Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Nifty Pocket Guide to World Domination

I doubt it takes more than a quarter-page of instructions to conquer the world. Heck, if the Ten Commandments (technically, "Ten Words" or "Ten Utterances" are pretty much the basis for a free and prosperous society, why should it takes a book/books to learn how to conquer the planet? Aren't they are just really several easily-memorized rules?

So here they are:

First Rule: The leaders count, the masses are expendable.

Second Rule: War is Good!

Third Rule: See Rules One and Two.

Shoot, that wasn't even a quarter-page.

Okay, how about a movie that illustrates my point? Fight Club will do nicely. Even though it came out in '99, I didn't see it until recently. Got to love those DVD players!

If nothing else, the movie has generated a line that nearly everyone knows: "The first rule of Fight Club is, you don't talk about Fight Club."

That's a very interesting line, and one that contains truth. Right now we have two groups in the US which are causing a hell of a lot of trouble: Christian Zionists and Zionists/neocons. While it is acceptable to talk about the first (crackpot) group, it's not acceptable to talk about the second (crackpot) group, if you point out they're overwhelmingly Jewish.

The obvious is not supposed to be pointed out, or you'll get accusations of anti-Semitism. The first rule is, "You don't talk about the truth." What's that old saying, "Truth is the first casualty of war"?

Fight Club is not a great film. It's a very good one, and certainly a very bizarre one that requires a suspension of disbelief that is rare even for a cult movie. But it has a lot of truth in it, and truth is always applicable.

It points out how emotionally dead people seek violence and thrills to make them feel alive. That path is, unfortunately, the shortest one for the human race to get some kicks. Chris Hedges wrote about it in his book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

"The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life," he wrote. "It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent."

Yep, that's Fight Club all right: a bunch of bored, emotionally dead people seeking meaning in violence. At least in the movie, the guys fought; in real life they won't, instead vicariously cheering on those who do.

Critics have claimed the movie is pro-fascist. No, it's not. It's anti-fascist. It does illustrate how the quest for community -- the very human desire to belong to a group -- is the basis for fascism, and how it can degenerate into it, especially when coupled with the love of violence.

The movie is not truly anti-capitalist, either. It just points out you'll never get any true meaning to your life by collecting things, by being strictly materialistic. In fact, the ending of the movie points out one of the few worthwhile things in life is love.

Then we have the problem with leaders. In the movie, and in real life, one of the main problems is the ubiquitous tendency for groups to worship leaders. I was astonished to find Americans referring to Bush as "my President." What exactly is the difference between someone like that and someone who 60 years ago said, "Mein Fuhrer"? For all practical purposes, there isn't any.

The movie, however, is leftist-anarchist: destroy everything and a better world will arise from the ashes. In that sense, it is anti-capitalist. But then, there are a lot of leftist-libertarians who really are nothing more than leftists masquerading as libertarians, and who want to destroy society, thinking something better will automatically rise to take its place. Hardly.

The problem, ultimately, is alienation. In the movie, the unnamed protagonist was alienated from his work, his society, and most of all, himself. The same problem exists in life, and that meaningless and alienation and boredom is why too many people cheer war. Do happy people support war? I really can't imagine it.

So, in several nutshells, here is now you conquer the world: You take the natural desire for community and turn it into fascism. You get people to worship a leader. You teach them war is life-affirming. You'll invariably end up with what Iris Chang wrote about in The Rape of Nanking: the group is everything, the individual nothing, especially individuals outside our group, who are less than nothing, and who should be annihilated.

Of course, no one has ever conquered the world, and neither will America . We'll just expend huge amounts of blood and treasure, then withdraw. About the best I can ask is that those responsible for this mess are held accountable.

Chickens in Hawks' Clothing

A thing that I find both curious and disturbing is that fact the United States really has no mythology, in the sense of many well-known, established stories that are both entertaining and educating. Cultures that have endured for thousands of years always have these ritual mythological stories: the Greeks and the Romans, for two examples. Even today, people still know the Greek myths and fables: Hercules, Apollo, Aesop.

American culture is dizzily all over the map when it comes to what passes for its myths. About the only two "myths" I can remember as a child are Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. Hardly any kids these days know those stories, which aren't even myths. They're not bad stories, but they're really about the American "can do anything" spirit more than anything else.

There are a lot of things that can almost classify as myth, but not quite. Bugs Bunny, the American version of the Trickster archetype, is one. He is a mythic archetype, but he's a cartoon, one for children. He is both entertaining and educating: he teaches us it doesn't pay to hate people, and it's best to outsmart those who are stronger than we are. But the cartoons are lightweight, almost evanescent. How many people can remember any of the plots?

There are others: Homer Simpson, the distilled essence of a dysfunctional middle-class family with a lower-class mentality. The X-Files, those tales of American paranoia about non-existent conspiracies. Ward and June Cleaver, Andy Griffith, Archie Bunker, Beavis and Butthead, that eternal innocent child Spongebob Squarepants.

All of entertaining, some are disgraceful, some are entertaining and educating, but none have achieved the status of a legitimate American myth. Some, thankfully, never will. Yet without mythic stories, I wonder if America can be at its best? So far it doesn't look so good. Look at it this way: in a little over two hundred years the citizenry has gone from one that completely and correctly distrusted that ever-growing, overbearing monstrosity known as government to one that sees that same government as a teat from which all goodness flows: jobs, education, welfare, health.

How did all of this degradation happen in such a short time? One reason, and maybe the most important: we don't really have any shared mythic stories, and the rituals and rites that go along with them. The closest would be Christmas and Halloween, and they're consistently under dishonest and deranged attack, especially, these days, Christmas. Both holidays are full of mythic stories, of rituals and rites and symbols. Yet they are losing their power, because of those attacks. And since culture is a shared continuity, I find it no surprise at all that America has changed so quickly, and not always for the better, because of the dimming, and fading away, of those mythic rituals and rites and symbols.

We should never reject anything just because some consider it "old" or "obsolete." Plato wrote, "Any change except to eliminate an evil, is an evil." Be careful about overthrowing tradition, symbols, myth, rites and rituals. If we give up the good stories, they can, and perhaps always will, end up replaced by rap, or Keynesian economics, or Freudian psychology, or Dawkinsesque evolution. Neither will America be held together by foreign fables about the Holocaust or Cinco de Mayo. All, for Americans are houses built on sand.

What common stories existed at the beginning of this country are now just vague memories. Some of them are not only false but comically false: George Washington refusing to lie about chopping down a cherry tree. Others are just out-and-lies to the point of obscenity: Lincoln as a saint.

There are, however, two genuine myths that have taken root in the last few years. Both are right on the money, both are known by everyone, and both are political. One is the myth of the Chickenhawk, and the other is the myth of the Sheeple. Both illustrate how widespread and penetrating are the tentacles of politics in American life.

Both stories illustrate the fact that true, enduring myths often use animals to symbolize humans. Be it Aesop's Fables, or Greek hybrids such as the Minotaur and Pan, or fairy tales, or the parables of Jesus, the animals in these stories are illustrations of the strengths and weaknesses of humanity. Most especially of the weaknesses.

I've concluded the reason for this use of animals is that it makes the stories easily understood. When Jesus spoke of some people being "wolves" and others being "sheep," as in "wolves in sheeps' clothing," everyone knows exactly what he meant without any detailed explanation.

Let's look at the Chickenhawk myth first. A chickenhawk is in reality a raptor that preys on other birds (or a pedophile/pederast who targets young boys), but it has taken on the modern-day mythic meaning of "I'll rabidly support unnecessary (and endless) wars while absolutely refusing to fight in any of them." In a sentence, the Chickenhawk is a abject coward who will not risk his life in war under any circumstances, but insists others do so.

This is a new myth, one I've never seen before. Chickenhawks don't exist in any fictional story I'm familiar with, except Henery Hawk, who was a cartoon chickenhawk best known for trying to drag Foghorn Leghorn to the broiler by his big toe. Henery was blustery, but he was no coward.

People being what they are, some must have existed as Chickenhawks in the past, but I suspect people shamed them into silence, clearly perceiving their cowardice. Yet today some cannot see them for what they are, and, astonishingly, even support them. What magic has blinded some people into being unable to see blatant cowardice? Bread and circuses, perhaps? That hynotic Cyclops known as the TV? An unwarranted, indeed very dangerous faith in government? Those, I'm sure, and others.

I like to call Chickenhawks "chickens in hawks' clothing." This makes sense, because chickens are loud, squawking birds, always running around in circles, and to imagine them in hawks' clothing is a discontinuity that brings laughter. "Chickens in hawks' clothing" is just an expansion of "Chickenhawk." They're chickens through and though, but clumsily mask themselves as hawks.

The Chickenhawk archetype is now permanently part of American culture. The word has evolved beyond having anything to do with the real bird, or Henery Hawk, or sexual predators. It has now achieved the status of a new myth. That means it's not going to change for a long, long time. It has become a shared story about the culture, one both educating and entertaining.

The Chickenhawk archetype does have some antecedents. It's related to the Greek God of War, Ares. There is one big difference: Ares, while he loved war and was a coward, personally fought in battle. Today, Chickenhawks love war, are cowards, but won't fight. They are a truly degraded specimen of Ares. Such men, in the past, in certain war-like cultures, were killed as cowards.

Mythologically, they're also related to Narcissus, who could see only himself. Chickenhawks, too, can only see themselves; other people, especially soldiers, are mere pawns, ones not truly human, to be sacrified in war. They also follow the old Greek story of Hubris followed by Nemesis: the overweening arrogance in which evil appears as good, to be followed by a tragic collapse.

The portmanteau "Sheeple" is a fusion of the word "sheep" and "people." You can call them "sheep in people's clothing." I don't know who created the word, but it is a perfect description of the herd, one comprising people who are convinced they know the facts, but don't. They generally don't wake up until the wolves among them and chewing on their gizzards. Even then, some never do awaken. Such is the power of self-deception, and group-think.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of a problem, although it's a humorous one. That problem's name is Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto, who as a political economist is an essential read, dived rulers into two kinds: the Foxes, who use persuasion (or more correctly, fraud, manipulation and lies) and the Lions, who use force. The inert, easily-led masses of people are Sheep (in modern terms, "Sheeple"). About the Sheeple, Pareto wrote, "Whoever becomes a sheep will find a wolf to eat him."

There is not the slightest bit of Lion in any Chickenhawk, although they like to pretend that's what they really are in their hearts, and desperately try to con the public into believing them. Instead they are Foxes, ones who use propaganda and lies. So now we are stuck in the quandry of the Chickenhawk being a subset of Foxes. That, of course, doesn't make any logical sense. But then, mythic and symbolic images don't necessarily have to make much "logical" sense.

We're also stuck with the fact that the Sheeple can also be Chickenhawks.

Here are the names of some modern-day, well-known Chickenhawks:

Rush Limbaugh

William Bennett

William Kristol

John Podhoretz

Richard Perle

Paul Wolfowitz

Douglas Feith

Max Boot

Jonah Goldberg

Benjamin Shapiro

David Frum

I would like to see Frum's name applied to the Chickenhawk archetype, as in "He's a Frum," but this is just an idle fantasy of mine. It's not going to happen, although I am truly fond of the image of a chicken with Frum's head (hideous haircut and all) on top of it. It would fit: here's a man (and I use the term loosely) whom the writer Jerry Pournelle always refers to as "the egregious Frum," and whom The American Conservative's Taki said was always creeping up behind people like Uriah Heep.

No one on the list is any better than the anti-American, leftist "neo-conservative" Frum (who is not American but Canadian), although I doubt any are worse.

Chickenhawks are more than just cowards. They are also bullies, although they're always intellectual bullies who hide behind their keyboards and fling libels at people. But actually being lions? That will never happen. You can bet the house on that, or your car, or your shoes, or anything else you own.

There are some other characteristics that define the Chickenhawk, besides their overwhelming cowardice and hubris: their belief in their intellectual and moral superiority over everyone; the lust for attention and political power over all, and their desire to destroy. Mythologically, they fit the exact archetype of Satan. Demonic Chickenhawks, you could say, although this makes the taxonomic fit with Pareto even more distressing.

Hubris-ridden, cowardly little Satans...four words to describe all Chickenhawks.

The Chickenhawk archetype has achieved such power that those to whom it applies have attacked it viciously. Chickenhawks such as the egregious Frum and Jonah "My Mommy Got Me My Job" Goldberg have insisted it is a false description, claiming that it isn't necessary to see combat to lead a nation in war.

They, and other Chickenhawks like them, completely ignore the fact a Chickenhawk is someone who believes in unnecessary, endless wars. They also ignore, because they do not understand and will never believe, the inherent cowardice and hubris inherent in being a Chickenhawk.

I find this new Chickenhawk archetype disturbing, because, as far as I can tell, it has never existed before, at least not as one with a name besides "coward."

While Pareto spoke of the Circulation of the Elites, in which the Foxes and Lions changed places, he never wrote of anything like the Chickenhawk. And Chickenhawks, these days, have gained political power. And how the hell did that happen?

This is a very bad thing for the United States, when its foreign policy is influenced by liars and cowards who want to start wide-ranging -- and utterly unnecessary -- wars. They are Chickenhawks leading the Sheeple -- the blind leading the blind, right over a cliff.

Since the Chickenhawks are a subset of the Foxes, this means in the next Circulation of the Elites, we're looking at the Lions taking over, i.e., the military. Is that where hubris will lead Chickenhawks And the Sheeple who believe them?

Perhaps this won't happen. I pray that it doesn't. As always, it depends on the Sheeple waking from their torpor in time. If it does happen, it will be as it always has been in the past: right when they Sheeple are teetering on the edge of the cliff, with their toes sticking over, looking down and realizing it's long, long way down to that rocky bottom.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Worst Job I Ever Had

I had a lot of jobs in high school and college. I was a carpenter for my father when I was a teen, one who bashed his thumb with a hammer, used a crowbar to unstick boots from plywood decks when the boot's owners nail-gunned their own feet, and put a lot of band-aids on, including on people who ran power saws over their own hands.

I drove a school bus in college, one of the duties of which was breaking up fights between junior high kids and kicking others off of the bus when they thought they could throw things at the back of my head (they never realized I could drive while keeping one eye on the mirror above my head, the one with the panoramic view of the bus).

I pumped gas, cooked and delivered pizzas, worked in a nursing home, was an apartment manager, drove a taxi. But the absolutely worst job I ever had, one that was a quantum leap above the rest in terms of Lovecraftian horribleness, was detassling corn. I still cringe inwardly whenever I think about it, and this is from a guy who used to put diapers on old folks.

Corn has to be detassled so it doesn't pollinate itself. If it does, you get weaker corn that isn't so sweet. The detassling itself consists of walking up and down rows of corn for eight hours a day, doing nothing but popping the tassels out of the corn and dropping them on the ground. If you've ever seen a row of corn, you'll find some of them are half a mile long and five to eight feet tall. Imagine eight hours a day, pop, pop, pop, in the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer, sweating and sneezing and twitching and getting "corn rash" from brushing against the leaves, for about three weeks.

The pay was pretty good -- a few dollars more than minimum wage, and time-and-a-half on Sunday. Not bad for high school or even college. If you could handle the work, you could easily make three or four thousand dollars. But it was horrible work. I estimated I detassled 15 to 20 rows a day, or between eight and 10 miles. That's about 45,000 to 80,000 plants!

One time, hitchhiking home, I was picked up by a curly-haired grandpa who was a farmer in the Missouri bootheel. I told him of my experience. You think that's bad?, he asked. I used to pick cotton when I was a kid. You spend the whole day bent over like a question mark carrying a sack of cotton. Yech, I thought, that is worse than what I did.

I was reminded of my hellish journey through those Stephen King Children of the Corn rows while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, specifically Chapter 12, "The Wonderful Machine."

Now when was the last time anyone called a machine wonderful? Lots of people today take them for granted or else vaguely think they're not such good things, which is why you get adults riding bicycles, because they think they're "saving the environment." You know, global warning and all the rest of that "let's protect the goddess Gaia" silliness.

I certainly think machines are wonderful. They're examples of Cooper's Law: "Machines are amplifiers." They amplify our natural abilities. One of the things they do is make things a whole lot easier for us.

But anyway, in the book, Pa and the other farmers encounter a machine called a separator because it separated the straw from the wheat. They were ecstatic over it.

"That's a great invention," Pa says. "It would have taken Henry and Peterson and Pa and me couple of weeks apiece to thresh as much grain with flails as that machine threshed today. We wouldn't have got as much wheat either, and it wouldn't have been as clean. Other folks can stick to old-fashioned ways if they want to, but I'm all for progress. It's a great age we're living in."

Detassling may be on its way out, to which I say, thank God! I was hoping someday a semi-intelligent robot would be invented that would do the work, but instead it appears that seed companies have come up with corn breeds whose tassels don't produce pollen -- and the pollen is why all of us were sneezing and twitching and swelling up all the time. Since it turns out detassling is the second-highest cost in growing corn, we should get cheaper corn.

Others may think excruciatingly hard work builds character. I don't know about that, unless if they mean "character" includes being grateful. Which in my case, it does. It made me grateful for machines, the free market, liberty, and human ingenuity, all of which I consider almost miraculous because they create things like refrigerators, air-conditioning, dentistry, washing machines and driers, clothes, and food I can buy in the store instead of having to produce myself.

If modern-day Luddites (aka Pa's "old folks," no matter what the age) want to con themselves they're saving the environment, like those deluded bike riders who don't realize their bikes were created by advanced technology and thousands of years of work by the human brain, I suggest, if they want to return what they think is the Garden of Eden, that they spend one day detassling corn. That'll open their eyes to what technology and machines have done for us.

Either that, or the next time they need dental work, they can take a few shots of whiskey and have some friends hold them down while the local sawbones whips out his pair of pliers, just as was done a little over 100 years ago.

Myself, I agree with Pa. For all the problems we have, with the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward history of the human race, there is still a part of me that says, "I'm all for progress. It's a great age we're living in."

Especially since I still dream about corn rows at night.

Monsters from KAOS

Words fascinate me. They always have. One of my earliest memories, at four years old, is scribbling on a piece of paper and asking if I had made any words. I was told one of them looked like the word "deer" or "dear."

Judging by the way I am now (and have always been) it wouldn't have surprised me if I was told, "That looks just like the word 'monster.'" That would have pleased me to no end.

Monsters fascinate me, too, as do horror stories, myths, fairy tales, comic books and cartoons.

Let me explain.

A single word can have a great deal of wisdom in it. That half-repulsive, half-fascinating word "monster" is one of them. It comes from the root "to warn." It's the same root for "admonish" and "demonstrate." A monster is a warning, a demonstration.

If a monster is a warning, what is it a warning about?

An understanding of the horror story is necessary to understand a monster. All horror stories have the same structure: Order invaded by Chaos. You can call it Good invaded by Evil, if you wish.

The classic horror story in the West is that of Satan. Satan is the epitome of Chaos, attacking the Order of Heaven. Every horror story is pretty much based on Satan's attack.

I should point out that when I write "Order" I don't mean some sort of stale, boring Order, the way that many teenagers and the more naïve libertarians see society. Another definition of "monster" is "an offense against the natural order." A monster is that which attacks the natural order of things. In essence, a monster is an assault on Natural Law, the laws that create peace, prosperity, liberty, happiness and fun.

At the risk of oversimplifying things (although in a certain religious sense it wouldn't be), you can say that Heaven is always under attack by Hell.

Stephen King wrote an entire book about horror, called Danse Macabre. He used fancier terms – the Apollonian invaded by the Dionysian – but it's still the same as Order invaded by Chaos. And if anyone should have an understanding of horror, it would be King.

King also noticed, quite correctly, that horror fiction is essentially "conservative," in the sense that it supports Order against Chaos. This is why, in the '60s TV program, Get Smart (which was horror disguised as comedy), the Good Guys work for CONTROL, and the Bad Guys are agents of KAOS.

Horror fiction, unfortunately, mirrors human nature. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist. That's why so much can be learned from it. And horror fiction isn't just the "pop" stuff. The greatest writers have large elements in horror in their fiction, be it Shakespeare or Doestoevsky or Conrad.

One of the most well-known founders of modern conservatism, Russell Kirk, was also a superb writer of ghost stories. I've found his stories to be better than his non-fiction. He wrote a truly eerie story called, "That Peculiar Desmene," in which he made the completely accurate observation that human evil is caused by "the monstrous ego."

A true conservative is one who sees society as a thin, fragile veneer holding down all the badness that exists in human nature. This doesn't mean there isn't a lot of good in people, just that there is the potential for a lot of bad. A liberal – a leftist – is someone who sees society as bad, holding down all the goodness in humanity.

To a conservative, destroying society allows all the badness in human nature to pop up. To a liberal, destroying society frees all the goodness. Conservatives have the better of the argument. Leftists, on the other hand, are practically insane, because they have no understanding of human nature. You need look no further than Karl Marx.

A monster is an agent of Chaos (this also means that leftists are agents of Chaos, just too blind to know it). A monster is a warning that Chaos is about to follow. Imagine one day you see one of H.P. Lovecraft's monsters coming over the horizon. I can't think of anyone who would see that as a good thing. It's a warning of Bad Things to Come.

In a sense, monsters have no independent existence, because they are created by Chaos. If Chaos didn't exist, monsters wouldn't exist. But since Chaos is inherent in the universe, monsters will always exist. That, too, is the conservative position, unlike the liberal one, which believes evil can be eradicated.

Looked at that way, the people in the current US administration are not conservatives, but leftists, because they believe evil can be erased from the world.

It would be great boon to mankind if we could tell monsters by the way they look. It's easier in fiction, because all the monsters look like monsters. It doesn't matter if it's Grendl or Gollum or Brain from Pinky and the Brain. They look like monsters. Although I'd rather deal with Brain than Gollum, and Gollum rather than Grendl!

In real life, people are the only monsters that exist. Unfortunately, they don't look like Ming the Merciless. Often they wear suits and ties. If human monsters did look like monsters, it'd be a cinch to identify them.

The serial killer Ted Bundy didn't look like a monster. He was rather handsome, actually. But, afflicted with Kirk's "monstrous ego," he murdered dozens of women.

If human monsters don't look like monsters, how then, do we recognize them?

There is only one way: by what they say and do. All monsters support Chaos, both in words and action. They desire murder, theft, destruction, and power over others, and they almost always let it be known.

By their fruits you will know them. Brambles don't produce figs. The poor are always with us. The blind leading the blind.

The greatest sin of all monsters is that of Hubris – Kirk's "monstrous ego." It's the sin of Satan, which is the most accurate horror story that exists. Because of this Hubris, monsters usually can't keep their mouths shut. They're compelled to tell everyone how great they are, and just how dumb are their opponents.

Hubris is the desire to God, and to be willing to use murder, theft and destruction to achieve that goal. Some names? Herod, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung. They wanted power over others. All were perfect examples of the saying, "Power is the horse that evil rides."

Hubris always leads to Chaos. That's why the Bible has the comment, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Or as the Greeks put it, Hubris followed by Nemesis.

To identify a monster, look for someone afflicted with Hubris, and who supports murder, theft and destruction. It's as simple as that. Look for someone with a monstrous ego who can't shut up. These days you'll find them on TV.

Among those US forces attacked, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were monsters. In the US administration, the neocons are monsters. All, afflicted with Hubris, support murder, theft and destruction. None could shut up. All want power over others.

All monsters are cowards, liars and tricksters. They attack from behind, they try to trick others into fighting for them, and they slander and lie about their opponents.

Who are their opponents? The ones who always fight against monsters? They are the heroes. And who are the heroes? Anyone who supports peace, prosperity, happiness, liberty, fun and power over themselves as against murder, lies, destruction and power over others. The heroes support the Economic Means, and the monsters support the Political Means. Liberty against Slavery.

As monsters always support Chaos, heroes always support Order. It was Superman who supported truth and justice, not Lex Luther. It was Beowulf and Underdog who fought to restore order, not Grendl and Simon bar Sinister. Monsters and villains that they were, they wanted, just like Satan, to destroy and rule.

It is sad, but true, that since Chaos and Hubris are always with us, heroes must always fight against them. This wisdom is contained not only in horror story, but in every myth, every fable, every fairy tale, and every cartoon. And every religion.

As Edmund Burke put it, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Heroes understand this. Unfortunately, so do the monsters.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Way America Was Supposed to Be

One of my favorite sites is that of James P. Hogan. In this article he quotes one of my favorite writers, Richard Maybury.

"According to the War Forecast Part One and Part Two (March 2004, reprinted from May and June 2002 respectively) posted in Richard Maybury's U.S. & World Early Warning Report, Washington has become the biggest loose cannon in history. It wasn't what those who shaped alliance of States that came into existence after 1776 wanted, and it didn't have to happen. What was a huge mistake will be undone, he says, and after a temporary period of confusion America will get back on track to being what it should have been in the first place."

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 threw out the original Articles of Confederation and created the federal government as a new layer of government above the States in what Maybury describes as a disguised military coup. Patrick Henry and the other anti-federalists feared that the central government would become too large and powerful to control. It took a while, but following the dismantling of restraints in earnest under Lincoln, the behemoth grew, attracting power-seekers, to the point where it has been interfering in the affairs of other countries for over 100 years. U.S . troops were sent into foreign conflicts no fewer than 188 times during the 20th century--more than for any other nation. When fear and distaste for a government reach global proportions, the overwhelming likelihood is that one way or another it will "follow into oblivion the thousands of other governments that have disappeared over the ages." Americans will return to the Articles of Confederation or something similar, realizing that they don't need a federal government and never did. The Agriculture Department produces no food, the Transportation Department transports nothing, and the Education Department never taught anybody anything. After Washington is gone, farmers will continue growing corn, Detroit and Boeing will produce cars and planes, and teachers will arrive at the schools each morning.

But who will defend the country? In Maybury's view, nobody would have the time or the resources to think seriously about invading it. The leaders of the 94 regimes currently run by US-supported crooks & tyrants will all be facing uprisings and civil wars and too preoccupied with survival. As for domestic issues, the European Central Bank provides a model of how the States between them would be quite capable of managing such obligations as bond repayments and Social Security -- although the initial panics could provide some excellent opportunities for investment.

The article comments: "When Rome transitioned from its Monarchist Period to its Republican Period, monarchists saw this as catastrophe. For them it was, but for the rest of the population, new freedoms brought great abundance and a level of technological advancement previously unheard of." An inspiring thought. What might the world have looked like today if America had continued into its period of industrial and scientific growth guided by the original political philosophy of friendship with all nations and entangling alliances with none? An empire of liberty expanding outward across the Solar System, perhaps. A great theme for the setting of an alternate history novel."

The Sword and the Shield

Sometimes I get one of those eerie, Jungian synchronicities that make me go "hmm." The last time I got one, I was thinking about the mythological Greek god(dess) Ares and Athena. Ares, the cowardly, incompetent and blood-thirsty god of war, was hated by all the other gods (including his parents), but he was especially despised by Athena, the goddess of wisdom and civilization. Yet, they were both gods of technology. They overlapped in it.

I concluded that the myth was about how war and civilization were opposed to each other, and how, contrary to its supporters, there is no wisdom in war. Otherwise Ares would be the god of wisdom, not Athena.

Their overlapping as technology gods was due to the fact that technology is amoral; it's neither good nor bad. It can be used for either, for war or peace, for destruction or creation. As Cooper's Law ("All machines are amplifiers") informs us, technology (machines) do nothing more than amplify our natural abilities. What we use technology for is up to us.

And contrary to all the Earth-Firsters and other eco-weenies, technology is here to stay. It's not going away, ever. It'll only advance, as it always has.

The "hmm" occurred when I read Neal Stephenson's massive but absorbing novel, Cryptonomicon. I found he has several pages of discussion about Ares and Athena. I even remember where it started: page 800. (That's right: page 800. The novel is almost 1,000 pages long.)

It turns out he and I have come to essentially the same conclusions.

Stephenson believes, as I do, that ancient myths embody great, universal truths. They would not have lasted if they didn't. They just need to be updated for the modern mind. It's doesn't make any sense these days to say that Athena is the goddess of weaving. It makes a great deal of sense to say she's the goddess of technology. Weaving is just a primitive form of technology.

Here's where we badly need some mythic updating. In the past, Ares was just the god of war. Today, if we apply some libertarian theory about the difference between the State and Society, he becomes much more than a mere serial killer: he's now the god of the State. All States, being based on coercion and the threat of violence, are always about war. Indeed, they are always at war, because no matter what it gets involved in, no matter what its good intentions, it will only create conflict.

Just look at the "war on drugs," which has increased crime, or the "war on poverty," which has increased broken families, or the "war on terror," which has increased hatred against the US. The State is Ares. And being Ares, he is a bungler, as all States are bunglers.

Athena, being the goddess of civilization, is now the mythic goddess of Society. Since the State is based on the Political Means and Society on the Economic Means, they are always opposed to each other, and always will be. Applied libertarian theory backs up the Greek story of Ares and Athena being enemies. Of course she despised him, just as people knowledgeable enough despise the State because they know its unalterable nature is to always war on Society, to attempt to absorb--and therefore terribly damage--it.

Athena is armed with a sword and a shield, named Aegis. The shield is the important thing: it had the head of the Gorgon depicted on the front of it, which turned to stone anyone who looked upon it. Her shield, which was created by technology, is both an offensive and defensive weapon. Against what? Apply libertarian theory again. Her shield is for offense and defense against the State. Against Ares.

The point of the myth of Athena is that Society must always have defensive and offensive weapons against the State! It can be no other way. The Founding Fathers understood this, when they created the Bill of Rights, especially the Second Amendment, which has two purposes--as a defense against the little criminals known as people, but mostly as a check on the big criminal known as the State.

Unfortunately the Bill of Rights is just a piece of paper. The State interprets it. That's why, today, a little after 200 years of its existence, it is mostly dead. A piece of paper isn't much of a shield. And without firearms, the citizens don't have much of a sword.

In the original myth Ares had various weapons--but none were named. It didn't matter, because naming his weapons was irrelevant. Today, since Ares is the god of the State, he does have at least one weapon with a name.

That weapon is the State itself. Today, Ares cowardly hides behind the State, and uses advanced technology to attack and destroy Societies on the other side of the world. George Bush, who claims he is a Christian, is actually an Ares worshiper. So are Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Max Boot, David Frum, William Kristol and Rush Limbaugh.

The parallels in the Christian tradition (of which Greek myths are a part) tell us that although Societies may not necessarily worship God, all States, in varying degrees, do worship Satan. All States, of course, claim God is on their side, and supports their murder, lies, theft and destruction. Thus, anyone who believes in the goodness of the State cannot tell the difference between God and the Devil.

In my opinion, Ares has evolved--or de-evolved--into the archetype of the Chickenhawk--part Ares, part Satan, part Trickster. I also refer to this archetype as "the Frum," for mostly obvious reasons. One which isn't obvious is that the name has a nice repulsive sound to it, like "Gollum."

One of the reasons--possibly the main one--the Chickenhawk today can be the Chickenhawk is because advanced technology allows it. In the past, leaders were often on the battlefield. Today, never. Instead, they can sit on one side of the planet and murder people on the other side with a push of a button. Such is the misuse of technology by the cowardly modern-day followers of Ares.

Can the archetype of the Chickenhawk get any worse than it is now? Sure. If Chickenhawks, who are fascists, had their way, they'd Borgify the entire society. Conscription--slavery--might be the first thing they'd do.

Being part Ares, the Chickenhawks love war. Being part Satan, they lust after the power to rule. Being part Trickster, they'll tell every lie possible to advance their agenda. But being Chickenhawks, they want others to fight the wars.

Since Ares and Athena are always at odds, the State is continually trying to disarm Society. Gun control, for example, is an attempt to remove the technology Society uses to protect itself against criminals, whether they are of the State or outside it. It's Ares saying Athena must give up her sword and shield, and be at his mercy. Only a fool would fall for it.

It is Society, the free market and liberty, that creates advanced technology. Yet foolish people voluntarily give it to Ares, because he has tricked them into thinking he is one of the good guys. Those who understand the wisdom of Athena know differently.

These days, for the Chickenhawk, the State is the shield and the advanced technology of the military is the sword. These scoundrels hide behind the shield, wrapping themselves in the flag, claiming the State and Society are the same thing, that they represent it, and those who disagree with them are unpatriotic, indeed traitors. They use the sword to attack other Societies around the world.

What is the defensive/offensive shield that modern-day Athena has against Ares? Remember that since Ares and Athena overlap as technology gods, Ares can and will use the technology that Athena creates. But, for every threat by the State, there will be a defense by Society.

Some of the ones today are computers, software and cryptography. The Internet can be described as an anarchistic community, one in which information can go around the world in a second. The State, of course, wants to control it--to tax it, and to shut parts of it down.

It certainly wants to control cryptography, because of encryption. For all practical purposes modern-day encryption is unbreakable. People who use encryption are safe from the prying eyes of the State.

Another is microtechnology. Given its way, Ares would microchip every person in the US. Athena will find a way around that, too. Or, if people resist implantation, which will probably be too much even for the sheeple because of its "Number of the Beast" implications, there's the possibility of a driver's license with a magnetic strip on it, containing a plethora of information about the possessor. Or it being connected to a national database that says if you don't pay a $7 parking ticket in a state 1000 miles away your license will be suspended.

Fortunately, Society will attempt to find a way around these things. Athena, like Ares, must be part Trickster in dealing with him. It's an unending battle and probably always will be.

Stephenson believes the coming battlefields between Ares and Athena are "bio-, micro- and nanotechnology." These technologies, amplifiers of our of abilities, will be used by States, by Ares, for war, to control the free market, and to strip people of their freedoms.

Of course, the rationale will be that it is in the name of "security" and "safety." This is nonsense. As Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons once said, "I didn't say the government couldn't harm you. I said it couldn't help you."

Stephenson is right about those three battlefields, but there is more.

The battlefield has always, ultimately, been about ideas. That's the main battle between Ares and Athena. It always has been. "Ideas have consequences, " wrote Richard Weaver in his book of the same title. "He who works with the head, rules; he who works with the hands, is ruled," the old saying tells us.

Ares will attempt to appropriate everything for his use--technology, economics, philosophy, political science, religion. He will tell the citizens it will be for their own good. Considering States, in the 20th century, killed up to 200 million people, no one should believe this.

Unfortunately, there will never be a shortage of deluded court intellectuals working for Ares.

The wisdom of Athena tells us that Society must use technology, and intelligence, and the same ideas about economics, philosophy, political science and religion to oppose Ares and protect Society from his depredations.

The future is impossible to tell, as are advances in technology. But I do know the advances in technology by Society, whatever they are, will be used by Ares to attack and control Society. They must be countered by Society, by Athenan wisdom.

Stephenson makes the disturbing point that many people today have essentially become illiterate, that they have returned to an oral culture, one in which TV is predominant. Many believe its foolish myths. Just think "West Wing." Apparently many people can no longer truly think. What they read goes in one ear and out the other. I blame this on the State schools. Ares has taken control of them, too. That makes it easier to brainwash the populace.

A working brain, one that understands the nature of the State, and the evil it always attempts, and how to fight against it, is the most important thing. It is the ultimate sword, and the ultimate shield.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Visions of the Future

When I was in college, I took four economics courses: Principles of Macro, Principles of Micro, and Intermediate Macro and Intermediate Micro. Half of the material -- the free market half -- made sense. The other half, being Keynesian/Marxist nonsense, should have been junked 60 years ago.

The gobbledygook half consisted of equations such as Y = C+I+G, one line that is supposed to run the entire US economy. Then there were absolutely preposterous graphs such as ISLM curves. While taking these classes, I decided all mainstream economists are incompetent, and realized whatever they advise, the best thing is to do the exact opposite. That old joke is true -- if you laid them in a line, they'd all point in different directions.

The visions of the future of these economists are the delusions of semi-autistic, second-rate mathematicians who think the world can be run by a few people using simple algebraic equations and graphs. That's not much of a vision; actually it's a retrograde one. I've lost my faith -- if I ever had any -- in intellectuals. To be fair, I should say, "court intellectuals." A true intellectual is one who does not support the State.

One of the few sensible things they told the classes was that what a person makes is based on how productive he is. They left it at that. They didn't expand on it and explain it means using machines. The more a person can produce with machines, the more money he makes. A farmer is going to be much more productive with a tractor than a using a stick as a hoe, and therefore make much more money. Obviously, technology is our friend.

There is even a law that explains how machines increase our wages: Cooper's Law, which states, "All machines are amplifiers." They amplify abilities we already have.

Yet, ultimately, machines are not what increases our wages. It's our brains, which we use to manipulate our hands to build those machines. Brains -- intelligence -- is what is behind our ability to build machines. None of this was mentioned in any class I took in college.

There are other things which were never mentioned, such as the facts that in addition to brains, other things are necessary. A belief -- faith -- in the free market and liberty, even if the person doesn't understand how the free market works. But they can see the results of its wonders.

It was never mentioned the government can only harm the economy. Indeed, the exact opposite was taught, that the economy can't function properly unless the government is constantly interfering in it. I am reminded of what Chief Wiggum said in The Simpsons: "I didn't say the government couldn't harm you. I said it couldn't help you." It's an eternal truth they ignored because they didn't believe in it.

We weren't taught that technology is ultimately our friend, that whatever bad technology creates (such as pollution) it can also find a way to clean it up. Instead, in some classes we were told technology and humans damage the earth, as if we were a bunch of pre-Christian animists who believed spirits dwelled in various places, and unless we made the proper obeyances and sacrifices they would do Bad Things to us. Isn't that ultimately what the belief in earth as Gaia is about -- that if we aren't nice to it and sacrifice people to it, it'll croak us with global warming? (Thirty years ago it was global cooling being howled about.)

We were never told about the importance of creativity, curiosity and imagination in invention. Those three things, along with intelligence and freedom, are what humans use to advance themselves and society along with them. Instead it was suggested to us that humans are an overpopulated blight on the planet.

There was a time not so long ago when people were impressed by the free market and the various widgets it was constantly creating to improve people's lives. Now we've got George Bush, supposedly a conservative, telling us to "conserve" (which is what I expect from a liberal) instead of saying, "Hey, you know, the entire universe is energy. We've just got to liberate the free market, and people's intelligence, creativity, imagination and curiosity to realize a way to suck what we need straight out of the ol' space-time continuum." It's a failure of nerve, and of brains, and of imagination. It's a blinkered -- or maybe blind -- view of the future.

I have a different, and more optimistic view. It's one in which the government isn't one-third of the economy and sucking up half of people's incomes. It's a world without public schools crushing kids' spirits. It's a free world. And in that world inventions come whizzing at us like crazy. And without the government as a parasite, wages skyrocket.

Most people don't know it, but the Dark Ages weren't so dark. Read Jean Gimpel's The Medieval Machine sometime. For all the book's flaws, it gives a fascinating insight into an era that was a cornucopia of inventions. And why was that time so fertile? Because of freedom. Where would we be if freedom had been the natural condition of mankind instead of the exception? Five thousand years ahead of where we are now? All diseases eradicated? Who knows?

Why weren't these inventions pouring out of the rest of the world? Out of the much older cultures of China and India ? Perhaps they were ancient and static? It was the technological explosion in Europe , created by freedom -- especially of the mind -- that spread to the rest of the world.

Maybe it was all that science fiction I read as a teenager that gave me a more optimistic view of the future, in fact an unlimited future. The writer Norman Spinrad said it is the only visionary and transformational literature. He may be right. "What's now proved was once only imagined," wrote William Blake. "Everything that can be imagined is an image of the truth."

Look at Jules Verne. There was a Frenchman who essentially predicted every major invention of the 20th Century. Now that was a visionary man. These days, France no longer produces men like Verne, only decadent and superfluous intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre. That's what happens when people no longer look optimistically to the future, and instead blame their problems on other countries and pine for their non-existent Golden Age. I hope our time never comes.

Ninety-nine percent of the science fiction in the world comes from the US and England -- even now, the two most free counties in the world. The rest of the world essentially creates none of it. Do the inhabitants lack the vision and therefore the ability to transform their cultures? Perhaps Proverbs was right: "Where there is no vision the people perish."

"I get tired of the naysayers and the environmental extremists," says writer James P. Hogan, author of Bug Park. "We have the ability, right now, to feed, educate, and take care of every human being in the world. We have the knowledge and ability to solve all the material problems that homo sapiens faces on Earth. The imagined crises with energy and so forth that we hear all about are needless political creations, not something imposed on us by reality."

Now that is an inspiring vision of the future, based on good ideas. And as Richard Weaver wrote in a book of the same name, Ideas Have Consequences. The ideas of Hogan and people like him are far better than the moaning and groaning of the naysayer Paul Ehrlich, who hasn't been right once in 40 years and even sterilized himself because of his belief in "overpopulation." I can only add: good riddance. The next one who needs to go is Peter Singer, who sings the praises of killing infants and old people, and sex with monkeys.

Right now we have enough free market in the US to keep us going for a long time. But the bigger the government gets, the more inventions are diverted to military uses, the more people look to the past instead of the future, the more they seek to return to some fictional non-technological Garden of Eden, the more they believe in force instead of persuasion, the more they believe in war and destruction as creation, the worse things will get all around. Those are laws of human nature, and you can bank on them. Fortunately, we still have plenty of time left to turn things around, if only we have the vision.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kids and ADD

When I was growing up, we didn't have any hyperactive kids. We certainly didn't have anyone on Ritalin. We'd never heard of the stuff. At 11, the only "drug" we knew about was aspirin-in-Coke, which was supposed to make you drunk. (We also believed if you put a tooth or nail in Coke overnight, they would dissolve. Our experiments proved this to be not true, just as we proved that throwing salt on a bird's tail didn't paralyze it so you could catch it.)

Probably the main reason we didn't have any ADD and ADHD is because we got plenty of physical activity. We rode bikes and later, minibikes. I rode horses, including one that wouldn't stop galloping while I held on for my life. We swam, we wrestled, we had dirt-clod fights, we played football with just a football and our heads instead of helmets. We had Styrofoam sailboats break apart from under us in lakes. We climbed cliffs. We jumped off cliffs into pools of water. We inflated tractor-tire inner-tubes and bounced them up and down in lakes until all seven of us flew off. I continued to do this even when the other six boys landed on top of me and shoved me down to the bottom of the lake.

We did this stuff for decades. And we never had any hyperactive kids. I don't remember one. Not one. We did have weird kids who couldn't walk down the hall without tripping over their own feet, or who would go spastic if someone so much as gently tossed a ball their way, apparently believing it would go completely through their torso like a cannonball, but we didn't have anybody who was hyperactive.

Yet, today, teachers and parents will tell you that ADD and ADHD has become much more prevalent over the last 15 years. And during those years, there has been a global decrease in language and cognitive abilities. The aforementioned disorders and those decreases are related.

Children who have been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD have different brains than those without the diagnosis. Among other things, afflicted kids show decreased activity in frontal lobes and other subcortical structures, as demonstrated by PET scans and MRIs. The prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and thalamus demonstrate both decreased activity and smaller anatomical size, particularly in the right brain and the left cerebellum.

The main treatment, if you can call it treatment, is with Ritalin, a drug similar to cocaine. When I think of the 11 million prescriptions a year written for Ritalin, I am reminded of the saying, that if a doctor can't cut it, drug it or burn it, he's clueless.

Ritalin supposedly "wakes up" the frontal lobes, allowing the kid to concentrate more effectively. My experience, and that of millions of others, is that lots of drugs, say booze and marijuana and tobacco, allow you to concentrate more effectively. It doesn't mean those drugs are conducive to intellectual achievement. I doubt Ritalin is, either, and no matter what the drug companies or the government says, no one knows what the long-term effects of Ritalin are. I am reminded, however, that Kurt Cobain was a Ritalin child, which led to heroin and then a shotgun.

As far as I'm concerned, 11 million prescriptions a year is pure quackery, and I wouldn't take my ingrown toenail to a doctor who prescribed it, much less my kid.

Boys are the main recipients of these prescriptions, eight to one over girls. But why?

Current research is pointing to all of these problems as being right or left brain disorders. Contra left-wing feminists, there are distinct differences between male and female brains. Males are generally right-brain dominant, with a larger right frontal lobe. Females tend to be better with left-brain skills, such as language. Females generally have a greater brain symmetry than males, which is why if there is an insult to one side of the brain, the other can compensate.

The majority of ADD and ADHD disorders affect the right brain; therefore males are more affected. Males are also more afflicted with left-brain disorders involving language, since females can compensate for any damage. In other words, boys get can get hit from both sides.

Males, being more brain-lopsided than females, have brains that are more fragile and easier to damage. The upside to that lopsidedness is that it allows men to more narrowly focus long-term on one thing, which is why, again contra left-wingers, men have invented almost everything in the world.

Now, as to why there has been such an increase in ADD and ADHD over the past 15 years: It has to do, possibly more than anything else, with lack of movement. Motoricity--movement-- appears to be the key to appropriate brain development. They are essentially the same process. Cognitive and motor functions are one and the same, because they involve the same parts of the brain. Therefore, movement, for a baby and child, develops the brain properly. Anything that moves needs a brain. It's why plants don't have brains.

So, obviously, the less movement, the less the brain properly develops. For a child--especially a boy--to spend all his time inside watching TV or playing video games, does not contribute to healthy brain development. A sedentary lifestyle for kids is not a good one. The brain remains underdeveloped. And that is scary.

Now I'll be the first to admit I watched a fair amount of TV when I was a kid, especially cartoons. It didn't hurt me. I think “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Fractured Fairy Tales” was truly a good thing for me. But I also got a heck of a lot of physical activity, even if it involved tumbling down hills after falling off of my bicycle.

The worst offender for improper brain development is the government--misnamed "public"--school system. Forcing kids, and especially boys, to sit for hours a day at the desk, with little movement, interferes with proper brain development. Just remember that Ritalin is being forced down kids' throats because of their behavior in school.

Let's put it this way: People like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin didn't have formal schooling. Where are the people like them today? I think there are potential scholars like them in every generation, but we lose them to the government schools. The whole system literally keeps their brains from developing properly. And the problem is getting worse. Just look at our plummeting SAT scores.

Since the lack of movement that is inherent in government schools is the culprit, this means all "reforms" are doomed to failure that don't involve getting kids, and especially boys, out of the classroom. Boys are much more affected by lack of motor development than girls.

The school system cannot be fixed. "Not paying attention" and "not doing homework" are not the problems. "No Child Left Behind" is not the fix. Sitting for hours in a class is the problem. Private schools that copy public schools are going to find themselves in the same quandary.

Not only are school not good for the intellectual development of children, it also doesn't "socialize" them, one of the main claims of government school defenders. If your brain remains underdeveloped, you're sure not going to be socialized properly, either.

"P.E." isn't the answer. I am reminded of what Woody Allen added to the saying, "Those that can, do; those that can't, teach": "Those that can't teach, teach gym." Being forced to do leg-lifts and run outside in circles is no one's idea of fun. When I was in school, the overwhelmingly majority of us wanted nothing to do with P.E., or P.E. teachers, who we thought were more Neanderthal than Homo Sapien. Yet, after school, we get plenty of physical activity.

Anything that improves posture, gait, balance, endurance, timing and synchronization of muscles will improve cognitive function. That means play, not work. And since when are government schools play?

What passes for "school" these days isn't necessary. The only one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books I have read is Farmer Boy, which is about her husband's life growing up on his father's farm. It is a book very much worth reading, and will disabuse anyone of the notion that formal schooling is necessary.

Wilder's husband, Almanzo Wilder, hated school with a great passion, and probably attended only a few months. Yet he grew up literate, and highly intelligent.

From kindergarten to a senior in high school, I cannot remember a thing I learned. I started to teach myself to read at four; in the first grade, when we were supposed to learn to read, I found Dick and Pony and Spot and Jane boring me out of my skull. Twelve years of schooling, and I learned basically nothing? For those 12 years, I mostly day-dreamed, and I still have my report cards with notations on them informing my parents I wasn't paying attention. You bet I wasn't. I was chained to a desk. I wasn't hyperactive. These days, I would be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. My fault? I don't think so.

As far as I'm concerned, that day-dreaming is what saved me, along with all the swimming and bike-riding and wrestling. I have no idea what would have happened to me without that ability to day-dream, or the minibikes and the carnival rides and all the rest of that dangerous stuff that's supposed to be outlawed in the coming Nerf World.

I'd never let my kids go anywhere near a government school, not unless I wanted their brains to be warped permanently for the rest of their lives.

Science Fiction, Wars, and a Meaning to Life

When I was 12 to 14 years old the most important thing in my life was science fiction, including the original Star Trek. I got high off of it -- I felt what is called "the sense of wonder." I don't have to explain it to those who understand; those who have never experienced it, I can't explain it to them.

In my imagination I ranged across all of time and space -- and before them, and after them. I traveled through parallel dimensions and alternative universes. I encountered a vast array of aliens -- talking cats, winged beings, and those that lived under the sea, or in space. It was heady stuff.

Because it was the most important thing in my life at that time, it was in effect the meaning of my life. Others got their meaning from sports or music. Billy Joel once said that rock 'n' roll was as close to a religion as he had.

I am grateful that I encountered SF at the age I did. I think if I had run across it a few years later, although I would have enjoyed it, I would have never felt that intense sense of wonder. I sometimes wonder about those stuck in ancient and ossified cultures like China, India and Islam, who've never been able to feel what I did. Almost all SF --as Norman Spinrad noticed, the only visionary and transformational literature -- has come from America and England, two of the most free countries in the world.

At the same age as I began reading SF, I quit going to church. It bored me immensely. I got the awe and wonder from SF. From church I got nothing but boredom. The latter held no meaning for me. How can anything be called a religion when you get nothing but boredom and meaninglessness from it?

I have for years felt that SF was for some people a substitute for religion, or, in some cases, complimentary to it. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien exemplified the latter (although, to be accurate, Tolkien wrote fantasy.) For some people it gives community and meaning. Watch Trekkies, in which one of the characters comments, "We are always recruiting."

All people seek meanings to their lives, even if they deny there is any meaning to life. Richard Dawkins may be an atheist, but obviously his obsessive promoting of Darwinism is his meaning. People will never choose something boring as their meaning in life. It must always give them excitement and a sense of community.

People who may be a bit more sensitive, imaginative and intelligent than others may be lucky enough to encounter that "sense of wonder," what the original Outer Limits called "the awe and mystery." But what about those who aren't so lucky, who are far more limited? What do they seek for excitement and community?

Sometimes -- oftentimes -- they choose war. Although, for the vast majority of them, it does not involve personally fighting. It involves cheering from the sidelines. It's a spectator sport for them. Being cheerleaders for war gives meaning and community to their otherwise boring lives. This boredom -- ennui -- has always been considered the sin known as accidie. It's what comes from their lack of sensitivity, intelligence and imagination.

Such people mistakenly see this feeling of community and purpose as patriotism, love of country. It's anything but. Indeed, it's the exact opposite. They're nationalists, and as George Orwell noticed, "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

Chris Hedges understands all of this. "The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about it is true -- it does create a feeling of comradeship which obliterates our alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time of our life, feel we belong," he said in a speech at Rockford College, quoting from his book, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. "War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss...

"War is a fine diversion. War for those who enter into combat has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it the lust of the eye and warns believers against it. War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning."

Robert Nisbet, an influential conservative sociologist – and "conservative sociologist" almost sounds like an oxymoron – wrote in his book Community and Power (republished as The Quest for Community), "The power of war to create a sense of moral meaning is one of the most frightening aspects of the 20th century. . .one of the most impressive aspects of contemporary war is the intoxicating atmosphere of spiritual unity that arises out of the common consciousness of participating in a moral crusade."

Nisbet's book, indeed all of his books, is about the alienation that comes from the loss of community. Such loss always happens with the expansion of the State. As it expands, it destroys all the intermediary institutions such as religion, neighborhoods and families. Finally, there is nothing left between people and the State. There are various names for such a condition – fascism, communism, Nazism. The State becomes everything, and people become absorbed into it. Think of the Borg.

Writers such as Erich Fromm and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn have pointed out many people want to be absorbed into a group as an escape from their alienation. It gives them a sense of community and security. Nisbet adds there is something else – such people don't give up their individuality in these groups, but instead exalt their selves, as they now believe they are part of something they think is much larger than they are.

They become, as I call it, "a community of gods." They believe the group itself is god-like, or blessed of God, so they partake of that "divinity" by being part of the group. They are literally worshipping their selves, a worship that always means those outside of the group are devalued into sub-humans whose murders are dismissed as "collateral damage."

As Russell Kirk noted, "the monstrous self is the source of all evil." The Nazis, the communists, and the fascists were that monstrous self writ large. I believe this is why Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote, "'I' is from God and 'We' is from the Devil." That "We" can only be of the Devil when the State destroys the intermediary institutions, and the only "We" left is the combination of the people and the State.

During long-term warfare society becomes militarized and in doing so damages, destroys or absorbs such intermediary institutions as churches. Then we end up with disgraces such as Jerry Falwell claiming "God is pro war," which of course means God supports only the wars of the United States.

"When the goals and values of a war are popular," writes Nisbet, "both in the sense of mass participation and spiritual devotion, the historic, institutional limits of war tend to recede further and further into the void. The enemy becomes not only a ready scapegoat for all ordinary dislikes and frustrations; he becomes the symbol of total evil against which the forces of good may mobilize themselves into a militant community."

In short, war can give meaning and community – and an intoxicating power – to some people's lives. That makes it a religion, a false one based on hubris and being drunk with power. Power does more than just corrupt; it intoxicates. In The Lord of the Rings, it was that power that turned Smeagol into Gollum. The same thing could happen to people in reality.

I believe the people who are the least liable to fall under the spell of this sense of false community and false purpose are the most intelligent, most sensitive, and most imaginative. For one thing, they can more easily see both sides of an issue. The less intelligent, the less sensitive and the less imaginative cannot. They are the ones who most easily fall under the spell of "nationalism."

They, too, get high off of their nationalism -- that "lust of the eye." But I see no awe and wonder and mystery in that lust. Obviously, some highs are better than others. Awe and love and mystery and wonder are good things. Simple excitement and a false sense of community are fleeting things, not worth clinging to.

Will people change? If they ever do, it will be as it always is -- it starts right in the human heart, the place where the only true change takes place. But until that happens, people will always take the cheap thrills, the bread and circuses over the love, the awe, and the wonder -- because they don't know what it is, and because of that, don't know what they're missing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Safe, Effective, and Illegal

For the record, my drug use consists of a German white wine called Auslese.

That's it. I don't even use aspirin, because it doesn't work on me. Minimum, I need Tylenol with Codeine, which can legally be bought through the mail from Canada . I'm too lazy to get some.

However, unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale as a teenager, from ages 15 to 17, on weekends. Then I quit. Some years later, I realized my use coincided exactly with that prison known as high school, which drove me so crazy I did little more than daydream in school and party on the weekends.

But, I haven't touched the stuff for decades. Except . . . .

Last week, as I was walking down a handicapped ramp to my car, my feet flew out from under me and I crashed to the ground on my back. The pavement was dry, and I still have no idea what happened. It was as if the Angel of Death had grabbed my ankles and pulled from the front.

Yes, I know there is irony in the fact I was almost crippled by falling down the handicapped ramp. I was even able to smile about the whole thing after I stood up.

I hit the concrete the hardest I have ever hit in my life. That includes all the tumbles I took on ice during the winter. I found that it is an instinct to hunch your back so the back of your head doesn't hit. But I now understand how people get killed by falling down.

One second I was vertical. A fraction of a second later, I was horizontal. Gravity is not your friend. Neither is the law that mass times acceleration equals velocity.

I lay on the ground for a few seconds, wondering if I was hurt. No cracking of bones, no fountains of blood. No pain, either. Bizarrely, when I fell, I rotated my left wrist, so the soda I was holding in my left hand barely spilled.

Somehow, the keys which I was carrying in the same hand ended up 20 feet away. It took me five minutes, from the point of impact, walking in an ever-widening spiral, to find them in the grass.

The fall happened on a Thursday evening. I was fine until Saturday night. Then my left hip started to ache. Badly. So badly I was ready to go to the ER. I knew there was no major damage, just a bruised muscle or tendon. But no matter which position I was in, my hip hurt. And it hurt so badly I knew sleep was out of the question.

A few years ago I had tendonitis in my left shoulder, which is a swollen tendon. It hurt like you wouldn't believe. I ended up at the ER. The cost: $500, for a shot of painkiller. "That's all we can do for it," the doctor told me.

Fortunately, my insurance paid for most of it, but I swore I would never go to the ER again unless I was taken there unconscious. $500 for a painkiller? No wonder medical costs are out of control.

As I lay there with my aching hip, I wondered what I was going to do. I had no painkillers in the house, and nothing over-the-counter would even touch the pain I was feeling.

Then it occurred to me . . . before the State in its stupidity had made marijuana illegal, doctors prescribed it for all sorts of maladies. Lack of appetite, for one, as everyone knows. That I knew about, considering how much French vanilla ice cream I inhaled on Friday and Saturday nights when I was in high school.

When it was banned, doctors opposed it. Hemp, as it was called then, was used for too many disorders to be so cavalierly dismissed by the ignorant and incompetent in government.

I remember doctors had prescribed it for insomnia, as a muscle relaxer for pregnant women, and for pain.

So, I called up a friend of mine and explained the situation. He, of course, laughed hysterically. "So," he giggled, "you're going to be a 'hepcat' and take a 'toke' of some 'reefer,' huh? I'll see if I can find a 'lid' somewhere."

He gave me an amount about the size of a pea. He even lent me a pipe. I felt ridiculous, puffing on that tiny pipe like I was 16 again, but enough pain overcomes anything.

Much to my surprise, after about two minutes the pain in my hip started to go away. Not completely, but enough so that the pain was tolerable. And the muscles loosened up enough so that I could get up without groaning and cursing and staggering around like Frankenstein's monster. And I got sleepy.

And I wasn't high, either.

I fell asleep, and when I woke up the next morning, the injury had healed enough so I could get around with hobbling and grimacing. A few days later I was fine.

The total cost, according to my friend, if he had charged me for the amount I used, would have been a few dollars. That is obviously a heck of a lot less than $500.

Please don't tell me all about the horrors of drug use. I know all about them.

I've seen kids shoot up when I was 15 years old, I've seen them die from ODs in ditches and from sniffing paint, I've seen alcoholics act completely normal when sober and like they were possessed by demons when they were drunk.

So, the attempts to equate the responsible, occasional use of a medicine by an adult, with the collapse of society, is simply ridiculous.

As far as I'm concerned, it should be part of everyone's medicine cabinet.

Unless, of course, you have no problems shelling out $500 for an ER visit.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Victory of Persuasion Over Force

Years ago, I adopted the scheme of the Russian writer Dmitri Merejkowski (1865–1941), who believed all religions could be divided into two basic ones.

In the first, Luciferian one, Man sacrifices Man to Man. In the second, God sacrifices Himself to Man. I am far more familiar with the first, having expended years of thought upon it.

I do know the second archetype has been around for thousands of years. Think of Prometheus, who gave mankind not only fire, but brickwork, woodworking, telling the seasons by the stars, numbers, the alphabet (for remembering things), yoked oxen, carriages, saddles, ships and sails, healing drugs, the mining of precious metals, and art. He paid for his effrontery by being shackled to a rock, where an eagle tried to devour his liver every day, after which it grew back overnight.

The second archetype was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus, which, according the French philosopher and theologian Rene Girard, author of Violence and the Sacred, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, was supposed to finally put an end to the scapegoating and human sacrifice that was endemic in the pagan world, and so casually accepted. If anything, it would have truly put an end to evil, not the hallucinations of David Frum and Richard Perle, authors of the grossly misnamed An End to Evil.

Girard believed there were two functions to the scapegoat: social cohesion, and the attempt to renew society by doing violence to the scapegoat. The theologian Walter Wink, author of The Powers That Be, called the second function, "the Myth of Redemptive Violence." Both authors thought people, indeed entire societies, believed they could be made whole (a word with the same root as "healthy" and "hale") by projecting their own imperfections onto the scapegoat and eradicating it by violence.

Dostoevski, in The Brothers Karamazov, claimed that Jesus also gave people freedom, but that many more than anything else wanted to give up this "burden" for security, and to find someone to worship and provide for their every need. Their craving for a "community of worship" would lead to religious violence against scapegoats. Since it's the modern godlet State that is supposed to provide for these needs, Dostoevski's observations fit with the theories of Merejkowski, Wink and Girard. It also fits with what Chris Hedges wrote in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living."

That carnage, that destruction, is always based on finding a scapegoat, on human sacrifice, on believing in an Absolute Good and an Absolute Evil that always dehumanizes and demonizes the opponent. A group created by such things is what Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn meant when he wrote, "'I' is from God and 'We' is from the Devil." Social cohesion, indeed.

The US used alcohol for a while as a scapegoat, and currently is using drugs (some drugs, but certainly not those money-makers approved by the FDA, the AMA and the pharmaceutical companies). The first attempt didn't work and neither will the second. The attempt at Utopia, Heaven on Earth, the return to the Garden of Eden, whatever you want to call it, has always been considered blasphemy, and for the best of reasons. It not only never works, it always backfires. The road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions, and naive idealists have caused more catastrophes in the world than the most evil of evil people.

That first archetype, Man sacrificing Man to Man, was the scourge of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Communists danced to that tune, which ended in the deaths of perhaps 200 million people. That danse macabre is best embodied in the story of Satan, who deluded himself he could be God.

It's also embodied in the story of the Garden of Eden, where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent, a symbol of envy. In any case it points out the first defense of people is to oversimplify and blame their problems on others, whether they are guilty or not. It is always the first defense of a group.

The first archetype is best associated with political power, what Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy, the State, called the Political Means of force and fraud: murder, lying, theft. After all, Satan did tempt Jesus with political power over the kingdoms of the world, an offer He refused, but one which no politician ever has. Does this mean that all politicians are in some degree Satanic? Of that I have no doubt.

That first archetype -- Man sacrificing Man to Man -- is almost always associated with the Political Means (remember the Nazis and the Communists?), is often based upon envy and the avoidance of it, and is always based on the grandiose and narcissistic belief in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. Were it not based on the fairy tale of pure good and pure evil, the projection of evil onto others could not exist.

Only with the belief in pure good and pure evil can Man sacrifice Man to Man. It is based on the belief that Man is God, and being God, can only remain God by eradicating that which is defined as evil. Those who define themselves as good always have to project their imperfections elsewhere. That "elsewhere" will always be the object of attempted annihilation.

This sacrificing of Man to Man has been going on for a long time. In the Bible the best-known example is that of Moloch, who required an occasional baby or two to hold his malice and envy at bay. This type of sacrificing even exists in the libertarian tradition, with Ayn Rand, whose popular novel Atlas Shrugged was based on her god-like heroes projecting their imperfections onto her evil, malicious, envious subhuman "looters" and "parasites," who were then sacrificed to save the purity of her demigods.

If the first archetype of Man sacrificing Man to Man is based on the Political Means of force and fraud, then the second archetype, God sacrificing Himself to Man, is based on voluntary persuasion, what Nock called the Economic Means. Not only Jesus, but every legitimate spiritual teacher has claimed that people must voluntarily change their hearts and minds. A clockwork-orangian Ludovico's Technique to bash people into being good will never work.

Alfred North Whitehead, in his book, Adventures of Ideas, had this to say about the difference between persuasion and force: "The creation of the world -- said Plato -- is the victory of persuasion over force...Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilization, either in the general society or in a remnant of individuals...

"Now the intercourse between individuals and between social groups takes one of these two forms: force or persuasion. Commerce is the great example of intercourse by way of persuasion. War, slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force."

In two nutshells this is what we have:

* FORCE: The Political Means of force and fraud.
* The fairy tale of Pure Good and Pure Evil.
* Scapegoating and human sacrifice.
* Violence as redemptive.

* PERSUASION: The Economic Means of voluntary persuasion and liberty.
* Good and Evil as a continuum.
* The extinction of scapegoating and human sacrifice.
* Violence not as redemptive, but always destructive.

George Bush has claimed Jesus is his favorite philosopher, a concept that would be amusing if it weren't so tragic, since he is ignoring that comment about "Blessed are the peacemakers." Bush is also ignoring the comment, "What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?"

It is clear to me that a substantial part of Christianity has been perverted, especially by Jerry Falwell and his kind. When he claims that "God is pro war" he is in his dull-wittedness supporting scapegoating, human sacrifice, the belief in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and violence as redemptive. Unfortunately there are in this country enough people like him to activate that saying about the blind leading the blind over a cliff.

Of course, this will always happen when there are enough people who can't tell the difference between God and the Devil.