There’s this great line in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno.
Inferno, for those of you not familiar with the genre, is a modern day retelling of part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Science Fiction writer Allen Carpentier dies and goes to Hell. Hades turns out to be exactly as Dante described it, a series of concentric circles, each dedicated to the eternal punishment of specific sins. Carpentier must journey from the Vestibule in the outermost ring to the Lake of Ice in the middle where Lucifer himself resides. Along the way he is forced to play a game of chance against a demon. The Demon makes a game-board with its rapier-like claw by slashing two parallel cuts into Carpentier’s bare abdomen.
Carpentier stumbles back from the Demon, staring in horror at the wounds.
The Demon waits patiently.
Carpentier doesn’t understand, but he’s curious and willing to take foolish risks to achieve his goal (traits that got him sent to Hell in the first place).
And here, Niven pens one of my favorite inner monologues of all time. To wit: Carpentier demonstrates his inability to learn.
The protagonist steps within range of the Demon yet again, just to see what happens next…
That line is something I’ve quoted to myself for the last thirty years, whenever, driven by my curiosity, I’m about to engage in something foolish.
(What? Oh yes, that. Carpentier steps within range of the Demon, and the fallen creature slashes two more deep cuts into the writer’s flesh perpendicular to the first set. A crosshatch. See? Carpentier suddenly understands what he’s looking at, it’s a game. Tic-tac-toe. Carpentier made a game of religion in life, now he must play a game for his soul. Carpentier eventually wins by scratching X’s into his own flesh with his fingernail. As he walks away, holding his guts in, the Demon shouts after him, “Best two out of three?” You can, if you like, imagine Carpentier’s response).
I get mail.
Sometimes I answer.
You’d think I’d know better by now, but no.
And here, yet again, Jim demonstrates his inability to learn:
The following is a heavily edited version of an email conversation that happened over the last week. It is edited for a number of reasons: 1) for clarity, because the original illiterate blathering gibberish is too painful for me to repost here, 2) for certain reasons I feel it necessary to hide the writer’s identity because it is possible, though unlikely, that certain readers might recognize him (or her), and 3) because ending every single sentence with “LOL” makes me want to punch baby bunnies in the face. Repeatedly. Until their soft little bones shatter.
Jim, long time. I’m sure you remember me despite the fact that we knew each other only briefly a long time ago. I’m sure you’ve been thinking about me every single day since that fateful meeting and living your life solely in a manner I approve of. I am laughing out loud at this for no reason that makes any sense whatsoever.
He’s wrong, I don’t remember him. Well, mostly don’t anyway. It’s been a long, long time and I tend to edit the dipshits from my memory.
I came across you on Facebook. I’m still laughing out loud because I apparently find the fact that I found somebody on a site designed for finding people funny. I don’t know why I’m laughing out loud, perhaps I am a giggling douchebag. I know that I learned all about technology, computer systems, networking, information systems, and electronic theory from you, and I know that I am technologically illiterate to a degree that makes it astounding that I can even eat pudding by myself without the nurse’s help, but I still can’t believe that you are using the internet. You must be new to the internets and find it difficult to understand because you are old. I am so amused at the fact that you, of all people, are on Facebook, that I continue to laugh out loud. I’m laughing and laughing. Out loud.
In my head, I’m punching small crying bunnies. In the face. Over and over and over.
I sent you a Facebook friend request, but you didn’t answer.
I didn’t? How odd.
I see you have a blog. This, of course, makes me laugh out loud. Laugh. Laugh laugh. Despite the fact that you didn’t accept my friend request, you deleted my comments on your website and blocked further access, you keep brushing off my various attempts to stalk you via chat, and you wished upon me painfully infected “taint boils” in your last email, I knew you would value my opinion of Stonekettle Station.
(Jim demonstrates, yet again, his inability to learn) Oh, please, enlighten me, Laughing Spasm Monkey.
I am very disappointed. Yes, so very, very disappointed in you. Tsk tsk. For shame. When I am disappointed, I like to laugh out loud. Laugh. Laugh laugh laugh. I used to admire you because I thought you were awesome. But I’ve been reading your blog and now I find out that you believe in equality for all, freedom of expression, rule of law, intelligent dialog, education, science, honor, duty, and taking care of others. I am horribly disappointed to learn that you don’t love Fox News as I do and are unwilling to allow Glenn Beck to implant his embryo in the flesh of your thorax where it will grow and gnaw its way out in a fountain of blood and ruptured tissue. This, of course, makes me laugh out loud like a fool.
Yes. Well thanks for pointing that out.
To repeat, I am so disappointed to find that you are not the bigoted, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynist, right-wing, tea-party lovin’, Palin-worshipping, Jesus Action Figure collecting douchebag that I just invented in my mind and that bears no relationship to reality whatsoever. Of course, I find this humorous and that in turn makes me laugh out loud some more.
Taint boils might be too kind.
How many times has this exact online conversation happened to me in the last year? Four times? Five? A dozen. Hell, I’ve lost track. Those of you who follow me on Facebook have been witness to some of these conversations. Somebody from my past shows up and immediately expresses their sadness and disappointment that I’m not who they thought I was. It’s always the same, they haven’t seen me in years, but they know all about me. They tell me how smart they thought I was back in the day, but then go on to speak to me as if I’m a slow child – that I’ll come around if only they quote Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to me again, and again, and again. They repeatedly tell me how stupid I am, while typing in L33T-speak and punctuating their illiterate grammar with “LOL!” and an endless series of ellipses like a monkey with OCD let loose on the period key. Every single one of these idiots seems to think they are the first of their ilk I’ve met. They seem to think that they have some kind of right to “school” me. They seem to think they have a right to dictate who my friends and family should be. They get angry, very angry, when they find out I’m not going to be the person they expect me to be. Witness the idiot on Facebook who told me to “stay out of politics” if I didn’t know anything about it. Me. And after I locked him out, he started emailing me death threats – accompanied by admonishments not to take things so seriously because “you’re going to have a heart attack before you’re 50!” These are always the people who yell the loudest about rights and freedoms – the right to think just like them apparently, the Freedom of Orwell’s 1984.
I cannot understand why you hate America.
Probably because I don’t, actually, hate America. Which doesn’t mean that I am blind to its flaws. And like the Founders, I expect my country to admit those flaws, and work towards improvement knowing that we will never be perfect - but striving to be anyway.
You must acknowledge American Exceptionalism!
Exceptionalism isn’t a word.
Yes it is! Sarah Palin uses it!
You got me there. I don’t believe in American Exceptionalism. I think America is a great country. I think Americans think America is a great country. I also think Canadians think Canada is a great country. And Englishmen think England is a great country. And Spaniards think Spain is a great country. And Icelanders think Iceland is a great country. And Iranians think Iran is a great country. Hell, even the French think France is a great country.
France sucks. You must be stupid. Your stupidity makes me laugh out loud.
Ever been to France?
No, but it sucks. Everybody know it. It sucks so much that I will laugh out loud yet again. Laugh, laugh, laugh. So does Canada and Spain and England. They all suck. They are not America. America is special.
Because America is favored by God. Ha! Your argument is invalid!
What proof of this do you offer? I can’t find “and so God loved America above all other blighted lands, and especially France where men lay with goats and cheese smells of feet,” in my Bible.
Laughing out loud here!
I’m glad you are amused. But where do you get this? Where is it written? Did Jesus appear on a cheese sandwich or a spot of mold on Bill O’Reily’s forehead and proclaim his love for America? Did they turn over a rock in the Holy Land and find America, Fuck Ya! written in fire on the bottom? Did the Pope declare America day?
We’ve got freedom!
Sure as long as you don’t mind getting naked and groped by government police.
We’ve got Democracy!
So do a lot of people, more actually in some cases. And we’re a republic, not a democracy by the way.
We have the Constitution!
So does Liberia.
So, you just pulled that whole God Loves America Best bit out of your ass then?
What? No laughing out loud?
Aw. Come on, don’t go away mad! Hello?
Best two out of three?