A plea for indifference

March 13, 2018 1 comment

We live in changed times, in a blurred-out world, one without a well-defined framework. The uncertainty generates a hardening and rigidity. We cling to what we believe we know to give our opinion on things that we don’t know at all. We camouflage our anxieties, our repulsion and our matter-of-factly limited judgment by claiming that we reject all dogmatism.

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Whatever our individual personal background, cultural and tribal ties or education, we’re each left to face our truths which can only clash with the truths of others. Our opinions reduce everything and its opposite to the simplest and most definitive cliches (though we do look over our shoulder to make sure we’re not offending anyone.) The pathetic talk shows where guests cover each other’s voices should by now have demonstrated that if we don’t listen, we cannot be heard, nor, therefore, be understood.  Read more…

Categories: our world, Politics, Religion

The enemy is not world opinion

February 27, 2018 3 comments

In the aftermath of the horrendous school shooting in Florida I have something to say to fellow Americans living in Europe, who not only grieve at yet another mowing down of our young, but are furious at world opinion that is judging us harshly: the enemy is not world opinion. The enemy is the National Rifle Association and its 5-million-strong membership which gives it enough cash to buy Republicans—in both Senate and Congress—several times over, making these heartless and corrupt so-called public servants complicit in the systematic murder of Americans–schoolchildren and others.


I will remind them that the enemy is the toxic simpleton (“covfefe”,“fake news”) that the benighted and uninformed half of the country has elected leader of the free world. To be fair, I would add that, although President Obama tried, he didn’t bring much to the table in terms of gun control. But he was fighting against great odds—a black President and a liberal, he had a minority in both houses and a country divided, on his hands.  Everything he achieved, mainly restoring America’s image in the world after the catastrophic Bush-Cheney eight years, he did with little elbow room. Read more…

Merry Christmas

December 23, 2017 1 comment

So, every year, as December rolls around, the parade of gift-giving, decorating, buying, good cheer and good wishes starts, in holidays that beside Christmas are for the most part retrieved from half-forgotten lore, refurbished and pushed forward, in a burst of “metooism” which the now ubiquitous hashtag has brought into the mainstream. So Jews celebrate Hanukah, African-Americans celebrate Kwanza, Iranians celebrate Yalda, etc.  In the society at large, respect of diversity wreaks havoc and noble intentions get out of hand.

It says a lot about the limited ways our minds work if, as soon as a tribe has a holy, sacred, or cultural milestone, every other tribe considers it its right to come up with one of its own. fra-angelico-nativityThings are even more difficult when, disciplined as we have become and aware of the possible messages underlying our use of language or expressions that used to go without saying, we become wary of using anything that would smack of sectarianism or not include everyone, and that is everyone, lest we insult, offend, or leave out a meritorious member of the human race. Thus, we will bite our tongue before saying “Merry Christmas,” having repeatedly been hit on the head with the concept that Christmas is a white-only, descendent of slave holders only, knights of the crusades or oppressive colonialists only.

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Categories: Religion, Society Tags: ,


November 27, 2017 4 comments

The question is, will we ever go back to what, for lack of a better word, we can call normal? “Normal” being that societies rich and poor live within certain parameters that we are accustomed to. First the poor or close-to-poor: Dictatorships and repressive regimes are the norm rather than the exception, corruption reigns supreme, freedom of speech is rare, human rights and, even more starkly, women’s rights are inexistent, natural disasters happen, extreme poverty, hunger and disease, war, genocide and massacres exist and wipe out untold numbers, while people who survive do so in such conditions that the dead may be the lucky ones. The Western world is somewhat protected, though it has its share of misery with immensely wealthy and powerful people, in their bubbles, and the rest dragging along, sustained by dreams until dreams no longer work. Those Western countries, as well as a bunch of others–Japan, Australia et al–are also given direction by governments which, to a higher or lesser degree, are driven, or say they are, by virtues and goals that have trickled down from the glory days of Rome or Athens in ancient times, getting honed, with mighty ups and catastrophic downs, in the millennia since: service, the common good, prudence, strong alliances, honor, integrity, all on a sliding scale that goes from fairly common to somewhat to nil.

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All that was yesterday. The picture is different today. Spinning out of control, the world around us has us both mesmerized and growing daily more desensitized. Every morning brings its avalanche of unbelievable pieces of news and yet we put one foot in front of the other in the fog of the new normal. Read more…

The Trump effect or What hath the orange one wrought?

August 13, 2017 2 comments

(or subtitle: Where is Mencken when we need him?)

Things have been steadily going from bad to worse since the November elections. The image that comes to mind is that of stones being lifted from the wet soil in ever larger numbers, allowing the ugly life forms underneath to wiggle out, rearing fat pink heads that should have remained hidden. Thus the frightening recent events in Charlottesville, thus people Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 16.13.38we didn’t know still existed becoming vocal with demands appalling in a nation that seemed geared toward more tolerance, less factions, less throwbacks to racist, bigoted times where cretins and downright monsters could thrive.

Change is everywhere. As an intro to how I’m about to illustrate the point, let me say that some years back, when I was doing a stint with an IT firm, my boss, noticing that writing was listed on my resume, pushed on me a couple of paperbacks with gaudy covers picturing full-breasted females and muscled men in various states of pre-sex extasy. The guy—Joe was his name–proudly revealed that these were written by his wife, a full-time and successful romance writer. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I thanked him and went home, the books burning a hole in my trunk where I had tossed them with a covert look around my parked car to make sure no one had seen me. There they remained, under a pile of clothes for Goodwill. After a respectable amount of time had lapsed–two or three days, I guess–I returned them, telling Joe how much I had enjoyed them. I still remember my one fear at the time, that I would  have an accident while the books were still in the trunk, and that once they were found in the mangled remains of the car, my reputation as a person of some intellectual gravitas would be forever marred and that would hurt even in death. Read more…

More Than a Touch of Schadenfreude


Sorry, I don’t normally rejoice at people’s setbacks.  While not necessarily liking everyone, I do suffer from abnormal levels of empathy. But over the last few years, watching the behavior of Republicans geared toward the single goal of blocking Obama, my empathy strings have become strangely mute. To be sure, Republicans had a field day–the democratic party is in disarray and no one person was quite right to follow in Obama’s footsteps. Obama, who, flaws and all, brought dignity and grace to the highest office in the land and in the world, who didn’t take the attacks and the obstacles personally but dodgedly went on doing what was right as often as he could although not as often as he should have (Assad? Netanyahu ? Guantanamo ?)


Today, I imagine that the man who met with slightly raised eyebrows and the word “silly” every insult, every slight, every  aberration from imbeciles such as McConnell (remember him saying that he would not rest but continue blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court ?), Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz, must be aghast at the cascade of uglier and uglier developments. But any insight I, like most Democrats, have gained into Obama over eight years, tells me that he must mostly be feeling pain at the destruction of the country. Read more…

Render unto Caesar

A first for the Counter Argument, a commentary from an outside contributor. I have asked fellow writer David Vann permission to post the English version of the article that was published in French by the daily Libération on the occasion of the Paris Book Fair this past March. Vann forcefully makes the case for pulling God out of the public debate. While I may not agree to see entirely removed fairies and goblins and angels from the lives of people who can only put one foot in front of the other if they feel these entities by their side, the point is most welcome and well-taken that believing in higher powers poisons public life at all levels and in all countries. It didn’t always use to be the case. Despite glitches, the world ran as well as could be expected, given various faiths and beliefs. The tide has turned, though, and sectarianism and harsh or even violent fanaticism have replaced the for-the-most-part benevolent status quo of yesterday. I’m not saying that the past was rosy, far from it. History reeks of bloodshed and massacres, some, but not all, committed in the name of faith. On the other hand, there still exists, I have no doubt, pockets of true spirituality or individuals who live with staunch but strictly personal belief in God or gods. But on the whole, what we see today is beyond redemption. We should heed  David Vann or the late Christopher Hitchens or others who warn of both the danger and the absurdity of belief when it overwhelms public life. In order to continue to exist, our societies need to root out that majestic all-powerful figment of our imagination to whom we have given a thousand names but that we weren’t creative enough to endow with compassion, generosity, or mercy.

(The English version is followed by the French.)


Time to Kill God and Country

by David Vann*

I feel honored and lucky to write the editorial today for Libé, especially since my novels are existentialist and I’ve been so influenced by Sartre.  There has perhaps never been a more important time for existentialism than right now.  Faced with the recurring absurdity of Trump and other right-wing nationalistic movements such as Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo, and others, our feelings of dread and disorientation are appropriate, and our atheism offers a path forward, because the populist masses voting for thinly-veiled authoritarians and would-be dictators are motivated largely by religion.  It’s on these masses that I would like to focus today, and on our battle against God.

The threats to France and to America, both from within and from without, come from God.  Although it is a foundation of western democracies to respect religious freedom, we have to acknowledge that religions themselves offer not freedom but enslavement and the inevitability of war.  In universities, we tend to think the debate about God was over by the 19th century, so we’ve become complacent and forgotten that our primary mission remains creating a secular world.  That’s the point of learning.

We must always see both sides of how religious war is working.  Young Muslim men attack civilian populations in France and America and elsewhere, and this buoys the election of racist anti-immigration Christian warlords such as George W. Bush or Donald Trump who will punish the Middle East in retribution, which leads to increased recruitment for young Muslim men willing to attack civilians.  There’s no starting point for the cycle and no endpoint.  The only way we might break it is to challenge our part of it, which means the nearly impossible task of somehow educating the tens of millions of religious nationalistic voters in our western countries that the things they believe are simply not true.

In the US, I have to convince my neighbors in rural Florida that facts exist, that the Associated Press and New York Times are more reliable sources of news than Fox or Breitbart, that millions of Syrians are not going to come take their jobs away, that America is not great and should not be great, and that we should never again utter God Bless America.

In France, you have to do the same.  You have to convince your neighbors that a right-wing government is more dangerous than terrorists, that France should not be great, and that God is dead.

There are 70 million Catholics in America, and their vote is the most under-reported story of Trump’s election.  Many of them are “single-issue” voters who voted for Trump only as a vote against abortion.  Until we understand how fully religion undermines our attempts at creating open, democratic, pluralist societies based upon facts, reason, and the rule of secular law, we cannot be prepared for the struggle and will lose.

We still have to weed out religion from every part of our legal codes, for instance.  From American divorce laws that unfairly punish whomever would leave the sacrament of marriage, to the difficulty of making a burka illegal in France, because it targets one religion and takes away religious freedom, we have difficult debates ahead which challenge how we frame the intent of government.

What’s at stake is everything.  If nothing else, what Trump’s rise has shown us is how shockingly quickly a western democracy can fall apart.  Many of our government institutions in America that were built to protect citizens and their heath and work and environment are being dissolved.  Blatant denial of fact and science has become acceptable.  New depths of racism and sexism have become normal.  The end of international diplomacy and trade and cooperation has become possible.  World war, against China and Russia, begun with the flashpoint of North Korea or Taiwan, has become thinkable even though it should have remained unthinkable.

Trump doesn’t care what we write about him, and he doesn’t care about facts.  Marine Le Pen also will not care what I write here.  But the supporters of would-be dictators are normal people.  Demographically we can say they tend to be older, white, rural, not rich, not as well educated, and religious.  We have to go after them.  We have to find ways to kill their God and kill their love of their country.  It’s probably an impossible task, but are you willing to try?

*David Vann is the author of numerous critically acclaimed and best-selling novels and memoirs translated in 21 languages.

Rendez à César

Une première pour ce blog, un post rédigé par un commentateur extérieur. J’ai demandé à mon camarade auteur David Vann la permission de reproduire son éditorial paru dans Libération du 22 mars de cette année à l’occasion du récent Salon du livre de Paris. Vann y présente de solides arguments pour extirper Dieu du débat public. Quoique je ne sois pas entièrement d’accord qu’il faille supprimer les fées, les gobelins et les anges de la vie de gens qui ne pourraient sans doute pas mettre un pied devant l’autre sans la présence à leurs côtés de ces entités, la suggestion est opportune et bienvenue que croire en des puissances supérieures empoisonne la vie publique à tous les niveaux et dans tous les pays. Ce n’était pas toujours le cas. Malgré de sérieux hoquets, le monde fonctionnait aussi bien que possible étant donné les différentes fois et croyances. Mais le vent a tourné et le sectarisme ainsi que le fanatisme dur et même violent ont remplacé le statu quo généralement bonhomme d’hier. Non pas que le passé ait été tout rose, loin de là. L’Histoire abonde de bains de sang et de massacres–certains, mais non tous, commis au nom de la foi, mais dans l’ensemble, ça marchait. Il existe sûrement encore, j’en suis persuadée, des poches de vraie spiritualité ou des individus qui croient de tout coeur mais de façon strictement personnelle en un ou des dieux. Mais dans l’ensemble, ce que nous constatons aujourd’hui est irrémédiable. Nous devrions prêter l’oreille à David Vann ou feu Christopher Hitchens ou d’autres encore qui dénoncent à la fois le danger et l’absurdité de croire quand la croyance envahit la sphère publique. Pour pouvoir continuer à exister, nos sociétés doivent arracher par les racines ce majestueux et puissant produit de notre imagination auquel nous avons donné mille noms mais n’avons pas su doter de compassion, de générosité, ou de pitié.

Il est temps de tuer Dieu et la patrie, par David Vann

Par David Vann* — Libération, 22 mars 2017

Je suis heureux et honoré d’écrire l’éditorial de Libé aujourd’hui, particulièrement parce que mes romans sont existentialistes et que j’ai été très marqué par Sartre. Il n’y a peut-être jamais eu d’époque plus importante pour l’existentialisme que maintenant. Devant l’absurdité récurrente des Trump et autres phénomènes nationalistes de droite tels que le Brexit, les Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo et compagnie, nous avons des raisons de nous sentir effrayés et désorientés. Etant donné que les masses populistes qui votent pour des autoritaristes à peine déguisés et des aspirants dictateurs sont largement influencées par la religion, l’athéisme offre une porte de sortie. C’est sur ces masses-là que je voudrais m’attarder aujourd’hui, et sur notre combat contre Dieu.

Les menaces qui pèsent sur la France et sur l’Amérique, qu’elles soient internes ou viennent de l’extérieur, ont Dieu pour origine. Bien que le respect de la liberté religieuse soit une pierre angulaire de la démocratie occidentale, force est de reconnaître que les religions elles-mêmes n’apportent aucune liberté, mais plutôt l’asservissement et la perspective d’une guerre inéluctable. Dans les universités, nous avons tendance à penser que le débat autour de Dieu s’est achevé au XIXe siècle, aussi sommes-nous devenus complaisants et avons-nous oublié que notre mission première de créer un monde sécularisé demeure. C’est le but même de l’éducation.

La guerre religieuse doit toujours être envisagée sous ses deux angles. De jeunes musulmans attaquent des populations civiles en France et en Amérique ou ailleurs, favorisant l’élection de chefs de guerre chrétiens racistes et anti-immigrants, tels que George W. Bush ou Donald Trump, qui vont en retour châtier le Moyen Orient, suscitant de nouveaux recrutements de jeunes musulmans désireux de tuer des civils. C’est une boucle sans fin. La seule façon de parvenir à, peut-être, y mettre fin serait de s’attaquer à notre part de responsabilité, c’est-à-dire à la tâche quasi impossible de démontrer aux dizaines de millions d’électeurs religieux nationalistes des pays occidentaux que leurs croyances sont tout simplement infondées.

Aux États-Unis, dans un coin rural de la Floride, je me retrouve à devoir convaincre mes voisins que les faits existent ; que l’Associated Press ou le New York Times sont des sources plus crédibles que Fox ou Breitbart ; que des millions de Syriens ne vont pas venir leur piquer leurs emplois, que la grandeur de l’Amérique n’existe pas et ne devrait pas être recherchée, et que la devise du pays, «God Bless America» – que Dieu bénisse l’Amérique – ne devrait plus jamais être prononcée. En France, vous êtes confrontés à la même chose. Chacun devrait convaincre ses voisins qu’un gouvernement très à droite est plus dangereux que les terroristes, que la France ne devrait pas poursuivre des rêves de grandeur et que Dieu est mort.

Il y a 70 millions de catholiques en Amérique, et leur vote est l’aspect dont on parle le moins dans l’élection de Trump. Nombre d’entre eux sont ce qu’on appelle aux Etats-Unis des single issue voters – des électeurs qui se mobilisent sur un seul et unique sujet – qui ont voté pour Trump simplement pour voter contre l’avortement. Tant que nous ne comprendrons pas à quel point la religion sape tous nos efforts pour créer un monde ouvert, démocratique et pluraliste fondé sur les faits avérés, la raison et la loi séculière, nous ne pourrons pas remporter ce combat.

Il nous reste encore à éradiquer les références religieuses de toute notre législation, par exemple. Entre les lois américaines sur le divorce, qui punissent injustement quiconque veut briser le sacrement du mariage, et la difficulté qu’il y a à bannir la burqa de France sous prétexte qu’une telle décision cible une religion au détriment de la liberté de culte, des débats difficiles nous attendent, qui remettent en cause le mode et la raison d’être mêmes du gouvernement de nos pays.

Ce qui est en jeu ? Tout. L’avènement de Trump montre au moins une chose : la vitesse choquante à laquelle une démocratie occidentale s’écroule. Bon nombre de nos institutions bâties pour protéger les citoyens dans leur foyer et sur leur lieu de travail, ainsi que l’environnement naturel dans lequel ils vivent sont en train de se dissoudre. Le déni patent des faits et de la science est devenu acceptable. De nouveaux abysses de sexisme et de racisme sont devenus normaux. La fin de la coopération, de la diplomatie et du commerce internationaux est possible. Une guerre mondiale contre la Chine et la Russie, avec la Corée du Nord ou Taiwan pour point de départ, est désormais envisageable alors que ça n’aurait jamais dû l’être.

Trump se moque de ce qu’on écrit à son sujet, et se moque des faits. Marine Le Pen non plus ne tiendra pas compte de ce que j’écris ici. Mais les supporteurs des apprentis dictateurs sont des gens normaux. Sur le plan démographique, ils sont plutôt plus vieux, blancs, ruraux, pas riches, pas très bien éduqués et tout à fait religieux. Nous devons aller les chercher. Nous devons trouver des moyens de tuer leur Dieu et de tuer leur amour pour leur patrie. C’est sans doute impossible, mais ça ne vous dit pas d’essayer ?(Traduit de l’anglais (Etats-Unis) par Benjamin Guérif)

David Vann est un auteur américain traduit en de nombreuses langues. Sukkwan Island (Gallmeister) a remporté le prix Médicis étranger.

Categories: Daily life
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