Cycles of Belief 09/11/21

In 2001 I was in junior high. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, no one at the lunch table took it seriously. We were detached from it, mentally and geographically, and it seemed unreal. It wouldn’t hit me, how bad something like this actually was, until I saw people jumping out of the towers in the documentary Loose Change.

What did hit me was the shift in tone. I grew up in a military town. My classmates had parents shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan. My dad would come back haunted by that the same way he came back haunted by Bosnia. The War on Terror had tangible effects in small-town Oklahoma.

I would sit in the computer lab at Vo-Tech and play Flash games on Ebaumsworld where you punched Osama Bin Laden over and over. I remember one video set to the tune of the Harry Belafonte song: “Kick your ass, then we gon’ go home.” Cartoon explosions. Cartoon Afghani terrorists and cartoon blood.

Me and my buddies would write songs in a garage. We downloaded System of a Down songs on Limewire. My tiny teenage brain started to form a conscience. Maybe, I thought to myself, the people in Afghanistan and Iraq were people. Never mind that SOAD are Armenians. And what’s this I hear about WMDs not actually existing?

At school I payed no attention. Already against everyone. I used to wear a shirt that said “Jesus Did It for the Chicks.” I bought it off T-Shirt Hell. That was the mode, right, being against Christianity and organized religion. Because those things had oppressed me. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure how oppressed I actually was, besides having to endure condescending youth pastors and cripplingly boring sermons. But hey, at 16, being bored is tantamount to oppression.

So everybody already hated my guts. I got used to it. Eventually I fed off of it. I practiced kickflips and drank Everclear with my friends. One time I ate a bunch of Coricidin and my head felt like a balloon trapped in a corner of the ceiling. And out of that booze-soaked anti-Christian anti-authoritarianism came the first semblance of a political compass. I was anti-war. Why? Because the dominant culture around me was for it.

It’s more complex than that. I felt bad about the whole imperialism thing, in whatever way you can feel bad about something you haven’t done personally. But I listened to Rage Against the Machine. I listened to the Cage record with Jello Biafra doing a George W. Bush impression. I watched the video to Incubus’s “Megalomaniac” with the little cut-out Bush figure. He was the ultimate evil. I even watched Fahrenheit 9/11. The hooks sunk in.

And I’m not sad that it happened at all. I think when you’re a teenager, you’re supposed to rebel against everything. That rebellion ended up giving me the raw material for a set of principles that wouldn’t become solid until my late 20s, after I’d stopped dumping Chinese research chemicals and booze into my brain. Those principles looked a little something like this:

  1. The government/politicians/corporations are always lying. If they’re not lying outright, they’re not telling the truth, either.
  2. War is wrong. Drones, tanks, however you want to do it. It’s wrong.
  3. People should be allowed to think and express whatever they want.

Before all that, though, I took up pet causes. I went to college and learned about Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. So I decided I was an atheist until I discovered Brad Warner’s books, then I was a Zen Buddhist, then from there I kind of floated as a nothing until I found Duncan Trussell’s podcast years later and from there heard Conner Habib and from there found Rune Soup and from there got into occultism and witchcraft. Now I pray the rosary at times, draw up sigils at others. This morning I went to buy a Mountain Dew Rise at a new gas station down the street before the sun came up and heard the most beautiful adhan playing from the speakers outside where those awful motorized scooters were piled up by the door and so now I think that God is definitely real in exactly the way that morning call to prayer suggests. It’s pretty fluid.

I had an intense Ethics teacher at UTEP who loved to fuck students, but I didn’t know that at the time, and he convinced me to try veganism. So I was a vegan for two weeks, living off of Taco Bell bean burritos until my stomach collapsed. Then I drank expired cranberry juice and ended up in the hospital where they injected my ass cheek with something to hydrate me, then I thought “I wonder how my body works,” and began investigating, learning about fitness and health and drinking my ass off. I picked up smoking at 22, which is something people in prison do. I lived with what I thought was IBS but was actually just beer for a decade until I got back into health and fitness, but thankfully never went back to veganism. That teacher by the way was on an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit. The PETA episode.

Most importantly, my relationship to other people changed. My friend group diversified and I believed in no borders at all. Let everyone come in. This has been my most consistent position in maybe my whole life: I’ve participated in many actions to support people crossing the southern border. In my direct life I celebrated the freaks and weirdos in my orbit and I hated the people who would judge them based on who they were. I saw Nazis and fascists around every corner until one day, for a reason I still haven’t puzzled out, I didn’t anymore. Those same freaks and weirdos turned out to be people after all, with all the flaws and authoritarian impulses everybody else has. Suddenly it dawned on me: it’s about the cop that lives in your heart.

I remember where I was on 9/11, and I think most people alive and making memories at that time do as well. What it gets me thinking about is the person I was then and the person I am now. Am I different? In many ways, yes, of course. And in other ways I have come full circle. When I was a kid, I alienated my peers based on the idea that we shouldn’t take revenge on innocents for what happened to the people of New York City in 2001. Now I alienate my peers based on the idea that we shouldn’t take revenge on our neighbors for what happened to the world in 2020.

No matter how much my beliefs have shifted over the past 20 years, the principles remain the same. Power is always lying to you. War is wrong, especially if it’s a war against your neighbors. And people should have every right to question narratives, find the holes in them, and express their confusion and disdain. There’s probably more to say about brain elasticity and compassion, but that’s enough for today.

Thanks for reading my little diary entry. Have a great weekend!