‘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.’

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…