A Cog in the Machine

Diary, 4/17 to 4/19/22: 800 books; censorship and isolation; depressing truth; the right targets; where is Orwell? befouled conscience and going vegan. The new fascism.

Yeah, no such luck. Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{4/17/22} Continued.

One thing I often mention here is my “800 books.”  I used to have twice as much; then I went to prison and lost everything, up to and including my driver’s license and birth certificate.  Since I got out of prison with $6,000 because my stepfather had died in the meantime, and seven or eight books that I’d acquired in prison, I began buying books, about $3,500 worth in the first year.  I’d have done better to “live at the library” and buy a car instead, but these regrets are in vain.  What did I buy first?  I recall getting Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for $50, totally ridiculous.  The same book was later carried by Barnes & Noble for $10, though I’m guessing that it was a cheaper edition (it looked the same, though).  Also a dictionary (Merriam Webster Collegiate) and a couple volumes of Nietzsche, and maybe the Landmark Herodotus (still unread) and something of Noam Chomsky.

These days I buy very little at B&N, though I still have a membership and want to support the local bookstore.  I probably buy one book a month there; it’s been tapering off.  But I might also mention spending $150 recently on books about California camping and nearby national parks (in anticipation of acquiring a car, which never happened).  The Highsmith is the highlight of recent purchases; it’s always charming and sometimes astonishing and brilliant, though potential readers are warned:  I describe it to friends as “lesbian love stories,” and indeed that occupies much of her time and interest, a new passionate love every month or two.  I have a high tolerance for this; if it were male homosexuality, I’d never read it.  It is never graphic, however.


I suppose one should expect censorship when one’s country is at war.  The thing is, the “new war” is Ukraine vs Russia—we’re not threatened except as collateral damage.

I made the mistake of looking at my main online news and politics sources this morning, primarily Truthout.org and Chris Hedges.  If it was a mistake.  Paying attention to these sources is just likely to further isolate me, because those around me are content with Fox, MSNBC, and other MSM.  When the truth (or “the truth”) is depressing, do you really want to know?  When your government is against you, wouldn’t you rather live in peace and quiet than learn what they’re doing to make your life worse?  Given that there is nothing you can do about it on your own.  There’s safety in numbers—unless the “numbers” are thoroughly propagandized and pumped up with hate for “the right” targets.

Would you want to make yourself one of “the right targets”?

Is the country insane?  Or am I?

Here’s a new way to think about the situation:  what are the oligarchs, our rulers, doing?  It seems that they’re doing everything they can to get even richer.  They are not worried about global warming.  They expect to survive.  And they surely have more information about the true dangers than I have.  This is not necessarily reassuring.

But enough.


Don’t we need a new Animal Farm?  Where is our Orwell?

It’s 5:00 AM.  I have spent the past two hours or so in a kind of half-dream, a nightmare, dream-reviewing what little I know of the concentration-camp horrors of modern “animal husbandry.”  Shall I tell you what I know?  I cannot be that cruel.  Knowing what I know, the little that I have learned—still I eat yogurt, ice cream, cheese, eggs.  How can I keep it down?

What can I do to clear my conscience?  Live on rice, beans, and popcorn?  Peanut butter and bread?  Tomatoes and chiles and dark chocolate?  Where am I to get sufficient protein?

But can I live otherwise?  Can I go back to milk and egg products, after what I have seen this morning?  Go back to MacDonald’s burger-and-fries-and-shake?

Nog knows what I know and more, yet he eats ice cream by the half-gallon when he has sold his plasma to eke out money to pay rent.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

So I saw images, fantasy images, of a calf being popped from mother’s womb right into a cage where it will subsist, unable to stand, until it’s dragged to its death and our dinner tables.  It’s a cog in a machine that cranks out calories and horror; a machine where I am another cog, the consumer cog, kept in the dark of U.S. propaganda, fed a steady diet of lies to keep me from exploding from an overdose of truth, while being milked for whatever cash I can be forced to produce.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is what we have done to ourselves.  How can I stop it?  How can I escape from the machine and be a cog no longer?  I’m assuming that I cannot relax and enjoy it.

I can live on beans, rice, popcorn, dark chocolate, sugar, fruit…  This is the cost of a clear conscience, in this one small area.  Maybe without the chocolate, given what I’ve heard of it being produced by child labor.

And what of this other part of my befouled conscience—what of Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and the new horror of Ukraine?  I half-listened to a show on Pirate TV, brought to me by Free Speech TV, about the Ukraine situation, last night while I worked KenKen puzzles.  Perhaps I couldn’t face the truth directly; perhaps it was all lies, brought to me by Vladimir Putin.  I didn’t hear it last night, but I’ve heard it elsewhere:  “We’ll fight for Ukrainian democracy, to the last Ukrainian.”  Given the little I know of our true history, or what I believe to be the true history, why would I doubt this new crime?  I don’t doubt it.

So here I am, facing yet another crisis.  And I haven’t even gotten to the plight of black Americans, and poor Americans, and criminals in prison, and little girls growing up as victims of little boys, and transgendered youth growing up as victims of little girls and boys.  We—those who are progressive—we are all worried about the coming new fascism.  Here’s the punchline:  the new fascism is already here.

It is not possible to be a sane and informed American.  Once one is informed, all that’s left is a limited choice of various insanities and denials.  I’ve been living in the space permitted by my areas of ignorance; I feel like now those areas have shrunk to a size I can no longer live in.  I’ve long had the information; now I’ve faced it.  How can I go back?

I wrote Kick Me, in essence, because my conscience would not let me rest.  I said there that I was “carrying a fuckton of guilt.”  I confessed there all the crimes I was personally guilty of, and so found a limited peace of mind.  Now I see vast new areas of guilt, and writing another book isn’t going to happen.

Now the only option is to live with this guilt, because I am not willing to die from it.  And besides, I’ve earned it.  (The guilt, that is; it’s a joke.)

The machine has tried to insulate me from the guilt, because I can function as a good consumer-cog only while insulated:  but I refused to be insulated, and now I am naked.

Later:  I have decided to try living without animal products.  I will consume what I have on hand, but will not buy any more eggs, yogurt, cheese, or protein shakes that contain milk protein.  This is sorta “the least I can do.”  As it happens, a couple days ago I bought a blender to make smoothies, wanting to get more (i.e., any) fresh fruits and veggies into my diet.

As for other sources of guilt, I think I will continue as I have—increasing my knowledge and passing along a small fraction of my thoughts through my blog and at the Hemlock Club.

So, it’s not much, but it will allow me to “keep on keeping on.”

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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