Wherein I Am Overwhelmed

posted by Guy Geaux on 20th Oct 2016, 2:54 PM

Sorry that it's been an eternity since I put out one depressing comic... following the long hiatus after my wedding. I am currently in the process of very possibly relaunching this comic from a different website AND trying to finish a novel AND trying to get started on a new serial story project. I know, I know, too many irons in the fire. I will, however, update this site at least one more time before the transition, if it happens.

If you're out there and you're reading this, I haven't forgotten about Demon vs Rabbit. It's story is only beginning.




posted by Guy Geaux on 22nd Aug 2016, 8:52 PM

I'm planning on doing a little bit more with this, but after that I am going to scale back with the four panel comics and concentrate on doing one every so often that confronts a bigger issue. I'm sure I'll get pulled into doing comics about this (horrendous) election cycle. But c'est la vie. Love you all. Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch.

Stay the Course

posted by Guy Geaux on 13th Aug 2016, 5:58 PM

So I am in fact still doing this comic. You might not know it, but it is happening. The summer petered out, and now I am back to teaching. Kia and I got married on June 22nd, had an accidental honeymoon in Boise, Idaho. Boise was a fantastic city. So nice in fact, that we checked out housing prices there.

We'll be staying in North Carolina for the foreseeable future. Still, Boise's great.

Anyway, I am writing this because I just needed to put in print that more comics are coming. They are coming. I just got a bit overwhelmed with projects that I had intended to finish before the end of the summer but never got to - and now with school starting again, I am up to my ears in curriculum, meetings, teaching, and marking. We're only seven school days in at this point, and I think the school year will be relatively easy. But I am also still ironing out the kinks in my teaching for the year. I doubt that there will be a comic this Monday, but I'm going to try to have one ready for the 21st and every Monday after that. Again, we'll see.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Corporation

posted by Guy Geaux on 7th Aug 2016, 1:58 PM

I Am Never Not Going to Have Been a White Kid from the Suburbs of Philadelphia


I had an ewok lunchbox when I was in elementary school. As kids, my brother and I often pretended that we were characters from the Star Wars movies. In my junior year of high school, “The Phantom Menace” was released and subsequently panned from shore to to shore. I hadn't quite been at the level of the camping cosplayers who lined up around the corner and waited for days to get decent seats in the movie theater, but I wasn't far off either. I remember being disgusted by the movie and its pandering attempts to try to attact a younger audience. It would have been better to just leave the old trilogy alone, in my opinion, than to make some half-baked turd of a movie just to milk consumers for some money. Most Star Wars fans reviled “Episode One,” but this movie made more money than the GDP of a lot of the world's smaller nations. I realized that movie studios are in business to make money, but I figured that George Lucas was somehow beyond all of that. After all, it wasn't like he was destitute or anything. At that point in my life, I knew, crudely, that corporations were responsible for a lot of suffering in the world, but that they also made the shirts I was wearing and the Pepsi that I was drinking. I listened to anti-corporate punk rock, but I also bought clothes at Hot Topic which went public on the Nasdaq in 1996. The past is the past, and all I can ever have been is a white kid from the suburbs of Philadelphia.

It wasn't until I started teaching in Baltimore city that the problems of the United States became more real to me. There were a lot of things that were pretty unique to the urban poor: ostentatious displays of small bits of wealth, the kind of fierce pride that comes with a lot of humiliation, exposure to the primal forces of hunger, cold, heat, inadequate clothing, etc. I remember a lot of fires. The idea that a family could lose everything – at times their lives – from poorly constructed heating units was something that seemed to make sense in an abstract way, but to see it in person was incongruous with what I supposedly knew about the world.

Years later, I was teaching in South Korea and happened to meet a guy, whom we shall call 'E'. E was a revolutionary communist, and I argued with him incessantly. As we became better and better friends, I realized that I didn't disagree with him half as much as I had originally thought. Like many of my suburban friends, I'd grown up with the attitude that communism was an optimistic dream that just put too much stock in people's capacity to not abuse their power. But after reading more on my own, and studying more of the history surrounding the various class struggles that have helped to shape history, I started coming around to E's way of seeing things. I never embraced revolutionary communism because I just think that the entrenched military industrial complex is far too powerful to be overthrown through superior force of arms. If it's going to be changed at all, it has to be done gradually and democratically. The moment that someone makes himself or herself a violent enemy of the state, the powers that be have all of the justification they need to kill that person and all of their confederates. Confronted with this, E reminded me that one of the fathers of the Russian revolution – I can't recall who it was at the moment – is quoted as saying, “Keep sending soldiers to put down our revolution, they make excellent recruits.”

This relies on the idea that that indoctrinated soldier will at some point confront the enemies of the military industrial complex face to face. In an era of drones and highly trained special forces groups, this kind of thing is, in my view, extremely unlikely. E explained that reforming a crooked system leaves out the people who are suffering in an unfair system now, and the simple fact that it is so easy for the powers that be to co-opt efforts to bring them to heel. After all, isn't it true that the sales tax I paid on my Bad Religion t shirt went into the same pool of money that paid for the bombs that were dropped in the name of 'protecting American interests'?

Still, we have a forty hour work week, and we've made strides in labor. Yes, there's a very long way to go in America, let alone the developing world, but I just don't see it happening in any way but democratically. Senator Bernie Sanders showed the world this election cycle how far someone can make it without threatening violence. It's true that he was eventually defeated by a very establishment opponent, but I think that he has paved the way for a lot of third party candidates in the future simply by making it as far as he did. That having been said, the system is incredibly frustrating, and I echo the sentiment that if you aren't enraged, you haven't been paying attention.

Still, I have a little bit of hope from the strangest of sources. Allow me to explain:

It is perhaps my wife's least favorite thing about me, but I often preface discussions of the future with, “yes, if we don't blow ourselves up in the meantime.” This extends to any and all of the multitude of ways that our society could self-destruct, but I feel that I need to offer this as the alternative to what I am about to introduce. If we don't change our society, we're going to let the systems we've put into place navigate us to the bottom of the ocean – or, at very least, a radioactive wasteland. We need to consciously evolve as a society, but I have some hope that that can happen and is happening.

When Henry Ford popularized the assembly line, he streamlined the processes of manufacture, but he disconnected the worker from the finished product. A person whose job it is to assemble a small part of a car is in no way a mechanic, capable of working on the product as a whole. It doesn't preclude this possibility, but it also doesn't make it necessary. Compartmentalization of tasks has gone to such extremes that most of the things that we use to get through the day are things to which we have no connection aside from that of consumers. Think about it.

Most of the time when I fix my car, it involves buying and installing an entirely new replacement part. I don't have any real knowledge of how to fix or recreate those replacement parts. While the system is convenient and supposedly creates jobs, wealth, and wheels within wheels, it also means that interaction between all of the people involved in making that car run are so diffuse that a corporation more or less has to be in charge of it. The system has come to perpetuate itself. We cannot kick the corporations out because we are so dependent upon them.

Another big difference that I had with E was that of agency. He seemed to feel that the military industrial complex worked intentionally to undermine people who would dare to try to live without it, as if there were a great big conspiracy at the highest levels of business and the government, bent on subverting the free will of the masses. I don't believe this. It simply fails Hanlon's Razor: never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be described by incompetence.

Multinationals aren't intentionally making Bangladeshi garment workers' lives hell. If it was cost effective for them to treat their employees well, it would be a double win for them to be able to market how their products improve the lives of their employees. The cost benefit analysis comes into play, and they, the companies, know that most consumers don't care at all about the effect of their purchases on the developing world.

Not only that, but we've managed to compartmentalize blame to the point where no one in the industry is ultimately culpable for any of the problems inherent with it. A CEO is merely a track greaser whose job it is to make fiscally sound decisions. If those decisions are no longer fiscally sound because they are taking into consideration the plight of the workers below, that CEO will be replaced. If you don't do it, they'll find someone who will.

Shareholders within companies are arguably the top of the top, but how many multinationals have one shareholder? In much the same way that executions by firing squad used to distribute one blank, shareholders are not personally at fault for the decisions the company makes because there isn't one person making them. Besides, even if the people at the top decide to make decisions that benefit the workers more than the company, said company will eventually become less profitable than its competitors and lose its market share. Your business cannot make life better for anyone if it has to file Chapter 11.

The diffusion of our efforts across the globe and across myriads of entities creates a system where it is incredibly difficult to affect change, and corporations, if we're to treat them as people qua Mitt Romney, are the ones to blame. From banking to insurance to manufacturing to agriculture – and even education, we've found ways to poison ourselves by trying to turn a profit. It seems that corporations through their great efficiency and adaptability have become the most powerful forces in the world. I would argue that because the ultimate goal of a corporation is to bring profit to the shareholders, that this situation is unsustainably dangerous. A rational person is not going to run off of a cliff for no reason, but a car that has been properly maintained and is functioning at its peak will do so if it is directed to. Similarly, the corporations that are draining our aquifers, poisoning our oceans, and filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases aren't doing this maliciously – they're just trying to turn a profit because that's what they've been laid out to do. Everything else is just incidental. Even if it destroys the world as we know it.


Wait, I thought This Was about Loving Corporations?


I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night. I wore a Star Wars themed Christmas sweater that I'd bought at Target. My wife, our two close friends, and I were the first ones in line for the movie. (We didn't camp, we just showed up a couple of hours early.) I loved it.

I know that a lot of people have basically said that the movie was pandering to old fans while trying to shore up a new audience with its “socially-conscious” protagonists. People said that the plot was a carbon copy of Episodes IV and VI. It's my opinion, but I reject a lot of the criticism of the movie because, well, while those people are entitled to their opinions, they are just that: opinions. The movie was a little derivative, but it was conscious of that. Han Solo remarks, “So they've made another Death Star.” Even if it was a bit too much like other movies in the franchise, those movies were like each other.

As for pandering to social justice warriors, there simply are subsets of American culture that cannot be simultaneously pleased. If the characters had all been white and male, they'd have been attacked for reinforcing the patriarchy. If the characters are “of color” or are women, the company is accused of pandering. It is an inherently unwinnable position.

The point of all of this is that I loved “The Force Awakens.” Sorry if that was a bit of a digression, but I imagine that I am probably the only person reading this blog anyway. Maybe, my wife will if she's bored.

In the same way that no one I've ever met, and I'd argue maybe no one at all, could build – unaided – a functioning cellular phone from raw materials in nature, none of the Star Wars movies could have been made without corporate backing. Is it worth the suffering of millions of people to have movies like Star Wars be made? Wouldn't it be better on the balance to do away with capitalist hegemony than to be able to see a Taylor Swift video?

Sure, it would. Nothing would make me happier than to live in a society where we weren't distracted by blockbuster movies, fed high fructose corn syrup in practically everything we buy, and born into a system that expects us to get jobs that we don't particularly enjoy. I would give up a lot more than just Star Wars to live in a system like that. If labor were divided fairly, we could probably all get by comfortably and healthily in a system where everyone just worked for a couple of hours a day.

And as the Yiddish proverb goes, if my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather.

It isn't that way. It isn't going to be that way for a long time – maybe ever. And here's the rub: the only forces in our system that have the power to move us in a positive direction aren't even necessarily the governments. Multinationals straddle oceans. They get into places that sovereign governments fear to tread. They find ways to do things that bureaucrats spend days arguing over. They are as fearless as they are soulless. And as divided and dumb and fat as they have made us, they have sown the seeds of their own reformation in the mix.

The internet is full of horrible things, but it is a reflection of us as a civilization. And the PR nightmares that this has caused a lot of companies is probably the best thing that has come out of the web. It is very slow change, but the simple fact is that with high quality video and the ever presence of Smart phones, bad business practices are running out of places to hide. Don't get me wrong, they still have lots of them, but their days are numbered. George Orwell was wrong about surveillance. The term sousveillance captures what I mean here. When Mitt Romney says something that the public should hear, behind closed doors, the internet is there. When police shoot and kill unarmed black teens, the internet is there. When fires incinerate garment workers in a horrendously laid out factory, the internet is there.

Corporations have created the internet. Make no mistake, the computer or tablet or cell phone on which you are reading this would not exist if it weren't for the multinationals. The internet's ability to connect people is proving to have a lot of unintended consequences. If Chinese workers are committing suicide because their working conditions are so poor, the corporations have to respond to that because their buyers become less interested in supporting that kind of labor. It's true, it doesn't have the impact that it should, but the process is slow. All lasting social change generally is. Does it have to be? I don't know – no one really does. What I do know is that right now, the most capable hands are the least likely. In our lifetimes, we've already started to see forces pushing corporate entities toward more equitable business practices. They aren't going willingly, but they are going.

It might seem a cop out, but the only time that worrying is worth anything is when it can help effect change. The corporations are here, and they aren't going to go anywhere until we, as a species, stop worrying so much about money. The seeds of that are here, and I love the idea that Japan has been tinkering with – the post-growth economy. But none of that is going to happen over night. I can't imagine that we'll see a global standardized income or the fall of the corporate entities. What I can say is that it makes a lot more sense, in terms of ethics, utilitarianism, and quality of life, for us to be concerned and active citizens – vote progressively, locally, and regularly, help out in the community, practice divestment if you can afford to, write letters to the editor, support businesses that help people stay healthy, and make the corporations know that you're there in any way that you can.

And keep in mind, the symphony of different interests that came together to create Star Wars is just the tip of the iceberg.

Digressions to a Goal... Or Depression

posted by Guy Geaux on 13th Jul 2016, 6:03 PM

Okay, so this is stab number two at this particular blog entry, and the first one left me with the conclusion that there are things that can be done to make the world a better place, but I am woefully inadequate to handle any of them in any serious or meaningful way. It was a depressing day. Seriously. 
So here we go, try number two:
In order to communicate, people need to speak use vocabulary consistently and coherently. If I'm saying that a ball is a lep, and you're still calling it a ball, no one's going to get very far, are they? I have a problem: I keep beginning to write blogs and comic story lines, and then saving them in my drafts folder because I feel like there's very little that I can say that people will take as true at face value. In order to talk about things that are important, we have to speak the same language.
Therein lies the first problem: what is intrinsically important? What has value?
What motivates me and what motivates other people surely has some commonalities, but there are so many differences that it sometimes becomes very difficult to talk about society in a way that more than one addressee will accept. And that's the purpose of blog-writing, right? To convey a message to a lot of different people, and if not have it accepted, at least have it entertained. And if not that, at least have it provoke thought or discussion. Until a writer can find a concept with some universal appeal, it's difficult to say anything that won't be met with hostility before it can do any of the things that its intended to do: be accepted, be discussed, or, at very least, be understood.
Some of things my students value are pretty obvious because they won't stop talking about them: having the newest smartphone, the best shoes, the attention of a lot of girls, respect for their physical prowess, etc. (I teach at an all-boys school - yes, it's public; there's an all-girl counterpart to it.) Subjectively speaking, I think a lot of those things are pretty silly, but objectively speaking, the things that I value carry no more intrinsic weight than anything else. Many of my peers value things like family, lifestyle, health, and religion. I'm not even sure what it is that I value more than anything else, and because of this, if you were to ask me on two different days, you'd probably get two different answers. So, how can I tackle this problem of universal value when I don't even have a superlative for it in my own life? Maybe, that is the goal for this blog: what is it that I intrinsically value more than anything else. Let's Descartes this shit.
Instead of just listing things that are important to me in their supposed order of importance, as I think I might be parroting that from what I know I should find important, I'd like to try to connect it to this universal notion of That Which Is Important, so to speak. To wit, if I were to say that I find my family important, one might ask, "why?" The first and most primal answer to this is that if I said anything else, it might and probably would result in immediate physical discomfort because of my wife (we just got married, the term still seems alien to me. Mazel Tov to me, right?) most likely smacking me in the arm. The second and slightly less concrete answer would be that it gives me the greatest amount of discomfort to imagine those closest to me in physical or mental discomfort. It sounds a bit via negativa, talking about That Which Is Important, and immediately bringing removal of negative value - i.e. avoiding pain or stress - into the mix. But I'm using that point to organize my thoughts, and this is why I imagine my blog will have so few readers - it's just stream of consciousness for me, right? - and springboard me to the point that I was trying to make, or rather the question I was trying to ask: does it give me more pleasure to see my friends and family happy, fulfilled, healthy, etc. than it would to see the same for a bunch of strangers?
Well, I guess I am going to have to use a tangential bit of logic supplied by something akin to the Trolley Problem. If you've never heard of it, you can read this, or I can just ask you, how many innocent strangers would you kill to save a close family member in a system where you won't be prosecuted on earth or in heaven for having done it? Maybe, that last part is unnecessary. I'm not sure.
The point that I was getting to with that digression is that the general welfare of the human race is important to me. I don't think I could give an actual number of people I'd kill or allow to die (perhaps sociopathically, I feel strongly that those two things are the same), but again, this is going to get me arm-slapped by my wife - I think she would be content if the number were represented by a Möbius strip - there is some number out there. I have the sincerest of doubts that I will ever be in a situation that forces me to produce such a number, but whatever number it was would be an arbitrary one. Anyway, for my goal here of discerning That Which Matters, fortunately, I don't have to give an exact number. I know that the happiness of those I choose to call relations, be they friends, blood relatives, or, yes, pets, is more important to me than that of the general population. Not infinitely - which is important. Even my own happiness is not infinitely important to me. I would die, cause myself pain, stress, etc. to betterment of the world at large - people and animals. Is this self-serving because of whatever dopamine hit I might get from it? A bit, sure. But the fact that I know that I would commit to dying to rid the world of a plague or something of the sort, abstractly - who knows if under the circumstances they might try to back out later on, blind cowardice in the face of death is a truly primal force - says to me that it's a bit more than getting high on helping people. There's a hypocrisy to this in that I might die to save a population from the plague, I might cause myself inconvenience by purchasing more expensive, slightly more ethically produced goods, but there's a limit to how much time I will spend on educating myself about my interaction with the world, and its effects on strangers. Believe me when I say that I have tried. For several years, when I was living in SE Asia and slightly before that, I tried to figure out a way to distill my interactions with the world down to those that would only benefit its sentient occupants.
I wrote a lot more after this, but erased it after I got into some more tangential concerns and essentially proved to myself that there are things to be done to help the world, I am just woefully inadequate to those tasks. There's something called Analysis Paralysis - I once heard it referred to as the Tree Reaction or something like that. Basically when the scope of a vast problem comes into view, it is not uncommon for a person to realize that their effort vs the chance of success do not add up very well, and they give up before even trying. I get the feeling that this is particularly common with Liberal Arts majors - of which I am one - because we spent so much time thinking about things and not doing terribly much. Sorry, but it's the truth. If I could say it any other way and have it still be true, I would.
Then, exactly the scenario that I was describing happened to me as I was writing this: I gave the fuck up.
I resolved not to write any more of this blog anymore, today. I was depressed and needed a win in my column. So I got my wife and we went to JoAnn fabrics so that I could buy some thread to fix a messenger bag that I'd been meaning to use in the coming semester. On the way there, we were listening to NPR and heard a woman talking about her ideal feminist marriage vs. her logistically real marriage. I had explained to my wife my frustration with trying to communicate a commonality of That Which Is Important and my utter inability to do so. She pointed out that just like when I was in SE Asia, trying not to use any electricity or buy anything with a bar code on it (I know, I KNOW), in the grand scheme of things all it serves to do is make the person miserable who is living that way. Walmart didn't give a shit. The fossil fuel companies probably, I dunno, turned record profits with or without me. This is not: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This is: we're all going to be dead a lot longer than we're alive. That's the commonality. That's the irreducible fact. Sure, call it nihilism. Putting a label like that on something doesn't make it any less true. We're all going to be dead in, like (yes, I edited this, and, no, I'm not taking that out), a cosmic heartbeat, and anything that we do in our lives is, or should be, something that makes us feel a little better about it. The commonality that all of our oh-so-important values have is that they are all intrinsically meaningless on a cosmological scale. Is this nihilist comics? Maybe it will be. Not sure.
While you're waiting to die, if you haven't seen this, it's from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." Worthwhile. Check it out.

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