"To say someone is a Johnson means he keeps his word and honors his obligations. He’s a good man to do business with and a good man to have on your team. He is not a malicious, snooping, interfering self-righteous trouble-making person…A Johnson minds his own business. But he will help when help is needed. He doesn’t stand by while someone is drowning or trapped in a wrecked car."
William S. Burroughs, "The Adding Machine"
William Burroughs, that nasty, ex-junky, queer (and what are YOU gonna do about it?), gun enthusiast and satirist, that – horror of horrors – FREE MAN, had a word for the decent, peace loving folk of the world. He called them Johnsons, or The Johnson Family, an expression he first encountered in a book, "You Can’t Win," by Joe Black.
While Burroughs described what it means to be a Johnson quite well, he neglected to mention the other family in this Manichean contest: The Joneses.
You know the Joneses. Those folks who are always trying to keep up with each other and take each other out and lead you to the Kool-Aid.
Johnsons shut up and leave you alone unless you need a hand, unless anybody needs a hand and wants a hand. They’ll help you out and then be on their way, not lingering to be congratulated, immortalized, PERSONified live on TV.
But a Jones’ll stab you in the back until you’re good and dead. Look in the US PATRIOT/TIPS stool pigeon registry and you’ll find only the first-names are different; the last name’s always "Jones." You usually won’t find a Johnson on any list, certainly not a list belonging to a government. Johnsons stay under the radar, but do the right thing.
Burroughs wrote, "The Johnson Family formulates a Manichean position where good and evil are in conflict and the outcome is at this point uncertain. It is not an eternal conflict, since one or the other must win a final victory. Which side are you on?"
I imagine if there was a religion for Johnsons it would be some variation of Zen, in which the only law, commandment or moral imperative would be to SIT DOWN and SHUT UP.
Joneses on the other hand comprise the extreme, fundamentalist, doctrinaire wing of almost all major religions — Judaism Christianity Islam Hinduism Buddhism Capitalism Communism etc. – and don’t be fooled by any old Yarmulke or Collar or Turban or other disguise. They’re looking for your money and your soul. They need your soul to make quota; they need your money to make their brother’s wife (or son), and also to buy guns so other Joneses can kill each other in the name of their respective Jones morality, virtue and god.
Well I don’t know about you, but my name is Johnson. "My people" are of no specific race, creed or ethnicity, though as a Johnson I always have and always will stand up to bigotry of any kind, nor do they belong to a specific Nation State. As a Johnson I try, to the best of my ability, to treat all world citizens as people, not the property of whatever government that claims to own them. No, there are as many Joneses among the Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus etc. as there are as there are among, Americans, Chinese, Eskimos or any other religious group, ethnicity, nation state or category humans find themselves placed or born into.
So, when I first heard the words "NEVER AGAIN," I took them to mean never again. For anybody. It meant all Johnsons had to make sure "it" never happened again to anyone, ever. If there’s one lesson we Johnson’s learned from the Nazis it’s to stop any Fascist Joneses in their tracks before the first Fascist Jones uniform comes back from the tailor. That means fighting all racism, "ethnism," sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, injustice and any Jones phobia or "ism" at all times, always, as much as is in our power to do so. Might not even have been a war or a Holocaust had some German Johnson interjected himself between Hitler and his first bedraggled, snarling audience and threw a fat ripe tomato in his face. Imagine Adolph trying to look all mean and autocratic with tomato guts dripping from his Charlie Chaplin mustache…
I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of being like the good German Jones’s who said nothing while their Jewish German neighbors were shipped off standing-room only on cattle cars to be slaughtered like…cattle… around 1941, nor do I want to be a good American Jones who sat by all patriotic that same year as their Japanese-American neighbors were shipped off to a humiliating albeit not fatal "detention."
Never again means liberty and justice for all, all the time always, the right to mind their own business and be left the hell alone, as Bill Burroughs might say. But those Joneses are cunning and you gotta watch ’em. Seems like right now, while Dubya Jones has filled his cabinet with African-American Joneses, Jewish American Jones, female Jones and every color shape and size of Jones imaginable, there’s a stink of "It’s happening, It Will Happen " rising from the Dubya Jones Administration and all those sniveling shit-bird Joneses in Congress.
Seems like there’s trouble in the making for all of us, but Arab Americans in particular or anyone who looks like one (a Jones can’t tell the difference between an Arab Christian, a Pakistani Moslem, an Indian Hindu, or an Iranian Jew and pretty much doesn’t give a damn).
This could just be a shiver I’m feeling in these old, arthritic Johnson bones, but it seems to me that even "Arab-looking" Americans who wrap themselves in the flag – doesn’t work; the Flag may carry to be Potent Magic these days, but it still ain’t bullet proof – seem a little less, shall we say, "free" than they had been, a little less "safe," a little less "American."
Seems like the Joneses are up to nasty, nasty, nasty. Again.
Maybe, me being a Jewish American- born Johnson, and made not a little suspicious of Jones nature by the Holocaust and other Jonesian monstrosities, I’m being paranoid. But as Burroughs said, "A paranoid is someone who knows a little bit about what’s going on."
Well, whatever I know or don’t know, I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back like a "good German" or "good American" Jones if it ever comes to watching my Arab-American or any other neighbors "held indefinitely" for questioning due to suspicion of "Terrorism-By-Default" or whatever the Joneses might come up with. Never again, as I said, means never again, not here, not anywhere. Never again means standing up like a Johnson, immediately, to let those Joneses know that NOBODY’S life is cheap.
I believe we Johnsons outnumber the Joneses by orders of magnitude on this planet, so if we each do our bit maybe we can accomplish something, or at least stop the Joneses from doing any more harm than they’ve already done. If you look around – anywhere, from your own neighborhood that’s unseasonably warm AGAIN this year to the spooks on TV spooking your kids into thinking god himself was a Jones and this is his will – you’ll see how much considerable harm the Joneses have done to this world already.
The world is never gonna be safe for anybody until Johnson’s make it safe for everybody.
You can pretend the Johnsons are naive, idealistic, that they don’t understand the hard realities of religion, patriotism, racial identity, class, money, snack food, whatever. But again, look at the world around you with its toxic water, rotten-egg-sperm asthma-air and grim, grim future. Blood all over the place it makes me sick. Look at "your own people," whoever they are. Do they and they alone have your interests in mind? Are your children their children, or merely their clay and fodder? Are they really your people, after all? Or more Joneses, leading you and the rest of the herd to yet another vat of poison Kool-aid?
No. No way. Not this time.
My people are the Johnsons.
ADAM ENGEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org