From the Underground

“Not just wicked, no, I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and utterly futile consolation that it is even impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent man of the nineteenth century must be and is morally obliged to be primarily a characterless being; and a man of character, an active figure–primarily a limited being.”

“I swear to you, gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness. For man’s everyday use, ordinary human consciousness would be more than enough”

Notes From the Underground

In my opinion, the Underground Man is perhaps THE non-philosophical embodiment of Nietzsche’s concept of the will to truth and its destructive/nihilistic consequences. And as the section bolded above incidates, the will to truth is a primarily a normative imperative for those under its grasp. Whether the normative force of the will to truth derives from some independent/transcendant source of truth or from underlying psychology is besides the point at this time, because the results are the same for those who possess the will to truth: a constant interior dialectic with the world and the self, and as a consequence of this perpetual dialectic, the inability to believe anything with certainty. Finally, an inability to act.

That the ability or the willingness to assert certain claims as “true” is neutered by the very impulse to find what is “true” is not surprising. After all, for a certain sort of people (over-educated, over-read, taught to be examine everything critically and logically), the need to examine taken-for-granted claims is compulsive. If one engages in this exercise enough, one begins to question a host of “truths,” either because they are revealed to be illogical, empirifically false, or serve an ulterior (ideological, social, political, economic, etc) interest.

This is the first stage: what I call the destructive stage. The second stage is the constructive stage. In this stage, after the “truths” that have been received are systematically knocked down, one begins, out of this ruin, to build another foundation for what is true, by complying with the standards (with a good faith effort of course) of logic, empiricism, and objectivity. At this stage, one is suspectible to become arrogant and condescending, looking down at the “unenlightened” masses and their unexamined “truths.”

Inevitably, however, the will to truth that is directed outwards at the rest of the world turns inwards towards one’s own truths, which are supposedly founded on a much more solid foundation. This third stage is yet again destructive, because in turning the will to truth inwards at oneself, one can’t help but realize one’s own limitations. After one, no reasonable human being can be certain that he is correct, and this certainty is eroded even further for an over-educated man, because the over-educated man subjects himself to much higher standards of truth. He compares himself to other people, tackling the same kind of questions, but who are demonstrably much smarter, whether they be scientists or philosophers. And he also compares his own arguments against the arguments that have been previously raised by these much smarter people. That is when he begins to realize that perhaps his own arguments do not meet the most rigorous standards of logic, or that his empirical claims do not hold up against the most rigorous scientific standards. And perhaps most fatally, he begins to ponder the possibility that his will to truth is not, in fact, motivated only by the desire for the truth for its own sake, but rather for some other, less pure reasons, such as a need to fulfill some kind of psychological deficiency, masochism, the need to feel superior to others, so on and so forth. This is the most fatal doubt, because if one cannot disentangle claims of truth from one’s own person, the truth claims lose their validity, its purity called into question, both by oneself and others.

Here the will to truth reaches its fourth stage: the archaeological stage. Archaeological because the metaphor here is one of digging: to get to the bottom, not only of “truths,” but one’s own process and the motivation for the search for truth. Here one must re-examine everything, one’s method, assumptions, evidence, motivation, psychology, in order to determine one has really made a good faith effort to comply with the strictest and most rigorous standards imposed by the search for truth. But precisely because the man who honestly tries to search for truth imposes such high standards on his own efforts, the archaelogical stage is never-ending, because for every little thing is dug up, one must also examine what underlies that, and so on and so forth. The archaeological stage is self-defeating: in trying to locate the truth outside the self, one must constantly dig ever deeper into the self in order to assure that the “truth” is not adulterated by some failure of self (whether that failure be logical, empirical, or psychological).

Thus, in trying to dig oneself out of holes that could possibly undermine claims of truth, one has only dug the hole deeper into oneself. Is the logical inescapable, and thus deterministic? Perhaps not, but as the Underground Man shows, a certain kind of people, of whom he is perhaps the paradigmatic member, the logic of the will to truth leads to the following. First, it leads to nihilism, because someone who truly tries his best to uncover the truth can almost never be certain that he has found it. And if he is honest with himself, he has to admit to himself that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot completely believe in the certainty of things. Thus, the truths which emerge from this process are themselves constantly subject to renewed efforts of undermining it and then rebuilding it back up.

Second, the logical extreme of the will to truth leads to alienation from society. In order for society, no matter how big or small, to function, certain things must be taken for granted by a majority of its members. But the demand that the will to truth places upon the individual is that he can never “simply” taken these things for granted as true. He must constantly question them, subject them to scrutiny, and most of the time, expose them as illogical or false, whether successfully or in futile; but most of the time, it’s futile, and the futility leads to exclusion. Therefore, this man is in a precarious position in relation to his society: he is unable to take for granted the terms of inclusion, but he also cannot be sure that his own claims can be taken as true in any confident manner. This paradox is especially compounded if the society in question encourages critical examination as a virtue, so long as this critical examination do not examine those “truths” which are constitutive of the society as a whole.

Third, the logical extreme of the will to truth leads to narcissism: in order to try to disentangle the subjective self from allegedly objective truths, this man becomes ever more involved with his own efforts at disentanglement. Ironically enough, this deep narcissism comes about precisely because of the attempt to distance oneself from the the truth.

All of these consequences are described in Notes from the Underground, and in a more abstract fashion, in Nietzsche’s mature philosophical writings. Therefore, it is not surprising that Nietzsche admired Dostoyevsky, even though the two has never met in person. For in both their writings, though coming from vastly different perspectives, the consequences of the will to truth is examined with an unsparing eye. Yet it is also the case that Dostoyevsky’s literary writings are highly philosophical, and Nietzsche’s philosophical writings have a highly literary style. But the two take away vastly different lessons from examining the will to truth: Dostoyevsky advocates a return to Russian Orthodoxy, while Nietzsche rejects religion altogether and calls for people to become Ubermensch, confident of one’s own consciousness, healthy, and courageous enough to create one’s own values.

But is the latter option really available? Is it even possible? Because how does one distinguish between those who are confident of one’s own well-founded beliefs and those who are confident because they do not question received truths or conventional wisdom? Because Nietzsche certainly detested the latter, but he does not provide a systematic account of how the two can be distinguished in reality. Personally, I am not too confident, especially in the aftermath of David Foster Wallace’s suicide. There is no doubt about David Foster Wallace’s intellectual abilities (after all, he studied philosophy as an undergrad and did his thesis on modal logic, hardly an afternoon’s work), nor his sincere efforts to find the truth with a capital T.

If one reads his two collections of essays and criticisms, this good faith effort is readily apparent. He takes post-modernists to task for using irony and other meta-fictional devices as a way to escape engaging with life’s most serious questions (exemplified by a review of a literary biography of Dostoyevsky no less). He is unafraid to try to get to the bottom of ethical questions, exemplified by Consider the Lobster, in which he asks whether it is ethical to boil alive an animal with feelings for pain. But of course, one must distinguish between claims of ethical realism with the claim about whether one has the capacity to find ethical facts.

On the latter, David Foster Wallace admits his own incapability, and this admission is reflected in his copious, exhausting, and often self-undermining use of footnotes, footnotes that call into question the very claims that they are supposed to annotate and supplement. The fact that these footnotes are often accompanied by their own footnotes reflect not only the fact David Foster Wallace thought exhaustively about them, but also his own admission that he cannot, at last, get to the bottom of them. More overtly, in his essays on the Illinois State Fair, his Carribean cruise, and travelling with the 2000 McCain campaign, he shows the torturous process of the will to truth at work. In examining the phenomenon in those essays, he takes an approach that mixes ironic condescenation towards, as well as sincere engagement with those phenomenon on their own terms. In all of those essays, by the end, he is unable to conclude whether he has given these things their fairest account, or whether his own perspective inevitably distorted them.

In his writings, David Foster Wallace embodies the Underground Man, not so much in attitude (spiteful, parodic, sarcastic) as in process (methodical, self-dissecting, unsparing).

But we all know what happened to David Foster Wallace, so I am not so confident that anyone who knows himself to be under the grasp of the will to truth can truly escape its grasp and become something even remotely resembling Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. Yet I do not deny its possibility.

I haven’t answered the normative claim asserted by the Underground Man in the passage I quoted at the very beginning: is the will to truth a moral imperative? From a consequentialist point of view, it clearly should not be, because the consequences, as both Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky have shown, are destructive.

Yet it might be the case that one who knows himself to be under the grasp of the will to truth can never escape.

Ledbetter Act, Very Much Watered Down

Little after a fortnight since I wrote my original post on the Ledbetter act, the House voted yesterday to pass the Senate version of the bill (S. 181). The bill has now become public law (Public Law 111-2).

This is all well and good, except in my opinion, the Senate bill that became Public Law is a very much watered down version from the original bill that the House passed (H.R. 11). The Senate bill is watered down because it strips out Title II of the House bill, which dealt with paycheck fairness for women in the workplace.

This is disappointing because Title II of the House bill had some real teeth in it. For example, Section 203(a) of the House bill would have made it much harder to employers to discriminate in pay on the basis of sex; Section 203(b) would have made employer retaliation against women who filed claims of paycheck discrimination; and section 203(c) would have increased the penalities on employers for each violation.

But instead, all of Title II of the House bill is stripped from the Senate bill, and the Senate bill ended up becoming law. This is where I have a hard time dealing with American political reality: from a purely normative perspective, the House should have insisted that Title II of H.R. 11 remain in the Senate bill. But given the choice of having a political fight or passing a compromised legislation, the choice is usually clear.

So am I disappointed? Of course! But given the political situation, I’ll take what I can get. However, it is disappointing to see that women are still not receiving equal pay for performing equal work, this long after they have achieved the franchise. Furthermore, it’s ironic that the Senate bill passed with the support of every single female Senator, but yet the Senate bill itself did not have the provisions that would have explicitly protected women against paycheck unfairness.

As Amartya Sen says in Development as Freedom (highly recommended reading), women’s freedom and human agency are much increased if their economic situation improves. But one can always hope.

Mama Said to Knock You Out (with the Stimulus)

By now, you’ve all heard the news: the House version of the stimulus bill passed by a vote of 244 to 188, almost exclusively along party lines.

No single GOP member of the House voted for the bill, while 11 Democrats broke with their party.

So much for the GOP’s  “good-faith” efforst at cooperation and bipartisanship. But of course, this is all posturing, because the House GOP can afford to blow some smoke because they know that the bill still has to make it through the Senate and conference. By then, the bill will have been either watered down to an acceptable degree (I fucking hope not), or the political pressure becomes too great.

Either way, I suspect that by the time this bill makes it through conference and it’s time for the House to vote on the finalized version, you will see more Republican support for the bill. Of course, the GOP could just really want a kamikaze mission and oppose whatever finalized bill that comes out of conference out of some extremely dogmatic sense of (misguided) principle. If the GOP chooses to do this, it will really have nailed its own coffin: you only have so much political clout, as the minority party, to oppose a President with massive popular support and a bill that is affecting people all over the country.

Sure, such a kamikaze move might appease the base, but appealing to the base isn’t how you win power in American politics. This move doesn’t make the GOP look better in the eyes of the electorate–it just makes Obama look better: after all, Obama is the one that reached out, and the GOP just snubbed him very publicly. And this gives Obama room to manuever: he made his move, so now he can just focus on getting enough Democratic votes to push the stimulus through Congress.

And Now, Something Completely Different…

Now that John Updike has died, you can expect the stream of praise to come in as quickly as papers could be printed. But instead of linking to those obits, I’d like to refer to this review that the late, great David Foster Wallace wrote in the New York Observer:

“Maybe the only thing the reader ends up appreciating about Ben Turnbull
is that he’s such a broad caricature of an Updike protagonist that he
helps us figure out what’s been so unpleasant and frustrating about this
gifted author’s recent characters. It’s not that Turnbull is stupid — he
can quote Kierkegaard and Pascal on angst and allude to the deaths of
Schubert and Mozart and distinguish between a sinistrorse and a
dextrorse Polygonum vine, etc. It’s that he persists in the bizarre
adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants
whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair. And so, it
appears, does Mr. Updike — he makes it plain that he views the narrator’s
impotence as catastrophic, as the ultimate symbol of death itself, and
he clearly wants us to mourn it as much as Turnbull does. I’m not
especially offended by this attitude; I mostly just don’t get it. Erect
or flaccid, Ben Turnbull’s unhappiness is obvious right from the book’s
first page. But it never once occurs to him that the reason he’s so
unhappy is that he’s an asshole. “

Why It Shouldn’t be Called a “Stimulus”

Rather, it should be called a “laying of the groundworks for future economic expansion that benefits everyone.”

I know, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and perhaps a syllable or two too long, but calling it a “stimulus” is rather misleading in my opinion, because the ordinary usage of “stimulus” implies that it is a short burst, not a sustained effort. And a short-effort is, to use the cliche, to let a crisis go to waste.

But first, let me try to address some of the claims that the GOP has been making regarding both the nature and the content of the economic recovery plan. First, the claim that the whole thing is just going to create an unsustainable budget deficit in the future is sort of like worrying about the wine spill on the carpet while the house is on fire. Currently, the US economy is experiencing a significant shortfall between what it is capable of producing and what it is actually producing, and this gap has to be made up somehow or else the economic contraction becomes permanent. In other words, the whole pie shrinks, and everyone gets less. Deficit spending should not be on the top of the list of things to worry about it, because an economic depression shrinks government revenues as well, thus making the deficit even harder to pay off in the future. And all this zeal about balancing the budget is really rich, coming from a party that lowered government revenue by cutting taxes while simulantenously carrying on not one, but TWO, wars.

So yes, in order to counter the economic contraction, someone has to make up the gap between potential and actual economic output, and the private sector has proven to be unable to make up that gap. And since we’ve pretty much blew our wad in terms of monetary policy (the Fed interest rate is effectively at zero), fiscal policy is all that we have left. And it is not as if government fiscal spending will have no multiplier effect, so we are getting more in return than what we spend. In addition, making up the gap, through job creation and income supplements means more tax revenue, which means we ultimately save more money in the long run.

Now, onto the content of the economic recovery plan that the GOP opposes. First, the GOP believes that more tax cuts is the answer, and this is just so wrong on so many levels. First, there is no multiplier effect associated with tax cuts, so you are not getting as much back as you could. Second, tax cuts don’t ultimately close the gap between potential and actual economic output. Companies won’t be hiring new people or using their capital (both fixed or not) because there isn’t enough demand in the economy for the products and/or services companies produce. And there isn’t enough demand because people are losing jobs, so they are cutting back on consumption. And if they are cutting back on consumption, the demand for products and services decreases. Thus, a contractionary cycle emerges. So giving tax cuts to businesses doesn’t solve the underlying problem with our economy. What about giving tax cuts to individuals? Such a move could make some sense, provided that its progressive: meaning that the poorest people receive the most tax cuts, because poor people have a higher marginal propensity to consume than rich people, so they are more likely to spend that tax cut in the economy itself. But that’s not what the GOP is advocating: it is advocating across the board payroll tax cuts that don’t discriminate between various income levels, thus making the tax cut less effective than it could be. Second, compared to employment creation, income tax cuts do not have that multiplier effect, because a tax cut is simply pocketed, whereas creating a new job means producing additional economic activity on top of what the individual is making while working on that job.

And if the GOP is serious about the quickness of the turnaround, then it ought not to be opposed to assistance to state and local governments, because they provide services and entitlements for the poor much quickly than the federal government can. States are being hard with new found burden on their unemployment and insurance welfare rolls because of huge unemployment numbers. So the quickest way to  make sure that the most vulnerable members of society do not suffer that much is to keep them solvent by giving them federal assistance.

The GOP is arguing that compared to infrastructure projects, tax cuts is a much quicker stimulus. They are right insofar as tax cuts are quicker, but they are not “stimulating” in any meaningful way for the reasons listed above. And this is where the choice of words become important, because if the chosen word is “stimulus,” people will focus on how quickly this policy will “work,” not on how effectively it will work.

I make this argument because to me, government spending should produce economic benefits that are 1) public in nature and 2) equally beneficial to all, because after all, we are using public funds for this. In that regard, spending on infrastructure (whether it be physical or human), healthcare, and the environment all qualify because all three are public or semi-public goods, their economic benefits are enjoyed by all, and all private economic activities in the future will benefit from their expansion. Improvements in our physical infrastructure is a public good because everyone will benefit from better roads, bridges, ports, airports, rail, and transit. In terms of human infrastructure, all private economic activity in the future will benefit from a better educated workforce. Same with lowered healthcare costs and better coverage. This is not to even mention the environmental benefits, which everyone gets to reap in the future.

Will these things take time? Well, compared to tax cuts, yes, but they will ultimately expand the whole economy and thus making the pie larger for everyone. So to me, it is a danger to overuse the word “stimulus,” because that would ignore the beneficial long-term economic effects of this proposed economic recovery plan. Is the plan ambitious? Without a doubt, but ambitious public programs have helped our economy expand in the past: the Tennesse Valley Authoriy modernized the Southern economy, we still utilize buildings built by workers in the WPA, our private sector R&D was spurred on by government programs that produced both the nuclear bomb and the computer, so on and so on. And all of these programs have made our economy grow, so we have to keep an eye on the long-term effects of an economic recovery package.

Well, I guess I’m just pissed off at all the fallacious, empirically unsound arguments that have been made by the GOP on the economic recovery package. Sometimes that anger really gets the best of me.

Waltz with Bashir: A Nietzschean Movie

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes that music has a dual (and paradoxical) relationship with the world’s underlying metaphysical reality: music bypasses literal representation to bring us closer with the underlying metaphysical reality, but at the same time, it protects us from that underlying metaphysical reality (which to Nietzsche is fundamentally tragic, almost nihilistic) by aesthetisizing it and thus distancing it from us for safe viewing, as it were.

Now, apply that thesis to movies, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on Waltz with Bashir, the animated (yes I said animated) documentary about The First Lebanon War, particularly about the Sabra and Shatila massacre. More specifically, the movie is driven by the director’s inability to remember his own participation in the war as a member of the Israeli Defense Force. Curious as to why he can’t remember that time in his life, he finds his old war-time comrades and interviews them, trying to find out what they remember and whether their memories can help him remember.

However, as the interviews proceed, it becomes clear that the director’s comrades either cannot, and as it is made even clearer later on, do not want, to remember their own time in the war. Instead, their recollections are more dream-like than a literal representation. And it is during these dream-like sequences that the aesthetics of this movie really blossoms: whether it’s a dream in which 26 hell hounds run wildly through the streets of a Lebanese village, or a hallucination in which a giant naked woman rises out of the water to cradle a solider in her embrace, or a running image of three soldiers emerging naked from the beach while the sky was lit with flares, the images are vivid and pregnant with symbolism and possible meaning.

But of course, there are animated renderings of more “mundane” events, like the bombing of civilian targets, loading their corpses in a truck and dumping them at a designated location, shooting a child who shot a RPG at an Israeli tank, and being under sniper-fire, etc. What is surprising, and especially welcome, amongst these sobering recollections, is an absurd sense of humor, such as a montage of military action set to a rock song about “bombing Lebanon every morning,” or an episode in which one of the Israeli commanding officer’s watching German pornography in the middle of the war.

This part of the movie is the part in which animation might engage with the underlying reality of the war, as it was experienced by the people interviewed, more truthfully than a literal representation with real people and real footage. The reason I say that is the fact that the movie makes clear that the interview subjects are all, in some way, reluctant to really confront their memories of the war. They all speak of dreams or dream-like images they have, vague but filled with symbolic meaning. This way, the animation is a more faithful method to convey the fragmented, distorted way the interview subjects experience their war-time memories 20 years later.

And as the movie hints, but ultimately does not reavel until its very end, there is perhaps a good reason why the interview subjects do not want to fully confront their memories. I mean, these people experienced intense fear, shot and killed civilians, watched all kind of horrific things go on, so it’s not surprising that they do not want to confront these things so vividly again. But the distancing effect (and ultimately a protective one) of using animation is not made clear, in a devastating and powerful way, until the very end. As the story gradually goes on to reveal, all the interview subjects were there at the massacre, when they witnessed and did nothing to stop the slaughter of Palestinian civilians by the Christian Phalangist militia.

Then bam, it hits you: the transition from animation to real footage. The transition is first auditory, as the movie uses real sounds of women’s lament captured on tape, and suddenly the movie screen changes into real footage, as the audience witnesses the aftermath of the slaughter: dead bodies piled up everywhere, dried blood coagulating into caked pools on the ground, flies buzzing around the corpses.

And then the movie ends. The theatre that I was in was absolutely silent, I mean completely and utter silent, for a good two to three minutes, as no one can say anything or move a muscle. All you can hear and see is the credits rolling, but the theatre itself was dead silent. The effect is THAT compelling.

And then you realize why the director chose to go with animation for the bulk of the movie: because the truth is too horrific to bear. The interviewees and the director himself were unwilling to really confront their own time in the war because they all knew that they were complicit in allowing the massacre to happen. They all knew that they did some horrible things in the war that they don’t want to acknowledge, that they can only get in touch with those memories through dreams and symbolic images. That time in their lives is simply too dark a place for them to confront in its entirety, and the animation, like music for Nietzsche, is a way to distance the audience from the horrific truth and shield it from such a terrible truth.

Much like music in The Birth of Tragedy, animation in this movie allows the director to reconcile the truth of what happened while remaining a safe distance from that truth. The lessons of this movie are powerful: that war is horrific, and its horrifying nature is such that people who fight in wars forget wars for good reason. But the flip side of that lesson is even more powerful: the reason why people want to forget wars is the same reason why war cannot be forgotten, for if war is forgotten, the tragedy will just repeat itself.

But if we must remember the horrors of war, at least movies like Waltz with Bashir can allow us to do so by both confronting and shielding us from the painful truths of war, truths which almost everyone would like to forget or veil in dreams and symbols.

Being There: One Man’s Perspective on Obama’s Inauguration

To answer the overwhelming question: Yes it was totally worth it. Every fucking second of it.

But let us begin from the beginning. I had been working ever since Sunday, when my company brought in some 30 guests from out of town for all the inaugural activities and the big event itself. I was tasked to coordinate all the guests’ logistics, getting them in cars, taking them to where they needed to be, kept them in check, and basically attended to their every need. It is probably the most stressful thing that I’ve ever had to do, as these guests are high-level corporate people, and if they were not happy with their experiences, my ass would have been on the line.

So on Tuesday, I wake up at 4AM, getting ready. Then at 4:45, I start to make wake-up calls so that all the guests will be able to leave by 5:30 sharp for their breakfast. Afterwards I’m to accompany them to the inauguration itself. Of course, like all planning, nothing goes according to plan. First, the cars the company arranged for the guests are stuck in traffic, delaying the departure a good 15 minutes, and 15 minutes on Tuesday might as well have been two hours in traffic.

To cut a long story short, by the time we are all seated, it was 11:30AM, by which time we had been standing in line for a good three and half hours in the freezing cold: temperature in the mid-20s, WITH wind-chill. The breakfast I had was long gone, and my hands and toes were numb, and I felt like I was nailed frozen to the ground. To exaggerate just a tiny bit: I was ready to die at that point: hungry, freezing, sleep-deprived, and stressing out big time because I can’t communicate with the office or my bosses because no cell phone calls or texts could go through due to the sheer number of people gathered on The Mall.

But at some point, I decided to simply not give a fuck about the job and just try to sit back and appreciate what an utterly historical moment that was.

And Obama did not fail to deliver. His speech, though not his best, and certainly not his most transcendental and inspirational, nevertheless impressed me with its just right balance of gravitas and optimism. I was getting chills, not from the cold, but from the realization that there I was, sitting on some freezing folded chair, participating in probably the defining social phenomenon of our generation.

Sure, it’s really easy, especially for me, to be very cynical about such a large crowd gathering just for one single person. And I will be lying if I said those cynical thoughts did not cross my mind. But at some point, and this is something that approaches religious faith almost, I just decided to not think about those cynical thoughts and just take it all in.

The one particular, most striking thing about the inauguration that occured to me, as I was sitting there listening to Obama speak, is the visual symbolism. The Capitol sits directly across from the Lincoln Memorial, and as one stands on the steps of the Capital, one can get a direct, unobstructed view of the Lincoln Memorial. And I couldn’t help but think that only 36 years ago, Dr. King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking across the Capitol, talking about the possibility of true equality. Could he have imagined that a mere 36 years later, Obama would be standing at where Dr. King was looking, himself looking at the Lincoln Memorial, giving the inaugural speech? If Dr. King was looking forward to the future, in which one day an African American could give the inaugural speech, then surely Obama was looking back towards the past, in which men like Dr. King made this inaugural even possible.

A mere 1.9 miles separate the Capitol steps from the Lincoln Memorial, but those Tuesday’s Inauguration surely bridged a distance far greater: the distance across time, the gap between a dream conceived and a dream fulfilled.

It really didn’t sink in for me until today, when all the guests have gone, and then it just hit me like a ton of bricks. People far more eloquent than I am have surely said and written things much more poetic and much more original than this drivel, but this is all that I can say, given my limited abilities.

I would not have chosen to be anywhere else yesterday, and that is the goddamned honest truth.