Found Among the Ruins, and My Own Errant Thoughts

From Hank Fox:

The existence of the (GMO)  technology doesn’t bother me in any extreme way. But that technology in the hands of nice corporations like Monsanto, in an oversight environment that includes a very friendly, very compliant pro-business government … that spooks me more than a little.

 The downside of being emphatically yourself is that you can never slip easily into a group. You will always feel just a little bit ill-at-ease, a little bit off-balance, no matter where you are or who you’re with. For me, that price has almost always been acceptable. Still, I think I can understand the great numbers of us who make the other choice.

 This is why I find the religious rights' passionate defense of marriage so amusing.  A few excerpts from an article called: Marriage by Barbara G. Walker

The word marriage came from the Latin maritare, union under the
auspices of the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari.  Because the Goddess’s
patronage was constantly invoked in every aspect of marriage, Christian fathers were opposed to the institution.  Origen declared, “Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of sexual passion.” St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was “to cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage”.(1)  St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against god, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and woman at birth.(2)

St. Augustine flatly stated that marriage is a sin and St. Paul damned Marriage with faint praise, remarking that to marry was only better than to burn ( 1 cor. 7:9).

Saturninus said God made only two kinds of people, good men and evil women.  Marriage perpetuated the deviltry of women, who dominated men through the magic of sex(8).  Centuries later, St. Bernard still proclaimed that it was easier of a man to bring back the dead to life than to live with a woman without endangering ones soul.(9)

Priests abandoned the churches’ rule of celibacy and began to take wives during the 5th and 6th centuries.  This continued to the 11th century, when papal decretals commanded married clergymen to turn their wives out  of their homes and sell their children as slaves. (5) The church displayed remarkable reluctance to deal with the matter of marriage at all.  During the Middle Ages there was no ecclesiastical definition of a valid marriage nor of any contract to validate one.
Churchmen seemed to have no ideas at all on the subject(6) The earliest form of Christian marriage was a simple blessing of the newly wedded, “in facie ecclesiae” –outside the churches closed doors– to keep the pollution of lust out of God’s house.  This blessing was a technical violation of canon law, but it became popular and gradually won status.(7).

There was no sacrament of marriage until the 16th century (3). Catholic scholars say the wedding ceremony was “imposed on” a reluctant church, and “nothing is more remarkable that the tardiness with which liturgical forms for the marriage ceremony were evolved.”  It is perhaps not remarkable to find that these liturgical forms were not evolved by the church at all, but borrowed from pagan common law (4).
1-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 82, 114
2-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 373
3-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 233
4-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 248-249
5-Jacobus de. Voragine, The Golden Legend, 90-91
6-Ronald Pearsall, The Worm in the Bud , 162-63
7-Encyclopedia Britannica, “Marriage”
8-Vern Bullough,The Subordinate Sex, 103, 112
9-Joseph Cambell, Myths to Live By, 95

Thomas Paine, in 1793, explains skepticism:
"Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

    Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

    As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word ‘revelation.’ Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

    No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

    It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

    When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [NOTE: It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God 'visits the sins of the fathers upon the children'. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.—Author.]

    When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

    When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence."

"The biggest failing of Libertarianism is the inability to distinguish liberty (the rights guaranteed by the state) from freedom (the practical ability to exercise those rights). Libertarianism ensures maximum liberty, but actual freedom is reserved only for the very rich."
    -nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

The deception began, at least in the modern age, with Milton Friedman, who said "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people...He moves fastest who moves alone."
This unflagging adherence to free-enterprise individualism is consistent with  Social Darwinism , the belief that survival of the fittest (richest) will somehow benefit society, and that the millions of people suffering from financial malfeasance are simply lacking the motivation to help themselves. Social Darwinism is a feel-good delusion for those at the top. Or, as described by John Kenneth Galbraith, a continuing "search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

A tenet of progressivism is that a strong society will create opportunities for a greater number of people, thereby leading to more instances of individual success. This is the common sense attitude suppressed by conservatives for over 30 years.

There is a very good reason evolution invented death. The cycle of life and death ensures that a species adapts much better to changing circumstances. Imagine a society where everybody is immortal. It quite inevitably culminates in an ultra-conservative nightmare, where “everything is like it was forever”. Imagine a society where the industry tycoons of the 19th century still own the majority of money and influence.
A static society must break down sooner or later, one of the best examples for this is the late Soviet Union, where nothing new happened and which was completely dominated by old men who still evaluated everything in terms of an economy based on heavy industry. And when society breaks down (what it does regularly in human history, this is inevitable), most people will then lose the access to this life-prolonging technology.

I am glad that death exists, and when my time arrives, I will go, to make place for the young generation. They deserve their chance.

An explanation of sorts.

I feel I should explain a bit about my last blog post. Most of it was my way of dealing with grief. Then I tried to imagine what John's life had been like since I last saw him. When I thought of my own experiences during that time, I thought maybe I understood.

In prison, I was witness to the ease with which people hate, and how casually they do harm to one another. One cannot help but be affected by that. More than anything, it confused me. Finally, one day something clicked. See, occasionally the guards would come in and do something mean or hateful, for no reason. Like, say, ripping up correspondence from a loved one. It basically amounted to poking us with a stick. Maybe it was a method of control - a way of keeping us off-balance. Maybe they were just bored. But you could always tell who the new inmates were, because they would always ask the guards "why". The answer was so consistent, that I came to believe that it was actually a part of their training. Their response was always, "Because we can."

When you get down to it, that's really the only reason. Circumstance, or in some cases, authority, gives someone the opportunity, and some take it. There are always rationalizations and justifications later, of course. But while it's happening, it's a base, mindless thing. It's then that the differences between the good guys and the bad guys tend to evaporate.

It wasn't just a prison thing.  When I got out, I was apprehensive about how I might be welcomed back into society, so I decided to do a little experiment. On a number of different websites, I posted (anonymously, of course) the details of my crime and punishment, trying to get as big a cross-section of people as possible. The responses I got back were overwhelmingly negative. I expected that. I had, after all, broken the law. What I didn't expect was the venom contained in a significant percentage of those responses. Death threats, some quite creative, were most common. There were others who were too lazy to kill me themselves, so they requested that I do things to myself that were not only fatal, but physically impossible.

For months afterward, I was depressed. These were people who had jobs, drove cars, raised children? Why should I want to join those whose only claim to good citizenship was the ability to follow a few simple rules? I thought about finding a hole someplace to spend the rest of my days in.

Luckily, there are good people out there. I'm lucky enough to count some of them as friends, and all of them as family.. I still believe that most people are hard-working decent folks, just trying to do the best they can.  Am I ever wrong? Sometimes with a frequency that is downright spectacular. But if my only choices were to become part of the darkness, or be a victim of it, I'd choose the latter.

Of course, nominally, one should avoid both.

It's my hope that John was lucky enough to surround himself with enough people who cared.

I Hate This.

My kid brother, John, died yesterday morning. He was 47. I am...bereft. Two brothers gone in less than a year.  I'm reminded of a line from the most recent Indiana Jones movie. "We've reached the point where life stops giving us things, and starts taking them away."

The last time I saw John, it wasn't the best of circumstances.  I was in handcuffs, on my way to prison.  As they put me in the squad car, I caught a glimpse of him, waving at me from a nearby rooftop. He always had the luck of the Irish.

The problem with the luck of the Irish, is that when it runs out, it runs out with a vengeance.  He ended up working on a ranch just outside of Kingman, AZ.  He'd retreated from a world that he felt had no love for him, and held no place for him. It's easy to empathize. We've all felt it. At some point, or to some degree. It was harder for him, because he was the kind of person that needed to be around people.

Like most people on this planet, my brother lived a life that was hard, brutal, and short. That is unacceptable. For him, and for everyone else.

But it seems we're slowly, inexorably being conditioned not to care. Even to hold with contempt and suspicion anything different. The problem is, that we're all different. Each one of us something that never was, nor will be again. A hunk of metal as unique as each one of us would be considered priceless. Yet we consistently treat each other like shit. It will lead to a society where even the best of us are considered inherently expendable.

When I was released from prison, my first impulse was to follow my brother into obscurity. It would have been easy. Especially when it seemed that every signal I got from those around me said that I didn't matter. That I was unworthy and had nothing to offer.

There were those who were merely disinterested. I sat across the desks of bureaucrats who just wanted me to go away so they could go on to the next person they didn't care about. Then there were others who viewed me with open contempt (including a couple disturbingly creative death threats via email). My brother, a decidedly more sensitive soul than I, would not have fared well.

In the beginning, I couldn't retreat because I had nowhere to go. But in the end, it was those very people that made me determined to stay. I learned tolerance from those who, for whatever reason, hated me, and kindness from those who were unkind because, oddly, they felt morally justified in being so. (They will have to forgive me if they find that I am ungrateful for those lessons.)

I hold no illusions about my place in this world, or my ability to change it. But...

We all matter.

For the next few months, I will dream of my brother as he was in life, only to wake to feel the sting of his absence. I'm told that this is common in the face of loss. Still, it's liable to make me a tad cranky. 

I take some small solace in the fact that, as unique as we are, in the end we are all equal. The rich and poor, good and evil, all of us destined to be crushed under the same great wheel.