“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

colemining

Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to…

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“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be” – Part 1

I’m trying reallyreally hard to get down some thoughts about something sort of different, but recent events seem to be conspiring to remind me of this post (and its sequel, that I’ll repost shortly) I wrote quite some time ago.

The magazine in question is, itself, in the news again- for reasons that beggar belief. But I stand by the defence (if it can be named as such) that is included here.

The subject of that article was just found guilty of all 30 counts against him. Which makes an examination of the causes of his radicalization more important, not less.

And that song that provided the title? That’s been on my mind- and in the press- as well. So maybe I’m not thinking different thoughts after all.

Interesting the ways in which things just connect

colemining

Image result for stone moss stock

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.

Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):

1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.

2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon

3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)

N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in…

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“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to further understand our universe, I say (cautiously), knock yourselves out.

Intellectually, I cannot believe in external, supernatural manifestations of good and evil.  That those two extremes exist in the world is an indicator of their presence within us.  We humans have an incredible capacity for beautiful acts of good and terrible depths of evil.  And, unfortunately, those impulses- standing alone or as a mix of the two (evil is frequently done with the best of intentions)- cause us to do terrible things in the name of belief.

When that happens, we have to root out the causes of such actions and work as a society to prevent them from happening again.

Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article attempts to do just that.

It is a first step- highlighting some of the challenges faced by immigrant families in a new, multicultural environment, separated from extended family and history and ‘the known’ and left to figure things out without enough community resources to facilitate their transition between cultures.

(My good friend, Farah, has done great work in this field.  Her perspective, experiences and huge store of knowledge on this subject is invaluable.)

Through her interviews, Reitman illustrates the ways in which people can hide their disconnection from the larger community, while seeming to be involved and engaged with those around them.  It shows that someone who appears well-adjusted can lose that sense of belonging when stability is threatened or removed completely.  And that people, when left without that stability, can be influenced by organizations or ideologies that, at base, are all about the search for power through destructive means.

I do have some issues with the article.  Primarily the fact that Reitman labels the subject of her article a ‘monster’.

Words have a great deal of impact and affect our reactions on a very basic level.  Rather than calling the accused to account for his actions, denying the humanity of the person in fact becomes a way of excusing the actions.  Monsters are monstrous because they are MONSTERS.

When people do horrible things there are reasons- however insignificant or incomprehensible or inexcusable.  There ARE reasons.  And getting to the source of those reasons can help us prevent future actions that may result from the same conditions.  Making perpetrators into monsters also abrogates our collective responsibility for the conditions that can lead to heinous acts.

Externalizing evil- making destructive thoughts/actions all about the Other– whether supernatural in origin or sourced in a different culture/religion/worldview suggests that there is nothing we can do about it.

(I’ve begun to examine the origins of this propensity to excuse ourselves from our tendencies toward doing evil hereherehere and here).

Of course there is something we can do about it.  We are pretty awesome at solving problems when we put our collective minds and resources together.

This blog is supposed to emphasize the best of humanity.

Sometimes we have to look at the worst- and figure our where it came from- so that those impulses to act against our fellow humans in such heinous ways can be eradicated.  This requires that we examine the causes of social anomie- including the reasons why a young man, seemingly well-adjusted and from a ‘nice neighbourhood,’ could do something like he did.

Taking one magazine to task for publishing an investigative story suggests that we should be holding our journalists to some standard of sensitivity and morality- one that takes feelings into account- and yet the media has become an hysterical free-for-all of opinion and sensationalism rather than a measured and well-researched exploration of facts, origins, conditions and resulting outcomes.  Post-9/11, media outlets and satirical commentators were silenced for doing what they do- delving into the story behind the obvious extremity and inhumaity of the act.

Although not always the case, there are generally complex issues at play- involving religion, society, myth, culture.

Our illustrious PM, in a turnabout of his expressed opinion that we should not ‘commit sociology’ (I ranted about that here), has changed his tune about searching for causality in a different circumstance.   The causes of one tragedy, but not the other, are, apparently, worth discovering.

Investigating the process by which a young North American college student became a radicalized terrorist is perceived as somehow ‘glorifying’ the act and the actor, although both dangerous and short-sighted to an alarming degree, and is not viewed as being as important as punishing the perpetrator.

Investigating whether or not a terrible accident had its source in negligence or in the government-advocated cutting back of standards in operational procedures on the rails of our country?  THAT will be done, and ‘quickly’.

As I stated on my ‘About’ page, my studies of religion and humanity have taught me that sometimes we have to un-create our gods- or our closely-held ideologies- and create something better and more human. And humane.

Rolling Stone has always been associated with the liberal end of the politically ideological spectrum.  Interestingly, many of the retail corporations and celebrities that have loudly spoken out against the August cover article can be found at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Politicizing our reactions to tragic events is despicable, and is one of those things that we have to change.  It is one aspect of our political system(s), media, and society in general, that needs to be un-created and re-created in a way that takes into account something other than power/influence for its own sake.

Jann Wenner named his magazine after a 1950 Muddy Waters song.  The proverb (credited to Publilius Syrus in the 1st century BCE) that inspired that song “is often interpreted as referring to figurative nomads who avoid taking on responsibilities or cultivating or advancing their own knowledge, experience or culture” while “another interpretation equates moss to stagnation” (according to the Wikipedia).

Bob Dylan used the proverbial image as the basis for the extended piece of poetry that became his 1965 song Like A Rolling Stone.  It is a wonderfully complex song that explores the themes of resentment and revenge, as well as compassion, and the perceived freedom of being without ties:

When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to reveal

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a Rolling Stone

Because everything is connected (and because that’s the way my mind works) it’s hard not to see the correspondence of themes in Dylan’s song and the human condition of loneliness and disconnection that can lead to social anomie.

Don McLean’s American Pie (one of my all time fave tunes) has a nostalgic yearning for an era in which things were not stagnant- the time before the Day the Music Died.  Although he is famously elusive about discussing the meaning behind the song, McLean is citing a point in time that is associated with perceived innocence, but also with change and progress.

For the “10 years we’ve been on our own… moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not how it used to be.”

That was 42 (!) years ago.

We have to keep rolling forward and let the moss of stagnation fall from us as we work together to solve the problems that lead people to the desperation and separation that can lead to acts of terror.  We should be ‘advancing our knowledge, experience and culture’ while refusing to be mired in the past or in created ideologies that prevent this progress.

That isn’t going to happen if we insist on silencing our writers for the sake of ‘sensibilities’ or due to the politically motivated obfuscation of invaluable research and social criticism.

How does it feel?

It’s an important question that needs to be answered.

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be” – Part 1

Image result for stone moss stock

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.

Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):

1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.

2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon

3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)

N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in its holier-than-thou assertions about rights and freedoms) is very big on insisting upon the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing.  And, unless I missed it, there has been no trial as of yet that has resulted in a conviction for the crimes he is accused of committing.

4) I tend to agree that many (too many) journos are all about sensationalism and grabbing readers without any thought given to their subjects’ feelings or, as in this case, the feelings of the victims of the subject(s).

5) Our ‘celebrity culture’ does tend to celebrate BOTH the famous and the infamous- and the ignorant among us (who are, terrifyingly, legion) often have trouble discerning differences between the two designations.

6) Most of me recoils at the thought of doing ANYthing that might be construed as contributing to any sensationalizing- and the infamy- of someone who could do what he did.

7) The cover photo was a really really bad editorial choice.

But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told.

Contrary to many of the criticisms that I’ve seen floating around out there, Rolling Stone is NOT ‘just’ a ‘music magazine.’  Since its founding in 1967, it has been known for its political reporting and commentary.  The likes of Hunter S. Thompson produced important political and social commentary for the magazine- that retains it relevance 35+ years later.

Sure, in the 80s and (especially) the 90s the focus shifted to one of more ‘general entertainment’ away from regions of controversy and stories of any great depth.

But it returned to relevance in recent years largely through the work of Michael Hastings (who died in a car accident a little over a month ago) and Matt Taibbi- young journos known and heralded for their hard-hitting exposés of the American military and fraudulent American banking activities, respectively.

Janet Reitman, the author of the article in question, wrote a story uncovering the workings of the Church of Scientology that was nominated for the National Magazine Award and provided the genesis of her book Inside Scientology.  I know from experience what a hard group of nuts those Scientologists can be to crack, and her examination of the cult is both comprehensive and riveting.

The recent products of these three fine journos alone should be demonstration enough that criticising Rolling Stone for publishing an article about something other than music/entertainment is misplaced and ludicrous on its face.   But the mandate of the magazine was never restricted to entertainment.  In its first edition, founder and chief editor Jann Wenner described Rolling Stone as “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”

If you are one of the incredibly kind readers who has been following my trains of thought over the past few months, you know that I have repeatedly emphasized that our myths and music are, and always have been, fundamentally connected to our societies and cultures and the main indicator of what it is to be human.  Our stories and songs talk about the things that need working out.  Counter-cultural movements have always used music as a means of illustrating inequity and calling for change.

The cover story of the August 1, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine is very much in keeping with this awareness that myth, music, culture, history and contemporary events/issues/concerns are inextricably linked.

This post is not really meant to be a defence of the magazine.  As I said, I think that the cover photo panders to society’s repugnant need for sensationalism and voyeurism.  It is a magazine that is assumed- rightly or wrongly  to be mainly about music and rock stars, so using a photo that evokes Jim Morrison was both in poor taste and something that, in MHO, warrants some of the critical bombardment that’s out there at the moment.

Using that photo seriously smacks of sensationalism with the ultimate goal to do nothing more than sell magazines.  True journalistic integrity might suggest that the story could have been presented differently- in a way that better acknowledged the sensibilities of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole.

I won’t be buying the magazine, but they’ve hardly lost a customer.

Like most people I know, I rarely buy print magazines or newspapers these days.  I will read engaging and important articles off of interworld sites until the cows come home, and I even like heading to libraries and checking out the microfiche every now and again.

The last time I purchased a Rolling Stone this was the cover:

(okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea).

Still I firmly believe that this story NEEDS to be told.

There are too many similar tales out there (like this one) and as a society we have to get to the bottom of where these impulses, these examples of radicalization and extremism are being created, nurtured and ultimately facilitated into actions.  Actions that are undeniably terrible and tragic and heartbreaking.  Actions that cannot be swept under rugs of ‘respectability.’

They should be investigated and presented with a clear application of respect and sensitivity.  Did Rolling Stone miss that mark somewhat?  Arguably, yes.  Is the magazine as reprehensible in its pandering to a particular audience and in its thoughtless quest for readers/ratings as other media outlets I could name?  I don’t think so.

Whether or not your personal views dictate that you should/shouldn’t give the article and the magazine any of your time, it has already accomplished something that the most responsible of news stories should do.  There is dialogue happening (even if some of it is admittedly hysterical and reactionary) and informed, well-reasoned discussion is always a good thing in a civilized society.

Next up:  The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ monsters/externalizing ‘evil’. 

The former is something we MUST keep doing and the latter is something that HAS to stop…

…PEOPLE Kill People

Ah that old salt, dragged out by the likes of the NRA whenever there is a tragedy involving guns (please oh please don’t get me started on those people and the spineless idiocy that the US government demonstrated, once again, in refusing to strengthen anti-gun legislation.  That’s definitely another rant).  Tragedy happened again, in full view of the world- with no guns involved this time (at least in the initial event).  But there were children involved, as is the case all too often.

I have to admit that I’ve had some difficulty finishing the posts that I’ve started over the past couple of weeks, and although I very much felt the need to respond to the act of terror at the Boston Marathon and the media frenzy that followed, I couldn’t bring myself to do so right away.  The point of this blog is to celebrate humanity.  To tell our stories and present some of the ways in which the myths connect us all.  Ways that transcend racial, cultural, geographical or historical context, and accept and celebrate the differences that inform the manner in which we characterize and tell those stories.  Knowledge and familiarity should breed the opposite of contempt.  There is beauty to be found, if we take the time, and it shouldn’t be crushed under the radical actions of a group or individual seeking to further a nebulous agenda sourced in an extreme ideology.  Others (like Patton Oswalt) have responded with beautiful writing and a heart-felt cry to stand strong.

I’ve needed some time to get over this latest evidence of Man’s Inhumanity to Man.  I could write about how I was tempted to remain glued to the television, watching as everything unfolded and waiting, with the rest of the world, for some progess to be made in finding the people responsible.  Or how I suffered flashbacks of a sort, remembering sitting on my couch, wrapped in a blanket- despite the fact that it was a beautiful day- on September 11, 2001, paralysed, but hopeful that there would be answers to be found if I somehow just kept watching.  But there were no easy answers to be found that day, or in the years that have followed.  So on April 15, 2013 I deliberately turned off the television.  I couldn’t watch as ‘experts’ postulated on causes or culprits, as news stations jockeyed for positions in close proximity to the blockaded streets in downtown Boston, and posted more and more images of frightened, devastated people.

I understand the importance of the media in telling our stories, but ‘news’ these days is often so sensationalized and in obvious search of the bigger market share, that it has become physically and psychically hard for me to watch.  I knew the story wasn’t going to go away, and that there were ways to stay informed without being bombarded by every ‘lead’, ‘suspect’ or ‘theory’ that was entertained for more than two minutes.  The full story is still unfolding, weeks later, and will require a response from many levels of government and society.  That it is a story of tragedy is without doubt.  That there are complexities wrapped up in the event, remains to be explored (and, despite what some politicos might think, MUST be explored- but THAT’s another rant…).

The origin of the word and concept of the marathon has its beginnings in mythology, marking the legendary tradition recounting the run to Athens by a Greek messenger to proclaim victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.  The myth doesn’t have a particularly happy ending since the runner collapsed and died immediately after his message was delivered, but the story has come to stand for the same things that the races represent.  The runner, Pheidippides, executed an amazing feat, covering an enormous distance in the committed pursuance of his job and the larger furtherance of the glory of Athens.  Marathon runners across the world enter the races as a means of continuing self-challenge and push for the next personal best.  I am not a runner, and those that are have shaped better responses as runners (or as former runners, like my friend Tracey here).  The completion of a marathon at all, and the long, proud history of the Boston Marathon specifically, must remain events to be celebrated without the taint of dark designs meant to mindlessly terrorize unsuspecting civilians.

As I wrote the title of this post, despite its intent and its loaded (no pun intended), propagandizing tautology, what popped into my mind and has stayed there as I write are the lyrics to ‘People are People’ by Depeche Mode.  A simple (if catchy as all get out) song about the truly simple fact that blind hatred and aggression are ridiculous and that common decency can still be found.  We just have to somehow ensure that decency takes less time to travel between our ‘collective heads and fists’, and that our reactions to horrible instances of terror and hatred, like the events in Boston last month, are tempered with rationale and humanity.  To do so, we have to firmly reject those ideologies- and their supporting myths- that, in any way, encourage acts of violence and terror against other human beings.  This includes stories that:

Say there is ONLY one true way.

Glorify sacrifice of life as a means to an end- ANY end.

Celebrate violence and sensationalize pain and suffering.

Suggest that anything other than complete equality for all is ‘the right thing’.

Support the continued suppression of the disenfranchised.

It’s time to realize that we can and must control our narratives- both individual and collective.  As thinking, rational, human beings we can actively choose to reject such stories as being dictated, unwavering, stagnant, static guidelines for life and actions, and likewise choose to reject the dogmas and doctrines that claim to be supported by these stories.  It is only through doing so that we will recognize that, rather than being ‘divine’ goads to action or reaction, myths are NOthing more than human creations with human motivations behind them.  And not all human motivations are positive.

We need to remove the gods, and devils, and boogeymen from our ways of seeing the world.  Sure, they make great characters (no one knows that better than me) but as exemplars for behaviour they often leave a great deal to be desired.  There ARE positive role models to found in our myths, but too often even those models are bastardized out of all recognition by later traditions ascribing beliefs or behaviours or words to such characters, out of fear of the different or ‘other’.  It’s time to stop.  Just stop.  Our myths absolutely have their purposes and they can be wonderful and informative about us as people and the ways in which we live and interact in this world and hope for worlds to come.  But it’s long past time to finally put away those childish things that speak of vengeance, hatred, xenophobia, supremacy etc. etc. etc. etc. and to shape our own narratives and interactions with our fellow humans.  “I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man.”  True true words from my friends in Depeche Mode.  Please.  Can’t we just grow up already?