them to do (aka “democracy”).

Only here’s a hint: You can’t repudiate fascism by voting for its most ardent proponents. Repudiating the modern KKK is a moral imperative… but joining the party dominated by modern Nazis — the neocons and our amoral, genocidal intelligence agencies — is not how we “defeat” the right.

It’s how we capitulate to the furthest right extremists in our polity after unilaterally disarming, trading in our minds and souls for a four-year chip of righteous-feeling, utterly impotent, completely hypocritical (for Democrats) Trump Hate… after cheating the real left in a rigged primary.

It’s called playing into the fascists’ hands.


ADDENDUM (1:23PM Daylight Savings Time)

The best, for me, would be if everyone voted third party, if there was a complete and total, 100% repudiation of both the KKK-right (the GOP), and the neocon/neo-McCarthyite-right (the Democrats), which has been pushing WWIII on a bunch of baseless propaganda since before Trump was even inaugurated.

But I understand that tribalized mainstream Americans aren’t quite ready to reject neo-fascism, that they are still capable ONLY of choosing between two equally racist, equally genocidal brands of evil: one subtly, institutionally racist, and far more effectively so (the Ds); and one overtly racist and obviously dangerous, which also happens to expose our far-right, white-supremacist, and ultimately despotic political establishment for what it is and long has been (the nakedly fascist Rs).

In other words, it’s the party of mass-incarceration on steroids, which also helped Wall Street illegally plunder the post-Civil Rights Era gains of African-American households in 2009-10 — and which spread the Terror War to seven nations (the Muslim-butchering Ds)… vs. the wretched, ignorant misogynists of the party of overt racism and unalloyed Christian Dominionism (the Muslim-butchering Rs)…

One party kills hundreds of thousands of innocents, and everyone is up in arms. The other party, so insidious, kills hundreds of thousands of innocents (teeing up millions), and everyone is SILENT AS THE GRAVE.

It’s fucking eerie. And there’s the real danger.

How either vote-suppressing, massively racist, environment cratering, utterly corrupt party EVER gets anyone’s vote is a mystery to sane, moral people the world over.

“There’s a big election coming up.”

“Yes, I heard.”

“An important opportunity to repudiate fascism, yes?”

“Definitely, but what makes you think everyone’s going to vote third party?”

“Fascism, stupid… what Trump and the Republicans are peddling.”

“Agreed. That’s Fascism Brand R, as in revolting, repugnant, racist, and reviled the world over… But then there’s Fascism Brand D, infiltrated top to bottom, these days, with Wall Street/PhRMA/Monsanto/fossil fuel lobby (corporate) courtesans, former Republicans, intelligence agents, and neocons pushing WWIII on a load of baseless propaganda. Fascism Brand D: the journalist/whistleblower-hunting party that took over every extreme right-wing/Heritage Foundation/PNAC position and made it policy while calling itself ‘liberal,’ because Republicans just weren’t up to the Herculean tasks of ending welfare (70% of which went to poor children, disproportionately black), passing NAFTA (devastating workers and the middle class), exploding mass-incarceration and The New Jim Crow… repealing Glass-Steagall and making it illegal to regulate derivatives (making the 2008 economic meltdown inevitable)… removing media ownership rules so a handful of Rupert Murdoch’s could control 90% of what every American sees, hears, and reads, including under the banner of “news”… bailing out Wall Street while decimating the middle class… legalizing torture, indefinite detention, drone assassination, police state surveillance, domestic propaganda. We’re talking about the neocon-dominatedMujaheddin 2.0-launching party responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians… the OWS/free assembly-crushing, primary-rigging, vote-suppressing party that, in order to excuse a bungled election, revived the specter of McCarthyism, bringing the world to the brink of a HOT global war between superpowers, for the first time in generations… the party of the ICE-expanding, Border Patrol-swelling ‘Deporter in Chief’ (who separated thousands of children from their parents/legal guardians in his day, caging them as Trump has). We’re talking about the ‘We came, we saw, he died,’ Libya War party (the slave auctioneer’s and jihadi’s best friend party that expanded the GWOT to seven nations)… the party that helped Wall Street crooks erase the post-Civil Rights Era economic gains of African-American households… the party that gave lip service to climate change while freeing the polluters in deep ocean waters, the Gulf, the Arctic — all while making sure the Paris Agreement had no legally binding carbon emissions limits and polluters were given immunity… all while using the U.S. State Department to spread fracking throughout the world, privatize water, and support the Pentagon’s missions. Fascism Brand D, the party that made a Trump-like figure in the White House inevitable.”

“You and Dr. Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders and Susan Sarandon and Daniel Ellsberg and Jimmy Dore and Seymour Hersh and Chris Hedges and Caitlin Johnstone and Eva Bartlett and Glen Ford and Max Blumenthal and Medea Benjamin and Col. Ann Wright and Dr. Cornel West and Ray McGovern and Abby Martin and Ralph Nader and Vanessa Beeley and Julian Assange and Katie Halper and Aaron Mate and Rania Khalek and Briahna Joy Gray and David Swanson and Helen Buyniski and Jeremy Scahill and Eric Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky need to shut up for the rest of your lives and go away.”

“You know, I use to hear that kind of thing all the time from Republicans in the 1990s and early 2000s, back before they realized that the vast majority of the politicians they supported were bought and sold, without a principle to their name. You’ll get there. It will probably be too late, by then, to do much of anything useful with your nominally liberal impulses, in the post-petrodollar, post-empire, post-normal climate world… I only hope that me and mine (and you and yours) will have access to food, water, medicine, and shelter, in the dark days ahead, which the duopoly has condemned us to. Until then, keep ‘repudiating’ stuff.”

“I hate you. Stop talking forever.”

“Now you sound exactly like a 1990s-early 2000s Republican. At long last, a bipartisan consensus has been reached: the real enemy of the corporation-programmed duopoly voter is anyone remotely progressive.”

“Fuck off and die. I’m voting against the modern KKK and the rise of fascism.”

“I understand that, and I salute you. But you’re also voting for the party of the New Cold War… possibly a third World War. A neocon party, top to bottom, genocidally Islamophobic and maniacally Russophobic. A neo-McCarthyite, CIA-party that has risked the reputation of the American left on a conspiracy theory, with no public evidence yet offered… the party of modern Nazis.”

“I love David Frum, Rachel Maddow, Tom Friedman, Joy Ann Reid, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vox, The New Yorker, Daily Kos, Huffington, Bill Maher, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Mike Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Daily Beast, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, CNN, NPR…”

“I know you do.”