Praying for Time?

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because god stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all god’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because god stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you

That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

Despite the title and the inclusion of the lyrics to one of many wonderful songs written by an amazing human, this post isn’t about the gut-punch of a loss that hit us all on Xmas day. I could write – at length – about all the specific moments and memories he contributed to my life: like the time that my BFF (looking at you, JJB) and I stood in line to get tickets to the Wham! show at Exhibition Stadium – something that was allowed only if we agreed to take my little sisters along with us – and about how amazing that show turned out to be; or about the dubious decision to teach an unruly bunch of 13-year-old campers the words to I Want Your Sex as we walked to the Tuck Shop to pick up enough sugar to see us through our out-supper (in defence of 18-year-old me, they already knew the song – they just had most of the lyrics wrong – and misheard lyrics are a crime against all that is sacred. It was my duty to make sure they were corrected); or about the true strength and comfort that radiated from his version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!”) as I drove back-and-forth between Ottawa and Toronto, looking for a place to live – a place to re-start – as I put a terrible break-up behind me, and began looking for new beginnings and the healing of myriad heart-deep cuts.

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

2016 saw too many commentaries – by me and by others – that celebrated and mourned a seemingly inordinate number of precious people. Others have spoken about the generosity of spirit and unwavering belief in his fellow humans that George exemplified in all that he did. How his talent often went unrecognized – he was dismissed as a pretty-boy, depth-less popster for far too long – when his songs (if you take the time to really listen to them), sung in that peerless voice, demonstrated an understanding of the best and the worst of the ways we human beings interact with one another and our world(s).

So that’s not what this is about.

Take it as a given that I loved him. And that I feel like the loss of him – and the rest of those who slipped away from us last year – couldn’t come at worse time. Truly. We need those lost voices more than ever – as we enter a new year faced with uncertainty and newly-mandated hatred and ignorance.

For the last couple of days, as the iPod shuffles through songs to keep me occupied on the TTC, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. (I do that when I’m unsettled – I look for patterns. And often find them – even if a bit of stretching is required. I like the order inherent in patterns. I’m all for order – unless disorder is required…). A lot of the songs in my collection, including the one that prompted this post, have something to say about time.

Needing more time, wasting time, time healing wounds… that last one is sort of what George was going for as he attempted to sort through the social injustice, hypocrisy and hatred he was seeing made manifest all around him in 1990.

Plus ça change, and all that.

After giving it some thought, though, I’m going to have to respectfully beg to differ when it comes to the idea that that might be the best approach. I’m reallyreally tired of all the ‘wait and see’, ‘ride it out’, ‘this too shall pass’ that is floating around out there right now.

It’s time, folks, to stop the freakin’ apocalypse.

I spend a whole lot of time thinking about – and reading and writing and teaching about – apocalypses, specifically those bodies of literature that deal with the end of one time and offering a forecast of what might follow. They were the primary focus of more than two decades of my adult life, and they are a hard habit to break.

Whether or not we are aware, the apocalyptic worldview is something we, in Toronto, in Canada, in the Western World, live with constantly.  We internalize apocalyptic metaphors as they are revealed throughout our social context.

We are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, we have certain steps that need to be taken. If we want a career in law, we attend law school in preparation. Then intern with established firms, take and pass the Bar, and start at the bottom with an expectation that we will move onto better things, once these mandated steps have been achieved.

We tell young people that they will not get ahead unless they have a university/college degree. As a result, the degrees are treated as means to increasingly-nebulous ends, rather than appreciated for the experience that they can bring into an enhanced life.

Thanks to the influence of biblical religions on our societies, we are all culturally predisposed to be driven by what comes next.

This propensity creeps into our language in a pretty constant and almost subliminal way. How often have you counted down the hours until the end of a day, the days until the weekend, or the weeks until vacation?

It’s part of our vernacular – our language and the way we communicate – to do so. Heck, there’s a US restaurant chain that’s named after this way of thinking (TGIFridays).

I do it when a day isn’t going as I might like, even when I should know better. I’m as guilty of watching the clock as the next person. When periods of work get intense – with deadlines looming – I reassure myself that if I just get through this task or this period of time then all will be well. And then I reward myself for reaching that milestone.

I work, essentially, as a cog in the machine of bureaucracy – driven by deadlines that are imposed by project managers who have no context and no interest in seeing beyond a ‘go live’ date that removes them from all responsibility for the ongoing operation of the project-at-hand. Project development decisions are made in accordance with siloed mandates, and thought out only until they become operational. After that event, the maintenance of the project is no longer the concern of those who were designated as the implementers of the plan. The ‘go live’ is the thing. Our workdays revolve around the timelines of PMs who just want to get the thing done so they no longer need to think about it and can move on to the next project.

I function, daily, within this paradigm. It’s how I make a living, how I pay the mortgage, and (hopefully) save enough money that I can look forward to time away (temporarily – to my next vacation, and to the hope of eventual permanence – as a retiree) from contributing to the perpetual motion of the hamster wheel of government.

As human as this inclination to look with hope toward the future may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglect to acknowledge the importance of the moment in which we are, right now, living.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

How passive is that? Ick. That does not sit well with me.

Especially when you consider that, in historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status-changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments – even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities – and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

And that makes me want to bite something.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

Don’t get me wrong- it can be a very useful coping mechanism- when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique- “let’s get over this hump and then things will quiet down”. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of this kind of anxiety now – what with a sociopathic ignoramus untested and radically divisive individual about to be sworn in as POTUS. We are conditioned, by our myths and cultures, to think that we NEED, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

At its most extreme, we get so caught up in thoughts of the future – and how it has to be better than the stress/boredom/suffering – that we are currently experiencing – that we lose the experience of right now – and miss the both potential enjoyment that might be found in all those passing moments and, perhaps even more importantly, the occasions through which we can work to affect change. We waste countless opportunities that can be found in our immediate reality as we wait for a projected reckoning at which time all will be set to rights.

So, how do we overcome a narrative that is a hidden but ever-present part of our way of looking at the world? How do we stop thinking apocalyptically?

Popular culture loves a good apocalypse (as I said, the BEST stories) – and it has transformed the way we think about them. In most of the narratives that deal with apocalyptic considerations these days, the world as we know it ends, one way or another, and things get even worse after the fact.

Zombies and aliens dominate our tv, computer and movie screens. Through all these imagined outcomes we can see that the paradigm behind the narrative has changed. The end result of that event that changes everything is dystopic – and punishing to all those who felt the disconnect with expectations and assumptions and held out hope after hope that the future would offer succor for the suffering. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do before the eschaton happened.

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

What they’re saying is that we’re damned, regardless of what we might do and what form the end of days might take. No action we take or role we play will affect the outcome of the apocalypse – and what comes after.

As a philosophy, that really sucks. But it does point out that eschatology has its vagaries. You can’t count on apocaplypses to work out the way you wanted – they, like the gods who deliver them, are capricious by nature.

As we begin 2017 we need to acknowledge that being singularly and constantly focused on the unknowns that the future might hold is counter-productive to living our lives with investment in our current situations. We can certainly look forward to future ‘better things’ (I reallyreally hope to get to Scotland again this year – something that would be better than going to work every day) – but we must do so without squandering the experiences of the present.

Popular culture has already changed the narrative from what it was in biblical times – (although there are still those people – waaaay too many people in a supposedly-educated population – who hold fast to versions of us/them righteousness triumphing over evil) the world ends, but the external salvation/rewards aren’t forthcoming. So the world ends, people adjust and keep moving forward as best they can. And deal with the new challenges with all the tools they can bring to bear. Cross-bows, come to mind.

But how’s about we do all that without waiting for the end-game event as a spur to action? Isn’t that a better use of our time than waiting around for a catalyst that forces us to do something?

We do have time.

Lots of it. Enough of it that we tend to waste it – focusing on issues of irrelevance or binge-watching television programs about zombie apocalypses – and then lament that it is gone.

We need to take what time we have – and the amount varies from person-to-person – to invest in what is happening right now and acknowledge and overcome the defeatist rhetoric that says that better things will come if we just wait it out.

Better things won’t come unless we actively seek to create them. Complacency and unmerited hope isn’t an option. Patience, in this case, is not a virtue.

Arguably we have seen events (the US election is but one symptom of the ass-backward direction that a number of people seem determined to take) that might be seen as cataclysmic. Is it hyberbolic to assert that Trump – and those he is bringing to his ‘leadership’ table – is a disaster of historic proportions? I’m not sure that it is. Underestimating the severity of this situation is not an a risk-appropriate option as things stand.

Rather than waiting for any further apocalyptic happenings – and the changes they might bring, for better or worse – we need to look to our past and follow the example of those who came before us, when they faced injustice and inequity . There are LOTS of great examples. We can mobilize, agitate, and use our voices to speak passionately (like Ms. Meryl did the other night) against those who seek to further their agendas at the expense of freedoms and truths.

What happened in the US in November is wrong. How it can be permitted to stand is demonstrative of systemic issues that lie well beyond my ken (wasn’t the Electoral College created to prevent the rise of demagogues to the highest office in the land?). What has followed clearly demonstrates the need to wake up and affect our current reality through the use of words, action and activism. Wishing for time – to (hopefully) ride out this storm – moves us nowhere, except towards the infamy of nativism, racism, xenophobia and sexism that we see in daily tweets from the next leader of the Free World.

To be sure, there are disparities between our expectations and societal realities. My expectation was that no one in their collective, national right minds would even come close to electing that guy. That isn’t something that’s new. But doing nothing more than placing hope in a future that will prove salvific and redemptive for those who have to endure the imbalance is an abrogation of responsibility and morality.

Returning to those things that belong in the past – ignorance and ‘legitimate excuses’, as examples – is not an acceptable response to the anomie, discontent and disconnect that so many are feeling in the here-and-now of 2017. That there are those who think that waiting for a Judgement Day – which will redress the varied imbalances felt by a diversity of people – is the best course of action, lends itself to some level of understanding about how we got here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also hard to let go of a closely-held and precious delusion that confirms that we will be vindicated and rewarded, if we suffer long enough.

Understanding – and even empathizing with – the place from where that ideology hails doesn’t mean we should sit by and watch the apocalypse play out without our participation. That’s what people like the POTUS-elect want you to do – sit idly by as he and his cronies run roughshod over freedoms and human rights.

Apocalyptic narratives support his positions – and the promises he made (we’re seeing some of those promises broken already – and he isn’t yet in office). We can’t ‘wait and see’. The course is set – but it can be diverted, if we take hold of a narrative that speaks to something other than a linear rush to fruition – if you are one of the ‘chosen people’.

Praying for time? Hanging on to hope in the face of hopelessness? All due respect to our dearly departed, but these things cannot be the answer.

But he also wrote this:

I believe in the gods of America
I believe in the land of the free
But no one told me
That the gods believe in nothing
So with empty hands I pray
And from day to hopeless day
They still don’t see me

Instead of placing hope in false gods and demagogues – who don’t believe in us – let’s give them a run for their money and show them that we aren’t going to wait and see any longer. The system needs a shock – that is one positive take-away from the recent crisis – and we need to be the ones to stand and deliver that shock.

A good way to begin? Set aside childish things – including anachronistic biblical metaphors. Together we have the power to stop the apocalypse and, instead, spend our time doing the work that will bring a future that benefits humanity as a whole.

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

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‘And if they send in the special police to deliver us from liberty and keep us from peace…’

What do the Prime Minister of Canada and Millenarian crazy-folk have in common?

Sounds like the lead-in to a complicated joke, doesn’t it?

There are a couple of things that have been reallyreally bugging me lately.

Interestingly, as is so often the way in my life (and my particular way of viewing the world), they are both connected.

Apocalyptic nutbags and Stephen Harper are making me want to bite something lately. It’s hard to focus on anything else. Seriously. The drafts folder just keeps growing and growing and yet I can’t manage to hit the ‘publish’ button.

From where comes all this recent angst? Well, in case you aren’t Canadian- or if you are Canadian and you’ve been living in a soundproof tunnel beside York University for the last little bit- Harper’s Conservative government has decided that we are at war with things like niqabs– necessitating daily wardrobe checks from our Sartorial Leader (check out the hashtag #DressCodePM if you want a good chuckle)- and, as a result, that we need further scrutiny of this great threat to our nation. In order to do so, CSIS (The Canadian Security Intelligence Service- fill in oxymoron jokes as you wish) needs to have the authority to keep a closer eye on all of us.

Or, more truly, on some of us.

As The Walrus noted recently, “CSIS was designed with a broad mandate but limited powers. Until now, it has been an intelligence service—which is to say that it collects and analyses information, and supplies threat assessments to the government. When it was created in 1984, parliament approved CSIS’s mandate as one that excluded “kinetic” powers—including the power to arrest or otherwise do things to people in the physical world (except when necessary, for example, to install a wiretap or listening device).”

Talking about Harper’s ‘anti-terrorism’ bill, last month a Globe and Mail editorial (February 5) noted that ‘one part of Bill C-51 creates a new definition of an “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada” that includes “terrorism,” “interference with critical infrastructure” and “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.’ 

As a result, ‘if Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be able to disrupt anything its political masters believe might be a threat. As the bill is currently written, that includes a lot more than terrorism.’

That’s pretty damn terrifying, if you ask me.

But this focus on ‘terrorism’ is alarming in itself. In the lead-up to an October election, our Fearful Leader has stated:

‘The fact of the matter is this, ladies and gentleman: The international jihadist movement has declared war. They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act. They have declared war and are already executing it on a massive scale on a whole range of countries with which they are in contact, and they have declared war on any country like ourselves that values freedom, openness and tolerance. And we may not like this and wish it would go away, but it is not going to go away and the reality is we are going to have to confront it.’  (Globe and Mail, January 8, 2015).

This rhetoric sounds oddly familiar.

Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism, while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans. With my signature, this law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger. This legislation is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists, but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones. This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war.’

Recognize that? Anyone? Bueller?

George W. Bush said those words as he signed into the law a little thing called the Patriot Act. Almost 14 years ago.

For a PM who has coasted on the coattails of a song-and-dance performance about his role in ensuring economic recovery post-recession, he’s had a hard time lately, what with the drop in the dollar and the price of oil and the stubborn reticence of some people regarding the approval of certain pipelines… It’s hard to keep to the Party Line about economic prosperity when the Albertan-heart of your support-system is dealing with lay-offs and tar sand shut-downs.

So stirring up a little (un)healthy fear among the population might regain some of the votes- and also allow the Cons to take care of those muckrakers who want to talk about inequity regarding the treatment of First Nations, and those rabble-rousing science-types who just won’t shut up about things like global warming, even when their institutions are shut down or de-funded. Win-win-win.

If you’re not up to speed on recent politics-as-usual here in our once-great Nation, you might think I’m the one being alarmist regarding some of his current/recent policy change pushes. So, if you require further evidence, how’s about these apples? Credit checking and (potentially) fingerprinting public servants? Or this little gem that further closes the ideological divide between us and some of the more inexplicable things that our American neighbours consider to be standard operating procedures. I love how his comments- about protecting oneself with gun violence- ‘are being promoted by the Conservatives’ election campaign manager ,’ in spite of the reality that, legally, Canadians do not have the right to defend their homes with a gun- that this belief ‘is a common misperception that is much more true in the United States than it is here.’

Fortunately, a lot of people aren’t ignoring all this windbaggery. Despite Harper’s best efforts to pass things without parliamentary hearings or input from voters, Canadians let their voices be heard this past weekend. And the clarion call is still sounding for citizens to step up and weigh in on the matter of what it means to be Canadian. Not wanna-be-American-Fox-News-loving-far-right-reaching-fossil-fuel-pushing-Republican clones.

Especially since a lot of this is stuff and nonsense.

How can you say that, cole? Aren’t we under direct attack by the Islamic State?

Over the weekend I came across a fantastic article that seriously- and studiously, and in an informed and reasoned manner- looks into the origins and ideologies of ISIS/ISIL (the article was first posted by a former TA of mine- now a contract instructor at UofT, who is currently on strike- but that’s a tangent- important though it may be- for another day).

It’s long, but well-worth the read.

The most salient points for my discussion?

As I’ve noted before, here, historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking- and the literature and policies that support it- develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better scenario that we expect to show up at some nebulous future date.

In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice- as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo- religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments- even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities- and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, in favour of the life that might come along at some point in the future.

Graeme Wood points out in his article that the Islamic State is apocalyptic to the core.

‘The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world. McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”

For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need.”

But N.B. These bloodbaths will take place on their own soil– not in foreign battles with Western infidels or apostates.

The thing about people who hold onto ridiculous, mythological constructs? They cling to the literal letter of those constructs to the very end (check out any given bible-thumper who appears as a pundit on Fox, if you doubt the veracity of that statement). The Islamic State’s apocalyptic worldview includes an engagement of the enemy only after the emergence of the anti-Messiah- at Dabiq- their version of Megiddo/Armageddon. The culmination of their propagandist vision of a return to medieval concepts of both morality and warfare will take place in Aleppo, in northern Syria.

“Only God knows” whether the Islamic State’s armies are the ones foretold, Cerantonio said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the End of Days is that people will for a long while stop talking about the End of Days,” he said. “If you go to the mosques now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to the Islamic State mean nothing, since God has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. The Islamic State has its best and worst days ahead of it.’

The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.

A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems.’

This is key: ‘Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.’

Yet, some Western leaders, including Stephen Harper, would have us believe that the Islamic State, in particular, is at Canada’s very door- and will be kept at bay only if our intelligence-gathering agencies are given carte blanche to ensure that none of their apocalyptic poison infects our home and native land.

Which isn’t in keeping with actual scholarship/analysis regarding the realities of the situation as it lies- far from our shores. Wood notes that the solution to ridding ourselves of the perversion of reason that is the Islamic State isn’t likely to be simple or quick, but eroding our freedoms and values to the point of no return isn’t the best route to be taking.

There are, certainly, human rights concerns that require addressing. We remain citizens of a shared planet, and it sits unwell for us to watch as people are massacred and enslaved by illogical and morally- and philosophically- offensive ideologies.  But direct engagement needs to be carefully evaluated- as does continued involvement by government(s) who refuse to do their homework- by listening to people who know the sitch- sociologists, historians… those sorts of insurrectionists that threaten our national security.

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology… That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.’

It would be disingenuous- and hyperbolic- to equate Harper’s rhetoric with that of the Islamic State. I’m not suggesting that their particular forms of propaganda are comparable. But the underlying tools used to promote that propaganda are based in the same benighted vision of Us Vs. Them.

The Islamic State is engaged in an ideological struggle to justify their self-proclaimed caliphate. They are using opportunistic violence and medieval argumentation as a means of instilling fear in people who can’t be arsed to look any deeper into their origins or ‘party platform’.

Stephen Harper is engaging in politics of fear and division for reasons of all-too-obvious expediency as he attempts to cling to the power he was, for some inexplicable reason, granted by the citizens of Canada. Things aren’t going his way. So, carrying ever-forward with his vision to remake Canada into something unrecognizable, he’s resorting, more and more, to fear as his default modus operandi.

Terrorism can be defined as ‘the state of fear and submission produced by terrorization- which can be achieved through acts/words that dominate or coerce through intimidation.’

Gotta say. It’s working.

To be completely fair and as even-handed as possible, I have to note that Tom Mulcair’s federal NDP (the Official Opposition) will only vote for the Bill if amendments are made, but Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals are supporting Bill C-51. This is also inexplicable to me. I have yet to see a legitimate argument for them doing so. From everything I’ve read, the decision to support the unsupportable is almost as politically expedient as the Conservatives’ reason for creating it.

In a circular argument that is making my head freakin spin, Trudeau said something along the lines of ‘the Cons would be very happy to use a Liberal vote against C-51 to further their fear-mongering agenda and use it to shore up votes to the detriment of the Liberal voter support’ (keep in mind, I’m paraphrasing). He speaks of ‘improving’ the Bill- once he is PM- making it more palatable to Canadian tastes.

Here, I’m not paraphrasing. He actually said this:‘I am a Liberal. I believe that when a government asks its citizens to give up even a small portion of their liberty, it is that government’s highest responsibility to guarantee that its new powers will not be abused.’

I call bullshit.

So does Ben Franklin.

 

And that Matt Johnson guy I’ve talked about before

 

When you cast your eyes upon the skylines
Of this once proud nation
Can you sense the fear and the hatred
Growing in the hearts of its population And our youth, oh youth, are being seduced
by the greedy hands of politics and half truths The beaten generation, the beaten generation
Reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation
The beaten generation, the beaten generation
Open your eyes, open your imagination We’re being sedated by the gasoline fumes
and hypnotised by the satellites
Into believing what is good and what is right You may be worshiping the temples of mammon
Or lost in the prisons of religion
But can you still walk back to happiness
When you’ve nowhere left to run? And if they send in the special police
To deliver us from liberty and keep us from peace Then won’t the words sit ill upon their tongues
when they tell us justice is being done
and that freedom lives in the barrels of a warm gun

If you’re Canadian, and you haven’t done so already, I urge you to make your voice heard about this Bill C-51 nonsense. We can not allow ourselves to be terrorized- by ideologically and morally backward enemies abroad or by those who seek to rule through intimidation and misinformation that leads to loss of the freedoms that define us in our own eyes and in the eyes of our fellow humans.

We are not (yet) beaten.

The response to the anomie that causes apocalyptic thinking lies in addressing the inequities that are found in our current social situations. Hiding behind inflammatory fear-mongering and visions of cataclysms yet-to-come as an impetus to the further degradation of Canadian mores isn’t an acceptable form of 21st century, rational, secular governance. If we don’t wish to become that which we are being told-constantly- to fear, that truth has to be dragged to the surface and inserted into the democratic dialectic that we cherish. Preferably before alarmist rhetoric becomes policy.

… and I feel (de)fine

The other day I briefly referenced the fact that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about apocalyptic thinking- particularly in the context of the workplace.

A sizable portion of the reading I’ve been doing lately has to do with the development of positive corporate culture- a mixed bag of approaches to the office environment in the midst of changing realities in the wider cultural/societal environment.

So many of the concepts I’ve been reading about have one thing in common. Whether they use the specific terminology or not, they are advocating the eradication of apocalyptic thinking.

I’m in the process of trying to pull some of these ideas together- and add my own particular voice and perspective to the discourse. Doing so involves some definition of terms and exploration of apocalypticism- as both a body of mythological literature and a worldview.

I love the literature. GREAT stories- some memorable and colourful characters that persist in holding our imaginations. As an ideology? Not so much. The nature of apocalyptic worldviews lies at the heart of a boatload of our social, cultural, political and just plain ol’ human problems. That these issues lead to problems in the workplace is, to me, a logical extension of the fact that we inherit and adopt ideologies without necessarily being aware that we have done so.

I wrote this post over a year ago. It serves as something of an introduction to apocalypticism (as does the previous post that is linked in this one) and begins an approach to getting my thoughts on the connection of end-of-world thinking and general (and, by extension, workplace) dissatisfaction.

colemining

The Eschaton.  The End of Days.  It seems to be everywhere lately.  There are television shows, movies, books and seemingly constant news articles about various ways in which society as we know it might be brought, abruptly, to a problematic conclusion.

There are viruses, plagues, earthquakes, aliens, and, pretty much everywhere you look, zombies!  Zombies!  ZOMBIES!  From the Walking Dead to World War Z(ed)- they are among us and just waiting to rise and make life even more miserable.

I wrote here about societal anomie and how it leads to expressions of anxiety that include apocalyptic stories.  The apocalyptic tradition has provided some of the best, and most enduring myths.  They endure, in part, because periods of great collective social anxiety tend to be cyclical.  As the stresses return again and again, the idea that there is something better (or at least different) that will redeem us while punishing those…

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Shazbot

Je sais, je sais.  J’ai disparu.  Encore en fois.

There I was, thinking I was back on track to get back to my semi-regular postings on Life, the Universe, you know- Everything, really.  When a few things happened…

a) I got caught up in an Ideas (that CBC again) presentation about Nietzsche.  Yes, Nietzsche.  Suddenly I’m back in the bookstore (yes, I still go to bookstores- fewer and further between though they may be) in order to re-visit his views on this world of ours (between him and Spinoza, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with philosopher-types of late).

b) I woke up in the middle of the night (my 4 am awakenings have recurred- vengefully, it seems) with a fantastic idea (if I do say so myself) for a project regarding our perverse and self-destructive insistence upon living our lives according to apocalyptic thinking.  An idea that jibed exactly with the Nietzsche and some of the books about positive corporate culture that I’ve been reading as part of my day job.

c) While cruising the interworld (as I am sometimes wont to do) I became aware of a heinously misinformed group of women who think that #womenagainstfeminism is a real thing and a good thing- let alone an ideology that makes anything like rational sense.

This was enough of a distraction- based in something like despair- that I felt the need to track it to its putative source(s) and read- and listen to (sitting in for Jian, Stephen Quinn spoke with Roxanne Gay- author of Bad Feminist- on Q today, and The Current had a discussion about ‘the movement’ on August 4)- a whole bunch of stuff about the ‘arguments’ against feminism that are appearing as poster-boarded memes.  Memes that are dedicated to, and exemplars of, the sorts of things I discussed in my last couple of posts.  Credulity, and how not knowing history leads one down the slippery slope of having it repeat itself.  For example.

d) My company’s Chief Morale Officer paid us a visit, and brought back to my mind something he said at a recent team culture meeting.  It was about how having knowledge makes no difference if that knowledge isn’t shared.  Zero.  Zippo.  Nada.

It reminded me that I know stuff- and that I should be sharing the stuff I know.

And then.

e) Mork left us all behind to return to Ork.

So much has been said- so wonderfully and with such sincerity of loss (I won’t even address the ignorant, negative comments and despicable behaviours that are out there in the ether.  Such things need no further dissemination or acknowledgement)- that I’m not sure I can add anything about his courage and kindness and gifts.  And about how his celebrity and the genuine shock so many of us are feeling has opened (re-opened?) lines of dialogue about the insidious reality that is depression- and the stigma that remains attached to mental illness.

While he brought us so very many enduring characters, I will never forget first meeting, while sitting in my parents’ bedroom, that red-clad charmer from another world.  As he spoke with Richie Cunningham and then battled the Fonz (Fonzarelli thumb against Orkan finger), I felt like I’d found a new friend.

Mork, with his innocent view of our world and his weekly explanations to his superior back home as he tried to make sense of it all, was profoundly resonant- and personally identifiable.

On our yearly family holidays- which always involved extremely long car trips- as a way to entertain my wee sisters (and- as a side-effect- annoy the hell out of our parents- although that was an understanding I came to much later) I created a character of my own.

This character was an alien- with, for some reason, a British accent- named YumYum.  As we passed things of note- landmarks, cities, mountains, or listened to music (when it was our turn to control the tape deck), YumYum asked the sisters (named ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’- my childhood imagination had significant gaps of inspiration, at times) to explain things as we drove along.  In hotels, at the end of each long day, they taught YumYum to swim, talked about things that were on the tv and read each other books as a way of demonstrating the world to their own, personal, visitor from outer space.

To say that YumYum was modeled on Mork is to state the veryvery obvious.  Both aliens taught as they, themselves, learned.

Robin’s subsequent roles built upon the innocence and wonder and joy with which his first great fictional incarnation viewed the world.  He became a teacher (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting)- and his lessons spoke volumes to the teacher in me.

He played the archetypal little boy who never grew up- except that he somehow did grow up and forgot the lessons of his eternal childhood (until that scene when his Lost Boy straightens out the wrinkles and the extra facial padding and says, heartrendingly, ‘There you are, Peter’).

In that way that all things can seem to be connected…

Last week, during our team meeting, our manager played us that little ditty up there ^^^

She and another colleague are both learning to play the ukulele, and Izzy’s mash-up of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World was illustrative of this new undertaking- of branching outside of comfort zones and taking risks for the sake of trying something new.  Izzy’s story- his talent, his pride in his home State, his status as a hero of Hawaiian rights, ideals and culture- make his loss (too young) all the more poignant.

The discussion led me to comment that, on that very same day while walking to work, the Shuffle Daemon played me this tune:

Taken from Don’t Worry About Me, Joey’s only solo album- released posthumously, it demonstrated his enduring spirit in the face of his fight with lymphoma.  The world knew he was fighting- he battled his disease for seven years- but his death still came as a surprise. To me, anyway.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard he was gone (in a seminar class- Coptic language- my thesis adviser asked what I was listening to as I took my seat and removed my earlier-incarnation of the Shuffle Daemon.  I happened to be listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School– and he told me that he’d just heard on the radio that Joey was gone…).  When I watch that movie (at least once a year) or listen to any of his music, I still find it hard to take on board that he isn’t with us anymore.

There’s another version of that song too.  The first version.  The one from 1967 performed by the great Louis Armstrong.  The one that was used in a movie called Good Morning, Vietnam.

My thoughts are all over the place, lately.  Clarity is tricky to come by, and focus is lacking.  Sorely.  I’m, admittedly, scattered and, truth be told, more than a little shattered.

So.  I’m setting aside all that development of big ideas and sharable knowledge and the kvetching about the things that need changing.

Tonight I’m just going to hold onto the conceit that our friend and teacher, Mork- and the man who brought him to life- has been recalled by Orson, once and for all.

To join Izzy, and Joey and Louis.

“Friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do?'”

Na-nu na-nu, Captain, my Captain.

… here again

Incredulous.  

One of my favourite words, and certainly something I appreciate in others.  Mainly because its opposite- credulous– just isn’t something I get.

At all.

I’ve talked about it before.  Most recently in recounting my reread of Dr. Sagan‘s The Demon Haunted World.

And one of my all time go-to books of profound influence is all about credulity.

In Umberto Eco’s incredible Foucault’s Pendulum, its narrator, Casaubon, after years of education and experience, opted to become credulous for a time.  As we meet the various nefarious characters- those involved in the conspiracy theories and elaborate tales of the survival of the Templars, the Rosicrucians and immortal characters like the Comte de Saint-Germain, we grow, along with Casaubon, in the realization that credulity is among the most dangerous of human vices.

Casaubon was named after the classical scholar Isaac Casaubon- the ‘most learned man of his time’ (1159-1614), who challenged the ‘common wisdom’ of the day with his research into texts and historical writings- but also referenced his son, Méric Casaubon, the author of (among other things) On Credulity and Incredulity in Things natural, civil and divine (1668).  In that work, as a man of his times, he argued (again, among other things) that witches must exist- since everyone believed in them.

Eco’s Casaubon is a melding of the father and the son- learned, yet willfully credulous.  Why not?  Everyone else seems to be.  He remains one of my favourite literary characters.

I first read this book when I was at something of a crossroads (those crossroads again…).  I had taken a year off from my undergrad while I attempted to figure out just what direction I wanted to be taking with my studies.  I had decided that journalism wasn’t for me, Medieval Studies was too limited in time-frame, English wasn’t interdisciplinary enough… What to do?

I remember sitting in a favourite tiny hole-in-the-wall in Ottawa (the Ozon Cafe on Charlotte at Rideau- LOVED that place- the chef would eventually become one of my dearest friends) and reading about the damage credulity can wreak if allowed to run unchecked, and thinking to myself that I’d reallyreally love to DO something about making sure that we become less credulous and more discriminating- in what we believe and why we believe it.

The ‘Diabolicals’- so named by the three literary co-conspirators Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon, with patronizing disdain- created flimsy connections between historical events to support their theories about the occult secrets of the world.  In creating their own conspiracy theory and contriving to have it fall into the hands of the Diabolicals, the creators let credulity overtake their lives and, ultimately, ended up either dead or deluded as a result of their imaginary/constructed Plan.

I can honestly and legitimately say that Umberto Eco- and Foucault’s Pendulum, specifically- was one of the driving forces that landed me in Religious Studies (there were others- Dad was reading all kinds of interesting things about de-institutionalizing religions that gave me some food for thought, and I’ve always been intrigued by our collective stories).  But the terrifying prospect, illustrated in Foucault’s Pendulum, of credulity run amok was too much for me to face.  I had to start learning about how and why people would choose to willingly and blindly follow the prescriptions/proscriptions of cultures that disappeared millennia ago.

Generally speaking, I am predisposed to trust people and the fact that sofreakinmany remain willing to be trapped and stunted by credulity is still- even after so very many years of studying and, at times, participating in experiential communities- inexplicable to me.  Generally speaking.

Of course, credulity isn’t something that it restricted to religion(s) and religious/spiritual belief(s).  The gullible/unwilling to do the research can be found in other spheres.  Ones just as influential and potentially dangerous.

Government conspiracy theorists are high up there on my list of people I really don’t want to engage in ‘conversation’ at the mo’.  I’m not suggesting that we should ever sit by, complacently, and let our leaders run roughshod over our democracy.  Never that.  We have responsibilities as citizens of democratic nations.

The primary duty is to actually get out there and participate in the process- by voting- after examining the issues and the response and proposed solutions in order to choose our best possible leaders.  So you voted and still don’t like the way things are going?  Get more involved- volunteer, start a grass-roots movement, write a blog post…

But believing that our elected governing bodies are ALL working- ceaselessly and with contemptuous greed- to deceive the voting public about everything?  C’mon now.

Communicating and articulating informed perceptions of our realities is the only way out of the quagmire of superstition and credulity in which we seem to be trapped.  Buying the line of chatter offered by a talking head that is likely on the payroll of an institution with a self-serving mandate ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

As humans we see connections between things- that’s one of the many ways in which we attempt to make sense of the inexplicable.  I do that.  A lot.  The back catalogue (such as it is) hereabouts demonstrates that little fact quite clearly.  We create meaning from the bits and pieces of things that surround us.

I get it.  I do.  But I don’t structure my life according to these perceived connections.

Just because a bunch of people (or Fox News) tell me that the POTUS wasn’t born in Hawaii doesn’t mean it’s true.   A few radical racist anti-semites tell us that the Holocaust never happened?  Not according to the historical and human experiential records we have available to us.

Millions of people are willing to accept that a book of stories and social strictures is the divinely dictated word of a deity?  I’m not one of them.  I did that homework, and drew different conclusions- based in evidential research that says something else.

Last weekend (last weekend?  Really?  It’s Friday again already?  Where is the summer going?) I took a road trip to our Nation’s Capital to help celebrate the wedding of one of my dearest friends in the world.  On the long drive, I let the Shuffle Daemon have its head and set the playlist.

This one came up as we drove:

I seem to be living my life in placeholders these days.  There just aren’t enough hours…

Matt Johnson.  I don’t throw the word genius around lightly, but this guy… Brilliance.  Embodied.  He will be revisited at some point.

For now…

Recorded between 1988 and 1989, Mind Bomb is an album heavy on the politics and religion- and the politics of religion.  That ^^^ little ditty is profound and prophetic in so very many ways- and the introduction (Are you ready Jesus?  Buddha?  Mohammad?), with its allusion to The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz (a song about another sort of chaos) is just sososo clever.

 ‘The world is on its elbows and knees, it’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds…’

Yep.  Why?  Because ‘they’ tell us to do so.

Did you catch the news this week?  Have you seen what is blowing up, again, in the ‘Holy Land’?  And the political maneuvering that is happening as a result?

It’s past time to stop listening to ‘them’ in our credulous intellectual laziness.

 Informed rationality.  That’s what it has to be about.

Heavy thoughts for a beautiful Friday evening in my City on the Lake.    Going to shake off the week, and I’m thinking that, perhaps, I’ll let Matt’s reference lead me into my weekend- which will involve the usual chores and catch-up and some reading (and maybe even some writing) that I’ve been meaning to get at…

But for now…

‘My dreams are getting so strange, I’d like to tell you everything I see…’

Happy Friday!

‘Every single one of us’

Apologies for the hiatus.  It was both unintended and longer-lasting than I’d have liked.  I’ve had a number of things of a personal/familial nature going on at the mo’ which have taken priority, but I felt the need to take a little time to get some thoughts out there into my favourite part of the ether- my little corner of the WordPress.

This morning I was once again inspired by the thoughts of Beth Byrnes, and the issues that she discussed in her erudite and thoughtful post almost led me to write something as a follow-up to some of the things I had to say in the comments section.

But I had already started working  on something- the latest in my ongoing examination of the ill-advised tendency we have to define evil as something external and non-human (or sourced in humans that are somehow labelled as other than we are)- and was loathe to divide my attention.

Then I realized that we are really talking about the same thing anyway.

The vilification of that-which-is-not-me.  Those we consciously decide to label and demonize.

I’ve been thinking about this guy a lot lately.

Boo!

To be honest, he’s never really far from my thoughts (seriously- check out the categories and tags over there to the right >>>>> he’s all over the place), but lately he seems to be popping up every which way I turn.

This has been a most interesting week.  I was Freshly Pressed (!)- that little thing I wrote about chaos/order– and as a result a whole lot of new folks have come by to visit.  Thank you new folks!  Welcome!  I passed 10000 views- which, while I didn’t set goals regarding viewership when I started sharing things on WordPress a little under a year ago, is pretty freakin’ cool.

I also hit 666 followers shortly after the Fresh Pressing occurred.  Even more lovely people- and a number of bots, I’m sure- have joined the ranks since then, but I was really inordinately excited to see who follower 666 might have been.  Unfortunately I missed the notification, so remain unable to identify colemining’s own personal antichrist.

Pure silliness.

That number is just so resonant with me- given all the apocalyptic literature I’ve spent much of my life hanging around- I can’t help but claim a pretty strong fascination with that number of that there ‘beast.’

When I first moved back to Toronto and commuted to Ottawa once a week to teach classes (crazy as that was), every time I passed the 666 kilometre marker (in either direction), I identified it out loud (‘the mile marker of the antichrist’- even though it properly measures kilometres not miles).  It was a way of marking the time and telling myself that I was almost at my destination or on my way back home, depending on which direction I was travelling.

I like the mythology surrounding the devil.  I like the apocalyptic literature that inspired the concept of the antichrist.  I also like the myths of all the other worldviews/religions/cultures that attempt to reconcile good gods and the presence of evil in the material world.  These are some of the richest and most interesting stories we’ve managed to come up with from the deepest mines of our creativity.  The motifs and the characters recur throughout our histories- literary and otherwise- because they are so interesting and complex.

I can honestly say that I love the devil/satan/Lucifer.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in the/a devil, but his various iterations are among the most colourful, enduring and often-endearing literary characters out there.

Where would Western culture be without him?

Seriously.  Think about it.

No Divine ComedyParadise LostFaust/Doctor FaustusThe Exorcist would never have (repeatedly) scared the CRAP out of me.  That opening line- Please allow me to introduce myself… I can’t imagine a world in which I’d never sung along to the brilliance of that song.  The list goes on…

He is us.  In all his (and sometimes, her) manifestations.  This is the thing.  THE thing.  All the versions of the devil that we have are representative of potential inside of us.  Us.  HumansNot some supernatural excuse for evil as a means of reconciling another supernatural being who is supposed to be GOOD.  And omniscient.  And omnipotent.

I find your theodicies unconvincing.

To say the least.

So I’m going to start a periodic conversation about our pal- call him (the) Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, call him what you will (just don’t call him late for dinner).  I’m so very sick of this vilification of the other as we continue to externalize evil and abrogate our own- collective or individual- responsibility for the wrongs that are done and perpetuated against one another.  So very sick of it.

And since I am a cheerleader (Head cheerleader, it sometimes seems) for the need to examine the origins of our recurring motifs, the reasons why we think the way we do, and how we come up with the metaphors we come up with to shift the blame away from ourselves rather than face the internal propensity toward darkness we must continually and actively choose to turn from as we seek to live together peacefully on this ol’ globe of ours, there’ll be a whole lot of hanging with the devil ’round these parts in the next while.

I’ll be extending him ‘a little sympathy’.  Tastefully, of course.

Hope you’ll join me.  Let’s discuss.

‘Here come the world
With the look in its eye
Future uncertain but certainly slight
Look at the faces
Listen to the bells
It’s hard to believe we need a place called hell…

Every single one of us.’

The hand, writing on the wall

The Hebrew Scriptures have some pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines.  I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the focus of my doctoral thesis- and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory.  I’ve neglected the Egyptians and Mesopotamians a bit lately- after teaching about them for a few years running and visiting with them at the ROM on a weekly basis we all needed some time apart.

The NT and I remain estranged- there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis, and, to be honest, I’m not sure that Saul of Tarsus and I will ever really see eye to eye on things.  The Revelation has a lot of fun stuff, but it’s being used all over the place lately (the Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse- on Sleepy Hollow, for e.g), so I’m feeling the over-exposure and forced interpretations more than a little bit right now.

My last new, not re-blogged, post- about our current selfie society- generated some great dialogue in the comments section, and led me to pull out the ol’ Old Testament and have a look back at the Book of Daniel (thanks, Susan!).

Now Daniel and I have always been buds.  He’s a guy you can really cheer for- and the book about him marks the real, canonical, beginnings of apocalyptic literature in the biblical worldview (I’d rather not get into an argument about whether or not the book belongs with the prophetic books or the writings.  Some day, perhaps, I’ll talk a bit about biblical prophecy being not so much- or at all- prophetic but very much about the social commentary of the time in which it was written- and therefore a type of early apocalypticism– but right now I’m grooving with Daniel.  Who belongs with the writings as a proto-apocalyptic).

Next to my gnostics, I love the apocalyptic peeps best.  Sometimes it’s like choosing a favourite from among two cherished children, so why choose?  They tend to overlap a fair bit anyway- hardly surprising since both arise out of discontent and disconnection with the society when the texts were written.

When people are pissed with the status quo things often get a little apocalyptic (it’s happening now, as a matter of fact).  Daniel- and the pseudonymous book about him- was a harbinger of a whole lot of discontent and attempts at change.  And it gave us one of the most interesting images of the whole bible.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

The narrative tells the story of Daniel, who, as a member of the Judean nobility, is serving some time in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  He, and three of his pals, refused to succumb to the lures of the food and wine provided by their captors, and maintain the mandates of their heritage and religion, even while in exile.  They catch the eye of the king, who declares them to be superior to his own wise men at court and enlists them to his service.  Daniel soon gains a reputation for the accuracy of his dream interpretations, and, since Nebuchadnezzar (I love that name.  Just typing it makes me happy.  Saying it makes me smile.  I guess I was a Babylonian in a former life.  Or something) frequently needs his dreams analysed, he eventually appoints Daniel as his Chief Wise Guy.

While Nebuchadnezzar had his good qualities (like his name.  I love his name), he did steal the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem (during the destruction of the city and the beginning of the Exilic Period) and brought them back to Babylon with him.  While Neb deals with his demons (7 years of crazy, living like a wild beast and all that) his son Belshazzar (although the Book of Daniel is the only source that lists Belshazzar as Neb’s kid- other historical sources list him as the son of Nabonidus- but we can let him be Neb’s son- no harm to the story) acts as co-regent, and then king in his own right.

One night Belshazzar and his noble friends throw a big party- and use the sacred vessels plundered from Solomon’s Temple as their pint glasses.  They make toasts to their gods- mainly inanimate deities- using Yahweh’s own sacred vessels.  Those of you who have read the Hebrew Scriptures up to this point in the continuing story have to realize that this is not a good idea.  Yahweh does not (generally) take kindly to his word, his people or his stuff being messed with.

To the horror of the collected party goers, a mysterious disembodied hand appears and starts writing on the wall.  Still reeling from the strange apparition, neither Belshazzar nor his assembled guests can figure out what the writing says.  He calls for Daniel to come and have a look.  Daniel, the superlative and Yahweh-favoured Chief Wise Dude, reads the words as Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.  At first inspection they seem to be meaningless references to weights and measures, but Daniel interprets them as the verbs that correspond to the nouns: numbered, weighed, divided.

As such, he explains that god has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and decided that they are at an end.  The kingdom (and its king) have been weighed and found wanting, so it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians.  Like now.  The interpretation is quickly realized, and that very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king.

Generally the story is used (‘the writing on the wall’, ‘the hand writing on the wall’, ‘Mene Mene’) to indicate imminent doom, originating in misbehaviour or inappropriate governance.  Those who attended the feast- and shared culpability for the bad politics and decisions- were able to see the hand as it wrote on the wall, yet were totally unable to understand the message that was being imparted.  The interpretation had to come from someone who wasn’t in any way responsible for the negative behaviours- or the misuse of the vessels and the sacrosanct ideology behind them.  Only Daniel was able to give warning and explain the impending collapse of the Babylonian kingdom by reading the writing on the wall.

Increasingly, these days and with the societies and systems of government that we have created and institutionalized, fewer and fewer people are able to see the imminence of danger as we continue headlong down a path that is becoming less and less equitable and more and more dictated by those who hold power.  That those in power were, ostensibly, chosen by the people (rather than through hereditary ascension, as in the Babylonian example), makes the systemic problems all the more glaring and frustrating.

We are not doing enough to hold our leaders to account (don’t even talk to me about the idiots of FN- who will STILL vote for that guy come next October.  As much as I despise name-calling, those who remain convinced that THAT guy is the best candidate for mayor, ARE idiots.  There is no other adequate descriptive word.  And I know LOTS of words) while they choose to ignore the disembodied hand and its message entirely.  Claims about improvements to the economy (while myriad citizens remain in situations of un/underemployment and the middle class continues shrinking while the divide between the haves and the have nots become more pronounced), to the housing market (as home ownership is increasingly an inaccessible pipe dream in most major Canadian cities), and the short-sighted politics that reflect immediate self-interest rather than long-term nationwide benefits… These things, as serious as they are, only scratch the surface of the current crises we are facing.

As I say over and over and over again, our myths- and their interpretations- have a whole lot of wisdom to offer, if we bother to take the time and pay attention to what those who came before us had to say.  Especially since we keep on making the same sorts of mistakes, driven by greed and one-upmanship and the ever-increasing need to hear ourselves speak (or yell) over the voices that might be offering an alternative (and better, more equitable) perspective.

In February 1964, as a response to the assassination of JFK a few months previously, a young lad named Paul Simon wrote a song.  The Sound(s) of Silence (the original title was plural) shares an enduring sense of futility and awareness of the dangers of silence- the problems that arise when people fail to effectively listen to and speak out about the cancers growing around us.

As we bow to our own neon gods, perhaps we need to take time to listen to this song- about to celebrate its 50th (!) birthday- a little more closely.  It might help us to see the hand and decipher the message it is continually writing on the walls that surround us.

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls’

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Mene Mene, my friends.  Take heed.  That hand is getting pretty emphatic with its messages.

Reflection

It’s still unseasonably cold here.  Honestly.  What do we have to do to get some Indian Summer thrown our way?  And since I’m nearly as cold in the city as I was at the cottage (okay, that’s hyperbolic- it was DAMN cold at the cottage) I’ve been wishing I was back there more than a little bit.

I got to thinking today about one of the kitchen chats I joined after walking in on it in the middle- because that’s what we do- talk, interject, offer opinions/advice/whatever.  The things friends do when interested in each others’ ideas, opinions and perspectives.  They were discussing atheism vs. agnosticism and asked me to define both terms.  I offered my definition- and some of the reasoning behind my non-belief, which led to the same argument which our host and I have been having for well over two decades.

Theism is defined by the belief that at least one deity exists- somewhere- and the term is commonly used to describe the belief in a deity that is personal, present and active in the world/universe and who is gainfully employed in providing its governance.  Therefore, an a-theist is someone who does not believe that any such a deity exists.

Going back to the original Greek roots of the term, I am literally ‘without gods’.

And I’m good with that.

Agnosticism is a bit more complicated- and varied- in its definition- and that was a source of a bit of contention.  Also from the Greek, agnostic literally means ‘without knowledge’ and generally is applied to those who neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a god- or many gods- as they have been imagined and described by people.

Agnostics admit to ‘not knowing’.  They‘re good with that.

Some will apply more of a philosophical meaning to the term, asserting that human reason and rationality are not capable of justifying whether- or not- deities do- or do not- exist.  Essentially those philosophers among us would claim that there is no way of knowing one way or the other.  Some suggest that you ‘can’t prove a negative’ and this ‘evidence of absence’ argument is one that is often tossed around when believers and non-believers (or those who allow for uncertainty) ‘discuss’ such things.

I concede that proving the non-existence of something is pretty tough to do, but I also suggest (as have others before me) that the flip side of that little tautology is that those who maintain the existence of something are likewise required to offer proof- that is acceptable to my particular worldview– that that same thing DOES exist.

Otherwise, I’m not likely to buy what you’re selling.

And since no one has, as of yet anyway, offered me anything remotely resembling definitive proof that the gods are anything other than the creations of us human beings, I’m very comfortable with my non-belief and I will thank you to not attempt to sway me to your perspective.

By all means- believe as you wish.  We are fortunate to live in a society that allows us the freedom of our beliefs- and their expression (at least at the moment and in Provinces other than Quebec…) so I will likewise not attempt to disabuse you of any privately held views on religion and gods.

Do I have time for proselytising?  Can’t say as I do.  Sometimes my Canadian politesse comes into conflict with this reality, but as willing as I am to hear you out in your argumentation, if it includes anything about me being condemned to eternal hellfire or cursed for my non-belief, I’ll likely cut you off pretty quickly.

Name-calling has no place in rational discourse, and telling me that I’m ‘damned’ isn’t nice at all.

And attacks launched from the defensive?  Also not attractive.  Nor something that will incline me to listen all that sincerely to what you have to say.

Clear example of this tension- but also the way in which it is consistently overcome- is the ongoing discussion about this subject that takes place repeatedly.  We will never agree on the divinity/non-divinity of Jesus (although ‘never’ is a word I hesitate to use.  Too restricting- he might yet change his mind…  Joking.  Seriously- just joking.  He knows I’m joking- and that I’m not looking to change his mind on the subject).

As an historian of religion. I believe in the existence of Jesus as an historical figure who sought change within his religious framework and social milieu, and that the guy had great ideas and inclinations toward inclusion, love and peace.  He was a radical dude, seeking religious and cultural change for the better.

A prime example of the heights of humanity to which we should all aspire?

Zero argument there.

Son of a deity?  One third of a triumvirate god that became incarnate in human form?  Immortal and supernatural?

None of the above.

The thing with this ongoing discussion is that we always take the time to listen to what the other person has to say, and we both are secure enough in our belief(s) that we can maintain a sense of humour about the arguments.  We happily agree to disagree.

When I touched upon this subject previously, I offered up an meme I’ve seen circulating that demonstrates the worst of the ‘New Atheist’ propensity toward labeling those with opposing views as ‘stupid’ or the like.

Not productive.

On the other side of the fence… I happened upon this little gem (that would be sarcasm) last night:

Also not remotely cool.

Although I’d think that Dawkins (and Hitchens before he died) would likely have found it quite amusing to be described as one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse.

A mythological story about the ending of all things and the return of a deity in which they do not believe.

Productive.

Such rhetoric is demonstrative of this insidious propensity toward the externalization of ‘evil’ and making people monstrous because of a differing worldview- that I keep harping on about.  Not good.

Definitely not good.

The more we vilify each other and create and perpetuate dichotomies of right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, the farther away we continue to stray from the message and the mission of teachers like Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the reasons I love and respect my friends and family (and the peeps I have had the opportunity to meet through this forum) is because we can continue to engage in dialogue without in any way dismissing or diminishing the beliefs of those around us.

Last night, while out for dinner in one of our local little restaurants (Focaccia near Yonge and Bloor.  Try it if you get the chance.  The staff is FANTASTIC), I overheard the conversation of the couple who had been at the next table, just as they were leaving.  They were discussing their full-fledged support of the nonsense in Quebec– while loudly proclaiming their total ignorance of the beliefs and traditions of those they were demonizing.

Respect for our beleaguered waiter- who had been dealing with such commentary for the duration of their meal- was the only thing that kept me from speaking out as they exited.  That, and the awareness (after years of experience) that minds cannot be forced open, and that, sadly, some people are just unwilling to even attempt to see a perspective outside of their own.

So instead I wrote this post.

In frustration that there are still so many who will not offer dignity and respect to those whose ideas differ from their own.

In exasperation that there are too many among us who still seek to divide rather than to bring together.

But also in remembrance of the fact that there are all kinds of people out there who are honestly willing to listen to one another and, as required, agree to disagree.

Lots and lots of people who realize that all humans are reflections of one another- regardless of place of origin, cultural context or belief or non-belief.

And that I am privileged to have a whole bunch of people like that in my life.

P.S. Speaking of the Four Horsemen and such things… I watched the series premiere of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ earlier this week.  Seems the Headless Horseman is really Death- that Rider on a Pale Horse who seems to have been called up by a demon-type thing in the woods around town.  Potentially interesting amalgam of a classic American story and apocalyptic mythology all thrown into the 21st century Hudson River Valley.  Will have to check it out for a while and see.  Told you apocalypses seem to be everywhere lately…

I’m told it’s a virtue.

That’s what Prudentius said anyway.  In the Psychomachia.  In the 4th century CE.

I am very patient most of the time.

I routinely wait, without much effort, for results, feedback, holidays, tardy friends and etc.  Especially the tardy friends.  I am habitually early for things (it’s an illness) and I am friends with a disproportionate number of people who are habitually late (also an illness) so I spend a whole lot of time waiting for people to show up.

I’m okay with that.  I almost always have a book on me so the time is generally well spent.  No point in stressing about a personality quirk in a good friend (THEY are the ones with the quirk, never me).

Unless the lateness makes US late for something else.  That I have a problem with.  I CAN control my behaviour, and I hatehatehate being late for commitments.

Really, the only times I get truly impatient is when I am trying to do something fiddly and it’s not working out, I can’t find something I’m looking for despite the fact that I know FOR SURE that I put it right there the last time I used it, and, most of all, when I am waiting for something to happen.  Something that I’ve been told will happen, but that is taking its sweet sweet time.

Crazy-making.

It’s probably symptomatic of some outrageous level of control-freakdom.

Whatev.

If you tell me to anticipate something, I do.  Anticipate it.  Often with increasing anxiety when it doesn’t show up according to a reasonable (as decided by me, of course) time frame.

Situations when I’m told to look for further information or follow-up ‘in the next few days’, or ‘early next week’, or ‘before the end of the month’ make me nutso with the waiting.

Lack of specificity is my nemesis in the waiting game.

All this technology and access to various forms of communication serve to make it waaaaaay worse.  Although I am not normally one who has to be constantly logged in (I can generally forget my phone at home and be fine with that, or turn the computer off for days at a time without jonesin’), when I’m waiting for something, I start to obsessively check my email.

All.  The.  Time.

And if a subject line in the Inbox catches my eye that looks like it might be what I’m waiting for, something wacky happens to my breathing and I get all tense and jittery.  And then, when the email isn’t what I was looking for, I sign out and try to focus on something (anything) else, but really just go back to checking every 4 minutes or so.

Ack.

I could never be an apocalyptic.

Seriously.

In order to buy into an apocalyptic worldview I’d have to (among other crazy things) resign myself to the fact that the end, or the return, or the justification, or the final battle is going to happen maybe sometime.

How near, exactly?  No, really.  HOW FREAKIN’ NEAR?!?

I’d be a nervous wreck after a week.

That new era?  Second Coming?  Final Judgement?  Ascension of the Antichrist?  Extraterrestrials showing up to take us to another planet?

WHEN.  IS.  IT.  GOING.  TO.  HAPPEN.  WHEN?!

If it’s not something I can put down on my calendar as definitely coming on January 22, 2014, then I don’t want to even know about it.  And don’t just tell me it’s going to happen on January 22, 2014.  You’d best be showing me solid proof that it’s all going to go down then.

And none of this 24-hour cancellation policy stuff either.  If it doesn’t happen then you’re going to have to pay me for the missed appointment.  I am a Doctor (okay, of Philosophy.  But still).  I should be able to charge for missed appointments like dentists and physicians.  Especially since not showing up to end the world/era/whatev is far more serious than missing a cleaning appointment.

Isn’t it?

ISN’T IT?!

Oh, another thing about me and waiting?

When I’m nervously anticipating stuff I have a tendency to procrastinate.

Not that I’m doing that right now or anything.

Have Some Courtesy

This blog achieved its 666th hit the other day.

The Devil has been on my mind lately.

Admittedly this is not a new thing.

I saw This is the End a couple of weeks ago- an entertaining (if silly and juvenile) little film sending up celebrities playing ‘fictional’ versions of themselves as the Apocalypse arrives.  Definitely a boy movie (as opposed to a chick flick), with all is scatology and penis jokes, but Hermione kicked some major ass and the reunion in Heaven was pretty hilarious, so overall it was a fun couple of hours.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Once I got past the repeated reference to the Book of RevelationS (ONE revelation- not many.  Pedantic I realize, but I accept and celebrate my nitpicky nature), I had to laugh at the myriad ways in which Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg played with the apocalyptic mythology.

Franco losing his opportunity to be saved- as his self-sacrifice is cancelled out by his final act of douchebaggery- and ending up devoured by his now-cannibalistic former friend was pretty amusing.

And heaven turned out to be a pretty cool place.  Even if the Backstreet Boys showed up.

There were demons- and an extremely large and well-endowed- devil-type guy who, um, possesses Jonah Hill and wreaks havoc within the survivors’ sanctuary, driving them out into the chaos.

The Devil, once again, getting a bad rap.

All this externalization- of good and evil- is becoming increasingly bothersome to me.

Last night we had a bit of a flood sitch here in TO.

Nothing like Calgary and southern Alberta, and definitely not a tragedy of the scale of what happened on the weekend in Lac-Mégantic, QC, but there was some biblical imagery happening all over this City (snakes on the stranded GO train?  Apparently so) as we dealt with various inconveniences- from flooded basements, to power outages and live wires brought down by tree limbs.

Subway stations looked like swimming pools (if you’re partial to swimming in icky brown water) and cars ended up submerged up to their roofs on the Lakeshore.  Live wires were dragged down by wind or the sheer weight of the rain and the City got darker and darker.

Some real craziness.

I was lucky.  Got caught in the initial downpour and was soaked before walking a block (by the time I made it home- 10 minutes later- it was as if I’d gone for a swim fully dressed) and lost power for a little over 12 hours, but the house is intact and remained cool enough through the night that it was never uncomfortable.

Very lucky.

As I sat in the dark all night, alternately reading (another great book- remind me to tell you about it sometime) by flashlight and trying to sleep with the flashing lights from the Hydro trucks and the sound of chainsaws cutting up the tree that took out our power lines, I got to thinking again about the eschaton, and the role of the devil in the mythological cycles about the end of all things.

The line of thought continued into daylight hours as the blame game began playing out on the various news sources around town and across the country:  Did the infrastructure hold up as well as it should have?  Did the TTC/City/Mayor (such as he is) act as quickly and in the way that best addressed the situation as it unfolded?  Are we ready for another hit, should it (perhaps) come tonight or tomorrow as (possibly) forecast?

We have been taught- by our myths and by our basic natures- that there is always someone else to blame when terrible things happen.  When we don’t want to take responsibility for our own actions, or when the source of the issue is either invisible or something closely held and personally or socially/culturally valuable, we invent external sources to blame.

I briefly talked about this phenomenon here, discussing how the concept developed in Israelite mythology and introducing the character Azazel- an early incarnation of the Biblical Big Baddie who eventually came to incarnate evil itself.

There may be some detractors who will dismiss/condemn/vilify me as a ‘devil worshiper’, but I’ve really had enough of this idea that we can/should look outside of ourselves for the source of our problems.  It bugs me big biggest time.

I don’t believe in the devil- any more than I believe in his opposite- so the idea that I would worship something I know was created by humanity to let itself off the hook… Uh, no.

Assigning some poor supernatural devil such ascendency and such a huge role in the workings of the world is the flip side of the complete resignation of our own power that leads to concepts like ‘god’s plan’ as explanation for occurrences that happen because of the actions/inaction of ourselves or other human beings?  Especially when it requires accepting that the ‘god’ in all this allows and encourages said supernatural devil in his workings against ‘god’s children’?

How does any of that make anything like sense?

I’m not going to get into the whole free will/god’s plan conundrum/contradiction in terms.  At least not today.

But I AM going to reiterate what I started to address when talking about those poor ol’ goats who came to represent the totality of the sins of the people, and the animated character in an entertaining show that was much too short-lived as a result of (relatively) contemporary hysteria about mythological embodiments of pure evil.

Way past time to leave the devil (and god(s) for that matter) out of it and look for our human culpability in the things that happen in our world- be they actions that cause climate change and increased rainfall and storm conditions, poorly planned cities built on flood plains, human error/lack of regulations leading to cataclysmic train derailments and explosions or the kindness of neighbours working together to clean up after the floods have receded, the workers providing blankets for those rescued from submerged commuter trains, the family members and friends who come together to tell stories of remembrance of those still missing in what used to be the centre of a small Eastern Townships community…

Let’s take responsibility- for the good and the bad- and own up to the fact that WE are the ones who are affecting the workings of the world.  We can appreciate the Devil- and his antecedents/coevals/contemporaries- for the great stories and themes he has added to our mythologies without censuring him for every bad thing- whether little or larger than life- that happens in our lives.

‘Have some sympathy and some taste.  Use all your well-learned politesse…’

Leave the Devil alone.

At least until we really have a closer look at him- and the ways in which a character who provides learning and ‘technology’ to humanity became Public Enemy Number 1.  How Prometheus/Azazel/Lucifer/the satan became the Lord of the Flies/the dragon/serpent/Beelzebub etc. for disobeying the will of another supernatural being and helping humanity in its progress and evolution.

He’s actually a pretty cool archetype- just maybe not the one you’re thinking he is…