Some music for the Summer Solstice
Listen friends. I am tired of men, especially self-proclaimed Christian men, dismissing the suffering of women who have been traumatized by the aggressive sexuality that is so prolific in our world today. Many women who have spoken about their experiences describe a ‘rape culture’ wherein the attitudes of men (and even some women) perpetuates a social climate in which men (and even some women) feel justified in forcing another being to satisfy their animal drives. Some have dismissed this idea of a ‘rape culture’ as an overstatement, but I am not burdened by an excessive dependence on opinions when the facts signified are the real issue in question.
When people dispute an individual case of sexual violence, mincing words and disregarding an individual’s trauma because it does not fit some arbitrary definition of ‘rape’, this ignores the real problem that is aggressive dominance. Aggressive dominance is that mode of behavior and attitudinal orientation where an individual or group imposes their desires on other individuals or groups, without regard for the wishes of the others. Aggressive dominance is not taking “no” for an answer and the result is a trespass against all sense of right and wrong – an insult to the very idea of ethics and morality – especially where this attitude leads to sexual violence.
Some of my readers (listeners) will understand the parallels between sexual violence and the aggressive dominance of war. In some cases, such as when Japan invaded China during the second World War, aggressive dominance was underpinned by an explicit policy of sexual violence, rape of the population under conquest. But, this attitude is not unique to the Japanese, if we recall that Americans did the same thing when we invaded Vietnam, if we recall the long and bloody pattern of rape and pillage across the globe that is inseparable from a true and enlightened knowledge of history: our common human heritage. But, when the same thing happens in the privacy of someone’s home, suddenly it becomes a question of definitions: whether an act of sexual aggressiveness constitutes legally prosecutable “rape” or if it is simply an individual expressing the natural animal impulse common to all.
I am hopeful that we can overcome this rather primitive worldview, where sexual violence is accepted and defended when it serves the interests of the dominant class, whether as an expression of international policy or as a preservation of patriarchy (where it involves male students in elite universities and sports heroes whose aggressive attitudes are reinforced by institutional support and a culture of unrepentant competition). How can we possibly consider ourselves a civilized people, if we tolerate the most barbaric behavior and defend the attitude of aggressive dominance that is synonymous with the competitive culture (and American hegemony)?
I believe we have the potential to be better than that… in fact, I know that many of us are better than that. So, now, ‘being full of vision and blessed with the gift of fiery speech, I speak to my people, and I speak in my people’s name to the masters of my people: I say to my people that they are holy, that they are august despite their chains. That they are greater than those that hold them, and stronger and purer…’ we have but need to raise ourselves above our primitive animal natures, to realize our own cruelty and grow into our higher potential.
I believe that the meek should inherit the Earth, so my words are addressed to this purpose and intoned with this intention. Anyone who shares my opinions, that the meek should inherit the Earth and that peacemakers are blessed, will immediately recognize that these opinions are opposed to any culture that condones sexual violence or valorizes aggressive dominance as an ideal of human behavior. There is no common ground between these attitudes. A rapist cannot be meek, humble and pure of heart, just as an aggressive dominator cannot make true peace.
So the question becomes, how can we transcend the ‘rape culture’ in America and manifest a purer ideal? In the past, such transformations were instigated by moral leaders, religious teachers and great visionaries. For example, let us consider Islam. Before we proceed, I must say that my words are intended with all due respect to practicing Muslims. I have the highest regard for people of faith, wherever they live, insofar as they have chosen a path of self-improvement and spiritual development, and I mean no insult by my words. That said, we can view the Prophet Muhammad’s work (may peace be upon him) as a project of ethical instruction, where he sought to establish a common paradigm of social mores. These ethical instructions, by their very nature, sought to reform the society and bring humankind closer to our highest potential.
Unfortunately, trouble arises when we consider the way moral teachings are enforced in the society. For Islam, moral teachings are reinforced by an individual’s acceptance of the core tenant that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet.” For me, the statement is absolutely true in a poetic sense, that there is no divine Truth but the divine Truth, and Muhammad was inspired by that same Truth… but, beyond this, it appears to me little different than the Catholic doctrine that the Pope is infallible (imagine that: a human being who cannot be wrong). The only value of such a doctrine is to establish the authority of their teachings, but, when this fails, history has shown time and time again that humans revert to their animalistic attitude of aggressive dominance. How do we grow beyond these limitations?
Nowadays, in America, we have self-proclaimed Christians who ask, in all seriousness, “if evolution is true, is rape wrong?” Like, goodness and decency are only important if there is some aggressively dominant Father-figure standing over you with a stick, ready to smite you if you don’t please Him. That is a rather childish approach to morality, if you ask me, and I think it has failed to lead our species towards a better and more just society (although it has served to justify some rather horrendous cruelties). But, we are evolving as a species and we can grow beyond these limitations, if we can simply overcome the primal urge to assert power over each other. When we overcome these animal tendencies, we will have grown closer to our high potential, closer to the day when the meek will inherit the Earth.
Until then, a variety of strategies remain that can help us guide our societies towards these purer ideals. The first is that we must shun the aggressor and not the victim. If the meek are to inherit the Earth, this means we must be friends to the downtrodden; we must be their champions and true heroes. This means we must be ready to listen, if a woman or man has been the victim of sexual violence, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to hear. We must become a society of people brave enough to face the harsh truths of life and willing to help our brethren cope with their painful experiences. Moreover, we must stand ready to punish the aggressor, no matter what their social standing may be. We cannot accept a judicial system that willfully ignores violent crimes perpetrated by the wealthy, but imprisons the poor and downtrodden for non-violent, victimless crimes… it is offensive to any sense of Justice.
Even still, I am hesitant to say we should drive rapists out of our communities with sticks and stones, that we should break their bones and grind them into dust. That would be a reversion to the same animal aggression we hope to grow beyond. Instead, we need to recognize that rapists are merely human, flawed like any of us, driven by natural impulses and capable of improvement. We must be willing to give them the opportunity for this improvement, just as we would give a child the opportunity to learn how to ask for things nicely instead of aggressively taking things without permission. In the end, there is little difference between these lessons, except only our willingness to teach. But, again, just as we do not tolerate bullies around our children, we cannot tolerate bullies in the society of adults. We can and, indeed, must outgrow these childish attitudes, attitudes of aggressive dominance, if we ever hope to achieve true peace; if we ever hope to see the meek inherit the Earth.
Can a person call themselves Christian and avoid these facts? It happens every day… nevertheless, simply calling yourself a thing does not make it true. The same if I called myself messiah and declared my word to be the Law. If there is a God, She would know the difference. But, as humans we are prone to error, so we must not be too quick to judge. Sometimes people are falsely accused of crimes, whether rape or otherwise, so wisdom challenges us to be equally sympathetic to the accused as to the accuser and not jump into harsh condemnation before the evidence of a case has been thoroughly considered. Still, where it concerns sexual violence, we must be prepared to give a full hearing to each case and not dismiss it out of hand.
Too many people have expressed their willingness to overlook sexual aggression, saying things like “boys will be boys” or “she was asking for it” or “she was too drunk to say no, so I thought that meant yes.” Some women like a sexually aggressive man, that much is true. However, to suggest that because one woman wants that, then all women should be subject to the same behavior is just as ludicrous as saying that, just because one altar boy enjoys being molested, then all altar boys should be subject to molestation. It is not an ethical point of view. In fact, it is the very essence of the rape culture that feminists have been speaking out against for so many years. I don’t know if you were listening, but I was. Now I join my voice to theirs in calling for an end to the cruel society that can justify sexual violence and aggressive dominance.
“A better world is possible and we have vowed to make it real…”
The Polyphonic Spree – Section 19
She said, Water-boarding is how we baptize terrorists…
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck… perhaps it will ruffle some feathers when I state, for the historical record, that Pope Francis I, the Vatican, Holy See and other institutions of the Catholic Church, after more than 1900 years of Evangelical propaganda (since the initial publication of Saint John’s Book of Revelations), have neglected to acknowledge the words of a lion of Judah’s tribe who shares in the roots of King David (possibly), and who is adorned with red robes, having a name written upon him and a mark on his thigh which says in Scot’s Gaelic, ‘s rioghal mo dhream, “My Race is Royal.” [Note: my race is Human]
Theologians and student’s of Christian Scripture will immediately notice the startling similarity between these words and those listed in Revelations chapters 5 and 19. But the critical mind will also acknowledge the distinct variations and this writer’s careful refusal to assert absolute identity with the character mentioned in John’s Prophecy. What has been offered instead is a dubious affinity between the signs mentioned by John and the traditional garb of a Scottish Highland clan, the Sons of Griogair, Children of the Mist, in addition to a hypothesis that rests entirely on legend, hearsay and the coincidental (or providential) adoption of related symbols to represent a Catholic University in their marketing efforts. (See: Questions only a Pope would answer and also An Open Letter to the Pope in Rome)
The question naturally follows: Why? Why would a person do something so patently absurd? Why would a person present the Pope a comparison so laughably speculative as to merit only ridicule and whose plausible deniability can only be taken as a matter of faith? My answer to these questions is that the absurdity of my problem seems to necessitate an equally absurd solution and, whereas my problem derives from experiences at a University sponsored by the Catholic Church, the solution should also involve the Catholic Church.
However, it must be mentioned that, where philosophy is concerned, I choose the middle road between Relativist and Absolutist attitudes toward Truth, opting instead for the Fallibilist attitude that accepts the possibility that I could be completely mistaken, but that I am still justified in holding my incorrect beliefs until I am presented with sufficient, convincing evidence to the contrary (for the record, I believe some part of humanity’s salvation lay in popular adoption of this Fallibilist attitude, although I could be mistaken).
To be sure you understand, the problem I have set out to solve is not purely personal. If it were, I could hardly expect the Pope to grace me with his charity. Alas, my problem involves all people – the entire human race – most especially the poor and downtrodden. Therefore, considering that Pope Francis has made numerous statements intended to inspire charity and service to the poor, in the spirit of Saint Francis and following the teachings of Jesus himself, I find ample justification to seek his direct aid and the support of his Church.
Now, simply stated, my problem is this: I love learning. More than any other activity, my happiest hours have been absorbed in quiet study and deep contemplation, but (and this is a big BUT) my learning has not been recognized by any institution of higher education, despite my best efforts. To the contrary, I was saddled with an unreal debt burden and forced to pursue unfulfilling work, without credentials to reflect my true worth. The result has been devastating, leaving me to suffer a marginal existence – hardly able to satisfy my most basic needs, let alone to support a family or help solve the global challenges that affect all people.
For all my learning, I have come to know the pain of hunger very well and, what is worse, I know that I do not suffer alone but live every day with constant awareness that billions of other people have suffered much more than I ever have, with even less hope of escaping poverty. Could we quantify the number of people throughout history whose entire existence has been wasted in destitution, it would be the most depressing statistic ever conceived. At the same time, I know that the unprecedented prosperity enjoyed by a few today is almost entirely dependent on limited resources and that, as those resources dwindle, it will only intensify the plight endured by so many already. That is not a future I want to experience.
What is the solution? Some say ‘leadership’ is needed, although radical anarchists reject this notion preferring instead a future with ‘no gods and no managers.’ Yet, while I respect their yearning for true freedom and inalienable right to express these opinions, I do not believe that violent revolution can provide solutions that are agreeable to the majority of people around the world. Still, if you learn nothing else from me, I want you to understand beyond doubt that the majority of philosophical anarchists I have known are not violent, but are some of the kindest, most humble and gentle people living today (one might go so far as to say ‘meek’).
So, what are the alternatives to global insurrection? Turning back to the idea proposed by most of the international community, institutions of the United Nations, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations – that ‘leadership’ should pave the way to solutions to the global challenges of our age – we must ask, whose leadership? A common answer given is that the world’s sole remaining super-power – the United States of America – should lead the world in solving the problems we share in common.
Many Americans agree with this idea in principle, but unfortunately our ability to translate our most noble aspirations into meaningful action has been constrained by a variety of factors. Although we would like to see ourselves as the great heroes of world history, spreading the light of Liberty and Democracy to the far corners of the Earth, recent political and economic developments lead us to question whether or not we are still qualified to assert those values on the world stage.
It has been asked, how can we claim to represent Liberty, when we rank highest in incarcerations as a percentage of population, relative to other nations? When privatization of our prison industry seems to have turned our ‘criminal justice’ system into a profiteering racket? A counter-argument might say that our legal system is still constrained by certain limitations, checks and balances, to avoid cruel and unusual punishments (unless you view death as a cruel punishment). Then an activist would rage in protest of police brutality, suggesting that America’s laws would be better enforced with compassionate restraint. But, anyone familiar with the brutality exercised by police and para-military forces in other countries would know that Americans are relatively fortunate (with noteworthy exceptions). However, a patriot might assert that, so long as our Bill of Rights retains its legal authority, we retain a historical precedent for civil rights globally and this is a very good reason to preserve the rights enshrined in that document (as it underpins our credibility internationally).
However, when we come to the question of Democracy, the answers are not so easy. If we are willing to accept facts as a reasonable measure of Truth, then the American people have a hard pill to swallow because the facts appear to indicate that our political system is more accurately characterized as a Fascist Oligarchy (where the term Fascism technically indicates the merger of Corporate and State power and Oligarchy reflects the statistical correlation between US policy outcomes and the stated interests of the financial elite). To illustrate this point, we reflect on the already well known influence of corporate lobbyists in Washington, the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in crafting model legislation, in addition to research by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University (for more information, see: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy and also: http://www.opensecrets.org ).
Many Americans will find these ideas difficult to accept. One would be right to say, despite these facts, that our political process still operates according on the democratic model, where legislation proposed by citizens and their “representatives” is subject to debate and must pass a vote prior to becoming law. Unfortunately, it remains that, where votes tend to favor the interests of corporate campaign contributors above the authentic interests of a represented population, the locus of power remains with those whose interests are actually represented: ergo, Fascism. Moreover, where there are known and persistent efforts (by gerrymandered districts and voter suppression) to limit the voting rights and political influence of average citizens, whose participation in the electoral process is a determining quality of Representative Democracy, how on Earth can we pretend to be the guarantors of democratic ideals for the rest of humanity? Furthermore, what does any of this have to do with Pope Francis and a Catholic University?
Everything is connected. Just as I depend on the hard work of other Americans and laborers globally for the relative prosperity I have enjoyed, so too do all Americans and the international community depend upon me, to a lesser degree, to contribute what I can. We each exist as interdependent entities, from birth to death, sometimes giving, sometimes taking. In the course of a human life-span, we each experience varying degrees of dependence and independence, with one extreme of dependence, the crying babe clutching to its mother’s breast for protection and nourishment, representing a supremely common experience shared by humans throughout history. This dependency is symbolically represented in Christian iconography through the image of Mary and the baby Jesus, but the image of a young mother with her child existed long before the Church in Rome. She was also celebrated in Pagan Alexandria, in the guise of Isis and her son Horace, and there is ample evidence to support this point (I recommend careful study of the Korē Kosmou annotated by Manly P. Hall.) Just the same, I have become like the screaming babe, desperately clinging to the breast of a Mother Church (that is, the Christian community globally), for want of protection and nourishment, as are all the world’s poor when they look up to a Pope who has taken their interests to heart.
A charitable person would ask, what are the interests of the poor? One might just as well ask, what are the interests of all people, of all living organisms? The answers are identical and elementary:clean water to drink, nutritious food to eat, shelter from the storm of life, protection from the violence of others, love and care in sickness, laughter and joyful experience. Beyond these common necessities, nothing else can be considered ‘important.’ Yet, somehow we have failed to achieve an equitable distribution of these basic necessities and focused our attention instead on many unimportant issues and trivial controversies, while some fortunate few bask the lap of a luxury beyond the dreams of even the mightiest kings of antiquity.
One is led to wonder, how would the kings of antiquity view the state of our modern civilization? Could I summon their ghosts to ask, I am sure that their opinions would vary. However, a cautious survey of history suggests some common themes, when we observe the expectations people had for their leaders traditionally. Whether we are speaking of the Pharaohs of Egypt, Sage Kings of ancient China, of Babylon, Assyria, India, Hattusa, Minos, Crete, Persia, Macedonia, Thailand, Israel or anywhere else that has allowed a king to reign, and even if we limit our consideration only to primitive tribal groups, whether patriarchy or matriarchy, we find the exact same expectations manifest: that leaders are expected to be responsible to ensure both the protection and the prosperity of a community: fertility of the soils, regular rains and our success in the hunt. We could identify these as natural Laws, name them primordial duties of leaders, no matter where they live, on Earth or in the heavens just the same.
Be assured, I do not mean to obscure the failures of past leaders, nor to enter into any form of historical revisionism, nor even to suggest that monarchy is the preferred ideal form of political association. Far from it, we know too well the cruel caprice of so many tyrants and corrupt human dictators. However, if one would accept the fallible insight of Saint Thomas Aquinas on this subject, it could be recognized that a true King, properly so called, is distinguished from the common tyrant by his strict adherence to the common good. Specifically, to quote his letter On Kingship, to the King of Cypress (trans. Gerald B. Phelan),
“A government becomes unjust by the fact that the ruler, paying no heed to the common good, seeks his own private good. Wherefore the further he departs from the common good the more unjust will his government be. But there is a greater departure from the common good in an oligarchy [emphasis mine], in which the advantage of a few is sought, than in a democracy, in which the advantage of many is sought; and there is still greater departure from the common good in a tyranny, where the advantage of only one man is sought. For a large number is closer to the totality than a small number, and a small number than only one. Thus, the government of a tyrant is the most unjust.”
So far, I have neglected to acknowledge the peculiar institution of slavery and class divisions that have shaped so much of human history, in the same way the Pope and Vatican have neglected to acknowledge me. What can be said? I’m sorry. Please allow me to remedy the error… Take my purse, I don’t need it anymore. Do you want some food, I have extra. Where will you sleep tonight? I have a couch, come in out of the storm and share my roof… I can wash your feet, if you will scratch my backside. Just leave your shoes by the door. What? You say that you are stranded across a pond, let me build you a bridge. Here it is, a conceptual bridge to open a door of understanding, let me take your coat and fish hat.
Then I awoke, finding myself in a great room, the sun shining through wide open windows. A wind whistles and blue skies greet my eyes. There are trees I see with green leaves and tin-shingled rooftops with chimneys and bird-holes. A chirp breaks the silence as I wonder what to do next. I take a sip from the drink at my side and think of the books on my shelf. Should I read one? Maybe two or three… Before I do, I must clean myself and eat. Where am I?
I came here to speak with you about the plight of humankind, of my plight and utter desperation. I need help. I need your help. I literally have tears running down my face, on my knees at your feet, begging you to show me mercy. Begging you to raise me up, to say that I am a king – full of dignity – and anoint me with your oil. What I want for myself, I want for all people. No man, woman or child should suffer life in bondage, enslaved to forces beyond any hope of control. It is the presumption of mankind, to assume and assert his dominance over others. We see the same behavior expressed in great apes and their primate relatives, dogs and other species of aggressive mammals where they congregate in groups. One lashes out against another, as if to say I am boss now. The same phenomena is observed in human relations.
As societies grew up over time, the modes of association changed. Tribal gatherings of prehistory gave way to an urban agricultural civilization and industrial economy over time, resulting in varied transformations in the interdependencies of people. For most of history, the family has been a primary nexus of relationships, with secondary relations drawn from these networks of friends and their children. But orphans and run-aways follow their own paths and form various relationships according to the distinct circumstance in their lives. Sometimes, one or another may find refuge with a new family, by adoption or by an expansive sense of friendship, that provides some temporary sanctuary against the constant threat of death we all share.
These various networks of tribes and families would display similar forms of dominance behavior over the course of history. So war grew from the seed of single combat between individuals to absorb entire families, tribes, villages, trading-companies and cities later on. The growth of urbanized populations, with the advent of agriculture and development of tool industries, also resulted in a higher propensity to form cooperative tertiary relations and trade, so artisanal associations and mercantile networks gradually formed over time to stretch across the landscape. The invention of boats and domestication of horse and cattle gave speed to the transport of goods across ever greater distances, resulting in a regionally-interdependent global economy between these various city-states, as they evolved from the state of Nature.
At the same time, the same way as we observe in the behavior of other mammal animals, the human groups began to form territorial associations. In primitive nomadic circumstance the boundaries were often fluid, encompassing only the immediate location and situation of a group. However, as societies’ legal associations developed in the first villages and cities, these boundaries became more rigid for both group and individual. So, our concepts of property, land-ownership and legal codes evolved from the archaic nomadism of prehistory, as the hunter/gatherers slowly settled to become agriculturalists, artisans and city-dwellers.
The politics of modern society owe fealty to these humble beginnings. We all owe fealty to these same origins and to deny such a heritage is to deny all the evidence provided to our senses, leading to existential crisis and unwarranted strife, unless I am wrong. In this way do all men, women and otherwise gendered individuals own a share in the roots of David. It follows from logical necessity that, insofar as the available evidence supports the axiom that says humankind came into being on the planet Earth from a common cosmic source, we all are related to each other by that common source. Unless it can be proven that David was other than being, or that he did not originate from the common Source we share, it must be accepted that all humankind shares a direct familial association with the tribe of Judah, King David’s true and royal family.
What does this mean? It means that our race is royal. It means that my race is royal and it means that my family has every right to carry ourselves with the dignity of kings, if we so desire. It means that you yourself have every right to carry yourself with the dignity of a king, or a queen, or whatevah you choose, because we are all brothers and sisters or other forms of relatives, you and me and every other living being in the cosmos and the higher reality wherein our cosmos is contained. Everything is connected. Every one of us is connected and interdependent with the meta-cosmic environment we share – legally speaking the Commons – Earth and heavens included entire.
It also means that we are related to Jesus, insofar as we can believe that he exists in the common Reality somehow, somewhere. Really think about it, did Jesus come to be on Earth? We are born of the same Source. The same can be said of the historical Prophets, may peace be upon them all. Each and every one of us shares the same cosmos from where we all find common origin, insofar as we can believe in the premise of our own existence and/or so-called Being.
So what? Why should Pope Francis or anyone else care about any of this? The Pope should care because he is also like a king, cousin of Jesus, and so shares our responsibility to uphold the primordial duties of leadership by strict adherence to the common Good of all living beings. However, in the event he may disagree with my conclusions, I apologize. Unless I am mistaken, Pope Francis will appreciate that my methodology is purely Franciscan, following the advice of Saint Bonaventure, based on contemplation of the life and times of Jesus, his passion, death and resurrection, and imitation of the same.
In his text Lignum Vitae Bonaventure compares Jesus’ life to the Tree of Life and, taking this as my starting point, I discovered related comparisons of the Crucifix with the symbol of Jacob’s Ladder, forming a bridge, linking material Earth and humankind to a higher reality. The image of a tree-qua-bridge permeates the mythology of our primitive ancestors, so too with a snake which represented humankind’s spiritual tether, forming the connective tissue between our living consciousness and the higher Unity of everything, or All. Some say it is a silver chord, while other people say it is no ‘thing’ at all. But, the fact remains that we are tied together and inescapably bound with the common Reality. That is, unless I am mistaken.
At the heart of the common Reality is the Source, some people imagined as a fountain, for others a flaming ball of light, like a Sun shining so brightly it cannot be seen (though perhaps we sense neutrinoid emanations). In the Bible, it is a spring that feeds four rivers… named for rivers that sustained several human communities on one tiny planet orbiting one tiny little sun in the vast expanse of our cosmos. Some time before recorded history, humans imagined a ceremony of baptism to represent immersion into the rivers fed by that Source. So, when Jesus was baptized by John, this represented the highest form of surrender to transcendent Reality.
For one reason or another, politicians in the United States, namely Sarah Palin, some people, believe it is ethically justified to characterize such a sacred ritual as a form of punishment for suspected freedom fighters. She said, “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists,” and American, so-called Christian, patriots cheer her. In my fallible opinion, it is a vulgar insult for her to speak of these sacred theatrics in such a profane manner, she should be ashamed. Thus, I would not get her stoned. If she ran for president, I would vote for the other. Had I any money, I would contribute to all her opponents and their propaganda campaigns. I would go on ranting tours, raving to every town and village and hamlet; and I would denounce her before all the world.
Would I be ethically justified? I believe so, but I could be mistaken. Alas, I have no money for that course of action, so who knows what will actually happen. I can only speak to the potential course of events, without knowing what actually happens until after it has actually happened. Time flows on, some say it is like a river. How can we know? Seeking answers to these questions, we begin to investigate the cosmos – our home. Thus Philosophy is born, all our sciences and patient study of the phenomena of living experience.
Today we are investigating the question of whether or not Pope Francis and the Catholic Church should acknowledge the higher learning of one individual human from Texas. Am I qualified to answer this question? I have no way to know absolutely, but I can take a guess and hope for the best. Therefore I guess it would not be the worst possible outcome if the Pope empowered me to be a forceful advocate for the common interest, or King properly so called. Any wise strategist will comprehend the logic of a force multiplier: whereas, although my voice in isolation has little power, if the Pope were to raise me up and anoint me as a King before God and all humankind, it would magnify the potential influence of my effort to serve our community. In this way, the Pope would benefit his own Christ-like mission to inspire charity and service to the poor, both parties win. Everyone wins… except Sarah Palin and her crony-capitalist Fascist Oligarch friends -they will lose.
As I see it, Education in the purest sense is an engine of our common interest, driving us forward towards a more perfect state of being. We are told to study hard and pay attention, because it is generally believed that the effort of learning will strengthen each individual, in the hope that our combined efforts will produce the highest possible good for all: our mutual survival in comfort and safety – in a word, Salvation. Again, following the Franciscan formula, by contemplating the life of Jesus we can see that his effort was – like a true King according to the Thomistic definition – to serve the common interest or greater Good. Therefore, if we are to follow his example, we also should serve the common interest and uphold the primordial duties of a ‘leader.’
How do we measure learning, in order to determine when a person qualifies as “highly educated”? Could we bear to submit ourselves to the authority of a woman, Maria Montessori suggests that Education in the highest sense is a holistic enterprise wherein we seek to raise every child to their highest possible good – something nearing to Perfection, but never quite perfect. So, it follows logically to ask, what is the highest possible good an individual may achieve? The answers vary. For Socrates, the goal of learning was a comprehension of first Principles: Good, Bad, Justice, Injustice, Love, Hate, Chaos, Order, the laws of Nature, each has a place in the perfect individual. Marcus Aurelias (in Meditations) speaks of Cosmic Consciousness, giving the impression that it is desirable for an individual to achieve an awareness of the highest Reality. Later, during the Italian Renaissance, Geoffroy Tory published an image of perfection (Champfleury, 1529) wherein “the well-formed and well-set-up individual contains in his own person the nine Muses and the seven Liberal Arts; he even contains the Virtues, for his hands and feet are marked Justicia, Fortitudo, Prudentia, and Temperantia – all this serving to show ‘que l’homme parfaict doibt tellement estre proportionné en science et en vertus que a tous enrois et propos il soit decent et honneste….’ (…to show that the perfect man should be so proportioned in science and virtue as to be in all places and circumstances decent and honest.) Such it appears is the lesson of the ‘nobles et bons pères Anciens.'” (See: Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. First Princeton ed. 1972)
As it regards practical recognition of merits, however, we typically acknowledge certain thresholds on the child’s pathway to Perfection – the point where we say “that is good enough” because we realize it is absurd to expect every child to achieve the heights of transcendental mythology in the course of only a few short years. Thusly, the challenge becomes to convince the University, a Pope and society generally that I have achieved a degree of learning and deserve some formal acknowledgement of that.
So, how do I prove to the Pope and reader that I contain the nine Muses and seven Liberal Arts, the Virtues, or any measure of Cosmic Consciousness, communion with First Principles and Knowledge of Nature’s laws? The Muses of Rome are: Calliope – Epic Poetry (?), Clio – History (?), Erato – Lyric Poetry (?), Euterpe – Song and Elegiac Poetry (?), Melpomene – Tragedy (?), Polyhymnia – Hymns (?), Terpsichore – Dance (?), Thalia – Comedy (?) and Urania – Astronomy (?). The Seven Liberal Arts are divided into four and three: a Quadrivium, of Arithmetic (?), Geometry (?), Music (?) and Astronomy (?); and a Trivium, of Grammar (?), Logic (?) and Rhetoric (?).
So many questions. What is a Pope to do? He could accept the absurdity of my conundrum and help me out. Acknowledge that I have achieved some degree of learning in each of these fields, though yet not perfection. Would it be a sin to say that I feel like a highly educated person? How does my feeling benefit you, the Pope, or any other potential collaborator in the work to attain the common interest for all? I know not, cannot say. But, what I can do is make the effort, to crush my enemies and slay the dragons that would enslave and chain me in bondage. Freedom is my ally and so I have plumbed the depths of Liberty and now I comb the heights, attempting to reach that absurd point which lies beyond reason. It can only be in a state of perfect Freedom, where a poor fool could name himself king and be accepted as such. I believe that this name is written on me.
For now, I occupy the bottom 1% of American society, utterly dependent on the charity of others for survival, something reminiscent of Doctor Einstein’s lament: “School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel. I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn’t worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system? From the age of twelve I began to suspect authority and distrust teachers.”
Sir Ken Robinson asks, do schools kill creativity? I would say yes, but I talk to the wind… Something worked. Robinson points to the deleterious condition of many modern schools, describing the strategy as an industrial “cookie cutter” model, where children are stuffed into compartments and molded into a sort of arbitrarily defined shape, the way we manufacture goods on assembly lines. He follows this with a proposal for a more agricultural approach to education, where the learning environment is arranged to provide fertile ground for growing children as though from seeds. For my part, if my opinion has any merit, I would assert the Montessori Method as an agricultural approach, being as it is based on the premise that each child develops autonomously, to give each child a maximal opportunity to master lessons that will help them to thrive in life.
Even without money, I have thrived because of my experience in a Montessori inspired learning environment. This, I believe, is one of the miracles of Life, a secret of the ascetic predecessors to Christian monastic living: Nature does not recognize the value of any fiat currency when doling out her blessings. We thrive on the basis of other and, I dare to say, higher authorities than the petty, feeble-minded laws of human invention. So, it is no longer any mystery to me, why Jesus was willing to abandon the material acquisitiveness of humankind. He surrendered himself completely to the Reality and so too have I, following the Franciscan formula.
Relatedly, Sir W M Flinders Petrie presents several ancient conceptions of human prosperity, in his textbook Personal Religion in Egypt Before Christ where,
“In the early times the abundance of good things of the world is always represented as the best wish for the future life. The proverbial literature of the Pyramid ages pictures a strong-minded man, well-balanced, firm but kind, enjoying all rightful pleasures, and not denying himself a fair share of enjoyments or relaxation. The tales of later times never represent self-denial or abnegation as of any value or effect, the idea is simply absent… nowhere do we meet with any virtue beyond the reprobation of evil. It is only the rich noble who boasts that he has given food to the hungry and clothes to the needy; no ordinary man presumes to claim such good works. Nor is any sign of communism seen; every man has his own possessions, and bargains with the gods to give him more. In Jewish thought we meet the same type. Every man wishes to live under his own vine and under his own fig-tree. He is to be blessed with a fruitful wife and a large family, and the sign of virtue is to be external prosperity.”
So, my problem has become its own solution, where my love of learning has lead me to believe in myself. Whereas I once wanted to earn recognition by an institution of higher education, I have myself become an ‘institution’ of higher education and amassed the power to teach all humankind about the nature and content of our common interests: the highest Good of our desire, what we call true Prosperity or Thriving. In this way, I transfer my wealth to you by empowering you to become master of your own destiny, to cast off the chains that ensnare and to smash the false idol of monetary valuation in order to attain the heights of true nobility. With power comes responsibility, the noblesse oblige of France’s Ancien Régime, known as primordial duties of anyone who presumes to ‘Lead’ universally speaking :: Prosperity and Protection. Now you are the king.
However, it still remains to be seen whether the Pope will deign to acknowledge these speculations of mine. Who can predict the outcome? Does the Pope understand that these are serious questions, that my window of opportunity is ever shrinking, as the shroud of death lingers waiting to take me at any moment in Time? What comes next? I know not, cannot say. It is a mystery, the Truth lurks veiled. Such is life for all men, unless I am mistaken. Until then, I will pass the time patiently imagining more good reasons why he should.
For a start, I believe (I truly truly believe) that the
best worst possible thing I can do would be to reclaim ownership of my ancestral hereditary territories, in the Glen Orchy highlands of Scotland, so I could evict the occupants and bulldoze Kilchurn Castle… like a madman, laughing all the way to the Cisjordan West Bank. Just cause.
Next, I will to plant an oak sapling there and I would name that tree Life. Then I would build a new castle on the spot and surround it with a labyrinthine garden. I would call it a Sacred Grove, although it is like a temple. A place just for me, to contemplate the life, Jesus and other mysteries, to spread my feats and keep my books.
My library will be like a Museum, in an archaic sense, a shrine for the nine Muses and space for quiet study and/or higher learning. An educational ‘institution.’ Then, you know, open a gift store and food court area where people could eat fruit and vegetables grown in the surrounding gardens. I would eventually expand into other markets, providing new jobs and taxable revenue for the government of Scotland and all the rest…
My gardens will hang there, just as they hung at Nineveh in ancient Assyria, with a plaque stele where the ancient kings describe what they had done:
Ashurnasirpal II, king of the world, king of Assyria (883–859 BC): “I dug out a canal from the (river) Zab, cutting through a mountain peak, and called it Abundance Canal. I watered the meadows of the Tigris and planted orchards with all kinds of fruit trees in the vicinity. I planted seeds and plants that I had found in the countries through which I had marched and in the highlands which I had crossed: pines of different kinds, cypresses and junipers of different kinds, almonds, dates, ebony, rosewood, olive, oak, tamarisk, walnut, terebinth and ash, fir, pomegranate, pear, quince, fig, grapevine…. The canal water gushes from above into the garden; fragrance pervades the walkways, streams of water as numerous as the stars of heaven flow in the pleasure garden…. Like a squirrel I pick fruit in the garden of delights.”
Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria (704-681 BC): “Whereas in former times the kings my forefathers had created bronze statues imitating real-life forms to put on display inside temples, but in their method of work they had exhausted all the craftsmen, for lack of skill and failure to understand the principles they needed so much oil, wax and tallow for the work that they caused a shortage in their own countries – I Sennacherib, leader of all princes, knowledgeable in all kinds of work, took much advice and deep thought over doing that kind of work…. I created clay molds as if by divine intelligence for cylinders and screws… In order to draw up water all day long, I had ropes, bronze wires and bronze chains made. And instead of a shaduf I set up the cylinders and screws of copper over cisterns….I raised the height of the surroundings of the palace, to be a Wonder for all Peoples… A high garden imitating the Amanus mountains I laid out next to it, with all kinds of aromatic plants, orchard fruit trees, trees that enrich not only mountain country but also Chaldea (Babylonia), as well as trees that bear wool, planted within it.”
“And for Tashmetu-sharrat the palace woman, my beloved wife, whose features the Mistress of the Gods has made perfect above all other women, I had built a palace of loveliness, delight and joy….”
Somewhere in my library, I will post prayers for kings, each dedicated to one of nine Muses and addressed to all Reality:
To Calliope, a prayer for the trans-Jordan king, Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein: that he will continue to serve the cause of Peace around the world, bringing aid to those in need, in times of crisis. That he will continue to defend the democratic aspirations of his people and uphold the sovereign, inalienable liberties inherent to each. Let him open his borders to me, so I could carve a path for my canal, Abundance, and feed water into their part of the river, that his family and their neighbor’s may thrive. As-Salām al-Malakī al-Urdunī. So may it be.
To Clio, a prayer for my ancestors – kings: Bless the soul of Gregor roi, the beloved first of our tribe, and let him rest in eternal bliss. Bless the soul of Robert Roy, let his name be on the lips of every man and king. Bless the soul of Judah and all the ancients, that they may live again. So it is written. So may it be.
To Erato, a prayer for the king of house Saud in Arabia: that peace will be upon his tribe and neighbors; that he could raise me up and call me kin and then permit me Hajj, to bring my Abundance into Mecca. Let the Sharif forever be a good man, a true king, ever vigilant in service to the common interest of all, and let the name Abdullah bin Abdul’aziz Al Saud be on the lips of every man and king. So may it be.
To Euterpe, a prayer for the poet king of Persia, Hakim Abu ‘I-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi: Let his Shahnameh be read and remembered forever. Our lyric-tradition is the same, let us give it a name – Birds. So may it be.
To Melpomene, a prayer for my enemies: that they may be spared the humiliation Tragedy deserves. For Sarah Palin: that no man compare her to a whore, nor suggest that she leave, if she does not love. For the Fascist Oligarchs who presume to represent our democratic, libertine idylls: that they will retire to exile from the world of Kings, being rejected by us all; and throw their riches – their tea – into the sea.
To Polyhymnia, a prayer for Pope Francis I: that he will live forever and ever. Amen. So may it be.
To Terpsichore, a prayer for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: that she uphold my true and rightful claims; that she will encourage and invest in our job creation schemes and permit us to conduct business in England and abroad; that our profit will be her profit, bringing ever greater wealth to the sovereign nations humane. Let her redeem the sins of our ancestors and denounce their awful crimes, so that the lion and unicorn may dance forever in peace. Make a king for Scotland, one true Celtic Lion. So marry me. So may it be.
To Thalia, a prayer for Elvis Presley: that his imitators will get “it” – at heart, we are all the King. So it is. So may it be.
To Urania, a prayer for Neil deGrasse Tyson: let him lead us to infinity and beyond. So is it written. So let it be done.
In each of the four corners of my estate, I will to lay four stones with Ogham script reading Justicia, Fortitudo, Prudentia, and Temperantia, to remind all that the perfect should be so proportioned in Science and Virtue. Likewise, in the same spirit, I will fill the library with books and manuscripts covering all the seven liberal arts. A cabinet therein is to be kept well stocked of the latest curiosities, oddities and objects of scientific interest. A sign will hang above the door at the entrance, reading, “Let no one who is ignorant of geometry enter.” Outside, the Sacred Grove gardens will be dedicated to the benefit of poor people everywhere, designed to turn my profit to their account and extend my canal – Abundance – to stretch it across the continents of our spaceship Earth – upholding the common interest of Kings and actively doing that thing called leadership.
So I have come to the conclusion of these reminiscences and leave you now to wonder: to wander, explore and experience the life of worth. We leave Pope Francis with some difficult questions. Could he tolerate the Golden Dawn of Samuel Liddelle “MacGregor” Mathers? How will the Holy See be moved? What will happen? Absurd questions, and too many of them. Still we must be free in order to ask. The Holy Father is given the freedom of choice, whether it is acceptable to abandon us to alienation in a society of addicts, where the over-rationalized bureaucracy has a stranglehold on our accounts, whilst all around us citizens fall prey to the banalization of everything and grow depressed and cynical. Yet Herbert Marcuse’ Marxish critique instills us with the revolutionary hope that we (the entire human race) could reconstruct ourselves and begin anew. Unfortunately, it is believed by some today that we have already passed The End of History and now live in ahistorical or post-historical times. Let us reject this notion. Let us cast aside our differences to raise ourselves up into Heaven by passionate salvatory efforts, following the Franciscan formula: imitatio dei.
When I have gone, lay my bones to rest in the land of my ancestors. On my stone, a dolmen, let it be written that, “Between the rays of the Sun, I have likewise inscribed and lodged the nine Muses, the seven liberal arts, the four cardinal virtues, and the three Graces, placing each apart from the others, and at the exact center of the Sun, I have designed and portrayed Apollo playing his divine harp. This is to show that the concatenation and full perfection of the Letters, Muses, liberal Arts, cardinal Virtues, and graces are inspired and nourished in us by Apollo.” (Geoffroy Tory, Chapfleury, 1529. trans. Seznec); lay my harp upon my grave and at last let the Pope read my rights, my living will and testament: “He lived as he was born and as he died: screaming out for more.” …and MacGregor despite them shall flourish forever.
Your creepy cousin,
Père Ubu, le Roi
The Texan who trolled a Pope
One brisk morning, before dawn, while I was hanging out on one of the refinery towers doing regular maintenance work, I was visited by a small beetle. I was so hungry, I snatched him up in my hand and almost ate him but, before I could, I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my palm. Immediately, I opened my fist to see the beetle standing there with a tiny sword clutched in one of his tiny claws. He shook his sword at me menacingly and roared with such ferocity I could not have imagined, “Unhand me you yankee imperialista!”
I was stunned, seeing the blood dripping from my palm like the stigmata, and struggled to comprehend the strange creature I beheld. Before I could formulate a response, he struck at me again and I only barely blocked his attack with my other hand, which his sword pierced like a nail. I yelped in surprise and flung him back onto the platform.
“What was that for?” I cried like a girl, clutching my bleeding hand with my bleeding hand, “I was going to set you down.”
“So you say,” he replied, “but your people are all liars and thieves, ¿so why should I believe you?”
I could not think of a good answer, so I just sighed and reached into my flame retardant coveralls to tear several strips of cloth from my shirt to serve as bandages. He kept watching me as I bound my wounds, expectantly awaiting my response, still clutching his sword like a projection of the force in his heart. I had not noticed before that he was wearing miniature glasses and was dressed like a jungle guerrilla, with fatigues and a ski-mask to conceal his face. After a moment, he sheathed his sword and retrieved a small pipe and pouch of tobacco from his pockets. Then he looked up at me and asked, “¿Do you have a match I can use?”
“Of course not,” I responded, “you know, you’re not allowed to smoke near all this volatile equipment, it could cause an explosion!”
“I won’t have any imperialistas telling me what to do,” he scoffed, “and besides, explosions are why I am here in the first place.”
“That doesn’t sound very nice,” I said, a bit baffled by the little bugger’s venom.
“Well the world is not a nice place, so you had better get used to it gringo.”
“Would you stop calling me names? I have a name of my own, little brother.”
“Well, it won’t matter for much longer, so I won’t bother asking. When I’m done here, this place will be a pile of ash and dust and you will be nothing more than a fading memory, to be forgotten along with all your yankee comrades—but they will all remember how the mighty Nebuchadnezzar drove his dagger deep into the heart of the neoliberal global trade order and set the world free from their awful tyranny.”
“Nebuchadnezzar? Wasn’t he one of the Chaldean kings?”
“Ah, you are quite astute for a common laborer, but today you are wrong. Nebuchadnezzar is my name, but my friends call me Don Durito, the great knight-errant de la Lacandona. However, you are not my friend, pinche gringo, so you may call me sir. ¿Do you have that match?”
I shrugged and thrust a hand into my pocket and fumbled around until I found one of those strike-anywhere matches that are prohibited on refinery property. When I passed it to him, he didn’t seem to mind that it was as tall as he was and proceeded to strike it and light his pipe with the relatively gargantuan flame.
“What is so wrong with neoliberalism, that you would call it tyranny? I thought free trade was responsible for absolutely everything good in the world, so why would you want to ruin that for all of us?”
“Oh my, how naïve you are little man. ¿Do they teach you nothing in those factory-farm schools, or do they just churn out compliant workers to slave endless hours for minimal wages without question?”
He didn’t wait for my answer before continuing on his tiny tirade.
“Neoliberalism has nothing to do with free trade,” he proclaimed, “but has everything to do with preserving the social order of global industrial capitalism. They like to say that endless competition benefits everybody by stimulating ever more efficient methods of production and so providing ever cheaper goods and services for public consumption. However, they rarely discuss the negative consequences of this competition for the losers, for whom failure often means the loss of everything they had worked so hard to attain. They speak of business cycles and periods of consolidation like they are benign phenomena with only positive implications, but usually fail to mention the human lives ruined by economic upheavals of such magnitude—fail to mention the cyclic dismissal of factory workers when the machines go idle or the executives who commit suicide when their embezzlement schemes are uncovered, or their companies go bankrupt and ruin the livelihoods of their employees.”
“You had better hush up,” I warned him, “someone might hear you and think you are some sort of communist. You know they don’t take kindly to communists around here.”
“¿And you call yourselves free?”
“Well, I uh… I suppose you have a point.”
“You’re damned right I have a point, so if you would stop interrupting me I might get to it.”
I gestured for him to proceed.
“So, as I was saying,” he continued, taking a long puff of his pipe, “they have been going around the world proselytizing new converts to this free-market ideology, convincing everyone to buy into the hope of their golden future and opening up new markets for them to exploit. The result of this spread of industrialism has been the systematic undermining of traditional modes of production, leaving people who were once self-reliant utterly dependent on the machines of global capitalism and vis a vis on the owners of those machines. They call this state of utter dependency ‘freedom’ and act surprised when people rebel against their hypocrisy.”
“Go on,” I entreated.
“Well, normally, being that I am just a beetle, I would not care about the woes of mankind. However, as it happens, this state of affairs has consequences for me also. Not only do I live in constant fear of being trampled by the boots of rebels who are fighting to restore their communities’ freedom of self-determination to live autonomous of the global industrial system, who have been forced off their lands to make room for new factories, plantations and mines; but now I have to deal with the subsequent ecological devastation and toxic byproducts of those projects. To make matters worse, I also have to hide from the drug cartels who smuggle narcotics through my jungle and into your country, to keep your people too delirious to realize the monstrous brutality of their sensualist self-gratification. All this, they call the march of civilization.”
“I know just what you mean, little brother.” I told him, “I’ve always thought it was pretty disgusting that people willingly give their money to the same cartels that are responsible for the murder of thousands of good and decent people. I even know altar boys who do cocaine and hundreds of others who use ‘legal’ pharmaceutical stimulants to get an edge in the competition of educational bureaucracy. Many of them were given scholarships to help pay for their learning and drug habits, but I was always too proud to stoop to that level, so I wound up being treated like a worthless goon and as a result could only get this lousy job.”
Durito appeared surprised when I said this, exhaling a lungful of pipe smoke followed by a hacking cough that wasn’t at all healthy. He managed to say in between spasmodic gasps for air, “There may be hope for you yet, yan–kee.”
I shook my head solemnly, “As long as you are going to call me names, you ought to know, I am not a yankee, not a gringo, and certainly not an imperialista. I’m actually a Jew, from the tribe of Judah.”
“I find that highly doubtful.”
“Well, my friend, the truth remains true whether or not you choose to believe it.”
He seemed to understand my meaning, for it took him some time to think of what to say next. As he stood there pondering, puffing on his pipe, I noticed behind him the sun peaking over the horizon. His curiosity finally got the best of him, so he asked in his characteristically direct way, “Well, if you are Jewish, then tell me, ¿what do you think of the Israeli state’s persistent violations of Mosaic Law, every time they launch attacks against their neighbors or kill innocent protestors like Rachel Corrie?”
“I never said I was Jewish, but to answer your question, I think the whole situation there is pretty sad. To me, it seems like hell on earth, a state of perpetual conflict, of constant antagonism, in no way reminiscent of the Olam Haba, or world to come, as I have it pictured in my mind. It is worse, what is happening in Palestine. I can only imagine the terror of being forced to live like animals trapped in a cage of concrete and barbed wire. It reminds me of a concentration camp, but without the release of a gas-chamber or even the comfort of a semi-regular diet for some. Is it living death, or un-life? I cannot be sure, although it reminds me of home.”
“¿Reminds you of home? ¿How so?”
“In a couple ways, actually,” I explained, “In the first place, it reminds me of my present circumstances. You don’t know this about me, sir, but I’ve been hungry for a long time and I know exactly what it feels like, living in a cage, trapped by the brutal responsibleness of my countrymen. Everywhere I look, it seems like I see other people who feel the same way, but we lack the clarity of a physical wall to point at or hurl rocks and rockets at, so our anguish and frustration are manifest in other ways. A lot of people suffer a deep longing for escape, but they don’t know where to go so they turn to drugs and violence instead. Just two days ago, someone close to me died wrapped up in this frustration, feeling like a caged animal longing for freedom. It is a sickness that is consuming my society, I see it everywhere I look and cannot escape it.”
“It also reminds me of my ancestral homes,” I rambled on, “and the long journey of my family from the Kingdom of Judah to here. I remember our history so vividly, as though I were there myself, during the reign of my ancestor Zedekiah, when Jerusalem lay under siege by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, ironic as that is, considering that you share his name my little friend.”
“Yes, yes, ironic indeed,” Nebuchadnezzar nodded, exhaling another tiny cloud of pipe smoke followed by another raucous round of coughing.
“Those were horrible times, when the Chaldean army surrounded Jerusalem and built up earthen walls to keep my people from escaping, to keep us caged like animals. I remember the cries of the children at night, as the days turned to weeks, turned to months, turned to years, and the food stores dwindled and famine was raging. I remember the pain of their hunger and the fear in their eyes and their fervent prayers to God, prayers for freedom, for food and for comfort. And I remember the cowardice of Zedekiah, when he tried to escape the mess he had made, when he fled under cover of night and abandoned his people to suffer whatever torments lay in store for them. I remember because I was there, in the ovum of his daughter Tea Tephi, waiting to be born.”
“Now you just sound like you are making things up. There is no Tea Tephi in the Bible, she could not have existed.”
“Little brother, neither you nor I are in the Bible, yet we still seem to exist.”
“True, but I thought the Bible was the sole repository of human history from that time, ¿so why would they neglect to mention such an important detail?”
“Well, for a start, the Bible only contains the history of a small, geographically isolated community which was in a state of disarray at that time, during the Babylonian captivity, so there are a lot of details overlooked by the scribes. They were focused on recording the major events of their time and place, so could hardly have taken notice of Tea Tephi when she fled west with Eochaidh, a descendent of Judah’s son, Zerah of the scarlet string. Have you not read Thomas Paine’s book The Age of Reason? He points out a great number of factual errors in the Bible texts, so it is no surprise to me that we would discover yet another.”
“¿Wasn’t Thomas Paine a heretic? I thought heretics were incapable of the sophisticated intellection required to interpret the sacred texts. ¿Why should I trust his flawed human reason or yours, for that matter?”
I thought this was an amusing question, coming from the mouth of a beetle, so I sat and thought for a while before I finally answered, “Well, you don’t really have to trust me, I think the evidence speaks for itself. Take, for example, the fact that Tea Tephi is remembered as a Princess of the Harp, King David’s instrument. She and her companions carried his tradition, poetic Psalmody, with them to the Iberian Peninsula and ultimately to Ireland, where she and Eochaidh established the Irish monarchy. Some say this very word, Hiberia, is a linguistic relative of the word Hebrew. Even the town Zaragoza is rumored to derive its name from Zerah of the scarlet thread; it lies on the banks of the river Ebro, another linguistic relative. Moreover, the author, Conor McDari, has identified a number of corollaries between the Irish and Hebrew languages. For instance, Jew, Jude, the slang Yid, etcetera, all relate to the Irish Iudh, meaning light. Hebrew similarly relates to Heber, Irish for the sun… but then again, Mr. McDari was a pretty wacky guy and I disagree with most of his conclusions; and I’ve also neglected to mention that Zaragoza was at one time called Ceasaraugusta, which may totally undermine my point.”
“That is not very convincing.”
“It does not matter anyway, whether you believe that the Irish monarchs are descendants of Judah. What matters is that they believed it and that the British royal family may also believe it, given that their ancestor, King James IV of Scotland, James I of England was a descendant of Kenneth MacAlpin, whose father was the last of the kings of Dál Riata, who were all heirs to the Irish throne.”
“And that matters why?”
“It matters because this is a significant element of British nationalism, termed British-Israelism, and it also matters because I myself am heir to the same glorious history, a lineal descendent of Judah and David. But, I remember the truth of our history. I remember when King James the Sixth betrayed his Jewish family, his own flesh and blood, forced us off our lands, made us outlaws, had us whipped and beaten in the streets, sold our sisters and wives into slavery, forced us into hiding to protect our necks from murderers and thieves who could trade our heads for official pardon of their heinous crimes. And I remember when Queen Victoria committed the same fratricidal atrocity against the Harpers or Filidh of Ireland, in her vain attempt to break the spirit of Irish nationalism, by outlawing the Davidic tradition. And I remember when God, in His infinite mercy, redeemed the suffering of my ancestors and gave me absolute authority to reveal these facts of history, when He reached His hands down from Heaven and placed a starry crown atop my head…”
“Woah, woah, woah, wait a minute. You sound insane. Every bug knows that God doesn’t have hands, He has claws, and besides, I thought you said you were not a yankee, but now you’re saying that you are related to the Queen of England. ¿How am I to believe anything you say if you cannot keep your facts straight?”
“Well, that is just the point I was making, it is an arbitrary delineation. For you to call me a yankee, you’d have to believe that I am English, which, by the way, I am not. But, what is an English person, if not the descendent of someone who came from somewhere else? If you draw the lines back far enough, we all came from Africa originally, so really, I am African. Do you get it? National identities are meaningless conceptions, trivial sentiments. Clearly, it is no great thing, to be of the tribe of Judah, if it means that my cousins are the murderous fiends I’ve described. These are just fairy tales we tell ourselves to feel good, illusions of the mind and nothing else.”
“I suppose you do have a point,” Nebuchadnezzar relented, “and I can see why you would have such sympathy for the people of Palestine, since your people were also caged like animals and forced off their lands, made to suffer the vilest torments imaginable just to satisfy the selfish desires of other people.”
“You are correct, sir. It is the same reason why I also have a natural sympathy for the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who have all suffered a similar fate. Consider the plight of the northern tribes, who were herded onto reservations; or the Amazonians in the south who are, even as we speak, being scattered to the winds, all in the name of civilization. Is it such a great advance, to be denied the right to hunt and gather the fruit of the lands where your ancestors lived and died in relative peace and instead forced into abject poverty alongside the billions of others who endure the harsh conditions of overpopulated urban ghettos? They do not become civilized, they become violent barbarians, pirates and fodder for gangs and cartels and radical movements. It is no mystery why poverty and crime are statistically correlated, it is simply desperation. People are desperate to get what they need and many of them are taken advantage of by people who want more than they need. I never truly understood this fact until a University stripped me of all my opportunities and made me one of the desperate people.”
“So then, you understand why I have come here,” said the little beetle, “to put an end to this neoliberal nightmare and set the world free.”
“No, not really.”
“But, ¿don’t you get it? The machines of their conquest depend on the oil that is refined here, so if I destroy all this equipment, it will cripple the global economy and force the high-born captains of industry to realize the profound mistake they have made by undermining the traditional patterns of collective cooperation that have allowed humans to live in near harmony with the earth’s natural cycles for so many millennia!”
“But, you’ve said it yourself: the people now depend on those same machines, so if they are destroyed many innocent families will suffer.”
“I can hardly be concerned about that. Their suffering is an acceptable loss, if it means an end to global financial tyranny.”
“Now you sound like they do, chanting the mantra of endless competition—whatever it takes to get what you want, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Don’t you understand what I have said? Every murder is fratricide, even if a beetle is the killer or the victim, because we are all one family in the great chain of life.”
Nebuchadnezzar winced at this last statement, realizing the veiled threat, realizing that I would have killed him to protect you and your family, would have squashed him like a bug. But, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t enjoy killing insects. I’m just willing to do what is necessary for the greater good.
“How dare you threaten me thusly, you insolent knave!” he screamed at the top of his bug-lungs, drawing his sword again, “I am the great knight-errant of the Lacandona, beloved of the City of Palaces, for whom Apollo shreds the night’s sky with his golden knives. I will not tolerate such disrespect from a neoliberal sympathizer. Prepare to die!”
At once, I grabbed the blade of his sword with my bandaged hand and lifted him up off the platform. As he dangled there, flailing his arms and legs trying to get free, I spoke again.
“Now listen to me, you little worm, I wouldn’t be here, maintaining all this volatile equipment, if I was not already prepared to die. My sympathy is not for the neoliberal ideologues, but for the families who depend on these machines. I won’t let you hurt them.”
With that, I shook the sword, rattled his sabre, until he lost his grip and fell back onto the platform next to a pile of rusty bolts and discarded wire. As he stood up and collected himself, picking up his pipe from where it lay, I noticed that the sun had now come into full view. After a few puffs on his pipe and several failed attempts to snatch his sword back from my hand, he finally gave up and asked me another question.
“¿But how can you stand to be ruled over by these adherents of the chaotic theory of economic chaos, the stupid exultants of social stupidity, and the catastrophic political managers of catastrophe, servants of neoliberalism’s dark goddess, Stupid Improvisation? ¿Why do you not rebel?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, nobody rules over me. That is just a relic of the narrative of tyrants. My submission to the rules of society is purely voluntary, dependent on my conscious and willful acquiescence to the wishes of my fellow citizens, as it has always been for all people, in all places. This is the truth John Locke identified in his theory of the social contract, from which he derived the principle that governments ‘rule’ by popular consent, a consent that may be revoked at any time, by any number of people… It is the same truth preserved in an ancient Chinese text, described as ‘old’ by the philosopher Hsün Tzu in the third century before our common era, which says, ‘The ruler is the boat and the common people are the water. It is the water that bears the boat up, and the water that capsizes it.’ As you say it, ¡mandar obediciendo!”
“So much for Western ethnocentrism,” Durito chuckled, “but you have not yet answered my question! ¿Why do you voluntarily submit to the authority of plebeians who only act like they know what they are doing?”
“If you really must know, the answer is self-preservation. See, despite the fact my obedience is voluntary and that my society pays lip service to intellectual freedom, the moment I step out of line with common opinion, I will be viewed as a reality deviant and my society will lash out against me and try to force me to renounce my eccentric position. Carl Jung alludes to this unfortunate truth when he describes his hesitance to connect his ideas to those of Sigmund Freud—his fear that his ideas would be discredited because of the anti-Freudian sentiments current in the academic community of his time. It is the same cruel truth that led to Socrates’ death by hemlock, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the dismemberment of Hussein bin Mansur al-Hallaj, the burning of Giordano Bruno, the persecutions of Pico della Mirandola and Martin Luther, etcetera, etcetera. I think Peter Weiss says it best, in his great play, ‘Woe to the man who is different, who tries to break down all the barriers. Woe to the man who tries to stretch the imagination of Man. He shall be mocked. He shall be scourged…’”
“¿Is that mere fact not reason enough to renounce the society altogether and leave them to be ravaged by the wrath of bugs like me, who will not submit? ¿Why would you prevent me from delivering the punishment Mankind deserves? ¿Why have you stripped me of my sword?”
“Are you familiar with the ideas of Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the American Black Panther Party? He distinguishes between two kinds of suicides; he calls them Reactionary Suicides and Revolutionary Suicides. On the one hand, the Reactionary is so overwhelmed by the oppressor-oppressed dichotomy that his outburst leads him to trade places with his oppressor, to become the oppressor of himself, leading to suicide. Unfortunately, although this may satisfy the Reactionary’s longing for escape, it only perpetuates the cycle of violence. On the other hand, the true Revolutionary is one who recognizes this cycle of violence for what it is and, in the words of Douglas Hofstadter, ‘exits the system.’ He realizes that the answer to his dilemma cannot be found by merely repeating the age-old pattern of antagonisms that color human history, but that by his efforts he can lay the foundation for a better future that he may not live to see…”
“Answer my questions you twit.”
“Well, the problem here between us is that your reaction, your violent assault against the machinery of industrial civilization, will not make life better for my people and will only make it more difficult for us to harmonize our relationship with nature. It is a Catch-22 of amazing proportions, but you must understand that a catastrophic disruption of our productive capacity would only lead to a more barbaric state of affairs, making it nigh unto impossible for us to develop a sustainable civilization. It is the same problem of thinking that we can wait to squeeze out the last drops of fossil fuel before we begin building the next generation of energy infrastructure—by that point the costs will be astronomical and people will be much more desperate than they already are to attain their basic necessities. In short, the brightest future human-kind can hope for depends on a harmonious transition from our parasitic non-renewable resource based economy to one that is more self-sustaining, and for now that depends on our access to fossil fuels and so it depends on this refinery.”
“That doesn’t seem likely to happen,” he pointed out, “The parasitic industrialists are fighting tooth-and-nail to protect their vested interests from unwanted competition. ¿How can a common laborer like you hope to overcome the power that only money can buy?”
“I really wish you would stop insulting me, sir. I am not a ‘common laborer’ as you keep saying. I am a noble man, with a noble heritage and a noble destiny. The blood of kings flows through my veins and the dignity of men is in no way defined by our pay-grades, so it is quite absurd for you to belittle me in such a way. I am a self-sovereign entity, as I have indicated, as all men and women have the inherent potential to become and, until you recognize this fact, we will never move forward. You too could be as a king, my little knight-errant, if only you would take hold of your destiny and stop allowing other people to define who you are.”
“Sup…” he paused to think, “Supposing that what you say is not pure rubbish, ¿how can you translate such idealistic sentiments into effective action, into real power?”
“I wonder, do you understand that there are many types of power?”
“Don’t be daft, boy, I’ve been studying the paradoxes of power since before you were crawling around in muddy diapers, tormenting your parents and teachers. ¿Won’t you tell me something I don’t already know?”
“Hey dude, simmer down, it was just a simple question. Anyway, your choice of words was quite apt since, to answer your question, I planned to bring up Joseph Nye Jr.’s book, The Paradox of American Power, where he draws a fine distinction between two general categories of power—hard and soft. His argument there is that the world’s sole remaining super-power cannot rely on hard, military power to solve the global problems of the 21st century, but instead must make use of the soft, persuasive kind of power. I think his arguments are even more compelling, in the wake of the economic implosion in 2008, after our formerly dominant position has eroded by a waning confidence in the United States’ weak inability to lead the world in any coherent way. The most accurate description of our political culture today is ‘maddeningly schizophrenic’ and many are wise enough not to follow a herd of idiot lemmings as they march over the edge of a cliff.”
“I would not be too assured of that view. Money convinces a lot of people to make stupid decisions.”
“You are correct, sir—money is the root of all evil. Nevertheless, I can use their philosophies of power against them. I can blend elements of both hard and soft power to build a comprehensive strategy that will combine both material and spiritual, tools and media to carry my message to the mass and affect real change.”
“So you say, but without a war-chest full of gold, assets and allies to match ¿how will you ever hope to overcome the might of your oppressors? Tell me, ¿what assets do you possess, to give you such optimism?”
“The primal fire burning in my heart is the only gold that I need in my war-chest!” I howled like an ape, thumping my solar-plexus with both bloody fists—twice for the double entendres… understandings.
“Touché,” he nodded.
“Still, I concede that assets and allies will be crucial to my victory. It is why I am talking to you still, little brother, why I haven’t tried to eat you again… I am still so hungry, but I realized early in our conversation that you might actually be able to assist me in this respect.”
“Well you see, I’ve been working for a long time to build a device—a weapon I can use in my struggle against the forces of darkness—to part the seas of ignorance that isolate me from the distant shore I long for, this tiny time-bomb I hold, no larger than a hibiscus seed.” I held it out in the light of the rising sun, between my thumb and forefinger, where he could examine it closely—which he did with great enthusiasm.
After several hmm hmms and scratchings of his head, analyzing my asset from every possible angle and displaying a perplexed bewilderment, he finally gave up and asked me, “¿What the hell is it? ¿What does it do?”
“I call it my iron rod. It is the hardpower that I will use to smite the nations of men and force them to submit to my will. Unfortunately, my fingers are such clumsy, monstrous nubs of flesh and bone that I lack the fine motor skills required to put the final touches on its fragile mechanisms… however, it stands to reason that you, with your tiny little claws and brilliant, sophisticated mind, might possess the perfect combination of talents and abilities to be able to help me in this endeavor.”
“I see… You truly are insane. ¿Why would I ever choose to help you, after you have stolen my sword and vowed to prevent me from completing my mission here?”
“Yes, I had the same thought. But, you know, I imagined a mutually beneficial partnership between us, a co-operative, multi-lateral response to my challenge. I’d hoped that, if you would help me to finish building my device, I would help you to accomplish the true objective of your mission, which I know is not to destroy these machines, but to create a democratic space to allow for a more civilized debate of the issues we share.”
“Hmm… indeed, my squire has often voiced such lofty aspirations, but I always tell him his head is in the clouds—that men are beasts at heart and will never change their ways unless they are compelled by force.”
“But, there are many different types of force, as we have said.”
“Then tell me human, in the extremely unlikely event that I do choose to help you, ¿what will you do with this power?”
“I will to give humanity a reason to dream again… to teach them that their cruelty is offensive to God. I will to re-awaken the hope and optimism we once had, when we were still as children playing in the sandbox of life… before the harsh years calloused our minds and made us to hate and fear one another. This is what Jesus said, we must become as children again, happy and free—only then can we build the kingdom of heaven here upon the earth. I want to build a heavenly kingdom, or a heavenly republic, or something, anything, and I will not sleep until it is done.”
“¿So you would conquer the world?”
“Uh… not in so many words, no,” I admitted.
“¿Then what do you plan to do? You really must convince me or I will never buy into your schemes.”
“Well, I plan to start right where Kofi Anon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, told me I should start, when he spoke to me. I will remind my people of the simplicity of pre-industrial agricultural life, of sowing our seeds and reaping our rewards in harmony with nature’s cycles, when periods of hurried activity, planting and harvesting, were balanced by periods of leisure time… even the so-called savage, pre-agricultural society was much happier in this respect, requiring as little as fifteen hours per week, or two hours and nine minutes per day, to do all the work required to sustain themselves. Nowadays, people barely scrape by working forty to ninety or more hours every week, without even accounting for the extra time required to manage their homes and raise their children. What is worse, we have traded a healthy nature-based diet of organic fruits, nuts, vegetables and wild game, for quick and easy pre-packaged, machine-made food-stuff that is unnaturally high in sodium and cholesterol and so only compounds the cardio-vascular diseases associated with our harried, workaholic way of life… honestly, how far have we advanced?”
“You don’t want me to answer that question.”
“Yes I do… Yes. I. Do! That is why I will use the power of my device to make every meal a sacrament, to say that God in is every loaf of Bread and every Fish—because when God spoke, the Word was Food or, in His holy language, Aum, the sound we make with every mouthful, and it echoes through all time...”
“You are nuts child, I’m not listening to you.”
“He is Nuts too! Every nut, every Bean, every leaf of Lettuce and Kale and Spinach you eat! He is Life, do you not understand?”
“I eat humus, human, and I never tasted any God in there.”
“That is because you do not taste the true Humus, but only machine manufactured byproduct.”
“I think you are the one who does not understand… you are the machine whose byproduct I eat.”
“All I am saying is, He is in you too and in everything you see, in every monster you fear and in me.”
“You are so full of it.”
“Listen to me. These words derive from Wisdom—the other word of God. Have you heard it?”
“That is not what I was talking about…”
“But it is what I am talking about, little brother, so listen up! I plan to use the power of my device to re-establish Wisdom to its rightful place in politics, as the most pragmatic policy guide available to my species, because they have forgotten.”
“They haven’t forgotten shit. They choose not to listen, just the same as you are not listening to me.”
“I don’t need to listen to your idle poop jokes when I am trying to talk about something serious, sir.”
“I wasn’t joking.” Durito said sternly, exhaling a thick cloud of pipe smoke that blended easily with the billowing smog emitted from equipment in the unit upwind of where I was working.
“Neither am I!” I coughed, choking on the chemical vapors, “Do you not have eyes to see this poison in the air? It is serious stuff… a serious problem that must be solved.”
“¿And I’m sure you are just the great leader God has ordained to solve this problem for human-kind?”
“Oh, get real Nebuchadnezzar… You know that is not how wisdom works. Wisdom cultivates the strengths of the community, teaches people how to work together in harmony and suppresses their selfish tendencies. Wisdom recognizes individual limitations, chooses the right person for the right job and prioritizes tasks on the basis of their real importance to the collective wellbeing. I realize that I am too retarded to solve the problems of pollution, resource depletion, mass starvation and social upheaval by myself, although I realize they are real issues, having their basis in physical reality, unlike illusory issues, such as problems in financial markets, which exist only in human imaginations. Do you see the distinction here, or do I need to draw you a map?”