I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
June 06, 2017 - 11:30 a.m.
I jotted down something political to write today. It's in my ideas bin. I don't remember what it was. What I remember is that I started ruminating about it as soon as I finished writing yesterday. I'll look up what it was after I tell you about my day.
Yesterday's plan was to go to my PO Box and then to Stop & Shop; they are in opposite directions. First stop was the post office. I got my copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's new book, Beren and Luthien. Hasn't Tolkien been dead for decades? Yes, but he's written more since he died than when he was alive. His son Christopher has made a career of putting Tolkien notes together and turning them into books. I love the various shorter versions of the story of Beren an Luthien and I'm looking forward to reading an approximation of the long work that J.R.R. always planned. I pre-ordered the book as soon as it announced. Now the thing is can I read it before I get my eyes taken care of?
I considered going to the brand-new brick and mortar Amazon Bookstore at the Time Warner Building. I was right there. I still had to go shopping and wanted to get eat dinner when I got home and decided against it. If I had gone it would have been largely to post it on Instagram and Facebook and win Social Media. That's not a direction I want to go in so I'll check it out another time. I'm in the neighborhood whenever I pick up my mail.
I know how to get to Stop & Shop at Co-Op City but I checked Google Maps to see if there were a faster way. It found one and it involved taking the new 2nd Avenue Subway. I have not been on it so that's what I did. I got off at 86th street. I should have taken pictures but I'm saving that to a day dedicated to checking out all the new stations. It reminds me quite a bit of the new Javits Center Station. The new stations are much lighter and airier than the old ones. The feel is great but I wish the look was less anti-septic. What most impressed me was the acoustics. There was a woman busking on the platform and I heard her perfectly from the mezzanine.
The next step of the trip was the BxM8 bus. The problem is that's an express bus. My monthly MetroCard is not good on that. I was afraid of that. I had to walk over to Lexington and pick up the . At this point I had taken so much time I decided to forego Stop & Shop. There was a Fairway there and I bought the one thing that I wanted for last night, corn. It was even on sale.
I considered writing an entire entry on corn. It's pretty remarkable. It's a grass, the same family as wheat or rice but it's so different. It comes in its own packaging. The kernels are nothing like the other grains. We don't even call them grains. It has changed so much from its wild ancestor that until genetic testing was invented scientist weren't certain what its ancestor was. From a culinary perspective corn has one of the highest ratios of delight to preparation time and effort of any food. It's much higher than potatoes which serves the same role in my diet.
But I'm not here to talk about corn; I'm here to talk about the draft. No that's Arlo, I'm here to talk about three roots of extremism; religion, nationalism/tribalism, and ideology. Most of the large-scale violence in the world can be traced back to these three sources. They are not inherently evil but they lend themselves to unleashing passions. They let people convince themselves that the ends justify the means. Acts that would otherwise be considered horrific become normalized. Before the French Revolution Robespierre was a judge. He resigned because he could not bear sentencing people to death. We all know what happened during the Revolution. It's how the Terror came to be. Mass murder was not wrong if it was for the Revolution.
No matter when I wrote this the odds are there would have been a terrorist attack in the past week. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda are but the latest to kill in the name of their god or gods. Buddhists in Myanmar are committing genocide against the Muslim Rohingya. If you haven't read about the Thirty-Year War sometime, Catholics and Protestants committing atrocities in the name of the Prince of Peace.
Nationalism is once again on the rise in Europe, within the living memory of Hitler and Mussolini. The idea is that we only need to act morally to Us and not Them is seductive. It's driven by the idea that if We don't do it to Them then They will do it to Us. It's viewing he world as a zero-sum game and wanting to win at all costs. The welfare of the Volk is the highest good and enough to justify anything.
As bad as these things are they get worse when the religion, nation, or ideology get identified with one man. The most chilling thing about Trump was when he announced that he was the only one that could solve our problems and people cheered. One man is never the only one that can accomplish something. When you get that mind set the good of the world becomes confounded with the good for the man. An enemy of the leader is an enemy of the people.
This adoration of the masses can seduce virtuous people, not just selfish egotists. In any situation alarm bells should go off when anyone is put forward as the only one that can solve our problems, the only possible savior. It's so easy for people to see things that way; they don't have to worry about the countless complications of real world policy. Politics becomes simple; Comrade Napoleon is always right.
Some people in my Hillary Clinton group refer to her as "Our Lady." I find that disturbing. She is someone I admire. She was my first choice to be president. But she is not "My Lady." She's Hillary or even Hill. Fortunately, that's how most people in the group refer to her. She puts on her pants suit one leg at a time. That's the point, it doesn't matter who the person is, there is no such thing as being the only one that can save us.
There is a flip side to all this. Once the religion, ideology, or nation/tribe is defined as all important everyone else becomes enemies or allies and the allies can quickly become enemies. It works in reverse too, anyone perceived as an enemy is lumped with one of the opposition groups. People who disagree are infidels, commies, Zionists, Islamic terrorists, or traitors. We get the Red Scare which was terrible and the Cultural Revolution that was incomparably worse.
How do I end this? That's the problem, we don't know how to end this in the world. I can't wrap this up in a nice tidy package. I am not the one person with the answer. We just have to keep fighting every day with no end in sight. The toughest fight is in ourselves. We must listen to Jefferson and be just and good.
Know what's just and good? My breakfast. I think it's a hameggandcheese on a pita day.
Brother Brothers in Arms - October 01, 2017
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