A Series of Unfortunate Events: Stephen Paul Foster Keeps On TurningJames J. O'Meara
Stephen Paul Foster
After Harry Met Sally: A Novel of Philosophical Discovery
Independently published, 2021
I can still hear you saying
We would never break the chain. — Fleetwood Mac, “The Chain”
Readers who enjoyed last year’s Toward the Bad I Kept on Turning: A Confessional Novel — as I did here — will have their winters brightened by news that it now has something of a sequel; which is to say, how it functions as a sequel is left to the reader as a pleasant discovery.
Stephen Paul Foster is a philosopher (PhD, St. Louis), world-traveler, and more recently writer of philosophical fiction of a Rightist, or perhaps curmudgeonly, bent. Most importantly, he would seem to be, judging from the evidence of his fiction, a normal person.
This is important because he takes as his subject a very abnormal group: Americans of the twentieth century, especially the most recent bunch. These unfortunate mooks were released into a world in which the commandments, rules, and even traditions of Western culture had been replaced by the injunction to “Do your own thing” and “Imagine!”
The once-maligned but valuable profession of scolding has been replaced by enablers of feelings, though scolding is now directed at those who would “hurt” those feelings with counsels of wisdom and restraint. “It’s all about feelings now.”
The problem with basing a society or your life on “feelings” is that actions initiate a long chain of events that can seldom be forecast. As the narrator quotes from his favored philosopher, Hobbes,
“And because in deliberation, the appetites and aversions are raised by foresight of the good and evil consequences, and sequels of the action whereof we deliberate; the good or evil effect thereof dependeth on the foresight of a long chain of consequences, of which very seldom any man is able to see to the end.” — Hobbes, Leviathan
I’m guessing that lots of people focusing on what excites them rather than on the long-term benefits of self-restraint is a recipe for more, not less grief.
Thus, as Hobbes concludes, the need for “a power able to overawe them all.” 
The long series of unforeseen and unwanted events that ensued after the narrator’s mother, Sally, met Harry, would start with our narrator, who will be named Joseph.
Our narrator himself has some trouble with at least one of society’s traditional rules: honoring his mother and father. How to do so, when mom is an alcoholic political fixer, and dad is “the amazing disappearing deviant”? Perhaps understanding them will be enough, and perhaps some enlightenment for the reader may be obtained along with the entertainment: “Vice is the entertainment side. Connecting it to the raging pathologies of contemporary America is the enlightenment half of the equation.”
The chain begins in 1969, when Sally — on her way to graduating summa cum laude from Michigan State and a bright future — has a gin-lubricated first date/one night stand with future dirtbag Harry, who quickly disappears from her life (and our story, for now) when she reveals her pregnancy. Rather than moving to Chicago and life on her own, she now moves back to her dismayed but supportive Baptist parents in Bad Axe, Michigan. (The scenes where she reveals her situation to them are restrained and realistic yet moving). Her minister father puts aside his misgivings and contacts his estranged but successful attorney brother, who uses his own brand of lubrication to get her a job on the staff of a local Congressman, along with paying her tuition at Georgetown Law School.
And so Sally embarks on her career in what Foster likes to call Babylon, where alcohol continues to provide lubrication for a different sort of backseat Congress: influence peddling. Sally proves adept at it, and prospers, collecting four differently unsuitable husbands along the way, before finally succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver:
From a philander to a wife beater to a deadbeat. There is a trajectory at work.
Along the way she retrieves Joseph from her parents (thus inadvertently blighting what will turn out to be the last years of their lives). But “the city of Babylon was cold in more ways than temperature, and in it I felt like I was ‘born to lose’ in a primal five-year old way”:
I was coming to understand her and the demons against which she was fighting a losing battle. She worked hard, made lots of money, drank and attempted as best she could to help me get over the loss of [her parents]. Which mostly involved leaving me alone. I was grateful for it. It took me a long time. [Meanwhile] I was trying to immerse myself in inquiries and pursuits that might help me understand why the rich, powerful people I observed growing up, seemed so desperate and so empty.
Seeking to understand both Sally and Babylon, Joseph becomes a psychotherapist. Along the way he acquires a series of wives of his own, the second of whom provides him with a live-in case study of the characteristic modern malaise, a form of anorexia nervosa which he christens:
Orexia moralia (OM): “an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to be morally perfect, and a compulsive embrace of the guilt that results when the perfection is not attained.” This can be translated to mean, “blame yourself for never being good enough to make the world better for others.” In sum: The world’s failings are “my failings.” OM is a kind of poisonous moral solipsism that fuels excessive altruism. Non-celebrity victim — Karen Carpenter, my future wife.
As Joseph moves into the forefront of the narrative, Foster shifts his philosophical ground a bit from the Hobbesian insistence that rules, however they may chafe, ultimately are the only way to make the good, or even mediocre life, possible — less, not more, grief. A traumatic encounter with the legal system – newly-minted psychologist Joseph is humiliated as an expert witness in the Menendez trial — leads Joseph to a cynical epiphany about the modern world and his place in it:
In spite of its technical-scientific-medical triumphs over so many limitations of past centuries, the modern world was for me an empty vessel.
The source of my alienation? A simple answer. I was living in, and occupying myself increasingly with, an accumulation of abstractions [which] had tenuous connections to things that linked people together in physical and emotional ways that made them better for each other.
The trial itself, I realized, captured the essence of this self-contained system that functions as a show, as entertainment, a circus.
The trial I observed and participated in was completely detached from the moral fundamentals by which human beings over the millennia have used to hold themselves to account for their actions and to separate out and punish wrong doers.
The modern order has subverted these constraints. It conducts a relentless assault on lines and boundaries of actions and intentions and moves toward chaos guided by abstract ideology.
The modern world has perverted law and turned it into a highly complex, abstract system detached from its origins in meeting concrete human needs — protecting the weak, enforcing promises and punishing rule breakers. Instead, these systems have become ends in themselves, their success measured by their self-reflexive internal standards — increasingly elaborate and complex rules and procedures that produce outcomes irrelevant to tangible standards of human goodness and welfare.
The criminal-justice system has become all system, no justice. It has become a parody of the original aspirations of law and justice.
In America, the well-tested, informal, lower-cost means of easing and diminishing human conflict — custom, manners, tradition . . . — had given way to the high-cost adversarial arena of modern law with its reliance on experts to navigate the “system,” to reduce our “exposure” to ever increasing “risk.”
Here was the conclusion I drew. It changed my view of the world.
The modern world is a world of hostages to the complexity of abstract systems and their designers.
So, just as the modern world has abandoned concrete, traditional restraints in favor of transient, subjective “feelings,” it has also had to replace substantive justice with mere adherence to abstract rules. And of course, the symbol-manipulators are needed by those at the top of the pyramid to supervise the fleecing of those below them.
Now the long-time occluded father pops up, and readers of Toward the Bad (those who have not are advised to correct that defect at once) will be delighted to be reacquainted with its equally cynical protagonist, newly sprung from the Federal pen by a stroke of Obama’s famous pen (both men being pals of terrorist-turned-educator Bill Ayres, as Harry previously narrated).
Harry’s bottled in bond cynicism finds a new and lucrative outlet in talk radio, where his exposés of local and national “heroes” like Sen. Vandenberg (who garnered “strange new respect” after FDR’s Epstein-style blackmail muted his isolationist views) and rediscoveries of occluded ones like Fr. Coughlin lead to national fame and fortune:
There was something Dante-esque about Harry’s approach: every program was a tour through the Inferno with a fresh look at the damned and a commentary on their vices. The broadcasts also appealed to Harry’s listeners with a back- and- forth shifting of focus from debauched individuals to the rot of institutions.
Unfortunately, it also leads to Harry’s violent demise, which the mainstream media inevitably claim was “the result of his incendiary programming. It had created a ‘climate of hate’.” In truth, it was “a profound vindication of his indictment of the modern world: the modern world is organized to revile and betray truth tellers.”
Not to worry, though; Harry has time to meet his grandson, a meeting which proves the boy is another in a long line of cynics; as Karen laments, “Nice going, dumb ass. You took Rick to St. Louis and brought back Friedrich Nietzsche Jr. quoting Ezra Pound. How soon before he grows the big mustache and goes insane?”
In my previous review, I diagnosed Harry as what Camus called a “judge penitent,” who uses his faux remorse over a lifetime of evil deeds to slowly convince his interlocutor of his own complicity. His scion developed a similar outlook:
I turned depression into a functional way of life. I channeled it into a muscular cynicism with moral power. I had come to possess the vision of a saint but with no connection to saintliness.
I could continue to make my way in the modern world only by refusing to believe in it. Its promises were false. My newly galvanized cynicism gave me a feeling of epistemological superiority. I knew what those around me fail to grasp. Everyone searches for superiority in their own way. The feeling of epistemological superiority may be the purest and sweetest superior feeling of them all. That fundamental truth also was the premise for my new calling as a prophet decrying the “progress” of the modern world.
Although Camus gets name-checked later, and this chapter takes its title and theme from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, this self-satisfied “epistemological superiority” seems more in Nietzsche’s line; will to power, ignorant masses, “what does not destroy me makes me stronger,” prophetic inflation, etc.
On the other hand, we also see confirmation of Schopenhauer’s idea that one receives intellect from the mother and character from the father:
This inexplicable connection between grandfather and grandson? It finally hit me. It was anger — an angry old man and an angry boy soon to be an angry young man.
Rick was a born contrarian. It was in his blood. He was a young man whose future would be passionate, furious opposition to the lies of the status quo.
As is Foster’s final reflections on “that ludicrous backseat-coupling” which “I couldn’t help but imagine was ordained by some lewd, mischievous god as a metaphysical riddle.”
Aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again, as The Stranger (the Coens’, not Camus’) would say. What of the book itself?
Foster has the ability — possibly unique on the Dissident Right — to take one of our tropes and rather than delivering another lecture, instead incarnate it in a person and a dramatic situation. Again, I can’t help but recall Neville, but more relevantly it’s the method of our enemies, the Alinsky technique of freeze and personalize it.
In this way, the dreaded data dump is avoided, while the narrative can take any number of circumambulations to make a point or two about the madhouse of modern life.
A good example of Foster’s method is when Sally’s step up from sloe gin at Michigan State to $250 pints of Johnny Walker in Georgetown leads to some side-notes on Stalin, Churchill, and good ol’ Wilbur Mills and the Argentine Firecracker.
The latter is also an example of the Michiganders’, or at least Midwestern, nostalgia that adds to the delight of any reader of similar background; it’s like a Tarantino movie for mid-boomer Midwesterners. The text is studded with little set pieces, like a lightly fictionalized history of Jewish and Italian bootlegging operations in Detroit, which also seamlessly merges into the legendary Dingell famiglia and its 82-year, multigenerational hold on a Congressional seat, and thence into Sally’s post-pregnancy chain of events.
Constant Readers know of my preference for brevity in my reading if not my writing, and consequently I can’t help but note that a couple of these set pieces, such as a move to Argentina to study societal entropy in a more advanced state than in the US, seem unnecessary, as is Sally’s brief fourth marriage, whose fatal ending leads to a recapitulation of Foster’s critique of the justice system.
Like many of his/my generation, Foster has a liking for ornamenting his text with quotations from poets, including ‘60s song lyrics, sometimes two or three stanzas at a time. Unlike many such writers, his quotations are not only apposite but will often suggest how a character or situation will be referred to subsequently; not irrelevant, in other words. But laid out on the printed page, they often not only break the flow of the text but also the reader’s attention. As Boomers will have a lot of this memorized and only need a first line to suggest a whole song, I wonder if this is a concession to the Youth? As something of a connoisseur of the epigraph myself, may I recommend the dear, the blessed footnote (or endnote, as one prefers) as an alternative.
But these are but caveats and cavils. Ultimately, I had to agree with The Stranger and his summation of a similar chain of events: “It was a pretty good story, don’t ya think? Made me laugh to beat the band. “ Buy it, read it, and use the Christmas season as a reason to send copies throughout the land.
* * *
Counter-Currents has extended special privileges to those who donate $120 or more per year.
- First, donor comments will appear immediately instead of waiting in a moderation queue. (People who abuse this privilege will lose it.)
- Second, donors will have immediate access to all Counter-Currents posts. Non-donors will find that one post a day, five posts a week will be behind a “paywall” and will be available to the general public after 30 days.
To get full access to all content behind the paywall, sign up here:
Paywall Gift Subscriptions
- your payment
- the recipient’s name
- the recipient’s email address
- your name
- your email address
To register, just fill out this form and we will walk you through the payment and registration process. There are a number of different payment options.
 I am of course delighted to note the similarity to the “bridge of incidents” discussed by Neville Goddard: “People don’t realise, not a thing is happening by accident. It’s all unseen causation. So you actually move yourself into states emotionally, and you dwell in [them] just for a split second. And you jump back — or you think you jump back. You did. But the bridge is now about to appear, and across the bridge of incidents you walk, leading up to the fulfilment of what you did unwittingly.” See his lecture “Faith” (July 22, 1968). I’ve discussed the “bridge of incidents” several times here.
 “Less Yoko, more Hobbes was in order, specifically on the bad stuff that happens when ‘there is no power to overawe’ the young and the restless. Some pointers from Mr. Hobbes might have spiked that hirsute simpleton’s spastic fit of fantasy and mercifully saved us from this crackpot anthem that aging, decrepit hippies still go weepy over. It continues to pollute the airwaves.”
 The two took separate ways to rebel against their bootlegging father: minister and influence-peddling lawyer.
 The fourth is particularly amusing; one of “effeminate illuminati [who] converse in their secret society mumbo jumbo and publish mountains of unreadable bilge, the source of their mutual admiration. . . . With a Ph.D. in some kind of postmodernist claptrap from Duke University, Roger had shuttled around the halls of ivy for years searching for a permanent watering hole where he could sink into a state of permanently- paid uselessness. Finally, some apparatchik chairing the search committee at Georgetown, probably after a three-martini lunch, seized by a bout of alcoholic amnesia, must have recovered and hired him thinking he was someone, anybody, else.” Alas, tenure would not be his reward: “It seems that he’d bet on the wrong horse. It was his choice of a “victim- group” to champion. I can’t remember now which one. Either it was gay jockeys of color or the voiceless transvestites of Cuba.” Nevertheless, “His sesquipedalian stem- winders on what was wrong with the world, though semi- intelligible and utter fantasy were mildly entertaining in small doses along with large applications of Chivaz Regal.” One suspects the author has made the acquaintance with many such Rogers.
 “Two Karen Carpenters; two orexias. Could this be just a coincidence?” No, just another example of the author’s amusing skill, as previously displayed, in giving characters more or less similar names to figures of some Boomer nostalgia, such as G. Manny Williams, Gus Hall, — “a degenerate pot head drummer from a garage band called Orgasmic Explosion” — and Dr. Marcus Shelby.
 Foster does not attribute this to anyone like Hobbes, but to me it calls to mind Schopenhauer’s insistence hewing as closely as possible to immediate sense impressions and resisting the urge to fly off into abstract systems. His hated rival Hegel, by contrast, demanded “the seriousness of the Concept” in philosophical speculation; it’s interesting, then, that Hegel’s far greater influence gifted us with Marx and Communism, the great anti-traditional force in the modern world. As near as I can tell from his essay “On Government,” Schopenhauer also held a Hobbesian view of the state — a mechanism to reduce warfare rather than inculcate virtue (or Wokeness) — and mocked the idea of “artificial constitutions” to produce happiness, viewing what he calls “The United States of North America” as embodying the worst kind of mercantile philistinism.
 The “victim flipping” in the Menendez trial — two cold-blooded parricides presented as “the real victims” of supposed child abuse” — of course occurs all the time now, most recently in the Rittenhouse, Charlottesville, and Smollett cases. One might also compare it to what Spencer Quinn calls the Left’s “Dogmaboros,” where “Progress supersedes life and limb, even if that life and limb belongs to someone close to you. . . . the facts on the ground have nothing to do with it, even if people on the Left suffer as a result.”
 “Talk radio speaks directly to people who tend to make their way in a world less involved with or encumbered by abstractions. It has less appeal for the likes of English professors, tax lawyers, sociologists or actresses, people who work within systems. They manipulate abstractions and create, interpret or mediate an experience for the uninitiated.”
 After clarifying your desire, Neville instructs us to create a simple, dramatic event that would imply the fulfillment of our wishes, and then replaying over and over until it takes on the tones of reality.
 “Parts, anyway; I didn’t like seein’ Donny go. But then, I happen to know that there’s a little Lebowski on the way. I guess that’s the way the whole darned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself, down through the generations: westward the wagons, across the sands of time until we — aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again. Well, I hope you folks enjoyed yourselves. Catch ya later on down the trail.” The Big Lebowski (Coen Bros., 1999).
Counter-Currents Radio Podcast No. 446 James J. O’Meara on Hunter S. Thompson
Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts
The Copypasta Apocalypse From Jesus to Gendron, via Brother Stair
Morálka lidské mysli Jonathana Haidta, část druhá
A Film from Long Ago that Anticipated Today’s Woke Hollywood
Male Supremacism in the United States?
Work to Be Such a Man
Make Art Great Again: The Good Optics of Salvador Dalí, Part 3