Scala Metus: From nukes to wolves

They told us to be afraid, be very afraid, of nukes.

Or, more correctly, to be afraid of our communist enemies who had nukes. Our nukes were good, of course. Their nukes were a terror.


When I was small, our pastors and teachers kept us Christian kids in line with fear of the commies, who were always threatening to launch nuclear missiles at us. Or, they were going to invade us and rip up our Bibles and make it illegal to pray. And we had to pray to Jesus really hard, or God was going to let it happen. And we had to make everyone else pray real hard too, or else the godless Russkies were going to make us cut up our American flags.

In the 4th grade, I was once subjected to a “drill” to illustrate just that. Our teacher told us what was going to happen: Men in military uniforms would come into our classroom, arrest her and bring in another teacher who would tell us to spit on the flag and throw our Bibles out the window. If we refused, we would be arrested and sent to a re-education camp where we would be taught to hate Jesus and our mommies and daddies. Because, as you know, the commies don’t love their families as we do.

When the Soviet Union fell, that fear faded. So, we had to be afraid of something else.

The preachers in our conservative mega-pulpits then tried to make us afraid of Bill and Hillary. They were “ungodly.” They were part of some super-secret Satanic ring trying to take over the world. Hillary was going to force all men to become women. She and Bill were going to “ban the family” and force us all to give our children to the state. And horrors, they were going to make us all get health care!

They had to be stopped. Everyone having access to health care was an insult to Jesus.

But that fear didn’t last long, even though it turned out to be a lucrative cottage industry for radio talk show hosts. It only appealed to the more insane and gullible of us. So, a new monster was needed.

We got it on 9/11.

At the time I foolishly thought the terrorist attacks would finally teach us the insanity of religious fundamentalism. Boy was I wrong. We just got more religiously fundamentalist in response. There were more than a few Christian preachers who taught that God allowed the attack to punish America because we didn’t believe as hard as the terrorists believed.

After a few years, the terrorist threat got smaller but more vicious. Now, we’re afraid of “lone wolf” attacks — some poor, isolated soul infected with a mind-virus of hate and fanaticism. And that makes it easier to find new people to fill the role of our fear avatars: Black people, brown people, anyone who wasn’t a Christian, feminists, liberals…

We are always to be afraid. We’ve been made afraid of anyone different. We’ve been made afraid of education, of being smart. We’ve been made afraid of anyone who won’t toe the line and bow down to authority. We’ve been made afraid of people with the insane notion that food, safety, and health care are fundamental human rights.

Fear, fear, fear. It was why religion was invented in the first place – as a salve for our fears of the dark shadows in the night. But now our religion is becoming fear itself. We’re addicted to it. We can’t live without it. It’s our drug.

And we always need a bigger dose, or else we won’t do what we’re told.

Imagine a world where there is no death


Imagine a world where there is no death.

Or better yet, imagine a world where there is no concept of death.

People would die, but it just wouldn’t enter into the experience of anyone around them.

On this imaginary world, when someone passes they disappear into a puff of air. The deceased’s loved ones don’t miss them because when someone dies, they are also erased from all memory.

People only notice that there is a new uninhabited house or new things which have no apparent owner just lying around to be taken.

Art, literature, and poetry would be very different because a lot of it here deals with death, either our own or of people we love.

Relationships would probably not consist of the strong bonds we find between family and loved ones here. In fact, the concept of a family might be hard to visualize.

And history would be impossible. What are you studying in history except for the doings and accomplishments of people who lived and died? If one had no concept of death, and immediately forgot those who were gone, history would be impossible to create.

There probably wouldn’t be religion in such a world, at least, not a religion like anything we know. Religion is primarily a function of helping us deal with the idea that one day we will no longer exist. We dream of an afterlife of some kind to help assuage the terror of non-being, something that is difficult for us even to conceive.

So it seems to me we would barely have a civilization at all was it not for death. The awareness of death, knowing that it’s hanging over our heads, seems to be the precise thing that makes us human. That makes love possible. That creates art, literature, and history, and the willingness to build and do great things, to leave a legacy behind. It also enables us to understand and appreciate someone else’s legacy.

As Todd May writes in “Death,” “the fact that we die is the most important fact about us. There is nothing that has more weight in our lives.”

So, death may be scary. We find so many fascinating (and sometimes frightening) ways to whistle past the graveyard, but it makes us human. Even if one doesn’t believe in an afterlife, we still believe in death. It still drives us to build, to do, to accomplish, to love, to remember.

We would not be human beings without death.

The “horrors” of socialized medicine

During our visit to Cuba, the thing the people were most proud of was their healthcare system, despite the older equipment and difficulty in getting medication (because of the embargo). I had to go to the hospital while there, and because I wasn’t a citizen, I had to pay — about 15 bucks in American dollars. In England, people complain about their health care until they hear about America’s.

The US is one of the only countries in the industrialized world without universal healthcare. No system is perfect, all systems have their problems, but ours lags behind and is one of the most unnecessarily expensive in the world.

From the LA Times last November:

Op-Ed I had a health crisis in France. I’m here to tell you that ‘socialized medicine’ is terrific

Let’s get to the bottom line. In addition to my surgery, I underwent an MRI, had a probe inserted in my upper thigh and extended into my heart, twice had a camera shoved down my throat to take photos of my valve, and more blood tests, electrocardiograms and sonograms than I can count. For all this, I was charged nothing.

la-nismedley-1479430975-snap-photoI did have to pay for my hospital beds, TV, telephone, WiFi and meals. I spent a total of 47 nights in hospitals and rehab. During the second half of my stay at the Grands Prs, I switched from a double room to a single so that I would have more privacy to write. Naturally, that was a bit more expensive. In the end, this entire ordeal set me back about 1,300 euros, or $1,455.

Granted, it’s taxes that make such low out-of-pocket costs possible. My individual burden, however, is far more reasonable than an American might assume. I pay an annual income tax of about 23%. All things considered, that’s fine by me.

I sometimes wonder how my health crisis would have played out had I returned to America instead of deciding to stay in Paris more than 20 years ago. Me, a journeyman writer with no university or corporate insurance coverage. Would I have been kept under observation in intensive care for two weeks? Before Obamacare, my valve problem could have been considered a “pre-existing condition,” allowing insurers to deny me support for the surgery.

Of course, I will never know what would have happened had I chosen to settle in my native country instead of in France. But the choice I made might well have saved my life.

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Life will appear to go on

There is a misconception that if we lose our rights life will grind to a halt. It’s not true. As we lose the right to collectively bargain, the right to have our votes counted, the right to say what happens to our own bodies, everything will still seem almost normal. As we lose the right to a clean and healthy environment, the right to safe food and water, the right of a free press, the right to not be discriminated against because of whom we love or what religion we believe in (or not at all), life will go on. Reality shows will continue to air, the latest fashions will still be in the stores, and pop stars will still lip-sync forgettable ditties. Life will go on. We’ll hardly notice the important things we’ve lost until it’s too late.

I fell off the horse

I fell off the horse. Everyone told me to just get right back on, but I didn’t do that. I sued the horse. Sued the pants off him. The lesson? Don’t try to ride horses who wear pants. I mean, c’mon. That’s just nuts.

This moment of free association brought to you by glue. Glue. It’s what’s for dinner.

Thanks, Brain.

Brain: Watcha doin?
Me: Trying to sleep. Leave me alone.
Brain: You know the door’s unlocked, right?
Me: (Goes to check, door is already locked, gets back in bed.)
Brain: Is your alarm set?
Me: No, I don’t work tomorrow. Don’t need alarm.
Brain: Yeah, but maybe it’s going to go off and wake you up.
Me: I don’t care! I’m going to sleep!
Brain: Are you sure you don’t work tomorrow? You better go check the schedule just to be sure.
Me: Dammit, I just want to sleep! Why are you doing this to me?

(with a h/t to Wil Wheaton, who understands my sleep deprivation)

Fearing artificial consciousness

Some scientists say we’ll have artificial intelligence more advanced than us by 2050. I prefer to call that “artificial consciousness,” because that’s what we’re really talking about.

But these scientists warn that the coming of artificial consciousness could mean “the extinction of the human race.”

The only reason we freak out at the prospect of sharing our world with artificial intelligence is projection: We naturally think anything or anyone more advanced than us is going to wipe us out — because that’s exactly what WE have done to anyone we perceived as lesser than us.

That’s why our science fiction is filled with stories about alien invasions wiping out humanity, supercomputers taking over the world, and the like. We assume that more advanced aliens and artificial intelligence will have the same morals we do. And that’s what we’re afraid of.

But it’s not necessarily so. It could very well be that the coming of artificial consciousness may be the next step in our evolution, and perhaps help us survive our more murderous and suicidal instincts as a species.


It all hinges on if artificial consciousness shares our morality. If it does, we’re cooked.