Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the Republic of Silence

Sometimes, I'll read through the blogs of old friends who have, for one reason or another, gone silent. Dove's excellent blog, In Flight existed but a short time, and her voice on the Internet became silent about three years ago. She was a weaver of profound words during that all-too-brief period, and although I hold out only faint hope that perhaps one day she will reappear in blogtopia, I trust that she is still writing and that some audience somewhere benefits from what she has to say.

With that introduction aside, today I was reading her essay, On the Republic of Silence, in which she summarizes an essay written by Jean-Paul Sartre as World War Two was drawing to a close. I'll share with you her closing words:
Well we are all Occupied now. And beneath this assault there is little enough cause for hope. No knights in shining armour riding to the rescue, no gun-slinging heroes of the wild west, no grand-standing high-minded politicians to lead us to the Promised Land. No justice. Just us.




And like as not, whatever we choose will not suffice.

So welcome to your freedom.

It cannot be removed from you: no torture can excise it, no luxury can exorcise it, no justification can excuse it.

It is wholly and irrevocably yours.

What will you do with it?
For those interested, an English translation of Sartre's original essay may be found here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Food for thought

Although this is an old post on Corpus Callosum, I thought it worth highlighting:
As we sift through history, we see that there have been many who would have changed the course of events for the better. Sometimes, the geometry of the Universe permits this; sometimes, it impedes it.

History has a lesson for us.  As the Roman empire was crumbling, and the Dark Ages began, there was a great struggle among theologians.  They cast aside Plato, and with him, his beloved tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, and dodecahedron. Worst of all, even the supremely elegant icosahedron was tossed back into the sea.

They thought the cross would solve everything.  Alas, they could only think in two dimensions.

One of them dared to dissent.  He carried the peculiar name Pelagius.  He promoted the idea that humans are basically good, and that it is through their free choice of actions that they keep themselves good.

In contrast, the predominant view at the time was that of St. Augustine, who believed that humans were fundamentally tainted by the original sin, and any good they had, came from the grace of god. 

The geometry of the Universe was not kind to Pelagius, although ultimately he managed to avoid the worst of fates.  From Wikipedia:
When Alaric sacked Rome in 410, Pelagius fled to Carthage, where he came into further conflict with Augustine. His follower Coelestius was condemned by a church council there. Pelagius then fled to Jerusalem, but Augustine's followers were soon on his trail; Orosius went to Jerusalem to warn St Jerome against him. Pelagius succeeded in clearing himself at a diocesan synod in Jerusalem and a provincial one in Diospolis (Lydda ), though Augustine said that his being cleared at those councils must have been the result of Pelagius lying about his teachings.

Augustine's version of Pelagius's teachings about sin and atonement were condemned as heresy at the local Council of Carthage in 417.
Those are the people who told us to put away childish things.  Those are the people who cast aside the icosahedron as a mere trinket.  But it so doing, they brought us the Dark Ages.

The online Catholic Encyclopedia contains the following commentary about Pelagius:
Meanwhile the Pelagian ideas had infected a wide area, especially around Carthage, so that Augustine and other bishops were compelled to take a resolute stand against them in sermons and private conversations.
Imagine that, being infected with the notion that humans are fundamentally good.  Is it some kind of virus?
I saw in this passage a reminder that the concept of ideas going "viral" has been with us as a species for a long time - easily predating the current era of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook (within the context of which we usually discuss news, ideas, gossip, videos, and such going viral) and undoubtedly going well back to a time when we relied upon the oral tradition as our medium for communication. Clearly, the power structure of the Church of Pelagius' era considered his ideas viral in a negative sense, due to their subverting the prevailing dogma. And yet one could make a case that Pelagius' ideas were viral in a more positive sense, as a potential cure to the oncoming darkness, to the extent that those open to his ideas might see the path to salvation in a much more positive view of themselves and their fellow humans. Under better circumstances, Pelagius' ideas might have had more success.

I remember a scene from the film I Am Legend in which the protagonist Robert Neville discusses Bob Marley with Anna:
He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate… literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why – He said, “The people, who were trying to make this world worse… are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.”

We seem poised at the brink of a new Dark Age. What ideas, what actions, might go sufficiently viral in order to instead make this world better rather than worse? Who will light up the darkness?

Musical Interlude

"Prophet John" performed by the Don Ayler Sextet w/Albert Ayler. Several of the band members were heavy hitters in the free/avant-garde jazz scene at the time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


"The mullahs of the Islamic world and the mullahs of the Hindu world and the mullahs of the Christian world are all on the same side. And we are against them all."

- Arundhati Roy, who turns 49 today (h/t).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zombies more popular than Palin

Actually, AMC's The Walking Dead is a legitimately well-written and well-acted series, and its ratings are holding steady. I'll take that over another brain-dead "reality" show any day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010