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February 25th, 2005

The Fear and Loathing Title.

"How many more of these goddamn elections are we going to have to write off as lame but 'regrettably necessary' holding actions? And how many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?

I have been through three presidential elections, now, but it has been twelve years since I could look at a ballot and see a name I wanted to vote for."

--Hunter S. Thompson.

Well, Thompson is dead and I'm reading Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 because I'm like that. I read it a few years back, but I'd forgotten how much of it resonated with today. I'm also reading the blogsphere and newspapers and what they are saying about Thompson's suicide, and suicide in general. Originally, I wasn't going to say anything about it. The man is dead and what's left is for the family to deal with. Anger, acceptance, whatever they're having to deal with about the fact that he decided on the Hemingway Choice, and decided alone. Indeed, I'm not really going to talk about Thompson's suicide, though I'm going to begin there.

It has surprised me to read what people have written in the last couple of days. A lot of angry and sad words that have called Thompson a coward, a selfish fuck, and his death a rip off. Then there were the entries that came when it was revealed that he was sick, saying, "Well, I'm glad there was a reason." Well, that's nice, I thought. Why does his being sick change it for you? Because now you've got the socially acceptable reasoning behind it. Well, I'm happy for you. No. Really. Sleep well at night, watch some Telly.

I guess one of the reasons I found it all a bit strange was that most of the blogs and newspapers I read aren't from right wing nutters, and I naturally assumed that they would be less rabid about the choice that Thompson made when he placed a gun to his head.

But, in hindsight, I guess it was a mistake to think that.

I'm not saying you have to like what he did or that the opinions about Thompson's suicide are wrong. Passing the moral right and wrong stick around isn't my game, and I wasn't expecting to find a suicide party after the fact. But the man made a choice, and it had nothing to do with you, perhaps even nothing to do with his family, and no matter the circumstances that lead up to it, that influenced it... well, in the end, he made a choice. It's not a choice I would make, it's not a choice I like, but he made it, and I accept that. I accept it and I've no judgment on it. He did it and it doesn't require me to say it was right or wrong, because it hasn't got a thing to do with me.

For me, the right to live or die, which suicide is part of, comes down to being a choice. There are lots of choices in the world. The choice to have an abortion. The choice not to vote. The choice to have the treatment for your terminal illness. The choice to follow an organised religion and live within their guidelines. The choice to join the army and kill men and women for your country. It doesn't matter how much you think of these choices as being a choice--you might say, "I don't believe in organised religion. It's not a choice. It's just the way I am." Which is fine, but you're still making choice in my opinion. You don't want to be there and you're exercising your right not to be there.

The term Pro Choice is thrown around in connection to abortion. A woman's right, and that's fair enough. I fully believe in a woman's right to decide if she wants to have a baby or not. But for me, being Pro Choice doesn't end there. It's not confined in that little box that I pack up and put into a closet after someone brings up that topic. Being Pro Choice is about more than that. To me, it's about accepting the right that everyone has the right to decide how he or she will live any part of his/her life.

Voting is another good example. Like suicide, it gets my lefty, tree hugging, socially concerned friends up in arms. They dust off their soap boxes, ready to rant at election time, but before they step up, they tell me, the non-voter, that my opinion is not wanted and is meaningless.

I tell you, it's always nice to be in the presence of such open minded people.

To me, the right to vote also means that you have the right not to vote. What good is a right if you have to do it? In Australia, it's pretty fucked up that you have to vote. Don't like your choices? Fuck you--vote for one of these parties you don't believe in anyway and nothing will change! Utterly ridiculous. And of course, the return argument from Voters is that there are people in countries who don't have our right, and that we must vote because of that. Yeah, right, and I must eat the ice cream because villages in Africa don't have freezers and chain supermarkets to buy it from. It doesn't work that way. You ask me if I think those people should have the right to vote? Damn straight. Everyone should have the right to influence their Government.

But that doesn't mean I have to vote for them. I live in a country where everyone must vote or get fined. I'm in a country where the apathy of young voters is so well known that youth radio stations offer prizes for enrolling on the electoral role. Doesn't it strike people that there's something inherently wrong about saying to someone, "Vote in this election and you might win a DVD player!" Such an act demonstrates a deep problem in the choices that are being offered to a large portion of the country, and this is a different problem than those that people in countries that don't have the right to vote are facing... and in this country, with this problem, the only way I've figured on removing myself from making choices I hate is simply not to vote. If the electoral role tracks me down and beats me with sticks and forces me onto its role, then I will do as many Australian's do, and 'Donkey' vote.

You might be wondering what this has to do with suicide. You might be thinking, "Ben, this has fucking nothing to do with suicide. You're fucked up. Also, you should vote just to remove the Coalition."

The thing is, to me, suicide, abortion, voting, polygamous relationships... whatever you want to put there, it all comes under the heading of choice. Someone is making a choice. It may be that it's a choice that fucks over the people they love, but then, they made the choice. In Thompson's case, he made the choice to be found by his son, and not his young wife, and didn't ask himself who would clean up the stains of his violent exit. But he make a choice, and as difficult as those choices can be when they affect my personal life (and Thompson's suicide did not) I try--and I fucking try like you wouldn't believe--to respect the choice.

And that's the thing about the choices people make in life. Not all of them are ones you're going to like. Many of them will give you the shits, make you want to scream and shake the person and they'll still make that choice and after they've done it'll leave you sad or angry or happy or like there's nothing else in the world as important as you right now. People are like that. They've got that kind of power. But love it or hate it, they make choices every day, and so long as they don't rob someone of the right to make their choices, I try to respect and live in a world where there's nothing more important than the right to make a choice.

That choice is important to me.

The Urban Sprawl Project in February

Last night, I was told that reading this blog was like sneaking a glance at the Freak Show Carnival for the Mind, and being glad you did. I liked that. It made me laugh.

With a couple of days left in February, it looks like the stats here have evened out at fifteen hundred unique hits that result in five thousand hits per month. There is also eighty or so people on my friends list that don't show up unless they go through the actual journal, but I figure it's safe to say about half of them are reading the entries regularly. In terms of numbers, it's nothing big, but it does reveal a solid base of you who are coming through here, which is real cool. In terms of parts of the world, there are regular visitors from Germany, the UK, the Philippines, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Greece, Finland, France, Italy, the US (and the US Education system, apparently distinct from the US), Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, Netherlands, Singapore, and Japan. The US and UK up the top, behind Australia, naturally, but the whole thing is just too cool for words.

In terms of my writing, it's begun to make me consider the venues that fiction appears in. Magazines aren't looking as good as they once did, but online publications have taken on a new shine and potential. Feed the existing audience, I say, and see what happens. I mean, maybe there is a handbook for this stuff, but if there is, I never got it, and so I figure if I don't look after what I've got, then the folk here will disappear. Magazines don't feed that, and perhaps anthologies fall into the same category, but a good anthology also has the position of raising one's profile, and is usually better value for your money on the consumer side of things.

But I guess it's all just theory. Either way, I'll give it a kick, and see what happens.

Also, next week brings me to the middle of Street Conversations. The majority of feedback on the project has been positive, which is very nice, and next week will see a bit of a swerve from what has gone on before. Part Three, Old Men, didn't quite click with me, but I'm hoping it'll come right as the rest of them fall into place. If it doesn't, well, you were all witness to me fucking up, but I hope that it'll at least be interesting for you to watch as it happens.