“Them that begin by burning books, end by burning men.”
Those words come from now retired pen of the German journalist, essayist and romantic poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), and he should know something about the subject of censorship. Heine was born a Jew and converted to Christianity later in life (why, I’ll never understand). Because of this conversion (or transgression, depending on who you ask), his success was met with praise by some and derision by others. His works were censored and rejected by religious Jews so much so that when a memorial was built for him in Düsseldorf years after his death, certain people in positions of power blocked its placement. The memorial (pictured left) never saw the light of day until some rabid German American activists financed the transport and placement of the statue in – of all places – the Bronx, New York (you can see the shit pot itself in the background of the photo).
So where am I going with this tirade? I’ll tell you. I’m here writing as H.J. Herrick, but that’s not my real name. “So why would you need to use a pen name?” you might ask. And I would tell you, because the First Amendment right to free speech has become conditional in this country, where once it allowed anyone to say anything they wanted any time, no matter what. In Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006), the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision (thanks to Samuel Alito – a G.W. Bush appointee – who cast the deciding vote) that “the First Amendment does not prevent employees [of the United States government] from being disciplined for expressions they make pursuant to their professional duties.”
As it happens, I am an employee of the United States government, and I once kept a blog that was in some ways similar to this one in which I said some so-called “controversial” things about completely rational members of our society such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (pictured left).
Maybe I should have thought more carefully about my actions before speaking out against people like Pat Robertson, who prayed live on national television for more Supreme Court Justices to die so G.W. Bush could appoint more “family friendly” (his words) conservative Justices. Maybe I should have hesitated before lambasting Jerry Falwell when he said about 9-11, “…when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say: you helped this happen.” Maybe Pat and Jerry aren’t all that bad, and maybe no one should speak up when they do things like that.
Yeah, right… fuck that. Those guys are infectious human waste, and every reasonable person on the face of the Earth knows that. The problem is that too many people on this cursed globe in this foul Year of our Lord 2008 are anything but reasonable. It was one of these assholes who found my old blog and complained to the Men in Charge about it. I found myself in the boss’s office being talked to by an intimidating number of Suits, and I was told that they couldn’t force me to take down the blog, but that if I didn’t they could make a recommendation for “termination” because of the controversial nature of some of my posts, and the fact that all government employees are held to a higher standard of public image.
Whatever. They wanted to suck Pat Robertson’s cock. Either that or they wanted to cater to the people that made the complaint, cowering in fear that an oppressed “minority” such as Christianity (the largest religion in the world with 33% of the planet’s population counted as card-carrying members; Islam is in a close second with only 21%) might protest their allowing an atheist like me to speak my mind. The fact that the human resources department at my place of work could dedicate enough time and man power to have a dozen employees print off every page of my blog (which was many hundreds of pages by then) and read over them carefully looking for any quote they could use against me in court should I decide to take it that route, is staggering.
Anyway, I didn’t want to deal with an extensive court battle about my Constitutional rights when those rights – I knew – had already been stripped of me by Garcetti v. Ceballos. I decided to cave into the man, and bide my time until I could begin again under a pen name, and take the fight to those swine with the written word all over again. So that is where you find me now. The only thing that protects me now is my anonymity: those two fake little initials and that German-sounding last name, Herrick, which means “war lord.”
I chose that name – Herrick – because war is what we are embroiled in today in America. I’m not talking about some conflict on foreign soil; I’m talking about the war of ideas that’s going on in our places of work, our homes, our schools, our businesses, our court houses, our fucking cafes and public swimming pools even. None of you are safe. None of you can avoid choosing a side. We live in a world that is being torn into two sides. One of them is imperfect, but at least tries to protect us from those that would take away our freedom. The other is actively trying to enslave us through fear under the illusion of democracy. If someone doesn’t speak out in this conflict, and if you don’t listen and think, we are all doomed.
After all, just as Herr Heine said, “Them that begin by burning books, end by burning men.” In more ancient eras, in some other countries today and perhaps even in the future of our own nation, I would not just have been threatened with “termination” or fired outright; I might have been put in prison, or dispatched in the street. If we are to stem the tide that threatens to drown us, we the oppressed must speak out.
We live in apocalyptic times: times in which the fate of society hangs in the balance and in which we hold the keys either to our own salvation or destruction. I’m not a religious person; I don’t believe there is any old fuckhead with a beard in the sky waiting to judge us. The only people who will judge us are our descendants, and we will be judged by them based on the world we leave for them. Heine also wrote, “Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison.”
Truer words had never been spoken when they were put to paper in 1842 in the Augsberg Gazette. We live today in those wild, dark times Heine wrote about over 150 years ago. The Beasts that torment us are worst than dragons from the Pit; they are televangelists, Presidents, police and so-called journalists like Bill O’Reilly (on film flipping the fuck out, below). Their followers are sheep armed with ignorance and guns, and someone is giving booze to these goddamn animals (thanks for that line, Hunter Thompson; may you rest in peace).
Whether we come out the other side of this New Apocalypse clean or filthy depends on whether we stand for our principles now, before its too late. I’m issuing this call to all you Dear Constant Readers out there: speak up. Tell ignorant assholes they are ignorant assholes. Punch them in the fucking jaw. Talk to people who will listen to you about things that matter. Tell those people who have not chosen sides why they should choose ours.
And if you’re one of those swine who thinks a government employee shouldn’t be able to say Pat Robertson is a cocksucker in their spare time, then you should go out on your front lawn and eat a gun, you son of a bitch.
Some of you more moderately minded people out there may think that’s a bit harsh, but I’m not inclined to agree. I believe what Herr Heine said about forgiveness of one’s enemies (and these people are our enemies; make no mistake): “One should forgive one’s enemies, but not before they are hanged.” (I promise that’s the last Heinrich Heine quote for a while.)
I think I’ve said enough. Is this what they call a mission statement? Well whatever. Close enough for government work. I can feel those fuckers closing in on me. It’s time to take refuge in the back of some dingy bar and self-medicate. I’ll write to you when I’ve evaded my would-be captors, Dear Constant Readers. Fight the good fight! Kill Pat Robertson and I’ll pay you a million dollars! Two million for Falwell! (Wait, too late.)
I’ll catch y’all on the flip side. This is H.J. Herrick, signing off.