Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #166 (February 24th, 2007)






Dear Dave,

I wanted to write to you and wanted to say something other than "I love your stuff" or "dood you're a natzie seriusly." I don't know what you do with your time but I thought I'd send this your way. I don't care about getting stuff signed, or things like that, though I responded to the "free signed copies of Cerebus" offer when I heard about it from Neil Gaiman's blog, and enjoyed receiving my free comic, having sent a paper letter, which I do a couple of times a year. I've been reading your proxy blog lately and was impressed with the sort of mindscape and base of faith you apparently think and live from.

My experience of you is purely through having borrowed the first Cerebus phonebooks in 1997 from Dave Whelen, my room-mate-at-the-time-who is very into comics, claims to have been at one of your "do's back in the day", and is good friends with some of Toronto's not-overly-successful-I-don't think-but-what-do-I-know-about-comics self-publishers (Mark Oakley of Thieves and Kings, Jeff Wasson and Chris Howard of Dressed for Success, Tara Tallon of Galaxian, Greg Bettham and Stephen Geigen-Miller of Xeno's Arrow and that ilk.) I ordered "that" single issue of Reads to see what the big feminist fuss was about, because everyone was going on about it, but obviously hadn't thought enough about it to say anything sensible about it to me. Upon reading it, I had no immediate, simple response to it, despite thinking that the thoughts and feelings shown in it were unaccountably rare and not at all without merit. And then I forgot about it all for a bit.

Now, years later, I was missing borrowing Dave's Cerebus phonebooks, as he's moved in with a girl who lives far from here (in the intervening time I'd bought Jaka's Story, Rick's Story and Melmoth, which don't seem like great "reminding myself what they early Cerebus story was about" choices) so I've started buying them a couple each month at The Comic Book Store. Yesterday I picked up High Society (and Ragmop) from the store, checked out some YouTube stuff with you and Rob disagreeing about the Three Stooges, and was reminded that I've always wondered what you thought about some specific things that are of interest to me.

No real segue: My background was a strict, unthinking Plymouth Brethren, fundamentalist Christian one, and I've moved on quite a bit in some ways since then, into having a strong interest (some would focus on "belief") in God, the bible and so on, but not trusting any group of religious people to do anything good (I just assume they'll waste all of their time claiming to be right, damning others for being different from they, fighting over who gets the scraps of power and special titles and funny hats, and stuff like that.) I've also largely given up worrying about doing things that are "wrong", focusing instead of not doing things that are harmful, evil, bad or lacking in virtues such as integrity, kindness and honesty.

For that reason, I am quite interested in what the bible and other stuff like that means to you and what you've been thinking about it lately.

Religiously, I'm personally most interested in things like (bold font used in case you like to skim long things you find boring and irrelevant to you. Sorry if it seems condescending. I'm a high school teacher. Most people skim when they read, nowadays):

the idea that Christian (and perhaps other) fundamentalists have gone wrong by operating from a "right/wrong" and "secular/sacred" paradigm, rather than the "good/evil, across the board" one that exists in the bible, and that this practice trivializes things, and subverts what should be "are we doing any good at all?" and "Did we do any harm we should own up to?" discussions into stupid "I don't admit that I did anything wrong, though" and "But, is what you're doing The Right Thing?" non-discussions. I know you're focused on "attempting to eliminate my own wrong behaviours and change them into right behaviours." I think the "right/wrong" paradigm there puts you at risk of trivializing what you can actually do, but that's just me. I think the use of the very word "right" reveals a focus on correctness, while "good" has a focus on worth, on excellence. You wrote, lettered and drew Cerebus very well (adverbial form of "good") rather than merely very correctly ("right"). I wrote a whole big thing that goes into this topic in more detail and makes this point better. I got the idea because of hearing "devout" people continually needing to translate and misquote the "good's" "well's" and "evil's" and "bad's" of scripture into "right's" and "wrong's" in order to make their points, which were not easily made, using the original wording. This interested me. When zealots and fundamentalists continually misquote a particular scripture in a predictable way, it tells you a lot. Also, every single pregnant teen says her job is to teach her child "right from wrong." No thought of excellence there, just "what are the boundaries we may or may not be transgressing?" Good can make right kind of obsolete (or, completely taken care of), as deep, intuitive understanding can make a discussion of basic facts unnecessary.

I think I see what you're driving at but I think in a lot of ways it amounts to hair-splitting sophistry. "Good" and "right" versus "bad" and "evil" and "wrong" (and "illegal" and "immoral" if you want to include those). For me to get bogged down in trying to determine the proper term for what it is I'm trying to eliminate from my life and what it is that I'm trying to incorporate into my life strikes me as a real basic God's adversary kind of distraction. I can be diplomatic and tell someone that I don't share their view of a specific behaviour, rather than telling them that I think that behaviour is evil, but essentially what matters to me is my innermost response to it because God knows my innermost response so that's all that really matters. If you were coming to me for advice (which you don't appear to be) I would say "My best advice is to start with the things you're doing that you either know or strongly suspect are evil or wrong. Pick one and stop doing it." If you tried to turn that into a discussion of the nature of evil and wrong and is it the same as illegal or immoral and is it subjective or objective, I'd say, "Look, you're making this needlessly complicated. Everyone has things that they do that they know or strongly suspect are evil or wrong. By getting bogged down in debates over nomenclature and definitions, all you're doing is distracting yourself from what you already know you should do and avoiding cutting a specific bad behaviour out of your life. Don't pick the bad behaviour you most know you should get rid of or the one that you're the most in love with. Pick one that you won't really miss, but pick one and get rid of it." Stop finding intellectual evasions for embracing behaviours you know are wrong and just…get rid of them.

The ideas of grace and forgiveness, which I think, after showing my Grade 12 Creative Writing class The Fisher King, are concepts which modern kids (and their parents) don't get at all. The idea that you usually don't earn a position of grace, that falling from grace to disgrace often isn't your fault and may have little to do with you, that dealing with a fall of that kind often requires someone (not just God) to show grace or kindness or forgiveness to you when you can't earn it and perhaps don't seem like a good first choice to offer it to, that their offering is almost always for their own reasons and has nothing to do with you, all of this seems like something they've never even heard of. At least our religious "leaders" growing up told us properly-structured myths with characters who experienced or understood that stuff, even if they didn't themselves show an understanding of it. They demonstrated an odd idea that we try to earn grace through works.

Well, I discussed this a little while ago in a discussion on Paul and frankly I don't come from that tradition of non-culpability and complete ineffectiveness in being deserving of God's grace. In my view, you're better served saying "If I was to make myself more worthy of God's grace than I am today, how would I go about doing that?" If you have any kind of insight into yourself at all, a whole desktop full of options should appear right away. Not "how can I make myself worthy of God's grace"—for the sake of argument we'll accept the Paulist argument that you can't—but "how can I make myself more worthy of God's grace?" The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. Your Grade 12 Creative Writing class and their parents, to me, have their own row to hoe. If you want to introduce the concept to them, hey, give it a try. But don't suggest it to them as a substitute for taking action against your own bad choices. It is always going to be easier to fix what's wrong with yourself than to fix what you see as being wrong with others. You don't have to talk yourself into it or deal with any evasions if you choose not to. "This is the behaviour I want to stop." Then you just stop it. In my experience God will meet you halfway and give you the help you need to stop the behaviours you can't seem to stop on your own. In my experience, He hasn't much interest in my opinions or recommendations of how to fix the behaviours and bad decision-making of others. "Um, I'm God, Dave. I'm an omniscient being. Trust me. I'm already on the case. Just, uh, stick to your own plate here. You seem to have a fair amount to deal with on your own without worrying about anyone else's plate."

The unchangingly Eternal view of God, vs. the Living, Receptive and Reactive to Us view of God. I grew up with a strong slant to the latter, and now sometimes wonder what's the point of even telling Him anything that matters to me. He seems to do whatever he's going to do anyway, and my concerns and His are pretty different. I think I'm getting one-sided in the opposite way, now, probably largely because following God mostly just keeps me from having sex when I've spent my whole life trying to do things like that in what I saw as His way, or in a way that would make sense, given How Things Are, and what He Meant When He Thought Of Them as far as I could understand things.

Well, I don't think Understanding God or Knowing God has any part in what we are here to accomplish. Fixing Ourselves is what I see us as being here to accomplish. Is God Unchangingly Eternal or is God Reacting to Us minute-by-minute. I would assume both. That is, the nature of God is Unchangingly Eternal and Remote but the extent to which that Nature assists us depends on our willingness to move unquestioningly towards it. Again, in my view by intentional self-improvement and the avoidance of backsliding and making submission to God's will—not understanding God's will or knowing God's will but just submitting yourself to God's will, unquestioningly. You can, in my view, and should improve your life by moving closer and closer to your own perception of God and those behaviours that you think would earn favour in the sight of God (keep it hypothetical if you want). But, in my experience, no matter how close you move to God you are still not going to Understand or Know Him. Your effort to improve will be assisted by Him. That's all that's important. Not Understanding or Knowing Him, but Fixing You. God isn't the issue, you are.

Why religious people are helpless before fanatics. Anyone who is more extreme in any nasty traits (judgmentalism, joylessness, pettiness, stuff like that) always wins the all-important "more `into it' than thou" crown, and anyone who is more in possession of any good traits (in particular, ones that don't mess with other people) is seen as nice, but not serious, important or effectual, until he or she starts acting like the fanatics, or else leaves in disgust, which makes them an infidel/heretic.

Yes, but that really has nothing to do with Fixing You, does it? There's no question about it that fanaticism does tend to express itself in really unpleasant ways. So, it seems to me the best thing to do is to choose not to be a fanatic yourself. And having chosen to not be a fanatic, then ask yourself which of your wrong behaviours you're willing to get rid of today or which wrong behaviours you have to get rid of again because you've allowed them back into your life. It's going to be a lot easier to get rid of a wrong behaviour you let back into your life two days ago than it is if you let it take up residence for another six months or a year or two years. Your plate—like everyone's plate—is full already and it will probably take most of your life to clean it. You don't have time to worry about what's on the plate of hypothetical fanatics, do you?

The inevitable tendency for people who have serious problems with groups to go off on their own, where they are of no use whatsoever to the groups, who desperately need their influence, and where they hermit up and get kind of dried up, self-focussed, eccentric and disconnected from "people" in general (talking about me here, not you.) I think having your brain stirred up and stimulated by the company of other people is important. I think a life that is centred around getting holy is a selfish one, focussed as it is on bettering yourself. I don't ever go to church anymore. I was kicked out for writing a parody of one of their outreach pamphlets. I work and associate with fairly irreligious people for the most part. My "religious" friends I relate to not much at all. I argue with unthinking fundamentalists and encourage just-starting-to-think ex-fundamentalists online. I write stuff and put it on my webpage. I made a fairly popular animated flash cartoon lampooning church politics in my church, just so there would be one. People see my stuff and I seldom know about it. I am increasingly alone in my way of living. Is this just part of getting middle-aged?

Well, I think that isolation is healthy. In my experience conversation is to communication what chewing gum is to eating. It's certainly a lot of fun to be out somewhere sitting at a table full of people indulging in various vices and having the fitful stop-and-start objective/subjective misunderstanding of what you're trying to say and what the other person is trying to say. But, compared to sitting in a room and forming coherent thoughts and taking positive action in your own life and not doing wrong things and doing right things, well, to me there is no comparison. I don't think I would ever have become celibate or chosen not to masturbate if I had continued having an active social life and canvassed all my friends as to whether I should or shouldn't. In our society sex and masturbation are Inescapable Givens. The average North American wouldn't give up masturbation anymore than they would give up breathing. When the world's morals erode (as I think they have) then the more time you spend in the world, the more you're going to grade your own behaviours against the curve and cut yourself way too much slack. Whereas if you make your decisions in isolation and you read Scripture and pray a lot you're going to realize that this isn't a game and I think the natural tendency at the point is to aspire to God's approval on the basis of God's word which means you'll tend to err on the side of right rather than the side of wrong. To me it's almost a given that you're going to choose wrong over right if (like most North Americans) you're taking your guidelines from pop music, movies and television and the hedonistic excesses and relativistic morality of your immediate circle of atheistic friends.

As to the rest of this passage, again, I don't think arguing with people is particularly helpful when you have your own plateful of stuff to deal with and a very short lifetime in which to do it. Write your own exam and don't worry about anyone else's. You can't pass their exam and they can't pass your exam.

Young, not-so-young, middle-aged, advanced middle-aged, senior citizen…you still have the same full plate and the same exam that you've been writing (or avoiding writing) all along. "I've been writing my exam for almost thirty years now. Maybe it's time I started giving up some of these behaviours that I suspect or know are wrong." That's a good choice at thirty or forty or fifty or sixty or seventy, in my view. The best time to change the way you behave that you think needs changing is today, however old you are or whenever today happens to be.

envying prodigals, people who have had it both ways. People like Cain, Jacob and the prodigal son, (and you) who learn about foolishness, mistakes and excess, and also about forgiveness and grace in ways that people who are "raised right" and never stray have not the slightest clue about. No wonder Esau's and prodigal's elder brothers don't know how important forgiveness and cutting people some slack is, as they don't feel they've ever required it. And they don't learn anything from people who've tried both ways, either. Celebrities who turned their backs on a religious past, rebelled in a big way and then embraced religion in a way that worked for them are legion (heh) including Alice Cooper, Dave Mustaine, Tori Amos and many others. People are dubious as to what change they "undersent" as you point out. I haven't really lived a life with much excess or foolishness or big sin of any kind in it. I haven't needed big forgiveness. I've lived carefully and small. I'm ashamed of that, but I'm not changing much as I age, it seems. I respect (for good or ill) your right to claim having tried taking both hedonism and religion quite far, and to have leaped in, no holds barred, into the arena with both, at different times your life. Therefore, I think your insights are potentially pretty valuable to someone like me.

Well, good. I hope you're right. All I can do is tell you what worked for me and hope that it will work for you if you choose to give it a try.

As to feminism, one reason I'm interested in what you have to say is that I am in most ways, (I feel this especially after reading Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job with his "the beta male invents fire, the alpha picks it up, waves it around, and gets credit for having invented it, as well as the 3rd degree burn, the beta male's defining trait is imagination, which he lives in, not getting the stuff the alpha, in reality, does") a classic case of the domesticated Beta Male. I live single and alone, feeling that I'd never submit to the cell-phone-based tyranny that my male friends are under, yet somehow also realizing that my generation and the ones following it lack fathers in a very real sense, and that I am continually "fathering" the disenchanted daughters of missionaries when they've boinked a black guy, fatherless or poorly-fathered children I teach English and History to, my sister (whose father's shortcomings I know as well as she, obviously), young guys who need help writing, recording or editing their creative stuff, beaten housewives and troubled women of every kind. If I'm in a bar, depressed women gravitate to me. I used to gravitate to them too. They used to tell me everything, and I thought this was intimacy and trust, as I knew their bed-partners weren't privy to this stuff. Now I know they'd talk to a street lamp. Also, I wasn't ever their bed partners. I'm perpetually in the role of saying, "Yes, that stuff was bad. How awful. What a bastard. It sucked. Now stop whining and do something good. Go ahead. No excuses, no disclaimers, just start doing stuff. Don't be timid and don't be so careful. Take risks right now. Screwing up is part of it." I think that's a big part of what father's are supposed to do. There's already a mother there to say, "be careful. Be nice. Don't screw up or make a mess"

Well, yes. I think it comes down to what women are using their free will for and what men are using their free will for and the way we've allowed our society to change for the worse. The "confidant" situation you describe is not unusual and we've all been through it. Basically what it amounts to is feminists looking for a kind of absolution. They are aware (however unconsciously) that men are ahead of them in the societal pecking order and they are aware that Nice Guys are higher in the pecking order than the thugs they fall in love with who beat the crap out of them and borrow money and cheat, etc. etc. So, essentially what they're ostensibly looking for is an honest assessment from someone above them. "Here's my whole life from the last five years in a nutshell. What do you think?" Which is, of course, perfectly disingenuous of them since the Nice Guy they're talking to usually wants to get into their pants. Consequently he becomes a party to their self-deception by being less judgmental. MOST of the time the only honest thing to say to unrepentant self-destructive sluts is "You have the life you deserve. Your misfortune is all of your own making. God is not mocked." Which is why they seek absolution from horny Nice Guys instead of actual Nice Guys. As is the case with everyone, they know what the problem actually is, they know what behaviours they indulge in that are wrong/evil but most of the time they're just marking time since they know they have no intention of giving up anything that they consider fun. That's what makes them strong, independent feminists.

Fathers have been effectively neutralized by mothers, as far as I can see. If you take it as a given that the most important thing for a girl is to be strong and independent and to do whatever it is she wants—which is the core of the feminist position—basically by the age of nine you will have already produced an unrepentant self-destructive slut. If you subscribe—as we do in our society—to the view that letting girls do whatever they want without disapproving of it makes you a good feminist and not letting girls do whatever they want makes you an evil patriarchal misogynist, then you have essentially made all fathers complicitous in making unrepentant, self-destructive sluttishness the societal norm by making him understand the situation as an either/or. Either you agree with this degradation and approve of it and stay married and have access to your kids or you disagree with this degradation and disapprove of it and essentially lose your marriage, possessions and access to our children under Feminist Family Law. So, I'm too comfortably smug about playing around in religious topics, would love to be thrown off-balance by whatever Dave Sim thinks about any of these, and conversely am at a loss as to pursuing intimate relationships with God and women alike. Being me seems frequently to preclude being close in certain ways to either of those. I don't really have anyone else to be but me, after all, and there are limits to how much one can and should change.I've chosen to avoid intimate relationships with women because I believe marriage is the only valid, moral, God-fearing option and marriage has been poisoned under Feminist Family Law. You either stand back like a good feminist and let your daughter do whatever she wants (i.e. become an unrepentant self-destructive slut) or you lose your daughter because you're a patriarchal misogynist for thinking it right for you, as her father, to tell her what to do. As long as that legal dichotomy of feminist origin exists—you are either a feminist or a misogynist—it makes no sense for men to participate in that Alice in Wonderland feminist world that I can see. I'll find out on Judgment Day if that's the case or if my assessment was wrong.

There may be limits as to how much one can and should change, but this looks to me like you are choosing to just stop writing your exam. As with exams in our world that really doesn't make a whole lot of sense that I can see. You have three hours to write the exam and you choose to stop writing after an hour and set your pen down and sit there complacently with your hands folded on your desk. "Man, you've only GOT seventy or eighty years and you just sat there wasting the last ten or twenty of them!" I mean, what do you think your final grade is going to look like if that's what you choose to do? When the Bible says "There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" on Judgment Day, I think that'll be coming from a lot of folks who are standing there with 5 out of the 890 questions on their exams answered. " 5 OUT OF 890! AND I JUST SAT THERE WITH MY THUMB UP MY WHATSIT FOR THE LAST THIRTY-FIVE YEARS!! WAIL WAIL, GNASH GNASH!!"If you choose to respond to any of the above stuff, I solemnly swear to read each and every word of your thoughts on the subject, and to actually think about it. Be as nice as you can. Proverbs advises avoiding a wrathful man. I am writing to you anyway, despite your having a reputation for a certain flavour of wrathfulness.Mm. No wrathfulness here, Mike. I'm just, you know, sitting here writing my exam. In fact, its time for my afternoon prayer. Five prayers a day without fail. Ever, uh, thought of giving that a try before you give up writing your exam permanently? It really has worked for me.

Making no attempt at appropriate social mores in this letter,

(signed Mike Moore)Mike Moore (not the documentary director one)

Tomorrow: The Feminists catch a break as the "Society Gives Feminists a Free Ride Day" the 25th falls on a Sunday this month and there's still one more Honking Huge Letter to go that I'll be answering Monday so there's a two-day reprieve until I address Jackie Estrada's letter to Claude Flowers on Tuesday! As for tomorrow, Jeff Tundis had a great suggestion. Why don't we run Dave's Prayer again? Hey, sounds good to me!


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.