The Worship of America

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

Even though I think religion itself, particularly Christianity, is to blame for the majority of the world’s problems throughout history, it seems to me that there is a religioun in America that often goes unnoticed: the worship of America itself. Nationalism has become an American religion. Growing up in America, I have always been very disturbed by the way Americans treat this particular country and especially it’s symbols.

As a child I was taught to stand at my desk every morning before school, place my hand over my heart, and recite a cult-like chant in which I pledge allegiance to, of all things, the American flag. Even as a child, I was struck by the Orwellian nature of this, though I didn’t know how to express it at the time. The flag is a symbol of America, but it is so revered that it is treated as a religious object, the same way certain icons are in temples and churches. If you didn’t know, there are a set of rules about what you should and should not do with a flag, which are often taught in places like the Boy Scouts. I don’t know all of them, but I have absorbed a few of them from cultural osmosis, and I do know you are never supposed to let it touch the ground and you are not supposed to wear a flag as clothing, or hang it upside down.

What’s even creepier than the fact that children are expected to essentially recite a prayer each morning to the religious icon of the American flag is the droning uninterested monotone with which an entire school does so. As I stood in class reciting the pledge of allegiance, hundreds of other students did it at the same time within my school, and within my state and country there were millions of children, all droning out the monotonous prayer at once, not really concerned with the meaning of the words. Most first graders don’t really know what the word “indivisible” means, but because we have this chant drilled into our heads from our youngest age, we are psychologically prepared to accept the words of the pledge as gospel truth when we are old enough to understand them. It doesn’t occur to use to question it because we were indoctrinated, just like we were with religion.

Indoctrination occurs everywhere. The most popular video games in America are almost entirely shooting games, specifically war games, and even more specifically a lot of those war games are set directly in the middle east, priming young people, mostly boys, to view killing middle eastern people as sport, not to regard them as human. Is it any wonder then, that non-white people and particularly middle eastern people are treated with such racism in America, or automatically assumed to be terrorists?

The national anthem is equally creepy to me. I know that every country has a national anthem, but the way you are instantly ostracized for refusing to stand for the anthem or refusing to say the pledge is terrifying. I tried on a couple of occasions as a child to abstain from saying the pledge of allegiance (think about that, for a moment, the weight of that: CHILDREN RECITE A PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. That is third world dictator type shit), and I was reprimanded by teachers and given looks of confusion by other students.

There’s also an attitude in America that we are the best country in the world. And I mean that literally. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “America is the greatest country in the world.” But WHY is it great? If you ask most people they’ll give you some platitude about “freedom,” as though we’re the only country in the world with a bill of human rights in our constitution. The vast majority of industrialized countries in the world have the same personal freedoms Americans do, but Americans don’t consider that. As a child, I was told by my mother that in China, no one is allowed to have their own personal property, and people have to stand in line in bathrooms to receive their share of toilet paper. I was told that America is essentially a utopia where people from all over the world come to to escape persecution and share in our freedoms.

That is, of course, bullshit. America ranks incredibly low on a lot of factors that we consider to be marks of a great place to live. We have terrible education scores, we are almost single-handedly destroying the planet, we contain an incredibly small amount of the world’s population and use a larger share of it’s resources than any other country.

The thing that has always confused me about America’s place in the world is HOW it’s allowed to get away with all the things it does. With contributing to climate change, with affecting the environment, with not allowing people to have the same personal freedoms (such as marriage equality or voting equality) that other countries enjoy.

I think about it like this: imagine a house full of people, and this house represents the world, and the people represent countries. If one person in the house is sitting in the corner starting a fire that’s going to spread and burn down the rest of the house, isn’t it the responsibility of all the other people to step in and stop the fire, or stop that person from lighting a fire? Sure, he could say “this is my corner of the house, I’m allowed to do what I like here,” but he shouldn’t have the ability to do something that can endanger the safety of everyone else in the house. So why is America allowed to run rampant and unchecked like a bull in a China shop? Why do all the other countries in the world not sit down and say “Look, America, we can’t let you destroy our planet. Destroy your own country if you want to, but once you’re affecting the rest of us, we have to put a stop to it.” How is America allowed to do what it does?

I know that there is more nuance to all of these things, I do. What I’m doing here is essentially thinking out loud, I’m shouting questions into the void and hoping someone will hear them and consider them. I’ve wanted to do a series about some of my controversial opinions for a while now, and I hope to continue doing these. I know it’s essentially just me ranting, but I like ranting, and I think ranting is useful. My opinions are not set in stone, they’re open to change when new information is presented to me, and I’m open to admitting I’m wrong, but I hope that someone will see the sense in some of what I’m saying.

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The Changeling – Part One

So I accidentally started writing a horror story.

I was listening to a podcast called Lore which was creeping me out a bit, and which is narrated atop the sounds of soft piano music, and I heard something mentioned about an old legend involving fairies, and I just got a sudden surge of inspiration. I didn’t fight it, I just went with it.

So I sat down, put Moonlight Sonata on repeat, and started writing. Fair warning, this is a creepy story, and it isn’t finished yet, so be prepared for weird stuff going in. We’ll see what happens with this.

 


 

The fairy’s footsteps did not stir the twigs beneath her bare feet. The soft beating of her translucent wings did not make any sound in the dense night music of frogs and mosquitoes.

“Careful,” she whispered in a voice so smooth and soft that it was indistinguishable from the sigh of the night breeze, “We mustn’t wake anyone, or they’ll be onto us.” Next to her another fairy nodded, her eyes full of devotion. In the arms of the second fairy were a tiny bundle wrapped in fine silken cloth. Something moved inside it, but she took no notice.

The fairies crept closer to the small wooden house that stood amongst the trees. There were no lights on inside, and the moon shone brightly down, a spotlight illuminating that tiny house made of logs chopped from the trees of that very forest. A small wooden drawbridge passed over the stream next to which the house was built, and the fairies’ feet felt the warm texture of the wood as they passed over, with footsteps so light they may as well have been gliding.

They checked the window by the front door, but found it closed and locked. They crept quickly around to another side of the house and found it windowless, on the third side they found two windows. Behind the first one they saw a figure, a man with his back turned to the window. He was naked and the moon shone brightly upon him, illuminating his deep tan skin, his leg was thrown over something they could not see, and the curve of his buttocks reflected the light. The fairy holding the bundle suppressed a giggle. Her companion gave her a chiding look, and she nodded silently, her face falling back to an expression of utter seriousness.

They passed to the second window. Behind the glass they saw what they had come for, a wooden cradle, and in it a bundled child laying on its back. The fairies’ heartbeats both quickened at once when they saw the moonlight streaming in, illuminating the little infant’s face. Her eyes were closed, a wisp of blonde hair protruded from underneath the woolen cap about her head.

“Be ready,” whispered the fairy to her companion who held the bundle, “We must be quick.” The fairy who had spoken pressed her fingers against the cold glass of the window to find it locked. She narrowed her eyes, then turned to her companion, “Wait here,” she whispered. Her companion gave another wordless nod.

With the slightest flutter of her wings and the slightest push of her feet against the ground, the fairy flew up to the thatched rooftop, and glided swiftly to the chimney, which she leapt into with the grace of an otter into a stream, and her light body floated silently down the chimney. She scrunched her nose at the smell of the ashes, and as her feet touched the floor of the chimney she uttered the slightest cough, which would have sounded to anyone near like the sweet singing of a breeze through a crack. A large dog lay on a blanket by the front door, and for a moment it’s nose twitched, and the fairy clutched her own chest in fear, but then it exhaled and resumed the rhythmic breathing of sleep.

In a flash the fairy had glided across the room and through the open door to the nursery, and through the window she saw her companion, gazing steely-eyed at the child. She fluttered up to the window and, with more than a little difficulty, undid the latch, trying as hard as she could to be quiet, but the size and the weight of the thing were surprisingly hefty. Finally she had the latch undone, and she pressed her feet against the base of the window, pressed her hands against the sill, and with all the might in her body she pushed and pushed, until a last there was a loud creak and the window slid open, no more than a centimeter. She paused and took a breath, and then she tried again, opening the window a full inch. That was enough.

The fairy turned in fear and fluttered over to the doorway, peering out to see if the sound had roused the dog or the sleepers, but no, there was the creature still sleeping by the front door, and there was the even sound of two adults breathing in their sleep from the next room. The fairy fluttered back to the cradle, and saw that her companion had already slipped in through the open window, the bundle in her arms.

The fairies placed the bundle next to the sleeping baby, and then, they gathered the sleeping child up into their arms, one fairy holding it’s head while the other supported it’s lower body. The fairies were each roughly the same height as the infant, though far slimmer, and unlike the inanimate window, a living creature was infinitely easier to carry for a fairy. They nodded to one another and together they flew up into the air, and, unable to leave through the window, flew directly into the living room. They kept their eyes on the dog, which uttered a slight snore.

It was when they turned to look at the chimney that they started so hard they nearly dropped the baby.

The naked man stood in front of the chimney, facing the fairies, his face hidden in shadow. The fairies’ hearts beat frantically and, had they been less petrified they may have exchanged a look, but were presently too frozen with fear to do so.

The moonlight streaming in from the bedrooms cast a single beam across the man, and illuminated his broad chest, the thick hair on his stomach, and the tangles of hair around his groin, before he took a step forward and his face became clearer.

The man was looking directly at the baby, but the expression on his face was vacant. He took another step forward and then stopped. He kept staring at the baby, who did not move or make a sound.

Everything was silent.

Three seconds passed, then five, then ten. The man did not move, just stared, blank and unfeeling, toward the baby.

The first fairy glanced at her companion and something passed silently between them, until they both nodded and began to rise high into the air, the baby still held between them.

The man’s gaze did not follow. He kept staring at the place the baby had been.

The naked man took a step forward, then another, and passed directly under the fairies, moving toward the doorway of the nursery. The fairies shot to the fireplace as quickly as they could with their load, and then up the chimney. They passed up the dark, mucky place, each holding their breath so as not to cough up the stale air and drop the child, and as they broke free into the moonlight they each gasped the fresh night air.

The two fairies dropped down to the thatched rooftop and set the baby down on it’s flat surface, each taking a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. The first fairy spoke again, “Let’s be quick, now, the moon will fade soon, and we must bring the child as quickly as we can.” The companion simply nodded silently, as she had before.

The sleeping bundle between them, the two fairies ascended and fluttered on through the trees. The infant breathed silently and did not wake.

*

Emma jolted awake at the sound of the dog’s bark. She shot up in bed, her golden hair falling around her shoulders, and instinctively held the blanket up to cover her bare breasts. Her foggy gaze tried to find the doorway, and the shape of the large brown retriever standing in the doorway materialized, it’s tail wagging in agitation, it’s tongue hanging from it’s mouth. Emma looked to her left and reached out a hand for husband, but found his place empty. Her chest, hot with the fast beat or her heart, swam with relief as she realized what had happened.

“It’s alright,” she whispered comfortingly to the dog, “Daddy’s been sleepwalking again, hasn’t he?” She stood from the bed, and brought the blanket with her, drawing it close around her naked body for warmth and comfort, as she bent down to pat the dog on the head, “That’s a good boy. Now where is daddy?” she asked, and the dog immediately padded toward the nursery next door. Emma followed, and was momentarily disturbed by the sight of her husband, standing before the cradle and staring forward, blankly, out the window. Emma crept up quietly behind her husband.

“It’s alright,” she crooned silently, “The baby’s alright, Armand, I know,” and she slipped her arms around the warm flesh of her husband, the blanket coming with her and enveloping them both. She felt a little shudder of recognition from Armand. “It’s alright,” she said comfortingly, “You’re just walking in your sleep. You’ll wake up soon.”

Armand’s warm hand touched Emma’s. His eyes fluttered, and suddenly there was recognition in them. He lost his balance for a moment, but Emma steadied him. “It’s alright,” she whispered, “I’m here.”

Armand’s voice came to him. “Emma?” he asked tentatively.

“Yes, darling, it’s me,” said Emma, “You were sleepwalking again, it’s alright. Looks like you came to check on the baby.”

“Emma…” whispered Armand, “Emma…”

“What is it?” asked Emma worriedly, turning Armand to see a look of shock on his face, “What’s wrong, darling?”

Armand looked down at the cradle.

The blanket fell to the floor as Emma’s hands shot up to her mouth.

Something was inside the cradle, but it was not her baby. It was much smaller, it was the same as the size of the little doll that lay next to where her daughter should have been. It was wrapped in a white silk cloth, and it was moving.

Her head swimming with uncertainty, confusion, and fear, Emma reached down to the little thing which was now wriggling, and pinched the cloth in her fingers, pulling it back.

A little wooden figure, with two stumps for arms and two for legs, and a face with hollowed out carved eyes and a hollowed out mouth, smiled up at them, wriggling.

It’s little carved mouth moved, and a voice came from it.

“Mommy,” it crooned sweetly.

Emma’s heart stopped in her chest, her knees trembled, and then the world became red and pink and green around her, a swirl of colors until it all became an inky black, and she was lost to an abyss.