A Grim Reality

by Richmond West

One line I hope to use in an upcoming book is: “I shudder for those who are sure.” Once an aspiring academic, I was far more certain of things back then than I am now; I had begun to abandon faith in any kind of spiritual reality. Though still sympathetic to religion at the time, for I had taught world religions along with philosophy, I was still pretty much agnostic, which I define in the sense of “not knowing”—as the root a-gnostic means—rather than as apathetic toward spirituality, as in the term’s common-coin use. Though I still am a-gnostic, or not knowing, for I believe any spiritual realities are ultimately mysteries to us, I lapsed at that time into apathy regarding spirituality and unseen realities. My theology and philosophy teachers had taught me the importance of empirical verification in all things philosophical. If one can’t verify something with the five senses, it’s nonsensical, at least according to analytic philosophy. Furthermore, my teachers had taught me liberation theology’s wise concern: that looking to an afterlife or a spiritual reality can cause one to lose focus concerning this life (I still think that’s an important point, if not taken too far). And so I bought into the ideology that denied a spiritual reality, and I burned rubber on the fast track to philosophical success. But I was in for some rude awakenings and soon became disenchanted with academia. For instance, I ran afoul of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, leaving me bitter toward the radical feminism I once espoused. To make matters worse, when I complained about this in my anger, I was taken against my will into mental institutions on three different occasions, though I never posed any danger to anyone. And so now I am bitter toward both the Sexual Harassment Industry (Daphne Patai’s phrase) and the Mental Health Industry. And all this frustration culminated in the beginning of my writing career and in a supernatural experience that I can’t quite explain: en route from California to Alabama, I stopped in Nephi, Utah, and saw a big black ghost dog, what I later found out, through internet research, that many call a “grim” (And other names, such as “padfoot,” as in J.K. Rowling’s wonderful depiction in the Harry Potter series.).

Though I cannot prove I saw this philosophically to any empirical skeptic, and of course I admit I could have been hallucinating, nevertheless I believe I saw what my eyes registered. And it changed my life forever, rocking my philosophical world and causing me once again to believe in and wonder about a spiritual reality. And I hope this has brought me closer once again to God and to an interest in mysticism. Though I seem to be hitting three themes here in this essay—“hostile environment” sexual “harassment,” the mental health industry, and a supernatural reality—I believe they all connect on one point: the issue of ideological certainty and how skeptical I am that we can have it.
To lead up to this, let me rewind to something like the beginning of my tale. Around eight years ago, I was a very young college philosophy teacher, still getting my Ph.D., who believed all the feminist pedagogy about breaking down barriers between teachers and students and not creating any hierarchy. Not knowing any better, I asked a student out who had been very friendly to me, and I sent her flirtatious email, which I thought was welcome. I’ll be the first to admit now that I was naïve and that it was wrong, and that I should have been reprimanded for it. But I thought the response was way too harsh, especially considering my age and experience: I was fired.
One of the things the sexual harassment officer told me which I think was very poignant: “You can’t treat them as an equal.” It’s a sad irony to me that radical feminist ideology would lead to this: not treating a woman as an equal.

The “poor women as victims to predatory males” stereotype just didn’t fit my situation. Here I was, pro-feminist, sensitive nice guy, getting slammed. I still believe in postmodern feminism, because it respects and celebrates differences, but I don’t believe in radical feminism anymore, which squelches all differences under its own sexually tyrannical regulations. I am a nice, shy guy who has to read books like “How to Succeed with Women” just to get up the courage to talk to a woman. All I ever did was ask someone out and try to flirt, and I had to get up the courage to try to flirt! I don’t see how I fit the “predatory male versus weak female” stereotype.

A couple of years later in my Ph.D. program, I was in a relationship with a woman that went sour. Even though she kept coming by my school, she complained and security accused me of doing the stalking (Since she kept coming to my school, just who was stalking who?). Anyway, I was brought before school officials and forced to sign off on my punishment without any due process. The school official said, “We won’t get into a he said/she said discussion” and threw me into counseling. I believe that just because I was a male and she female, I was automatically guilty. No discussion.

The school also kept the email from our relationship (don’t worry—I am not ever going to be so naïve again as to email anyone or put anything in writing), kept it in my own program’s office, rather than move it to security as I repeatedly requested. They said the file was sealed, but when I complained about how they treated me, the school official opened the file to show the school president, even though there was nothing threatening about that email. Talk about “hostile environment”—the school created one for me! I couldn’t work under those conditions.

Disgusted, I left my Ph.D. program without finishing my dissertation, never to return to that due process-denying school. I feel my teaching career was ruined because of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law. Now I live with my Dad and struggle as a writer.

For years, I struggled with intense guilt, feeling there must have been something wrong with me, that I must be a terrible man. Then I read, after my experience with the grim, Daphne Patai’s book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism. I literally broke down and cried when I read that. Here was a woman who understood what I had gone through! It is a powerful book that I recommend to anyone.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment I understand is wrong—after all, that’s extortion and coercion. But as for merely asking someone out and it being “unwelcome”—what is “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law but a punishment for the unattractive? It’s bad enough to deal with being rejected—now you have to deal with accusations being made against you.
Thanks to Patai, I now also have the courage to speak out against “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law. My next two books, Witch Hunt (set in the present) and Barrier (a dystopian, sexually repressed future), will deal with this issue.
It still ticks me off! And besides that, I’m far less sympathetic to women now in many cases—boy, that really advances the feminist agenda!
I thought feminism was supposed to be about tolerance, not zero tolerance, and about respecting and celebrating differences rather than suppressing someone because of their expression of their sexual desires. I never harmed anyone, but they sure harmed me.

But you know what? They weren’t breaking me, they were making me. Though I’m still sympathetic to postmodern feminism because I believe it celebrates differences, I’ll oppose so-called “radical,” fundamentalist feminism until my dying breath. I was a pro-feminist philosophy professor until these things happened to me, but all this has left me bitter. Sad thing when feminists crush would-be allies.

Because I was so angry about this and could often barely articulate it, all this led me to being put in mental institutions three times against my will, the third time after I had seen the grim. One of the doctors expressed concern that I was trying to be a writer when I should be trying to earn a living in the “real world.” And I’ll never forget what one of the doctors, during my third incarceration, said to me, even though he had only talked to me for a total of about four minutes:
“You are profoundly mentally ill.”
I suppose such a diagnosis is convenient to his pocketbook.

Two published books later, with two more on the way, I still disagree with their analyses of my inability to contribute to society. Sure, I was undergoing a psycho-spiritual crisis at the time, since I had lost my teaching career, but I was never a danger to anyone and had only articulated my views, bizarre though they sounded. Now I’ve gotten better at explaining my views. Nevertheless, I find it disturbing that police would take someone away for mere verbal expression of one’s views, when the law is explicit about someone being a danger to themselves or others before treated in this manner. I wasn’t threatening or even speaking to anyone else. Once they even took me from my car in a park where I was trying to get some sleep while traveling—I guess I didn’t sound very coherent when the police woke me up. But who would? Ah, but we live in Orwellian times. Nevertheless, I’m glad these experiences happened to me, for now I can write stories where characters find themselves unjustly placed in mental institutions against their will, for I know what it feels like.

But all this brings me again to the supernatural experience I had off Interstate 15 in Nephi, Utah, a little over a year ago. My dog Heidi, a yellow lab, was with me. As it was dead night, and I needed a place to sleep, I pulled into the parking lot of what looked like an abandoned car wash. There was a chain link fence before me, apparently surrounding a junkyard of some sort.

Soon I saw a big black dog moving in silence, like a shadow, between my car and the fence. I turned to Heidi and saw that her eyes were fixed upon the big black dog outside. But when I turned back quickly to look at the black canine again, it was gone. I turned back to Heidi, and she was still staring at the spot I had last seen the phantom. Heidi wasn’t growling or barking, but she seemed paralyzed with fear.

Was it a spirit? Or was it something playing with my mind? I should have driven away, but I was paralyzed with fear and stayed there another half hour before drumming up the courage to drive away. I knew not what was out there. But I prayed to God for protection. Was it a ghost, consigned to this junkyard and protecting its turf? Or was it an evil spirit taunting me? I can’t say that it’s evil, though, for all it did was to appear and disappear before my eyes. Just a mysterious spectral image on a dark night…. I wondered if I should feel compassion for this spirit: was it trapped? And yet, it was powerful enough to appear and disappear before me.

Upon returning home, I searched on Google for “black ghost dog,” and found tales of what is known, among other things, as a grim. One site stated that other animals, especially dogs, are sensitive to them, just as my dog Heidi was, and also that they protect travelers, which I was at the time. So I began to wonder if the grim didn’t have some benevolent purpose—perhaps it was protecting me as a traveler, but from what I do not know.

However, I will never know what its purpose was—it will remain a mystery to me as long as I live on this earth. But I will tell you one thing: though I remain a-gnostic, in the sense of not knowing what the greater spiritual mysteries are, I sure pray a lot more now! If anything, it has brought me closer to God, or at least desiring to be closer to the Power of Love and Compassion and more aware of a spiritual reality.

I also hope to put elements of the mysterious and the supernatural into some of my future writings.

Once I was so certain that belief in spiritual and magical realities was a philosophical fairy tale, something that just couldn’t be proven with the five senses and thus was ridiculous to talk about. But now, I realize, as Shakespeare once said, “There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” No longer can I be sure of anything. So many people are certain about their ideologies, whether they be radical feminist and certain of what “harassment” really is, even to the point of persecuting the unattractive for asking someone out, or ideologies about what it means to be “mentally ill,” to the point of taking someone against their will when they have been no threat to anyone and are merely trying to get some sleep in their car in a park. So certain are many in this age, also, of a scientific, empirical worldview that eschews all things spiritual, all things mysterious. As I said in the beginning, “I shudder for those who are sure,” for now I’m not so convinced that empirical science—or indeed any ideology (such as promoted by radical feminists or psychiatrists)—can explain everything or possess the monopoly on truth.

Richmond West, born in 1969, is a “wonderer and wanderer,” whose father was a United Methodist minister and whose mother was an English teacher. Both of them imparted to West a love of fiction and religion. West got his B.A. degree in History from Birmingham-Southern College, a Masters in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and was ABD (all but dissertation) in Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver, which he left before receiving his Ph.D. for personal and ethical reasons.

Richmond West has taught philosophy at Fresno State University in California, Red Rocks Community College in Denver, Jacksonville State University in Alabama, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and South University in Montgomery, Alabama. He has always been fascinated by the study of religion and philosophy, his interests including philosophy of religion, world religions, and environmental ethics. He also once served as a minister in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, but he was never ordained.
An empath and a loner, nothing really felt right in West’s life until he began writing, and now he can’t imagine what his life would be without exercising such creativity. He has been writing since December, 2004. He is currently single–the love of his life is his yellow lab, Heidi.