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Embarrassing Followers

by Charles Carreon
October 14, 2013

I was nineteen years old, barefoot in front of about a dozen tai chi students on the lawn in front of the most southern and traditional of the buildings on the ASU campus.  I had learned tai chi from a woman at ASU, and after a couple of years of practice, and reading Al Huang’s beautiful book, “Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain,” I decided to teach others.  I joined movement instruction with guided visualization, and the students loved it.  Attendance stayed high throughout the semester, and we even met for extra sessions on the campus lawns, as we were doing on this day.

One of my students was a handsome young lawyer named Kit, a refined gentleman in his thirties who had dark hair and a close-cropped dark beard.  He gave off a slight whiff of superiority, while working gamely to relax the surface rigidity that infused his body.  He always maintained a slightly aloof stance, and seemed quietly amused at my audacity in holding myself out as a tai chi teacher.  At some point, he started to react negatively to something I had barely noticed, which was that by silent consensus, the group had adopted the view that whatever I said to do had to be done.  This was necessary, in effect, because I often did interactive guided visualizations where, for example, half the people play yin roles, and half play yang roles, so people adapt to each other and perhaps fuse their energy fields.

So there we were on the lawn, doing one of these interactive visualization movements, where half of the students are passing imaginary energy-spheres to the other half of the students.  Well, Kit declined to play his role.  He adopted a stiff pose, and like Bartleby the Scrivener declaring that he “preferred not to,” stopped performing my instructions.  It was an alarming development, Kit going on strike.  His fellow spiritual laborers were shocked.  Their eyes begged him to come to his senses, their bodies inclined toward him, their arms reached out, fingers extended, voices beseeching, trying to draw him back into the sacred labor.  At the head of the group, I spoke to Kit like a man trying to lure a kitten out of a tree.  Kit began backing away, I followed, and he broke into a semi-run.  I and the entire group surged after him briefly, until a thought brought me up short — “This is not right.  The tai chi class should not chase Kit around the campus. In fact, I think we are acting crazy.”  Gesturing behind my back, I stopped the forward surge of my students, and told Kit to please feel free to go.  After the obligatory exchanges of nonsense words that inevitably conclude such donnybrooks, he left.

I left off with giving public classes after other events occurred that confirmed I was having incipient cult problems.  In those years, cults sprang up like dust devils in the heat, and the idea of having followers was beyond serious conception.  While I read holy books in abundance, I was sifting these works for bliss-provoking illuminations, and understood ethics in a manner befitting a member of the organic-food/hippie subculture – in pretty broad strokes.  I realized that while I could help people experience “meditative states,” I didn’t have much to offer those seeking spiritual insight beyond homilies lifted from holy books.  So I could bullshit students or bow out of the teaching game.  I chose to give it up.

Later in life, when I have received occasional spurts of admiration in my legal career, I have tried to ask myself, “Who is this person, and why do they like me?”  Sometimes the answer has been, “I just got this guy a great deal and he’s going to get out of jail sooner than he’d hoped, so he’s momentarily filled with gratitude.”  At such moments, often experienced in a jail consultation cell, I figured it was okay to bask in the glow.  But you know, if you’re sitting in your office and you ask yourself who loves you, and your answer is “a bunch of felons,” then you might begin to feel like life was passing you by, and you should do something to acquire at least some friends with a more socially acceptable profile.  That happened to me after five years of being a Federal public defender.  I really felt like I needed to get out more, meet ordinary people, and think about something other than crime.

So I stopped taking criminal cases, and therefore spent less time thinking about crime.  One has to think about something, however, and I ended up thinking about sex.  That may have lead to me working on the Sex.Com case, which lead to representing pornographers, who can be somewhat embarrassing to represent.  But times being what they are, most lawyers will agree to perform lawful services within their professional specialty when legal tender is offered in a sufficient amount, regardless of the source.

It has been said that I must have been hard up to take on FunnyJunk as a client, but that is a shot in the dark that misses its mark.  Times were good when FunnyJunk came along, and I snagged the work happily, as someone who is always glad to get something new in the pipelines.  To live is a dynamic flow, like flying a ram jet engine – the forward motion of the jet is essential to the functioning of the engines – or like a shark, that lacks gills and thus must cruise the depths continuously or die.

My work requires knowledge and skill, and I’ve gained some modest renown among those who know the quality of my work and the reliability of my advice.  Those people seem to know other people, and thus, work arrives in time to meet some need and supply modest pleasures.  I have a very short list of friends who say they like what I do in a creative way, so I inflict my works on them. I even get a heaping of adulation from my wife, balanced by savage recriminations of the most affectionate sort.  So I’ve got all the friends I need.

You are incredulous, I see.  How could I possibly have all the friends I need when I’m not even on Facebook?  There you have it — a koan for the Social Media Buddhists.

I’m like the opposite of Popehat Ken White in this regard.  He has many, many followers, and lots of them are chasing me.  I know it’s not going to occur to Popehat, as it did to me, “This is wrong.  Popehat followers should not chase Charles Carreon all over the Internet.”  Not that I’m claiming to be superior.  I was a much younger man then, nineteen, a far more intelligent time of life when it comes to realizing the obvious.  And unlike Popehat, my youthful self had not spent a lifetime developing a legal philosophy to provide a cover story for personal indulgences.

Safe inside his cover story, Popehat is machinating like L. Ron Hubbard targeting suppressives.  His head thrust against his periscope, he ceaselessly scans the sea for the latest foolish captain to pilot the S.S. Douchebag into his sights.  “Fire 1!  Fire 2!”  A pause to gauge the effects, then, “We hit her amidships!”  Popehat’s crew roars with triumph, and Popehat himself, oblivious to all but the delicious sensation of having his hindquarters laved by eager tongues, hoarsely exhorts his “army of Davids” to further reputational mayhem.

Popehat is an apologist for hate speech, and the proof is, he denies it proactively, while he invokes the First Amendment to protect hate speakers.  Proactive denials are virtually always an admission of conscious wrongdoing.

Who pushes hate speech, now and in the past?  Reactionaries.  Right wingers.  Their arguments are often nine-tenths verbal violence.  They spew death threats, use rape metaphors, ascribe all manner of physical deformity and pathological mental states to their objects of hatred.  When people victimized by these outrages try to speak up, the Free Speech Mafia, responding to the “Popehat signal” will rise to the defense of these loose-lipped spittle warriors by asserting that their hate speech was protected by the First Amendment.  The Internet has turned into the type of small town where a group of bullies is terrorizing everyone, pushing everyone’s buttons and daring them to talk back.

There’s been other times in my life when I’ve looked around at the quality of my associates, and realized it was time for a change.  Popehat may have high-sounding explanations to justify his conduct, but in time, the luster of being Judge Lynch for the lynching crowd is going to be seen in a much clearer light.  Like the Salem judges, that history has judged fairly, consigning them to the annals of judicial infamy, Popehat has established a legacy that would already cause the head of a feeling man to bow in shame.



All images screencaptured from “Yojimbo,” directed by Akira Kurosawa, copyright 1961 Toho Co., Ltd. English subtitled version copyright 2006 Toho International Co., Ltd.