Sunday, January 20, 2008
About 40 years later Vernor Vinge took that idea and wrote "A Fire Upon the Deep," in which the galaxy is divided into different zones. In some, there is no intelligence. In others, the races are more like gods. There are other zones between the two, and the better the zone, the better everything works. The higher up you go, the smarter you are, the smarter machines are, and there is even faster-than-light travel (after all, Einstein did say E=MC2 might be a "local phenomenon").
I know what's going on inside the heads of Anderson and Vinge. We are such limited creatures, our minds so slow, our nature so imperfect.
When I was 12 years old I sneaked in my file at school and found there was a special notation that my IQ was 126. I didn't feel smart, and I still don't. I am smart enough, however, to know how dumb I really am. I can imagine a world like that of Anderson's and Vinge.
An IQ of 126. Why not 400? Then I would feel smart. As it is, I know just how slow I think, how hard it is to learn and figure things out. I, like everyone else, am Trapped in the Slowness -- and Slowness is what one of Vinge's Zones is called. It's the one the Earth was originally in.
Ha ha ha, right?
I should be horrified at the stupidity -- I mean Slowness -- of the human race, but I've been dealing with it as long as I can remember. The blindness, the ignorance, the stupidity, the narcissism, the dysfunction, the hypnotized herd mentality and the the following of clearly-idiotic leaders, the wars, the destruction, the flimsy rationalizations for all of it -- it's been going on for as long as humanity has been around. It's simply astonishing.
Some, looking at all these flaws, have suggested than someday -- and soon, they hope -- we can take charge of our own evolution and breed ourselves into something that has intelligence and character. Perhaps, who knows? I understand the sentiment, that I guarantee you.
Others have claimed we're still evolving. "Look at the Swedes! They've gone from Vikings to being some of the most peaceful people in the world!" Perhaps this is true, I don't know.
Others want Jesus to come back and put an end to the problem. I even understand their viewpoint, even though such people are part of the problem. Although they'll never understand that.
I consider myself a conservative libertarian. I understand the corruption of human nature, and understand the best way to control it is through sociey, not massive government, which only exacerbates things.
Yet for all that belief in human Slowness, and the part of me that can easily envision a Blade Runner/ Frankenstein future, at the same time that optimistic, 12-year-old science-fiction aspect of me, can see a world in which our flaws are eradicated, or mostly so. I don't think we'd be really that much human, anymore.
But then, another part of me says, so what? Humanity ain't so great, anyway.
Leftists believe we can be gods, but still be human. If we can ever give up our flaws, we ain't gonna be human anymore, and that's not leftism.
The near future is going to be interesting. But then, it always is. I don't give us much longer until something really serious happens. Maybe 2012, at the latest. There's too many economic and political problems, too much Chaos.
Let's put it this way: science fiction writers used to predict millions of years into the future. Like H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. Now they won't even predict twenty. They suspect something is up, and so do I.
I'd sure like to see the human race turn into something decent. Maybe move out of the Slowness into the Transcend. Now that would be one of the most fun things I can imagine, even better than being in an Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom" novel, probably even better than being a Wizard of Speed and Time!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
There are a lot of thing I don't know, but one thing I do know are houses. My father was a general contractor all his life, his father was a carpenter, all my relatives are contractors, and I built many a house starting when I was 12, and ending in my 20s when I finished college.
I know houses, and because I know them, I know there is a boom right now, one that will be followed by a bust. I wouldn't be surprised if houses in some areas dropped by 90% in value. I just don't know when.
Thirty-five years ago, when I was a kid, a nice middle-class house cost $25,000. Now they can cost up to $250,000, depending, of course, where you live (the three most important things for selling a house are "location, location, and location").
People have tried to tell me this increase in price is due to supply-and- demand. No, it's not. Under the free market, as demand goes up, so does the supply. As supply goes up, the price drops. Under a truly free market, you'd have stable prices that would last a century. If prices did anything, they'd drop slightly over several decades.
Those brand-new $25,000 houses of 35 years ago should still cost $25,000 today, not $250,000. What caused this increase?
Overwhelmingly, it's inflation-the Federal Reserve pumping billions of paper dollars into the economy. That extra money in people's hands has bid up the prices of houses. That causes a bubble. Bubbles, of course, are always followed by busts.
The same thing happened during the dot com boom-bust during the 90's. All that extra money pumped into the economy went into the dot coms. Then, bam, the bust. The same thing is happening right in the housing market in some areas. All the money Greenspan is pumping into the economy is going into those markets. Sooner or later, they will blow.
All the money flowing into the housing market has turned housing into a gamble. People are buying houses and hoping the value continues to go up, so they can sell and make a huge profit. This works just fine except for the last people to buy the house, when the bubble bursts and they're left with a house that is worth $200,000 less than what they paid for it.
Houses are what are called "durable consumer goods." Strictly speaking, they are not investments. You generally aren't supposed to make a profit off of them, no more than you would make a profit of off an old car, unless it became the kind people wanted and bid the price up. The main reason houses become profitable investments is when inflated money pours into the market. And then it's not so much "investing" as it is gambling. And gambling's a heck of a lousy thing to base an economy on. It's certainly never the basis for a solid, long-lasting economy that provides good, high-paying jobs for people.
This gambling is made worse by the Fed's dropping the interest rates to the lowest I've ever seen. People are quite rightly refinancing their houses, but if they're taking the extra money and getting deeper into debt they have no idea what they are doing. When the economy goes bad, it will all backfire on them. Pushing down the interest rates that low is a desperate attempt by the Fed to keep the economy going just a little big longer.
Imagine if many people bought brand-new cars and kept hoping the price went up so they could sell them used and make a huge profit. You'd think they were nuts. The same should apply to houses, except houses last a lot longer than cars (that's why they are durable consumer goods). Whereas cars depreciate rapidly in a few years, houses should depreciate very, very slowly over several decades.
Two of my friends who live in the San Franciso area-where there is a huge bubble-just sold their houses. Each probably made $100,000. I know that sounds great. It is, for them. But if you look at the long-run, it's doesn't look great at all. The housing market will blow, as will the economy in that area.
Some people will lose their jobs, lose their houses, and declare bankruptcy. That is the long-term effect of inflation. My two friends made $100,000 each, but down the line lot more than two people will lose just about everything. And most of them won't have a clue what happened.
What would I do if I owned a home in an area where the prices kept skyrocketing every year? I'll sell and get the heck out. I'd go someplace where prices are a lot more stable.
An inflationary boom-bust cycle is something you can bet on. It's such a sure thing it's not even gambling.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I am also reminded of Bizarro World, where the cars have square wheels. Things there do go, but they don´t go very well. They don´t go very far, either, before they break down. There´s a lesson in that.
There´s truth to the theory about Mommy. I don´t think it goes far enough, though. Mommy is now insane. These days we´re supposed to not think bad thoughts. Orwell called this "thought crime." God forbid one of those thoughts slips out. You could end up in the pillory.
Now, we´ve got kids expelled from school for bringing nail clippers or aspirin. Little boys can´t draw pictures of tanks or airplanes. Point a finger and say "bang" and you might be arrested. A five-year-old boy giving a five-year-old girl a kiss on the cheek will end up in therapy for sexual harassment.
The loons at the airports confiscate cigarette lighters and Medal of Honors (got points on it, you know). I am comforted by the fact terrorists won´t hijack the plane by lighting up a Bic and threatening to hurl a Medal of Honor like a shuriken.
I´ve got a theory about all of this. The State is a Monster. I´d be as happy as a turtle in a mudhole if the government would just protect life, liberty and property. It just won´t do that, though. Instead it just wants to keep growing and growing like the Blob. If the government would do its job you´d hardly even notice it was there.
When the government goes beyond those minimal functions then it turns into the State. All that hectoring and irritating it does – for our own good, of course – is bad enough. But somewhere along the line, it just goes plain nuts. It gets too big and then it gets wacky. It goes from government to the State to a Monster. It never seems to end. And just how big can it get before collapsing? If it does, that means taking us with it.
Monsters always attack the same thing. They attack people, and by extension, society. As the State grows and turns into a Monster, it´s always people who get hurt. They´re lucky if they just start acting like children. If they´re less lucky they start to go nuts. It´s something that Czeslaw Milosz noticed in his book, The Captive Mind: totalitarianism drives people crazy.
Some go crazy, some lie, others withdraw into themselves. What they really are they keep hidden, on the inside. They show a false face to everyone. They never know whom they can trust. It´s always what happens when people are twisted by the politically-correct lies in their culture, when they live in a world dominated by the force of the State, even if it masquerades as morality.
Freedom to slavery to going bonkers. How did all of this creep up on us? I think lots of people wanted it, without the foggiest idea of where it invariably leads. They started wanting security, to be taken care of by the Mommy State, to be protected from life, to have the world made of Nerf. It´s a delusion. They´ll find that out, in the long run.
It didn´t use to be like this, just a short while ago. I used to sit in the back of my father´s pick-up truck, and engage in dirt-clod fights with neighborhood kids. I haven´t seen either of them for years, and if I did, I bet the cops would stick their noses in it. I´m sure we wouldn´t be allowed to be 16 years old and shooting our .22 rifles down by the railroad track, either. Got to put a stop to us growing up to be mass murderers, I guess.
People can have freedom and the risk that goes with it. Myself, I find the risk fun. Perhaps others don´t.
Otherwise, people can have political force. There´s no security with that force, though. Just a Monster and slavery. And ultimately what ends up warped is people´s characters. Monsters will do that to you. I´ll take the freedom and whatever comes with it, good and bad.
We´re not going to have many jackboots in America. We´re going to have Mommy, meddling, suffocating, irritating, enraging, always petty, always there, everywhere.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I first noticed this problem of mine when I was six years old, when the class was taught to read. Even at six I thought the methods used were stupid and boring. This is how we were taught:
SEE DICK. RUN DICK RUN. SEE JANE RUN. SEE SPOT RUN! AND SEE PONY RUN TOO!
What was going on inside my head was a lot different.
MIGHTY MOUSE: "Here I come to save the dayyy..."
YOSEMITE SAM: "You crazy idgit galoot!"
HULK: "HULK SMASH PUNY HUMANS!!"
SGT ROCK: "Take that, you lousy Nazis!" RAT-A-TAT-TAT!
By the time I was in fourth grade the teachers were sending home comments on my report card, saying I wasn't paying attention in class or doing my homework. The most embarrassing thing that ever happened was when the teacher caught me writing "BOMB" on dozens of pieces of paper (thank you, Man from U.N.C.L.E.), which I was going to slip into the desks of my friends. My BOMBS were stapled to a note, which my parents had to sign.
When I was in jr. high the teachers tried to make us read Shakespeare. Years later I found out Shakespeare was never meant to be read. His plays were meant to be performed. Most of it didn't make any sense to me at 12, anyway.
EL FABULOSIO: Odds bodkins, thou art a knave, forsooth!
Here was what was going through my head, instead:
Girl: You are soooo cute!
Me: Yes, I know!
Girl: Kiss me!
Me: Take a number and stand in line!
The only one of Shakespeare's play I read and understood was The Tempest. I identified with both Prospero and Caliban. I guess I considered myself half Mad Scientist, half monster.
Later, when I saw the movie, Forbidden Planet, I identified with Dr. Morbius and the Krell. It turned out the movie was based on The Tempest, with Morbius playing Prospero and the Krell as Caliban. I thought, Uh oh. No wonder all my teachers thought I was strange. The fact my head was shaped like a light-bulb, with that megacortex forehead, didn't help, either.
When I got into high school I was lost:
"If Train A leaves the station at 1 pm, and is traveling east at 50 mph, and encounters Train B, which left a station 500 miles away at 6 am, and is traveling west at 40 mph, where would you bury the survivors when the trains collide?"
Me: "Does anybody have any rolling papers?"
The relief I felt when I graduated high school was palpable. Technically, I wasn't supposed to graduate since a C (3.000) average was required. My GPA was – I kid you not – 2.999. One-thousandth of a point below a C. But since my SATs were so high, and I had already been admitted to college, they let me go. They were probably as glad to get rid of me as I was to get rid of them.
One day in college it occurred to me the problem was government schools. I didn't even blame the teachers, who were as stuck in the system as I was.
No competition! A bureaucracy in which the worst made their way to the top! A system which blamed the students instead of the system! Those were the problems! Ha ha ha! I was free! It wasn't me that wacky; it was the entire system that had sucked me in at five and spit me out at 17!
Sooner or later the government schools will go. All socialized systems collapse. I have no doubt about that. It just depends on how much fight they put up. Or, as I often daydream:
HENERY HAWK: Are you going to come all polite-like, or do I hafta muss you up?
I suspect the mussing-up is what's going to happen. I've yet to hear of any socialized system that went away all polite-like.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
But thou read'st black where I read white
-- William Blake, "The Everlasting Gospel"
There are, as Richard Maybury has pointed out in such books as Whatever Happened to Justice? two simple laws that are the ethical bedrock for all societies: "Don't encroach on people and their property" and "Do all you have agreed to do."
All three are in the Ten Commandments as "Do not murder," "Do not steal" and "Don't tell lies against your neighbor." Any society that does not follow those two laws – which even the most enstupidated can memorize – won't survive.
It would be naive to expect all States to follow those two laws. They never have. In the 20th century, States ignoring those laws led to the murders to what historians estimate are 177 million people. I've seen estimates of up to 200 million dead.
The fact that violation of these two laws always leads to catastrophe means they are Natural Law. They are inherent in our nature, and they cannot be changed. They cannot be violated. As such, no one can violate them for any reason. To me, it's as simple as 2 + 2 = 4.
These laws cannot be violated even if well-known preachers say they can, or twist passages in the Bible, or take them out of context.
A good example? Jerry Falwell recently wrote an article defending the war in Iraq. Here is one thing he wrote: "President Bush declared war in Iraq to defend innocent people. This is a worthy pursuit. In fact, Proverbs 21:15 tells us: 'It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.'"
First off, no war was declared. The United States hasn't declared war since World War II. Korea and Vietnam and every other "war" we have been in were not declared. They were "Presidential actions" that would better fit one of the later, more degraded Roman emperors.
Defend innocent people? Those are some weasel words. If the United States government is interested in defending innocent people, then why did it attack Iraq for ten years and contribute to the deaths of who knows how many innocent men, women, children and infants? How can you defend innocent people by murdering them? The US used that tactic in Vietnam when it killed one million to three million Vietnamese (who knows how many, really?) and 58,000 American soldiers, to "save" the Vietnamese from Communism.
Why no attacks on Zimbabwe and the mass murderer Robert Mugabe? The whole place could be taken with a platoon. Why no comments from Falwell about that? Or what about Burma, a truly gruesome place never mentioned in the news? I doubt Falwell even knows where Burma's located.
A worthy pursuit? Mass murder is a worthy pursuit? As for his quoting Proverbs – "It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity" – he is using this quote to support the State's wars, mass murder, mass theft, and mass lying.
When Falwell speaks about "destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity," he should pay attention to what "iniquity" means: "lack of righteousness or justice; wickedness, sin." In other words, workers of iniquity are those who murder, steal and lie against others. It is to them that destruction shall come, whether it is a person or a government. That law applies not only to other countries, but also to us.
Falwell later wrote this: "One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives. If we do not stop the spread of evil, many innocent lives will be lost and the kingdom of God suffers."
All I can say: wow. What's he's actually saying, in his hubris, is, "One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even if we have to murder people." He believes one of the purposes of the church is to stop evil by doing evil?
The Kingdom of God suffers? There is no Kingdom of God on earth. That's right in the Gospels. Here's a quote for Falwell to meditate upon: "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...my kingdom [is] not from hence."
Since the world and people are inherently fallen and imperfect, there can be no "Kingdom of God" in this world. Falwell wrote as much in his article, but apparently doesn't understand the implications of what he is saying: "Today, America continues to face the horrible realities of our fallen world. Suicide bombings and terrorist actions are beamed live into our homes daily. This serves as a constant reminder of the frailty of our flesh."
You can't have a fallen world and the Kingdom of God in that fallen world simultaneously. You cannot have an imperfect world and a perfect world at the same time.
Ominously, Falwell apparently believes the United States is the defender of what he considers to be the Kingdom of God. I wonder if he has ever heard of the Commandment about not using God's name for vain purposes?
I have this fantasy that someday Jesus does come back. Then people like Falwell, convinced of their righteousness and salvation, suddenly find a finger pointed at them and this directed at them: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock."
I'd say that people like Falwell can't tell the difference between a foundation of sand and one of rock.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
When I was half the size I am now, one-fifth the age, and twice as wise, one of my favorite cartoons was Tooter Turtle. Since I enjoy hearing rain on a roof, I've always been envious of turtles. In Tooter's case, I'd pass on being his uniform bilious green (although I do have a sailor cap. I don't wear it in public, but only when I write articles). Tooter, fortunately, unlike most turtles, wasn't handicapped with the dopey Robert Mitchum eyes. This made him look intelligent. Sadly, he wasn't.
Tooter was a curious, good-natured, not-very-bright, not-very-knowledgeable turtle who always wanted to be "what he is not." He was too innocent, and too stubborn, to know his limits. He always wanted to be President, or Secretary of Defense, or editor of the Weekly Standard, positions easily within normal terrapin intelligence. Unfortunately, Tooter was dumb even for a turtle.
In the cartoons, Tooter time-traveled to the future or past, or zipped over to a parallel universe, where he invariably ended up being chased by some guy with a can opener or somebody else who wanted to make soup. Then he would yell, "Helllp! Mr. Wizard! HELLLLP!" and Mr. Wizard, who was a friendly-looking talking lizard with a magic wand and one of those Merlin-type pointed caps with stars and moons on it, would intone, "Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome, time for this one to come home." Then Tooter would spin in circles against one of those Twilight Zone spiral backgrounds and be spirited to safety.
I almost always find great wisdom in good cartoons. Bad cartoons, like Dan Rather or Ted Koppel's hair, I find not only worthless but also wacko. Ezra Pound, a good poet who was wacko but occasionally wise, once said, "The artist is the antenna of the race." It's a good comment, and there is great wisdom in it. I suspect good artists somehow are more in tune with our unconscious archetypes than most people, and because of this have access to a wisdom that sometimes they don't even understand. And cartoons, in my opinion, can be the finest art. At their best they both entertain and educate.
Tooter, for example, is the archetype of the Dumb Kid. Most children have every one of Tooter's traits. Even though today we are involved in the Cult of the Child, almost considering them little gods whom it takes a village idiot like Hillary Clinton to raise, let's face facts. They're stupid. Not only stupid, but innocent, ignorant and stubborn. They can't even tie their shoes. They fall over all the time, sometimes for no discernable reason. Don't keep an eye on them, and they'll jump off the roof using a blanket as a parachute. I should know; I tried it. They'll follow a ball into the street right in front of a car – and other dumb kids will follow them. They see monsters everywhere, are annoyingly loud, and pick unnecessary fights.
Mr. Wizard is the archetype of the Good Dad. He's intelligent, wise and knowledgeable. He lets Tooter do what he wants, but he always keeps an eye on him and can get him safely away. He doesn't smother him. He lets Tooter get experience in life. He's thoughtful and firm, but not overbearing. He has a sense of humor, and doesn't take himself too seriously. And he's got a gun and knows how to use it, even if it is disguised as a magic wand.
Two other "good dads" on TV are Ward Cleaver of Leave It To Beaver and Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffth Show. Two well-known "dumb kids" on TV are Gilligan and Barney Fife. Gilligan is Tooter with clumsiness added. Barney is Tooter corrupted with just a pinch of political power.
One of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in Gilligan's Island was when the castaways lit some logs so they spelled SOS to a passing satellite. Gilligan stumbed over them so they formed "SOL." Clumsy of Gilligan, but not of the show's creators..
One scene that sticks in my mind about the Andy Griffith Show is when Barney, shaking with fear, asks Andy if he can "put my bullet in my pistol now" when they are about to confront some criminals.
Andy, who understood very well that Barney was a child, didn't allow him to carry a loaded pistol. And he was only allowed one bullet, which he could put in the pistol when Andy said it was okay to do so.
How do these cartoon archetypes relate to real life? Unfortunately, our President fits the Barney Fife archetype. Dubya is good-natured, not very bright or knowledgeable, and certainly doesn't know his limits. If he did, he wouldn't be attempting to start World War III, and trying with way more than one bullet. Like a dumb kid, he's ignorant, innocent and stubborn. He's admitted he didn't know who Leonardo deCaprio is, and was oblivious to the fact there are blacks in Brazil. He even has trouble talking (he called Greeks "Grecians"), although such verbal pretzelness is really part of the Tooter archetype.
Before 9/11, Dubya fit the Tooter archetype. After 9/11, when he started swelling, Blob-like, with political power, he morphed into the Barney. Barney was blustery and arrogant on the outside, but putty on the inside. He was always yelling, "You've got to nip it in the bud!" but because of his rubber-band-powered balsa-wood-plane brain-power always looked to Andy for guidance.
This is what Dubya is doing. His stubborn but ignorant devotion to attacking Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia is based on his belief that his warren terrism will "nip it in the bud." Unfortunately for the whole world, Dubya is not being advised by a "good dad" like Mr. Wizard, Andy or Ward. He's being advised by "evil dads" like Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Kristol.
The Evil Dad is cowardly, power-mad and wants to control everything, including, if he can, the world. He lies and is manipulative, back-stabbing and untrustworthy. He is concerned only about himself and his interests. He is a chicken-hawk armchair general who would use force to make others to fight for him. He is abusive and arrogant (remember how Rumsfelt treated the press?) He thinks he is always right and everyone else is stupid.
The Evil Dad is also represented by the archetype of Satan, a monster who saw others not as people but things, and was unconcerned with the mass destuction of the innocent. In cartoons, Simon bar Sinister of The Underdog Show and The Brain of Pinky and the Brain are the archetypes of the Evil Dad. That such villains are most always shown as weisenheimer mutant dwarfs is because they are symbols of the villains' lack of morality (or, to use philodoxer William Bennett's words, "moral clarity").
The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck has an interesting defintion of evil: "I define evil, then, as the exercise of political power – that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion – in order to avoid extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth." When Jesus was tempted by the Devil, what he was offered was political power. He turned it down. Today, politically, all the neocons fit the archetype of the Evil Dad And of Satan. Dubya is the dumb kid, the Tooter-cum-Barney Fife, who looks to them for guidance. Such is what our own childish ignorance and innocence has given to us, and what war and empire will ultimately take away, in blood and treasure. The pagan and murderous Roman Empire is not dead, but lives on in the American version of it. Most citizens, whiling away the time with bread and circuses, are unaware of this. For now.
At first, I gave Dubya the benefit of the doubt. I still believe him to be smarter than the Gore-bot, whose skull is little more than a hollow gourd with a few brain cells rattling around inside. But Dubya is not a Hamlet, who only pretended to be retarded but in reality was fooling everyone. I now believe Dubya just ain't that bright. He is, unfortunately, Tooterish in brain. He reminds me a bit of The Clean Old Man in A Hard Day's Night, who sneered, "Books? What can you learn from books?"
It would be a better world if Dubya paid attention to Mr. Wizard's most famous saying: "Be what you is, and not what you is not. Folks who do that are the happiest lot!"
What do these cartoon archetypes tell us about the results of Dubya's and the neocons' misguided plans? The same as it always has been for Gilligan, Tooter and Barney. Catastrophe. Only this time, there is no Good Dad to save them. Or us.
Or is there?
Ward, Andy and Mr. Wizard are what American men – and fathers – should be. They are not disgraces to manhood, as the neocons are (anyone who avoids military service, but now expects others to fight while they won't, is a coward). I consider all three of them to illustrate the original American character, the one produced by the classical liberalism this country was founded upon. Today, classical liberalism goes by the name of libertarianism.
The world of Leave It To Beaver would not be such a bad place to live, even with Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford, who are really more annoyances than anything else. None could even come close to the revoltitude of, say, a fat drunken socialist slob like Teddy Kennedy, who left a woman in a car at the bottom of a lake while he ran to save his political career (and who then put on a neckbrace, pretending he had been injured). The government is barely visible in Beaver World. There's an occasional friendly fireman sitting in a chair in front of the firehouse, smoking a pipe, and the cops are peace officers – not "police" officers – who act as they should, which means helping the public and not trying to pay their salaries by sticking their noses into what is none of their business. Like whether or not people wear seatbelts.
Mayberry is also a place where there is minimal government and maximum culture. There is an inverse relationship between the two. The bigger the State, the less civilization.
Ever notice that cartoon villains always want political power, even though it means destroying everything? Hillary, for an example, wants to be President even if she has to demolish the country to do it. (Whenever I see a picture of Hillary, what my mind conjures up is an image of Gollum of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Both have the same cold, dead, hate-filled eyes of the psychopath.)
The culture of Mayberry is one that supports a town full of lovable eccentrics, with the kind of sheriff that all decent people wish existed in their city. Personally I'd rather put up with Barney Fife than Rudy Guiliani. Mayberry's idyllic life can't be created by the State, but it can be destroyed by it. As The Simpson's Chief Wiggins so accurately observed, "I didn't say the government couldn't hurt you. I said it couldn't help you."
Tooter's World is the best of all. There is no "government" but there is law. Natural Law, which is the only real law that exists. Law that is discovered, not "created." If anyone thinks laws can be created, jump off a roof and on the way down tell the ground there's a law in a book that it can't hit you. Just as physical laws are discovered, so are economic and social laws. If they're not Natural Laws, then they're just words in a book.
Tooter keeps violating Natural Law, keeps paying for his transgressions, but is fortunate enough to have Mr. Wizard save his shell. If only such fantasies existed in reality.
What will save this country is its returning to the original philosophy that it was founded upon – classical liberalism, or its more mature form of conservative libertarianism. Under it, we'll have more Andy Taylors and Ward Cleavers. Under the semi-socialism/fascism we now have, what we get are – ugh, yuck, I have to write this quickly before I throw up – the Clintons, Teddy Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, Richard Gephardt, William Bennett, Madeleine Albright and Janet Reno.
Of the three worlds I described, I would prefer to live in Tooter's. Actually, I'd like to be Mr. Wizard. Unlike Plato, I don't believe in philosopher-kings. I believe in philosopher-wizards, like Harry Potter's Professor Dumbledore. If anyone in the "government" tried to violate anyone's rights, I would zotz them with my wand. ("Income tax?" BLAM.)
It would be fun. To paraphrase the Charlie Daniels' song, I'd have them running like their feet were on fire and their...um, derrieres were catchin'. Okay, I'm lying. If I had my way, both would be on fire.
Or maybe I'll sit in a lawn chair, drink a Pina' Colada and have my Pug chase the guilty around. Hey, in Tooter World a Pug may not be exactly what it is in this world, right?
I suspect Mr. Wizard would be smiling. I certainly am.
Monday, January 7, 2008
"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the ease with which the many are governed by the few."I don't watch much TV anymore. I think it was a combination of West Wing and Ally McBeal that did me in. What little I do watch tends to be cartoons.
There's a lot of wisdom hidden in cartoons. One archetype that exists in them is what I call the "would-be world conqueror." This is someone like the Brain, from, Pinky and the Brain.
This archetype wouldn't exist unless there was truth to it. The Brain illustrates one of the main sources of evil in the world -- power-mad humans who want who want political power so they can rule. In religion, this lust for power and the and desire to rule is illustrated by the story of Satan.
This combination of love of power and the desire for political power is particularly nasty. These power-mad people are always narcissistic, i.e., they are grandiose people who reduce others to the status of things.
Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, writes this: "the narcissist's grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are exacerbated by real life authority." But those grandiose self-delusions co-exist with a fragile sense of self-worth, often masking deep insecurities. About this Dr. Vaknin writes, "the narcissist's personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement."
The above is why someone like the Brain wants to conquer the world -- and why he can't tolerate criticism.
In real life, there have only been a handful of Brains -- Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot. Yet the havoc they have wreaked has been catastrophic. How could such a small amount of people be responsible for such horrors?
Because, as the wisdom of cartoons teaches us, there is another archetype. This one is the "amiable but stupid" helper. This would be Pinky.
In real life Pinky would be Mass Man -- the huge mass of people who go along with what the rulers say, even though they stumble to their deaths. The power-mad warped Brains want to conquer, and the stupid but lovable Pinkys are all too willing them follow them. "We have met the enemy," said Pogo years ago, "and they is us."
Aesop, for one, saw through the folly of the human race thousands of years ago, when he wrote about wolves and sheep in his fables.
Why is Pinky so stupid? One reason might be that the average IQ is 100. The more people who get together, the more the IQ tends toward 100. If Pinky is Mass Man, then he certainly can't be that bright.
I think there is more to the problem, though. Pinky might not be that bright, but why does he almost adore The Brain and follow him everywhere? He actually seems to think The Brain is smarter than he is, and he should listen to what he says, and follow him.
Obviously, there is some sort of desire in people to look up to their leaders and trust them. This is appalling, since the history of the world has shown that most "leaders" turn out to be cartoon Brains.
I suspect this desire in people to look up to their leaders is based on their hope that someone really does know what's going on, and can take care of them and give them security. This sounds more like children looking up to parents than adults standing on their own two feet. Pinky may be an innocent child, but the Brain is not an admirable adult.
Pinky and the Brain points to the fact that societies are always going to be ruled by a very small minority of people. If Pinky is Mass Man, then democracy certainly won't work. I'm not familiar with any first-class thinker in the history of the world who ever supported democracy. The Founding Fathers took a very dim view of it.
Pinky and the Brain also informs us the people that must be watched out for, and always denied political power, are those who want it. Apparently this means those who don't want political power -- those who have no desire to rule over others -- are exactly the kind of people who should rule.
Who needs Ph.D.s in Political Science and Psychology? To get one of the finest educations available, all you have to do is watch cartoons. They entertain and educate. And the lesson they teach us is that ultimately we are responsible for our leaders.
And what cartoons teach us is that every time we look at politicians, we should superimpose a picture of The Brain over them. And every time we start to believe anything a politician says, we should realize it's our Inner Pinky talking to us.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
The theologian Walter Wink (author of The Powers That Be) writes of what he calls the Myth of Redemptive Violence. This myth, he writes, is the belief that violence, especially administered by the State, is necessary and restorative to make people whole. Violence equals health, you might say, or in Orwellian terms, War is Peace.
He believes this myth is one of the oldest known, and runs back to the Babylonian creation story, (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. This story, he tells us, keeps reappearing, even today, even in something as innocuous as children's cartoons.
According to the myth, in the beginning Apsu, the father-god, and Tiamat, the mother-god, give birth to all the other gods. But the younger gods are so rowdy in their partying their parents decide to murder them so they can sleep. Their children uncover the plot and kill Apsu. Tiamat, also known as the Dragon of Chaos, swears vengeance.
Terrified, the rebellious gods turn for help to their youngest, Marduk. His price is dear: he wants to be undisputed ruler. Having gained this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, pierces her belly and heart with an arrow. He then smashes her skull with a club and scatters her blood. From her corpse he creates the universe.
In this myth, creation is an act of extreme violence. Life comes from death. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has pointed out, order is established by means of disorder. Tiamat (the Dragon of Chaos) is prior to the "order" imposed by Marduk by violence. The gods themselves are astonishingly violent. Evil precedes Good; in such a case only great violence by the latter can control the former.
Now contrast this Babylonian myth with the one in Genesis: Good precedes Evil. Creation is essentially good, but has been corrupted by Man, overwhelmingly through a combination of his awakening to self-consciousness and narcissism that leads to the scapegoating based on envy. The result was the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
What we have are two diametrically opposed stories: Evil precedes Good, necessitating violence to impose "order," or Good precedes Evil, meaning violence, however well-intended, will never return us to the Garden. In the first instance existence is inherently corrupt; in the second it isn't, but has been corrupted by us. In the first, Good grows out of Evil; in the second, Evil is twisted (or as C.S. Lewis called it, "bent") Good.
The first story is not only un-Christian, but anti-Christian. It is the most pagan of pagan horrors. In the first, existence is inherently a horror, in the second the horror is secondary, caused by the corruption of an inherently good cosmos. In the first the preferred response is revenge.
In the first story people are by nature incapable of peacefully co-existing and must have order imposed from above by strong rulers who, according to the myth, are motivated by little more than a lust for power and violence. In the second the need for a powerful authority, and the lust, are themselves the corruption. The first is an excuse for slavery and fascism; the second, an argument for freedom.
It can be argued (and I would agree with it) that a conservative is one who believes human nature is corrupt and that society represses or transforms the imperfections in it. In the latter case it would, for an example, attempt to turn envy into admiration.
But notice that it is a voluntary society that does these things, not the coercive (and inherently pagan) State. I'd argue that a true conservative believes there is much good in human nature, but it has been corrupted. To believe this is to believe people can redeem themselves, can change for the better. Unless there is some goodness in us – and because of that we instinctively know what it is – we cannot "return" to it. And that return, that true change of heart and mind, can only come about voluntarily, through persuasion. That, to me, is the Christian view.
The pagan view, on the other hand, believes might makes right, the violence is necessary and redeeming, that the Good (and order) imposed on Evil (and chaos) is usually motivated by vengeance and the lust for power. Whatever philosophy it hides behind, whatever ideology is used to justify it, underneath all of them it is the belief that the gods smile upon conquerors, that peace can only come about through war, that security not liberty is the highest good.
That ancient myth does not exist in its pure form today in the Western world. It was ameliorated by the influence of Christianity, although Christianity today has been influenced and therefore perverted by it. But in whatever form it exists, that Babylonian myth is far from finished, even today.
George Bush, the neocons and whomever else in the administration believes in exporting, by coercion, "liberty" and "democracy" to the rest of the world are in many ways leftist utopians who, as Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn said of all leftists, "don't merely misunderstand human nature, they don't understand it at all."
One thing none of them understands is the story of the Garden of Eden, which tells us evil is brought into the world through people blaming their problems on others because of envy. Adam points to Eve; Eve points to the serpent, a symbol of envy.
Case in point: one of the reasons the World Trade Center was attacked was to draw the US into a guerrilla war to drain us of blood and treasure until we left the area. The other reason was envy, to "bring us down." What better target, then, than the WTC? We are the strongest country in the world; the 22 Islamic countries have a combined economy less than that of Spain. Yet they were able to attack the symbols of our wealth and power � things they don't have.
They're giving us what throughout history has been called "the evil eye." Envy. Avoiding the Evil Eye is what liberalism is based upon ("Please, I will denigrate myself, my race, my sex and my culture ['dead white European males'] so that you will not envy me. And here's some money, too, so you won't envy me about that, either"). For all practical purposes, liberals believe in Black Magic, a rather amusing concept considering how many of them think they're intellectually and morally superior to the unwashed masses.
Helmet Schoeck, in his magisterial Envy: a Theory of Social Behavior, defines envy as "a drive which lies at the core of man's life as a social being�[an] urge to compare oneself invidiously with others." Fear of other people's envy, he tells us, discourages innovation, effort, and achievement. It's why some places in the world have stagnated for thousands of years.
Obviously, the human race is in many ways still stuck in about One Million Years BC, except there's no Raquel Welch in a two-piece fur bikini. We still engage in Molochian human sacrifice, but now instead of rolling an infant or two into a fire-filled stone idol to placate the spirits, we now kill thousands of them and call it "collateral damage." The underlying psychology is still the same: we must sacrifice them or something Really Bad will happen to us.
The two world-wrecking diseases of the 20th century � Nazism and Communism � were based in large part on envy and the avoidance of it. Both, of course, were leftist. Both were based on human sacrifice to erase that envy. I suspect the sacrifices to Moloch were to assuage his envy � his Evil Eye. Schoeck agrees, writing the superstitious fear of arousing the envy of their gods is what has crippled many societies for millennia. Christianity and capitalism, he notes, has helped diminish envy through its belief in private property (which deflects envy from people into things) and in a God who would not maliciously envy or ridicule them.
What then, will be the result of the administration's misguided, indeed blind, attempt to impose "liberty" and "democracy" on recalcitrant countries? Nothing good, I'm sure.
One of the reasons I think the people in the administration are more leftist than rightist is because no true conservative believes in revolution. They understand that society is but a fragile patina holding down a lot of unpleasant human nature. Destroying society by revolution will not bring out all that "liberty" and "democracy" hidden deep in their souls. Instead it will bring out envy, hatred, anger, and the desire for revenge. In other words, the exact opposite of what is expected -- the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Besides, they're not going to get liberty and democracy. They'll become colonies of the US, enforced by military bases on their land. Sure, we'll build some hospitals and schools ("See what we're doing for you? Please don't envy us.") but what will happen is a minority of the politically connected will reap great wealth but the average person will get crumbs.
Amy Chua, in her book, World on Fire, points out the US's exporting of the idea of managed economies (the misnamed "democratic capitalism") has, in the countries that have adopted it, led to massive inequalities of wealth, with tiny minorities using the political process to enrich themselves and impoverish the majority.
She relates the story of how her wealthy Chinese aunt in the Philippines was knifed to death by her chauffeur. The police shrugged. So did the witnesses. This is obviously a case of envy of the poor toward the rich. Similar things have been happening in Indonesia, Russia, Sierra Leone, Bolivia � and in the Middle East.
The idea the US can somehow by violence change entire cultures is itself a belief in a type of White Magic to counter the Black Magic and the Evil Eye. Bush and the neocons are so deluded I don't know what else to call their beliefs except Magic: we will zap them with our White Magic to wipe out their Black Magic. We wave our magic wand. . .chango-presto, they become like us. The envy and the Evil Eye disappears; human nature is transformed!
White Magic, Black Magic, the Evil Eye. . .all hidden under a farrago of neocon verbiage. Added to this atavistic mess is a President who believes God chose him, meaning we now have a Priest-King. We appear to be stuck in a third-rate fantasy novel, one in which a well-meaning but dim-witted Priest-King, unduly influenced by his calculating advisors, has been conned into thinking murder and destruction is White Magic, the use of which will put a permanent end to the cunning and malicious dragon threatening the kingdom with his Black Magic and Evil Eye.
C.S.Lewis and Tolkien this isn't. It's not even Harry Potter.
There is a cure, however. That cure is the real free market and real liberty. The Greeks wisely noticed that admiration was the benevolent form of envy. Under a managed economy there will always the small wealthy minority and the exploited masses. As such, there will always be hate, envy and the desire for vengeance that will have to be kept down by violence.
Under the real free market, anyone can easily improve his position. Admiration and emulation are more likely than envy. Envy will always be with us, but it can be minimized. Social forces will either minimize it or transform it into admiration.
Unfortunately, the Iraqis aren't going to get real liberty and the real free market. They'll get the managed economy, the small wealthy minority and the exploited and repressed masses. They'll also get the envy, the hate and the desire for revenge. It'll be directed toward the wealthy minority, and, of course, us.
The US is now more hated and envied than it is admired. It wasn't that way in the past. But then, in the past we weren't interfering in the world the way we are now, crashing around like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. Were we to cease interfering, and instead be a beacon to the world instead of an Empire, that envy would be again transformed into admiration. The hatred, the anger and the desire for envy would turn into emulation.Had the people in the administration any understanding of human nature (and all crackpots, they do not), our current problems could be avoided. Since they do not, we are looking at several more years of warfare and political propaganda that "the light is at the end of the tunnel." I suspect it's more likely that light is instead, as Chua wrote, a fire.
The Greek word, "sophrosyne" ("seh-FROS-eh-knee") is the opposite of another old Greek word: hubris. Hubris, or as the Bible puts it, "pride," is, I believe, the only true crime that exists, because it is the basis of all other crimes.
Hubris is conceit, arrogance, grandiosity, the belief that one is god-like and can transcend human limitations, usually through violence. Hubris devalues other people into mere things. It is the sin of Satan, as described in the Bible.
Sophrosyne can be described as understanding the limitations and imperfections of human nature, of "knowing yourself," of doing nothing in any great excess. It's a type of "humility," if humility is understood as an awareness of the flaws inherent in people. It reminds me of another Greek word, "metanoia," which means to "change the heart and mind, to turn around and go the other way."
Hubris always leads to scapegoating, which the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck correctly identified as the "genesis of human evil." He was right, but did not point out it's based on hubris, and that scapegoating always leads to human sacrifice.
That's the sequence as I see it: hubris to scapegoating to human sacrifice. The Greeks saw the sequence as koros (stability) to hubris (arrogance, insolence) to ate (madness) to nemesis (destruction). I think it's more accurate to say that right after hubris comes the belief in the fairy tale of pure good and pure evil, splitting everyone into all-good or all-bad. That leads to ate, to madness, to scapegoating and human sacrifice. Then nemesis follows.
Scapegoating is when one person or a group projects problems onto another person or group, then tries to destroy them. One side says, "Since we are good, then you must be evil. Being evil, you are the cause of our problems. If we destroy you, evil will cease to exist and our problems will disappear."
Scapegoating requires splitting groups into pure good and pure evil, into grandiose and devalued. That splitting -- indeed that belief -- in pure good and pure evil automatically leads to scapegoating and human sacrifice.
In the 20th century, the best-known practitioners of scapegoating and human sacrifice were the Nazis and socialists. They weren't the only ones, just the best-known. All societies do it. The U.S. did it to alcohol users during Prohibition and does it today to drug dealers and sellers.
You can see the sequence I outlined in any serial killer. Or, in any murderer. They start out stable, then, somehow hubris afflicts them. Then comes the split, with them as good and someone else as evil. They project their problems on the other person, then scapegoat and kill them, engaging in human sacrifice. They do it in the hope they can become "whole." Since it doesn't work, they have to repeat their crimes. That makes serial killers serial scapegoaters.
On a much larger scale, with the Nazis and the socialists, each projected their problems on to others, then scapegoated and sacrificed them. Historians estimate 177 million people died in wars in the 20th century. I've seen estimates of up to 200 million. All scapegoated, all sacrificed, because of hubris -- we are good, and you are evil. You are the cause of our problems, so we must destroy you.
The function of the scapegoat, according to Rene Girard, a French Catholic academic who did his work in the U.S., are two: social cohesion, and the attempt to renew society by doing violence to the scapegoat. He wrote two works, Violence and the Sacred, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
Both the Nazis and socialists thought if they scapegoated and human sacrificed their opponents, then a new, better society would arise. The U.S. tried the same thing with alcohol and drug prohibition. Get rid of alcohol, and drug sellers and users, cast all problems onto them, see them as evil, then once they are eradicated, a new, better society will arise. Only it won't. It never will.
All, like serial killers, do violence to the scapegoat in an effort to become whole.
Scapegoating and human sacrifice, which is always through violence, will never create a better society. Yet all societies continue to try it, to no avail. None are even aware of what they do. All approve of it and consider it a good thing.
In the U.S., you can see this scapegoating and sacrifice in any election. A politician who fails is scapegoated and then sacrificed by being voted out of office. A better country -- especially a better economy -- is supposed to result. If things get too bad, politicians can be sacrificed the way Mussolini was. All politicians would do well to keep Shirley Jackson's famous short story, "The Lottery," in mind.
The novel that most clearly shows the sequence of hubris to scapegoating to human sacrifice, and the function of the scapegoat, is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. In it we have her god-like heroes, whose problem are due to "looters" and "parasites," all of whom Rand describes as subhuman. Her heroes are all-good; the villains, all-bad.
Rand, by casting all problems, all evil, onto her villains, has them function as scapegoats that must be sacrificed to assure the creation of a better world. Her heroes withdraw into Galt's Gulch to await the destruction of all evil through violence and death. Then, they plan on returning to a fresh, new world. It works in fiction. In real life it wouldn't.
Girard believed one of the most profound importances of the Gospels is that for the first time in history a voice was given to the victim, to the scapegoat. To a lesser degree, a voice was given to Socrates, who along with Jesus, are the two most important deaths in Western culture. But for all practical purposes, it was the death of Jesus, detailed in the Gospels, that showed the function of the scapegoat in society, and how scapegoating leads to human sacrifice.
The fact this function was brought to light in the Gospels is why Girard titled one of his books, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
In no other literature I am familiar with has scapegoating and human sacrifice, for society, been considered a bad thing. Only in the Gospels. In my opinion, the fact the scapegoat function was brought to light, and finally seen as a bad thing, was supposed to put a permanent end to hubris, scapegoating and human sacrifice.
And it did work, for a while. But today, we seem to be going backward. You need look no farther than a nation that claims it is good, has God on its side, has a leader who, afflicted with hubris, believes God chose and talks to him, and who believes he has the right to murder thousands of innocent people on the other side of the world. By scapegoating and sacrificing them the United States shall be made "whole." This is hubris, to be followed by nemesis.
The worst scapegoating and human sacrifice of all is war. We may shake our heads over primitives who rolled infants into the fires in the belly of Moloch, but they didn't incinerate people with nuclear weapons or firestorms, as was done at Dresden. Who exactly are the true primitives? Do we not believe in scapegoating and human sacrifice, to save society, to make it "whole," just as much as people thousands of years ago?
There are five archetypes I have identified that are associated with all societies' attempts at scapegoating: the Mob, the Leaders, the Exaggerated Threat, the Scapegoat, and the Human Sacrifice. I got these from my readings of the Gospels, all of which contain some of the most practical wisdom I have encountered.
Jose y Ortega Gasset referred to the Mob, which is Mass Man, as "without direction, self-satisified, and preoccupied with his own well-being..." In fable they are known as the Sheep, the ones at the mercy of the Wolves. Today, they are often called Sheeple -- part sheep, part people.
Jesus' threat to the leaders of his time was exaggerated by them (even though they truly believed it), so they were able to convince the mob to unite, turn against him and call for his death. The end result: he was scapegoated and sacrificed. "...it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not," said Caiaphas, fearing the Romans.
What existed then, still exists today. It'll exist in the future, too. The U.S. was attacked on 9-11. The threat was, as always, exaggerated by our leaders, who apparently truly believed that Islam could conquer the world or Saddam Hussein would fly Drones of Death across the Atlantic. Fearing a mortal threat, and believing their leaders, the mob, mass man, united, as they always do when they perceive a threat. Seeking a scapegoat, everyone first fixated on Osama bin Laden (and exaggerated his threat, turning a man in a cave into an Evil Genius), then later turned to Saddam Hussein. Finding and destroying these scapegoats was to allow the creation of a new, better, safer United States, even if it cost us our liberty.
Obviously, our opponents are doing the exact same thing to us. That's why they refer to the United States as "the Great Satan." Each group says God is on their side and the Devil on the other. Each group scapegoats and wants to sacrifice the other to save themselves. Nothing good can come from this. It never has in the past. It never will in the future.
The exaggerated threat, the irrational, emotion-driven mob united by the leaders, the scapegoat and the human sacrifice through violence, cannot create a better United States, only a worse one.
The first step is overcoming hubris, scapegoating and human sacrifice is to be aware of them, and to understand they never work for any society that tries it. Girard was right about that. If it did work, then there would not be millennia after millennia of war. As long as this law -- if it is a law -- remains hidden, it cannot be dealt with. And until it is dealt with, the human race will do as it always does -- repeat the story of Satan over and over.
I don't read very much hard-boiled detective fiction, but I have read enough to know that the genre is a type of horror fiction, and like all horror, is based on goodness and order being attacked by evil and chaos.
A fine example of this is John D. MacDonald's 1979 novel, The Green Ripper, a book I read only because Stephen King praised it. A horror writer praising a detective novel about MacDonald's famous anti-hero, Travis McGee? It made me curious.
It turns out King was right in his assessment. Like all good writers, MacDonald has acute insight into human nature, a nature that sometimes is not such a great thing. In the case of The Green Ripper the human nature that McDonald writes about is the mind of the political terrorist. If you want to understand that mind, this is the novel to read.
How does a good writer have such insight? MacDonald describes McGee, underneath his hard exterior, as "unusually sensitive, intelligent and imaginative." McGee is obviously a part of MacDonald. Perhaps those traits are absolutely necessary to truly understand people.
I had not read anything by MacDonald before, although I have heard of McGee. McGee is one in a long line of those loners/heroes who do what little they can to put things right. McGee calls it "doing my little knight-like thing." Such a character is brother to Robin Hood, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, and, currently, F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack.
I'm not giving anything away here, since it's on the cover of the book, but the plot concerns the murder of the only love of McGee's life. McGee, just like every one of his kind from Edward Dantes to Gully Foyle, hunts down those responsible for his loss.
The question, as it always is in cases like these, is if McGee seeks vengeance or justice. Men like McGee, and those like him, have a moral code they are actually willing to enforce. They don't make their own laws; indeed, although it's always unstated, they believe in Natural Law, most especially the one about "do not murder." And they are willing to personally deal out a great deal of violence, death and destruction to the guilty parties (and they are always very guilty of terrible crimes).
Are people like McGee what happens when they seek justice (or revenge) instead of allowing the government to do it? Or are they created because the government fails in its responsibility to enforce justice? Every one of these characters is outside the law because the law does not function. Obviously these characters touch a nerve in people, and have for hundreds of years, ever since the modern novel was created. Clearly, there is a need for them. My view is these are the characters who do justice when the government fails in its job.
I at first used to read a great deal of science fiction, a genre about what is called "the sense of wonder." In a sentence, it can be described as "I want to live like that." It's partly a combination of admiration and envy. Horror fiction is just the opposite: "I do not want to live like that. Maybe I don't have the perfect life, but at least I don't have vampires or some Lovecraftian monster trying to suck me up in its maw."
Hard-boiled detective fiction, being horror fiction, is also about "I don't want to live like that." But there is more to it than that. Certainly readers don't want to have the life described, but there is a part of them that says, "I sympathize with what he is doing, indeed support him fully in it." Even though it involves all kinds of mayhem and multiple deaths (of the guilty), there is a part of the reader saying, "Go! Go!" People want to see justice done and the guilty punished.
And "go" is exactly what McGee does. And in his search for the killers he discovers exactly what makes political terrorists tick.
Potential terrorists are often marginal, ostracized people, or better yet, they think they are, which is essentially the same thing. Sometimes they have no community to which they belong, or any meaning or purpose to their lives, or love. People need these things, even if they are used for a bad purpose. They can't live without them. No one can live as an atom disconnected from everyone else.
McGee describes people as "herd animals, social and imitative." That is true, and anyone who underestimates the power of a cohesive group, whose members feel loved and who are united by what they consider a great, meaningful purpose, is making a very grave mistake. Eric Hoffer, in his book, The True Believer, understood as much as McDonald the terrible trouble that can be caused by a fanatical group that wants to change the world.
"Saving the world" is always an excuse for destroying and conquering it. Both Jesus and Aesop understood this, when both commented that all tyrants call themselves benefactors.
Here is probably the most important point: all terrorists see things as either good or bad, black or white, with nothing in-between. Of course, they see themselves as good, which is why they are paranoid about people whom they define as "evil" wanting to destroy them. Their defining themselves as purely good makes them utopians and idealists. As such, they believe in projecting "evil" onto others (the "scapegoating" of which I write so much), then attempting to destroy this evil, so from the ashes of what they consider a degraded society a new, better one can arise. Whom they destroy in the process is irrelevant; they are merely things, necessary sacrifices (one potential terrorist tells McGee they're aren't going to "waste" their munitions on military targets; women and children are much more "productive"). Ultimately, all terrorists are utopians. Perhaps all utopians and idealists are in some degree terrorists.
One thing these people always do is blame their problems on others. That's one of the lessons of the story of the Garden of Eden, one of the oldest and most perceptive myths that exists. These "others" are devalued into being evil and/or insane. Once these people are eradicated, terrorists believe only the good will be left.
MacDonald understands the relationship between utopianism, idealism and the perversion of religion (I define any perversion of religion as one in which everyone inside the religion is good and everyone outside is evil).
MacDonald's political terrorists belong to a religious cult called "the Church of the Apocrypha," one that believes in a self-created Armageddon. I'd go so far as to say that any religion that promotes Armageddon and the destruction of this world - and the people in it - is idealistic, utopian and therefore murderous, destructive and perverted. It appears to be MacDonald's view, too.
Art imitates life and human nature. Neither life nor human nature change. That's why The Green Ripper is applicable today. It's about a very small group of dedicated people who want to use violence, death and destruction to tear down a society so a new, better one can be built. If many innocent people are killed, they're necessary sacrifices. Such people are utopians and idealists. They have the mind of terrorists, even if they claim they are benefactors, a title they nearly always claim.
Ultimately, their sin is the worst one of all - the hubristic, satanic "monstrous ego" of which Russell Kirk wrote, the sin that is the source of all evil. When people think and act like earthly gods, they invariably turn into devils.
MacDonald opens the book with a quote from Santayana that is always relevant, most especially today: "Fanaticism is described as redoubling your effort when you've forgotten your aim." Idealists and utopians, being fanatics, are always redoubling their efforts because they, too, always forget their aims. These days, perhaps "fanaticism" should be spelled with a capital "F."
He has strange friends, bizarre adventures, a weird pet, a pineapple for a house, a job at a burger joint, and lives in Bikini Bottom – a place with no visible State. Throw in just a few more things, and Spongebob would have about as close to a dream-life as is possible in this world.
I was puzzled why I – and so many others – am so enamored of this cartoon. After a little thought, here are some conclusions:
Spongebob lives at the bottom of the sea. He, and everyone else there, are safe. They have the entire sea to protect them from the outside world. Symbolically, the sea stands for a preconscious (child-like) state, and for the feminine (the womb). Think of Father Sky and Mother Earth. This makes sense, because Spongebob is in many ways an innocent child, safe in the womb of the ocean. You can say he lives in the Garden of Eden, in a womb which shelters and protects.
Spongebob lives in a world which he experiences with little fear or anxiety. His greatest worry is if he can make a krabby patty the right way. The mythological image of Spongebob is the puer aeternus – the one who is forever a child.
The sea actually has a positive and negative archetype. One is that of creation and the womb; the other is that of death and fear. Both are shown in baptism, in which both death and life are illustrated. In Spongebob, only the positive archetype exists.
I believe the above essentially answers the question of why Spongebob is so popular. He dwells in a Garden of Eden state of innocence, in a safe, well-protected neighborhood. There is something in almost all of us which responds to such a life. The cartoon is actually about reversing the Fall.
People can live with some aspects of their personality still in this state of innocence. I believe the public reception given Spongebob indicates that many Americans identity with this as a not-far-from-ideal life. It's safe and weird. What more can you ask for?
What true danger that exists for Spongebob and his friends comes from outside the sea. The archetype of the horror story is illustrated: something good invaded by something bad. The sea is good; the outside world is a danger.
In the episode titled "Hooky," Spongebob and his dimbulb friend Patrick play on fishermen's hooks dangled from a wharf above the sea. Both are so innocent they don't realize the danger involved, even though Patrick does say that someone who had been playing on them was no longer there. The inference is that he was hauled out of the sea, caught on a hook.
Squidward finally cures Spongebob of his foolishness by stabbing a hook through his pants, making Spongebob think he's going to be hauled up. In literature, this is called Innocence to Experience.
The complete theme of Innocence to Experience is Innocence/Unconsciousness/the Natural State versus Experience/Consciousness/the Machine State. The former are supposed to be characteristics of the Garden of Eden; the later, of the Fall. You can see these themes in H.G Well's The Time Machine, in which the Eloi stand for the innocent, unconscious dwellers in a Garden of Eden, and the Morlocks are the experienced, conscious users of machines.
You can also see these themes in the movie, The Elephant Man, which starts out with a worker severely injured by a machine. Through all of these horrors, the Elephant Man still maintains his innocence.
To a degree, these themes are a bit fraudulent, since they are opposed to technology. But since they exist in many stories and movies, it is best to be aware of them.
You can see these themes in Spongebob, since the outside world is where most of the advanced technology exists. Such as the hooks. Technology does exist in Spongebob's world, but it's not portrayed as dangerous.
In Spongebob's world, there appears to be no State. There appears to be no government, for that matter. Everything is taken care of by Society; this is why the older and wiser Squidward has to teach Spongebob a lesson about the hooks. The older teach the younger, which is as it should be.
Again, we're back to the archetype of the horror story. Society, which is but a thin, fragile film on a bunch of sometimes very unpleasant human nature, is easily damaged by the intrusion of the State. When this happens, all the badness inherent in humanity pops up. Since there is no State in Spongebob's world, everything is Society. Everything is held together by what the British statesman Edmund Burke called "the little platoons" – the social groupings like family, friends, neighborhoods and churches that glue societies together.
Burke's idea is of course anathema to those who view as the State as a god capable of working wonders. In reality, the State is a horror.
The cartoon is in some ways a "conservative" cartoon. Everyone is imperfect. Spongebob himself suffers a bit from what appears to be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In the episode "Pickles," Bubble Bass lies and tells Spongebob there were no pickles on his krabby patty. Spongebob is then up all night making burgers, trying to figure out what he did wrong. In the end, Bubble Bass is exposed for a liar, and everything ends well.
Actually, you can call Spongebob Squarepants a conservative libertarian cartoon. There is no State, indeed no government, and everyone is imperfect.
I've seen this portrayal of a libertarian/conservative society in other cartoons. It exists in The Simpsons, which celebrates family and friends, and denigrates politics. The line from the program I can never forget is when Chief Wiggum says, "I didn't say the government couldn't harm you. I said it couldn't help you." Truer words have never been spoken.
There are, thank God, no politics in Spongebob Squarepants. From this you can infer that in as perfect of a world as can exist, there would be no politics or politicians. What politics that does exist in Spongebob's world would have to be outside the sea, in the world where the hooks came from. In his world, there are no wars, which are always caused by the State. There are just the usual human frailties, such as Bubble Bass' lies and Spongebob's own childishness.
Ezra Pound called artists "the antenna of the race." He was, I believe, exactly right.
Back when Saturday Night Live was good, it had a skit in which a young man was wearing shoes that danced uncontrollably whenever they heard music. The implication was that he couldn't remove them. What I remember most clearly is while he was making cereal for breakfast, music started playing. Up in the air and all over the kitchen went the bowl, cereal, milk and spoon, as he twitched spastically and spun in circles.
I wonder if that skit was partly based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Red Shoes? "Partly," because if true, it was so abbreviated and incomplete that, compared to Anderson's tale, it was almost meaningless. Although, unlike the fairy tale, it was funny. The fairy tale is deadly serious. Whether humorous or serious, both illustrate a horror that everyone wants to avoid: being mired in something from which you cannot escape.
The image of the red shoes is striking. It resonates with many: why else did Dorothy wear red shoes? Why did Elvis Costello write a song about angels wearing red shoes? Why The Red Shoe Diaries? Are all in some degree based on the Anderson story?
The tragedy that befalls the young man in the skit also strikes the young woman in the fairy tale. Unable to remove her red shoes, she dances night and day, down roads and through fields.
Fairy tales are more than just children's entertainment. They were originally meant to both entertain and educate, to impart age-old wisdom in the form of short, easily told stories. The bulk of that wisdom warns that most of our problems are self-inflicted, and that they are easily escaped.
My opinion is that the tale needs to be rewritten, in order to make it clearer and bring it up to date. Even so, there are still a lot of accurate observations in it, which is about a young woman who is given a pair of red shoes. She's not supposed to wear them to church, but does. She's supposed to wear black shoes.
You get a clue what's wrong with her on the first page: "People said she was pretty, but her mirror said, 'You are more than pretty! You are lovely!'"
That's more of a clue than it sounds like. She looks in the mirror, the way Narcissus looked at his reflection in the water, and like him, thinks more of herself than others do, even though others think very highly of her.
She's self-absorbed. She lives in her own little world and pays no attention to the opinions of her betters. That's why she wore her red shoes to church instead of her black ones.
The second clue comes on the next page, when in church she "thought only about her red shoes." Again, this shows how self-absorbed she was. Self-absorbed people are almost invariably selfish and irresponsible, which is why she wears her red shoes to church when she knows it's against the better judgment of others. She is afflicted with what the Bible calls "pride."
Even though people tell her she should not wear her red shoes to church, she "looked at the black shoes and then at the red ones. Then she looked again at the red – and at last put them on."
Even though she is fully aware, and has been warned, that she should not wear her red shoes to church, she still does. She consciously makes the choice to be self-centered and immature. "...she thought only of the red shoes," the story reads. "She seemed to see them floating before her eyes."
She finds later she cannot get the shoes off. Worse, they began to dance. She dances day and night, though the countryside. Unable to stop dancing, she has the shoes cut off, with her feet in them. The shoes dance away.
Relieved, she says, "Now, then, I have suffered enough. I should think I am quite as good as many who sit holding their heads so high in church." What happens? The shoes come dancing back to her. This time, with "real repentance in her heart," she gives up her pride and self-centeredness.
There is a profound message to this fairy tale. The young woman, being childish and self-centered, illustrates the Biblical saying, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." The Greeks would call what happened to her Hubris followed by Nemesis.
Her red shoes are a symbol of the destruction that follows vainglorious pride. The full sequence that the Greeks outlined is Koros (stability) to Hubris (excessive pride) to Ate (a kind of "madness") to Nemesis (destruction).
The fairy tale clearly shows that the young woman's excessive self-centeredness and lack of concern for others is a kind of madness. The lesson is that it is kind of madness for anyone, because in that self-absorption, immaturity, and irresponsibility, other people always cease to be fully human. The afflicted then makes one catastrophic mistake after another, because they live in their own closed world, unaware of the lives of others. The self-centered, in their hubris, always ignore wise advice.
To use concepts from modern psychology, we can look at what Lawrence Kohlberg said about the "egocentric judgment" of those who morally remain children: "The child makes judgments of good on the basis of what he likes and wants and what helps him, and bad on the basis of what he does not like and what hurts him. He has no concept of rules or of obligations to obey or to conform to independent of his wish."
That is an exact description of the young woman in The Red Shoes. She had "no concept of rules or of obligations to obey." She was self-absorbed, childish and irresponsible. She thought she was right, no matter how many wiser people warned her she wasn't. What followed, as it always does, was nemesis.
The only thing that halted her destruction was giving up her hubris. Repentance and atonement. Unless a self-centered, childish, irresponsible person repents and atones, some kind of destruction invariably follows.
In other words, all that is necessary is to take off the red shoes, before it is too late.
So the Mommy-State wants to force all the boys and girls to share and get along. Now that may sorta work with five-year-olds, although not very well, as any parent will attest, but it doesn't work at all with adults, until someone, somehow, comes up with a really cheap operation in which the public's brains are not only washed but dry-cleaned, or else comes up with some kind of soma-like drug that will permanently shrink adults to being kids again. Except, of course, for those in charge of the Mommy-State, who have to keep whatever deluded wits and withered morals they have about them, so they can order all the dopified kids around. Boy, that sure sounds a lot like Brave New World, doesn't it?
These days, forcing the boys and girls to "share" and "get along" is called "multiculturalism." It has never worked in the past, anywhere. It doesn't work now, anywhere, and it won't in the future, ever. There are many reasons why it doesn't work, but I think the simplest is what I will call the Tribe and the Outsider.
Human nature is such that people instinctively gather into tribes. Every living creature, from ants to elephants, do it; why should people be any different?
This tribalism is a problem that will never go away, so there is no way around its existence. People want community, and that community usually involves being with people like them, or who they like. This has to be dealt with, which is something libertarians rarely do because of their obsession with "the individual."
Now "tribes" may be a primitive term, but it was applicable not only in the past but also certainly today. You might want to call them "ethnic groups" or "nations" instead. It doesn't matter. They're still tribes, whether they're big or little, powerful or weak.
Where one problem arises is that every tribe in the past has, with monotonous regularity, grandiosely called themselves 'the People" or "the Humans." Anyone outside the tribe was, obviously, devalued into being non-People and non-Human. That gives a foot in the door to murdering them.
All tribes today still consider themselves "the Humans," even though they use different words. No country today is going to call itself "the United States of All Humans" or "The Union of All People, and Everyone Outside Isn't," but all countries will say God has chosen them and is on their side, which logically means the Other Guy is on the Other Side. That's pretty much saying the same thing as "We're human, and you ain't."
During World War II, for example, the Russians spoke of "Holy Mother Russia," which implied that God had chosen Russia. Their opponents, necessarily, had to have the Devil on theirs. We're the People; you're the Unpeople!
But their opponents, the Germans, did the same thing the Russians did, when they said, "Gott mit uns." German soldiers even had that saying inscribed on their belt buckles when in combat. To stop bullets, I suppose. The question is: on whose side was God during the battle of Stalingrad, where both sides lost, combined, more soldiers than America has lost in all of its wars? The answer: neither.
It's painfully obvious that a grandiose certainty that God is on your side does not equal God being on your side, even if Jerry Falwell or George Bush believe it. Neither does it mean your tribe is human and the other is not, even if you think God told you that. A movie example that comes to mind: I remember watching a Japanese officer, in The Last Emperor, exclaim, "The Japanese are the only divine race!" Later, when Russian soldiers closed in on him, he hurriedly scrambled his brains with his pistol bullet. Self-proclaimed divinity always has a price, never a good one.
People in the U.S., cultural differences aside, are in some essential ways no different than people anywhere else. All people have a shared human nature.
People ask, "God bless America." It's never, God bless another country; it's always, God bless America. God should keep America's soldiers safe, but never any other country's. Our soldiers should be saved by God; their soldiers should die. Is that any different than those German soldiers with their talismans? Why should God bless America if America does not follow God's laws? It should be so simply because we, in our magical thinking, believe it should be so?
It's all pretty grandiose. It's assuming Americans are the Chosen, just as every tribe in the past has thought it was the Chosen. They weren't, and neither are we. And other tribes are full of humans, even if we pretend they aren't and act as if their deaths mean nothing and are just the "collateral damage" that always happens in war.
The biggest problem, though, is that every tribe projects its problems onto the outsider. There are, not surprisingly, two archetypes in literature called the Scapegoat and the Outsider. Often -- in fact, maybe always -- they are the one and the same.
The most famous, or maybe infamous, story about the Outsider and the Scapegoat is Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," which everyone in the recent past had to read in middle school. Every year, someone was chosen as a scapegoat, which made them an outsider, then bashed with rocks until they were dead. It was an example of scapegoating always leading to human sacrifice, of projecting "badness" on someone and then killing them, in order to "save" the tribe.
Since every tribe grandiosely considers itself "good," all "evil" must be projected elsewhere. If one tribe considers itself human, and good, and chosen by God, then the other tribe, the outsider, must necessarily be evil, sub-human, and of the Devil. Maybe we don't consciously believe this, but emotionally we do. It why most people don't care--indeed sometimes even cheer--if foreigners die in wars. Then we act shocked when foreigners cheer when we die, the way some cheered about 9-11. How dare they act like us! Since we are good, they must be evil! It was horrible that nearly 3000 innocent people were murdered on 9-11 (and, yes, it was), but it was a good thing the federal gubmint murdered all those people in Vietnam, Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq? But since they were outside our tribe, they don't really count, and sacrificing and killing them doesn't matter because it was to "liberate" them.
Today in the U.S. you can see our tribe projecting certain of its problems on the outsider. The U.S. attacked Iraq over ten years ago when it didn't attack us, then blockaded the country and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, then placed troops in Saudi Arabia, and supported Israel uncritically no matter what it did. We did this because we are "good," at least in our tribe's collective group-think mind, if not in the mind of other tribes.
So, when resentment, envy, anger and hate sent blowback our way on 9-11, we denied the bad things we had done to others, and instead claimed our attackers had to be "evil," and attacked us because we are "good." Now maybe things are that simple in the childish, black-and-white fantasy of Bizarro World, but certainly not in reality.
It's bad enough to have different tribes in different countries get into wars, but when tribes in the same country war, that is a prescription for national suicide. And multiculturalism, if it is anything, is several tribes fighting over the same land, and for political power, which is power over others. Therefore, it is national suicide. Each tribe is going to grandiosely call itself "the Humans" in some form, then deny its problems and instead project them onto the devalued other, which it will want to remove or murder.
Every empire in the past has fallen not because of attacks from the outside, but because of attacks from the inside. Once the barbarians are inside the gate it's harder to remove them. They may claim they're not barbarians, but apparently the Greek story of the Trojan Horse isn't taught to Americans in school anymore.
Some examples of tribal warfare? How about "Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan," whose motto is "Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada." It translates as, "Everything for the race. Everything outside the race, nothing." That's pretty grandiose, and fits exactly the idea of one tribe denying its flaws and projecting them onto a devalued other. It is projection/scapegoating leading to human sacrifice. They're the cause of our problems, not us! Remove them or rub them out!
Another example in the U.S.? In the original teachings of the Nation of Islam (related to Islam in name only) blacks are gods, the original men, and whites are devils. Guess who's completely to blame for the problems of the former? That's right; you've got it! It's just another example of "Since we are good, you must be evil and the cause of our problems, so we must eradicate you." Denial and projection. Lies (to oneself and others) followed by scapegoating and human sacrifice.
A true conservative, a true Rightist (which hardly exist today), understand that human nature is imperfect. They know people will always define themselves not just as individuals, but as part of family, nation, religion. They know if large enough different groups of people try to share the same land, and vie for political power, each is going to define itself as good, the others as bad, then deny its own flaws and instead project their problems on those defined as outsiders. It is the Left, believers in the Mommy-State, which doesn't merely misunderstand human nature but doesn't understand it at all, and which believes several large tribes can co-exist peacefully on the same land.
The only way that different tribes can occupy the same land is if one is tribe is 95% of the population, and the other tribe is five percent. But three tribes that are each one-third of the population? There has never been a society in the history of the world that has survived such an attempt.
The problem is made far worse when the State gets involved, because each group will fight for political power to protect itself and hurt the other. Each group will try to capture the State to use for its own purposes, which involves removing the others, or, ultimately, killing them. State-sponsored "multiculturalism," a misguided attempt to force different tribes to get along on the same land, will, as it always does when the State gets involved, have the exact opposite effect: it will make them fight even more, to the detriment of those involved, and, ultimately, the nation. So, not only are the boys and girls not going to share and get along, they're going to get into constant bloody brawls.