26 December 2011

Being Changed by Literature

Change can be good, but it is not necessarily always easy.  Several changes that a person can experience may be barely noticeable: they wake up one morning and something is different.  Changes brought about by literature are usually not so quiet; at least not in my life.  Some of these changes I have instigated, others have been instigated for me by assigned readings in university, and others are serendipitous.

The changes that I have experienced in reading T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, for example, were of the latter kind.  I picked it up on purpose, but simply to distract myself.  It ended up being the focus of my 60 page senior thesis for the B. A. in English Literature.  Because of that one moment, the one choice to read something for the sheer distraction of it, I have stumbled onto the concentration for my future literary pursuits.  I still have more to say about it, lots more.  And, I really hated The Waste Land the first few times I read it; I thought to myself, “How can people call this good?”  But, now, I call it good!

Albert Camus changed the way I look at life in general.  I would say that the changes that have happened in my life since first reading his works were self-instigated.  I purposely and purposefully chose his Myth of Sisyphus with change in mind.  What happened was not so much an actual outright change, but a merging and an upgrading of my thinking.  I found that I already shared several of his thoughts and ideas, but was unable to articulate them and that he had been kind enough to put them in writing.  Others of his ideas were not mine, but I agree with them and now they are.

The reading that I have been doing lately has both intrigued and bothered me.  It is of the assigned variety.  It is mostly philosophical in nature, which I have not had much experience with.  Well, I should rephrase that.  I have read literature that is philosophical, but have not read much systematic philosophy and then attempted to read literature through it.  Some of these works are difficult, and my initial response is dislike or distaste.  The dislike is not because of the difficulty, nor because they are philosophy or philosophical, but because they lack poetry—I am mostly referring to Kant.

I have read many things that are merely good, enjoyable; that I am glad to have read, but that I will most likely not read again.

Then, there are those works that initially I dislike, or even hate; yet, as I read them I realize that I am changing.  In these times, change is not comfortable.  My mind will not stop working on the new ideas.   I lose more sleep than usual.   The Waste Land, as I mentioned, is one of these works.

Soon, if the literature is strong I will begin to let the words become a part of my way of thinking.   But, this is a choice.  My choice.  I will not blindly believe; I absolutely refuse to call something good just because someone else does.  If I did that, I would lose respect for myself as I have often lost respect for others that do this; i.e. call something good because that is the popular consensus.

Some of the works I have been reading lately are not literature, but philosophy and literary criticism.  The professor raves about them and I was initially excited to be introduced to them; that is, until I read them.  I had a strong dislike to a few, but after thinking about them and discussing them, they are slowly moving into my “must read again and again” category.  And, several have given me ideas for expanding my research on Eliot.

Not only will I not call something good simply because that is the general consensus; I will argue, fight, declare my disgust of the work—if I do not like it.  I will, however, usually give the work a fair chance by reading it for myself.  Sometimes, but not many times, the work of literature will remain on my “do not like” list.  More often the work will become one of my favorites, and not merely because of my investment in it, but because of its investment in me.

Investment in literature is not something I take too seriously, nor is it something I take lightly.  I am serious about literature and the part it will play in my future; I will wrestle with a text as long as is necessary, if I believe that it is worth it.  I refuse to take any of it so seriously, however, that I am angered when others joke or have fun at the expense of the literature.  If there is no fun in it, I will not bother.  The day I lose pleasure in literature and its study is the day I find something else to be fill my time.

That does not mean that I will only read silly literature—how much of that is running around in the wild?  What I mean is that I will not let literature become something about which I cannot change my mind.  If it is good, I will read it, enjoy it, wrestle with it, write about it, but I will not let it be my holy text.  I have no holy text and will have none, thank you.  Nothing is sacred unless we make it sacred.

My mind is my mind and I will run it the way I want to run it.1 Literature does have an enormous impact on much of my thinking and my way of being.  However, I have no problem changing my mind if I think that what I am reading no longer suits me, or serves me.  Maybe I am fooling myself.  Maybe I just think I change my mind, when in reality it is another work of literature that has done it for me….

1. At least I think this way; I could be wrong and have no free will whatsoever.  I’ll have to keep reading the philosophers and get back with you on it.

19 December 2011

Book Obsession

I am obsessed with books and reading. 

My current year’s (i.e. 2011) reading list is too long to finish this year, at my present reading rate.  It comprises mostly contemporary literary fiction, but there are a few modernist and classic titles.  The list began when I asked my friends for recommendations of contemporary literary novels.  Then, it grew as I read a novel I liked and searched for others similar to it.  There are close to one hundred books on the list; which does not include the non-fiction, philosophy, poetry and short stories I want to read. 

This may sound rather benign and harmless, but nearly every time I get online I am looking for more books; I often check books out from the library that are not on my list and attempt to read them concurrently with the listed books. 

Books are always on my mind: at night I think about what I want to read next from my list (or not from my list); during the day I have a stack of books that I am working on, while I look longingly and with desperate remorse at my shelves of books (and stacks of books that won’t fit on the already full shelves).

It’s not that I’m a book-pack-rat.  And, it’s not that my books are like first editions or collectible; most of them are paperback.  I read, have read and plan to re-read most of the books I own.  If I read a book and it doesn’t rate at least 4 stars and fairly beg to be read again, then I will get rid of it: either selling it on Amazon, donating it to the local used bookstore or swapping it on PaperBackSwap

Still, I have a lot of books and have a very hard time, with withdrawal-type symptoms, when I think of giving up buying them—even for a short time.  My palms are sweating now and my heart is pounding, and I’m merely thinking about it so I can write about it. 

I have not sought medical help for this, but am beginning to think it may be necessary.

15 December 2011

Agamemnon Part III – The Consequences of Sacrifice

In my last post, I wrote about the silencing of the voice of the victim.  That same idea is carried into the first antistrophe 5, which says, “Lusting for war, the bloody arbiters / Closed heart and ears, and would not heed / The girl-voice plead.”  Those carrying her to the slaughter, those who had been guests in her father’s house and had known her from an infant, closed their ears and their hearts.  Agamemnon goes a step further.  At the end of antistrophe 5, he “Bade them, as with the bit that mutely tames the steed, / Her fair lips’ speech refrain, / Lest she should speak a curse on Atreus’ home and seed.” 
This was unnecessary.  For the curse has already been spoken; at the end of the epode, after the first antistrophe, we find, “At home there tarries like a lurking snake, / Biding its time, a wrath unreconciled, / A wily watcher, passionate to slake, / In blood, resentment for a murdered child.”  It is fitting that the end of the movement of strophes and antistrophes would also foretell the end of the play itself.  If we go back to the watchman from my first post of this series, we can see that he wants the war with Troy to be over because he is tired of watching day and night.  He believes Clytemnestra to be awaiting her man’s return, in the manner of Odysseus’s wife Penelope.  He says in the beginning of the play:
Let the loud summons ring within the ears
Of Agamemnon’s queen, that she anon
Start from her couch and with a shrill voice cry
A joyous welcome to the beacon-blaze,
For Ilion’s fall ….
Clytemnestra, however, has a completely different reason for wanting Agamemnon to return, and Aeschylus tells us what it is before we even finish the first complete movement of the play.  Her “wrath unreconciled” will barely allow her to pretend joy at the Achaeans’ return, but she must play the part of the good and loyal wife, lest she rouse Agamemnon’s suspicions. 
I want to avoid ruining the entire play for those who have not read it, but I am keeping my initial goal in mind; which is to briefly look at the back story of the Iliad.  During the writing of these posts, I have followed other tangential ideas, but have tried to ensure that they are still connect and not merely touching as they fly by.  Sacrifice, honor, silencing victims and war are all themes that I see that this play shares with the Iliad.  I want to look at the manner in which Agamemnon’s foretold doom is carried out.  Behind the execution of that prophecy is an old, dark presence; revenge.
The idea of revenge is prominent in early poetry and drama.  It is evident in the Iliad, the Odyssey, the play I am now studying, and even in Scandinavian sagas—including Beowulf.  In most cases revenge is carried out by a male character related to a victim.  This play is an exception, in that Agamemnon’s sons do not carry out the pre-ordained and foretold end of the king.  Clytemnestra is key in the orchestration and the fulfillment of the deed, by her hand Agamemnon’s blood is actually shed.  She slakes “in blood” the “resentment for a murdered child.”
Clytemnestra says, after killing Agamemnon:
My guilt thou harpest, o’er and o’er!
I bid thee reckon me no more
As Agamemnon’s spouse.
The old Avenger, stern of mood
for Atreus and his feast of blood,
Hath struck the lord of Atreus’ house,
And in the semblance of his wife
The king hath slain.—
Yea , for the murdered children’s life,
A chieftain’s in requital ta’en.
She claims that the Avenger took her form and struck Agamemnon down.  This is a euphuistic way of saying that she was overcome by vengeance and wrath.  In this short second stanza of this second refrain, Aeschylus makes a connection between Greek drama and the Hebrew religion.  The latter, states in the law, “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21.23-25). 
It seems that the idea of vengeance is strong and deep in the human history.  What drives it?  Agamemnon murdered his own child and, as we will see, goes off to Troy and begins to amass treasure and women slaves.  And while the Iliad was written before Agamemnon, the back story must have been there even while Homer was singing the poem.
Aeschylus’ play covers what happens back home—Agamemnon’s home.  As I hinted earlier, this is the final post in my study of Agamemnon.  Next, I will look at a few parts of The Trojan Women by Euripides, particularly the parts that give us a portrayal of Helen, who Aeschylus calls “one false woman.”
I have a quote from The Trojan Women that fits nicely with the discussion of vengeance.  Cassandra, who was taken prisoner by Agamemnon and who was also killed by Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ play, says this in The Trojan Women:
O Mother, fill mine hair with happy flowers,
And speed me forth. Yea, if my spirit cowers,
Drive me with wrath! So liveth Loxias,
A bloodier bride than ever Helen was
Go I to Agamemnon, Lord most high
Of Hellas!… I shall kill him, mother; I
Shall kill him, and lay waste his house with fire
As he laid ours. My brethren and my sire
Shall win again….
      (Checking herself) But part I must let be,
And speak not. Not the axe that craveth me,
And more than me; not the dark wanderings
Of mother-murder that my bridal brings,
And all the House of Atreus down, down, down….
She dies in Agamemnon, but she had her own plans for letting the old Avenger take her form in order to take vengeance on the king for killing her family.

That's the end....

12 December 2011


This whole thing has really become a pain in my ass.  Occupy Wall Street began as a cry for equality, a call to the government that the disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor was too great; that our country is going to Hell on a fast train of economic fucked-up-edness!  Well, now OWS has decided to screw with people's (not only the 1%'s) livelihoods.

In a previous post I talked about this not making much sense, and it still doesn't.  It is even more fucked up: the occupiers have taken over and closed certain ports on the West Coast of the U.S.  Why?  What good can come of holding people's stuff in a containers?  It does NOT matter whose stuff it is.  Also, I would like to know how this is helping the economy, how this is helping the jobless, how this is bring equality.  How is making all the longshoremen leave work helpful?  Are they getting paid to go home?  According the Huffington Post article to which I have linked above:

Union officials say longshoremen were not paid after Occupy Oakland protesters blockaded the port Nov. 2.

DeAndre Whitten, 48, an Oakland longshoreman for 12 years, said it was his understanding he would be losing about $500 in pay for the day. But he said he supported the protest effort.

"I'm excited. It was way overdue. I hope they keep it up," Whitten said. "I have no problem with it. But my wife wasn't happy about it." (emphasis mine)

Of course his wife wouldn't be happy.  She probably has to pay the bills and shop for groceries.  I wouldn't be happy, either, in that situation.  $500 is a lot of money for those in the 99%, right?  If you say it isn't, then you are not actually part of the 99% and have no reason to bitch and moan about the state of affairs in this country, do you?  How can these longshoremen support their families if THEIR jobs are in jeopardy?  Are the longshoremen who have jobs not part of the 99%?  Then, how in Hell is keeping them from work helping?  Shit!  From the same Huffington Post article:

"This is joke. What are they protesting?" Christian Vega, 32, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburg said Monday morning. He said the delay was costing him $600.

"It only hurts me and the other drivers. We have jobs and families to support and feed. Most of them don't," Vega said.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also urged protesters to consider the impact on port workers.

"Thousands of people work at the Port of Oakland every day. Thousands more in agriculture and other industries also depend on the Port of Oakland for their daily wages," Quan said. (again, emphasis mine)

One protester stated that they were trying to make things better for them (the workers, farmers, etc.), as if this were the Communist Revolution and he were Lenin or something.  Losing $500 or $600 would do me NO good, would it you?  If so, I'll give you my address and you can send me a check post haste.

And the containers on the ships, what of those?  For example, if a family is moving from Hawaii to the mainland, will their belongings be held up until these people, who don't really know what they want, decide to let them go?  Or people in certain parts of Alaska that require shipments from outside: will they get their food, their clothing, or whatever else they might need?  

The occupiers do not want the government in their business, yet they want the government in rich peoples' business, which in the long run will require the government to be in the business of the occupiers themselves.  How can there be equality if no one knows who has what?  How do the occupiers propose this equality be reached?  Magically?  The only way their "demands" can be met is by implementing big government, giving up financial privacy and re-working the entire government and financial sectors of our country.  What are the solutions?  Shit, I'm tired of hearing about the problems.  I know the fucking problems.  How do we fix those problems?

I agree that something has to be done in this country, yet I can't agree that this is that something.  There are too many unanswered questions and too many agendas and too many voices.  The occupiers are not one voice.  Some want this, some that.  Nothing can be done with that kind of chaos; at least nothing worth rallying about.

What will they get up to next?  A little wet work with the guillotine, perhaps?

Here is a great perspective on this whole thing by Bernie Glassman (also on Huffington Post):  Arising to the Interconnectedness of Life? A Buddhist Perspective on the Occupy Movement

UPDATE: This is an awesome open letter.  An Open Letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Ports

I may not be all the way with OWS, but I can appreciate when the hard-working people speak up about the necessity of change.  

06 December 2011

Agamemnon Part II – Silencing the Voice of the Victim

In the first part of this series on Aeschylus' Agamemnon, I wrote that I would continue with the consequences of Agamemnon's choices, which are foretold and are included in the first chorus. Well, I am not going to write about that—this time.

Instead, I want to look at antistrophe 6, which begins, “And then—but I beheld not, nor can tell, / What further fate befell:”  According to Gil Bailie in his Violence Unveiled, this closing of the eyes, this being silent about the horror, “virtually defines myth.”[1] In other words, he says that if a person’s eyes are open they will not see myth, but truth.  Then, he goes on to equate truth with gospel.  He discusses the word aletheia, which is the Greek word for truth, and then sneaks the word gospel in beside it.

Gospel, however, comes from the Anglo-Saxon for good spell, which in turn comes from the Greek word euangelion. Euangelion means good message. A good message does not automatically provide evidence of veracity. There are many good messages that are complete fiction, but that does not make them bad, or even untrue. Bailie is confusing the denotation of the word myth, with its connotation. It has come to mean something that is not true, and is usually used to refer to the belief systems of other people. In attempting to make his argument, he tries to make "truth" equate to "gospel" and thus remove any hint of myth from the Christian religion. This makes sense in light of what Bailie is up to. But, Joseph Campbell points out that all myths are true in their context. There is only a problem when the myth and the symbols connected with it are transplanted. The myth then becomes strange and all sorts of glosses and commentaries become necessary in the attempt to explain away that strangeness.

Myth is not untruth, even if that is the connotation now attached to the word; rather, it is not-completely-revealed truth. We have to be careful that we do not immediately think this signifies half-truth. It does nothing of the sort. The Bible itself ends with a book named "The Revelation," or if you think it should be the Greek transliteration—Apok├ílypsis, which means the unveiling. If gospel and truth are the opposite of myth, in Bailie's terms; that is, if gospel equals truth and myth equals not-truth (or even hidden or secret truth), then what is revealed in "The Revelation of St. John?" So, I propose that the meaning of the Greek word mythos can still contain much of the Christian religion, because much of that religion is hidden or secret.

Bailie discusses interesting thoughts about violence and they ways in which humans deal with it. Unfortunately, he is too busy trying to prove that Christianity is not a mythology, and thus misses many opportunities to question truly and honestly the causes and consequences of violence. He comes down hard on the Greek tragedians, but they are able to show violence without showing it. This is part of their genius. The writers of the Hebrew and Christian texts have to settle for writing blatant descriptions of the details of the violence, because they are incapable of doing otherwise. This has nothing to do with myth or truth. It is merely the styles of writing of different cultures. Yet, Bailie insists that Aeschylus' use of "I beheld not, nor can tell" makes the entire thing the opposite of gospel truth.

In the Greek tragedies, violence is unveiled without being graphic. The emotions of those involved in the action are more important, because those emotions draw in the audience, and in this way, they arrive at the catharsis.[2] To borrow from the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea is that of the prophet Nathan who says to King David, "You are the man." Readers cannot connect with that as easily as they can when the story comes at a slant. In other words, to watch or read about an innocent person suffering, and being given cues and clues to the emotions and thoughts of those causing that suffering, lets the audience know that in every human there is both good and evil.[3] And, although I would like it to be untrue, sometimes the evil comes out on top, as in the case of Agamemnon sacrificing Iphigenia. Not only could that be considered evil, but consider all the evil that followed as consequence of it.

Agamemnon is a fine example of what happens when we trust superstitions (of any sort), rather than what we know to be right, true and good in our own hearts/minds. The human conscience can be a beautiful or a deadly thing, depending on perspective.

It is also a mistake to assume that Greek tragedy equals Greek mythology. Tragedies do include mythology, but they are not it entirely. The Greeks had no Bible, per se. They learned of their gods and goddesses by watching dramas and listening to travelling bards, but these only contain aspects of the mythology needed to tell the story. Most of the stories are human stories. Mythology proper, on the other hand, relates to deities and the people of those deities, and how those people do or do not keep the deities' laws, and the consequences—whether good or bad. That sounds mighty close to religion. Here, we arrive at another tangle of words, and the debates and discussions have been and will be going on for more years than I care to know.

I am looking at the Greek tragedies in terms of humanity and humanness, not in terms of their metaphysical truth or lack thereof. In other words, what can we—as humans—take home from this work of literature or drama? What overarching themes do these works contain that will help me be a better father, husband, leader, follower, or simply a better human being?
Image of Iphigenia from here.

[1] Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads, (New York: Crossroad PC, 2004). 33.
[2] For more on catharsis, see Aristotle's Poetics.
[3] I do not attempt, here, to define these two terms philosophically or theologically. Good and evil are concepts that have spawned many discussions and wars and every other kind of disharmony, disunity and contention. I use these terms in their most basic sense.

02 December 2011

Agamemnon Part I – Blood is Thinner Than Honor

Aeschylus’s play, Agamemnon, begins with a watchman waiting for the time “When shall stream up the glow of signal-flame, / the bale-fire bright, and tell its Trojan tale— / Troy town is ta’en:”  (48).  From the viewpoint of the Trojan war, this play begins at the end.  But, with strophe I, after the first chorus, it returns to the beginning.  The chorus gives us some background, setting and the amount of time that has passed since the Achaeans have gone to war in Ilion. 
Aeschylus, in the antistrophe I, after the first chorus, takes us further back, takes us to the time when the sons of Atreus and the Greeks were waiting to sail for Troy.  Then, the fateful omen of the birds and its interpretation.  The omen, which is contained the antistrophe I and the epode, says, basically, that Agamemnon has to offer his daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice to get the wind blowing so the ships can leave.  But, it also clearly says that revenge will fall on his head! 
Now, right there Agamemnon should have said, “You know what, Menelaus, you can go after your two-timing wife yourself, because this whole thing sounds like a really messed up deal for me and mine.” 
But, blood is thinner than honor.  Agamemnon, like all the other Greek leaders, had made an oath to help Menelaus retrieve Helen should she be “kidnapped.”  That’s not in this play, but it is convenient that it was there.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it was added later as a way of reconciling the idiocy of all the Greek city-states (or clans or whatever you want to call them) going to war just to get back an adulterous woman.  The oath makes it a matter of honor, not to mention there is the opportunity for power and for glory.  So, Agamemnon becomes a monster:
And so he steeled his heart—ah, well-a-day—
   Aiding a war for one false woman’s sake,
          His child to slay,
   And with her spilt blood make
An offering, to speed the ships on their way!
That's just abhorrent.  Agamemnon struggled with this!  A father slays an innocent child—and his own innocent child, at that—to get back an adulterous slut!  Aeschylus is nice and merely calls her a “false woman.”  That name is too kind and I could call her much worse than I have, but I will refrain for my readers’ sake. 
It seems I have given away what is happening in this play up to antistrophe 6 (after the first chorus).  This drama is Aeschylus’s way of dealing with choices.  He is facing the idea of choices and, as we will see later, investigating the outcomes and consequences of the choices that people make.  War is a choice.  The agreement made with Menelaus to help get Helen back is not contained here, so Aeschylus’s immediate and contemporary audience must have been familiar with it, or else some of the action would seem strange.  It seems strange anyway.  Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter because some guy tells him that is what the two eagles doing their feeding dance in the sky means, and because he has his honor to uphold.  That being said, Agamemnon still had a choice.  He chose honor over Iphigenia.  He chose power over the love of his family.  He chose his brother’s wrecked marriage with a whore wife over his own marriage.
The concept of choice, consequence and outcome is an important one in much of Classical Literature, and  we will encounter it again later, when we’re looking at the Iliad, so it is important to keep in mind.   Honor, power and glory are also very important concepts which I will try to remember to look at as I come to them.
Near the end of the first chorus, the consequences of Agamemnon’s choices are already foretold, and with that I will continue next time.


As a reminder, I am reading E. D. A. Morshead’s translation of Agamemnon from Seven Famous Greek Plays, edited, with introductions, by Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O’Neill, Jr.

28 November 2011

300 is not about 300

“... for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
~ William Shakespeare Hamlet 2.2.251

The movie 300, as well as the graphic novel upon which it was based, is not necessarily a historically accurate portrayal of the events they represent.  That is not the point.

The point is plain now that Frank Miller has been candid in a recent blog post300 is about the colonizer, the big government, the oppressor—fill in the blank with whatever strong-over-the-weak, rich-over-the-poor, or my-political-agenda-over-yours ideology that you want—gaining their objective.

Sadly, I think most people interpreted the movie, whether deliberately or unintentionally, as the fight of right against wrong, or good against evil (which is of course one way Miller meant it to be interpreted; his idea being that the Persians represent Islam and Islam is wrong, right?).  That’s how I initially read it (minus the Islam is the enemy idea): the small Spartan army of 300 men went bravely to stand against the massive army of the oppressor Xerxes.  Yeah, I know many did read it as being about America against the rise of, as Miller calls it, “Islamicism” (which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a word, but nevermind …).

In a previous post, Miller wrote, “We only complain about propaganda when we don’t agree with it.”  Of course.  Why would we complain about something that promotes our own agenda?  Why would be try to shoot down something that makes sense to our worldview?  So, anyway, we know that Miller is writing/drawing propaganda because he says he is.  Which is fine, because that is what many people are doing, in their own way.  Propaganda is closely linked with agenda: so the mainstream media who are owned and operated by large corporations; the marketing departments of the large corporations, and their advertising—it all is propaganda for each of their respective ideas or products--the things that will fulfill their agenda(s).

Now, we have occupiers who are using the latest and greatest technology, which is developed and sold by large corporations.  Some blatant examples: Apple, Facebook, Twitter.  I am not singling these corporations out from personal malice, they are simply the ones that come to mind, being used by people who I know are involved in OWS.  The occupiers are focusing on the banks and financial institutions.  Why?  Without their having bought the latest gadget, there would be no finance to worry about.  They are overlooking the objects in their hands; they are overlooking the clothes on their backs, the shoes on the their feet.  They want things to change, but they want things to stay the same.  It seems that they want to eat the cake they didn't bake.  They are at once using and condemning the very things they would not want to be without.  This is what confuses me about it.  It reminds me of the Russian revolution, when women who left their villages to work in the cities did not want to return to their villages without having purchased a particular type of coat, called a sak (a status symbol).1  Today, it is the latest iWhatever that is that coat....  This is contradictory and contrapurposive to the entire ideology being propagated by OWS, right?

It seems that OWS is calling for socialism, or maybe even its extreme form communism.  While many others want something closer to fascism.  I know the labels for these ideas are getting tossed around ad nauseam these days (along with Nazi), and that most who use them are not really solid on what they are saying.  Others are trying for anarchy.  Still others would have the US continue to focus huge amounts of resources into the war against terrorism—which is about as successful as the war on drugs, right?2

I’m not an anarchist, a communist, a socialist or a fascist.  Hell, I barely even register on a political ideological scale at all.  This ramble is not to promote one form of political idea over another; this ramble is my way of working through all this shit and trying to make some kind of sense of it.  I’m not jumping into any of these ideologies, because none of them make sense to me. 

Yes, equality would be nice.  But, are we willing to let the government have the power necessary to maintain that kind of equality?  Privacy would be nice, but are we willing to let those who mean us harm free and open access to us, so that they might then bring a new form of inequality and oppression?  I don't think we really know what we want, and until we do, our united-ness will continue to polarize until the US is no longer recognizable.  Wait!  That shit is already happening, isn't it?

I guess my thinking is swayed by Buddhist thought, i.e. looking for the middle path.  But, I’m not a Buddhist, either….

"Women saved because you could not live without a sak. Those who did not have a sak felt they were deprived of their full rights, not fully valued, on the slide. There were endless conversations among the women workers about buying a sak. And if they bought one, they wrote to the village at once, to tell everyone that teh long-desired sak had been purchased." Mikhail Isakovskii, quoted in S. A. Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History, 94.
MY NOTE: it seems that this, along with what I've written above speaks of a sense of entitlement which is prevalent in our time.


26 November 2011


Most adjectives are shapeless, gray, boring.  Those tired three serve as a twenty-four carat example.

A couple of my new favorite adjectives (though I will superhumanly fight against their overuse) are: sadicidal, or gloomicidal; words which describe the murder of sadness or gloom.  D’uh!

I’ve been giving some Herculean thought to sexceptional adjectives that I can use spice up my dishwater writing.  I have found that sometimes you just have to make that shit up, just like the rest of the fiction you’re slapping madly on the page.

For extra fresh reading pleasure, I suggest this blog post on Sin and Syntax.

A couple of books for you to check out on the subject:

22 November 2011

Finally, Through It

Well, I really got into studying the Bible for a while (I mean minutely).  I had always heard about contradictions, but had also heard that those could be explained away.  Well, I cannot see how they can be.  After going through a time of agnosticism, I eventually came to atheism.  I really believe that there is no god other than those made up by the human mind and changed to fit the current need of humans.  One of the first steps I came to, when I was looking at the Bible closely was: if "God is love", then he has a strange way of showing it. 

Then, I began to look at the world around me and think about it in terms of this god.  If he truly loves humans, then why does he let them suffer?  If he can do nothing about it, then he is not almighty, and so, not a god.  If he can do something and chooses to do nothing, then he is wicked.  So, either this god is 1) impotent rather than omnipotent or 2) a masochistic fiend worse than any devil in his Hell or 3) (and most likely) he is imaginary. 

I decided from what I saw and experienced that he was imaginary just like Zeus, Odin, Jupiter, et al.  And so came to atheism.  This is just my choice.  I’m not a zealous, militant atheist like some that are out there.  I simply made my choice and am living accordingly.  I don’t party, I don’t steal, or kill or any of those things that are called sin.  I simply live by a set of morals and ethics that I have inside of me naturally.  Partly, I observe the Golden Rule, which by the way, is much older than Christianity.  Because of this, I cannot and do not judge other people, nor do I let them judge me.  I have no guilt, because I am not a sinner, I am a human being.  And if I do “wrong”, it is my choice and my responsibility.  The responsibility does not fall on my parents, grandparents, a god, a demon, or anyone else.  It is mine.  If the wrong happens to be against the law, then I might have to pay by going to prison, but that is not something I think will happen, because I generally abide by the laws of the land.

During my agnostic phase, I thought a lot about human inability to prove that a god does or does not exist.  I cannot prove that he doesn't and someone that believes he does cannot prove that he does.  All the experiences are subjective, personal.  What I find interesting is that most religions have these same kinds of personal experiences to "prove" the existence of their deity/deities.  The similarities between the Bible and so many other mythologies is just icing on the cake, so to speak.  It was the Bible itself (along with what I could--and could not--see for myself in the world) that turned me away. 

I'm still interested in the myths (including the Judeo-Christian one), mostly because of their influence on literature.  And I use myth in its denotative meaning.  That is, according to Joseph Campbell, all myths are true in their contexts.  So, there are "truths" (though not absolute) that can be taken from all mythologies, and it is often these truths that are borrowed from one and passed on to another; or truths that are represented by the metaphors, symbols and themes in the myths.  Death, burial, and resurrection, for example, are simply references to nature and agriculture.  Jesus even is quoted as saying, "Unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it beareth much fruit."  While this, of course refers to himself as a fertility god, it also refers to plant life.  Those themes only came into the mythologies once the people who believed them were agrarian.  Those themes do not work as well for hunter/gatherers.  They had a completely different set of myths based on a completely different set of truths, or ideologies.
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27 October 2011

More Through It

It wasn’t really a very negative or hurtful experience that drove me from Christianity.  Merely observation about what was going on and how all of it seemed phony, or worthless.  None of it connected to the Bible, and the Bible was quickly losing ground in my mind as infallible truth anyway.  All of it just added up to doubt for me; then, I asked myself what I really believed. 

The conclusion is that I believe what I can observe (or better, what is observable).  It is somewhat scientific, but it is my way.  I don’t trust emotions or the things that happen during highly emotionally charged situations.  I’m not saying that I am emotionless, but that I don’t trust them because they can mean so many things and come from so many different stimuli.  Many religious leaders use emotions to keep people coming back.  It is similar to an addiction.  So much that happens in churches would be considered sheer madness if one individual acted that way, but because it is an entire group, it is okay.  I think it is group madness and I was right in the middle of it, as you may have been or may still be.  In that highly emotional state, which becomes a type of hypnotism, people are super-suggestible and if they go far enough they become gullible and eventually are enslaved, either to a person/personality, or an office (i.e. apostle, etc), or a doctrine.  It sounds harsh, but I think it is accurate. 

This is how my first steps into agnosticism began.  I started looking, listening, etc., and soon realized that a deity’s existence cannot be either proved or disproved.  There is nothing to see, nothing to feel, nothing to hear that can be seen, felt, heard by another.  In other words, one person’s experiences with religion, god, spirituality, or whatever are entirely subjective.  Others cannot duplicate those “experiences”.  I might claim to hear the voice of a god, but the whole room full of people does not hear it.  I might say, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” but the rest of the people only hear what comes from my mouth.  There is no voice directly from heaven.  So, directly observing situations and really taking apart what people (especially the “leaders”) said was a big step toward thinking for myself and coming to the conclusion that I did not believe any of it.  The things that happened to me, which at one time I credited to God, I then began to see were either purely coincidental or had some other explanation. 

So, a negative experience didn’t drive me out of the church, but I did notice a general lack of genuine care and concern from many, particularly from the leaders.  They mouthed love, but their lives were the exact contradiction.  This, of course, didn’t make me want to stay there either.  And my family and I did try other churches.  Each had their own “weird” thing that turned me off, but it was ultimately my observations of both the Bible and the church that made up my mind. 

Agnosticism soon became a silly notion in the light of what I saw and understood.  I think agnosticism is a legitimate response to things that can eventually be tested, or to things that have been tested but not completely proved or disproved.  It simply means that I don’t know based on current observations by myself or others.  Atheism seemed a more realistic approach to the idea of gods.  I do not believe in any gods, including the one portrayed in the Bible.  I also don’t believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or the Easter Bunny.  To my way of thinking, they are all the same kind of thing.  I see them as devices imagined/created to keep people in line, under control, or in a position in which their minds or bodies can be easily manipulated. 

I know I’m talking more about what I think that what happened to me or the progression of events.  It’s difficult to distinguish ONE thing that did it, but if I had to pin it down, I would go, once again, with the observations I mentioned before. 

That’s about all I have time for right now, so I will have to write more at another time.
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25 October 2011

Through It

I can relate to the idea of feeling like something is wrong.  Religious leaders like to use that to keep people under control, don’t they?  I hadn’t really thought of a period of  de-programming after leaving Christianity, but after I had made the choice to be atheist I did read a couple books by prominent atheists which was a kind of de-programming.  They are fairly militant in their whole idea, but I can understand why.  That being said, I don’t agree with everything they write or say, but I now realize that that is okay.  I can think for myself!  I do agree with much and so I recommend them as a way to get a basic idea of where I am.  The first book, if you’re interested, is The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.  The other is God Is Not Good, by Christopher Hitchens. 

I don't mind telling you how I got here.  Strangely enough, it started with my studying the Bible very minutely.  The more I looked at certain things in there in connection to what I was seeing in the world around me, the more I questioned.  It is also strange that a very staunch Calvinist—Calvin himself—started me on this path.  In his theological work, he says to read the scripture for one’s self.[1]  So, I did.  I could go on about this, but some of the main things were also fundamental things.

For example, my first eye-opener was with Adam and Eve.  God is supposed to be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, right?  Well, if he was all-knowing, then he would have known that Adam and Eve were going to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  My question is why did he go ahead and put the tree in the garden?  OK.  He wanted to test them.  Why?  He already knew they were going to eat the fruit.  What's to test?  Then, after the Fall, why did it take so long for a savior to arrive?  I mean this is the creator and master of the universe, right?  Why did it take so many thousands of years to get the redeemer in place?  OK.  Because of sin.  Well, if that's the case, then even God almighty is weak before sin and takes a couple of thousand years to fix what it took only seven days to create, and a few minutes to screw up.  Hmmm…  Also, I'm sorry, but a god that knows that his creation is going to screw up and then freely gives them the opportunity in their complete and total innocence and ignorance to do so, is not a very nice god.  And, if all people born are born into sin because of what Adam and Eve did, where is the justice in that?  Why am I sent to burn for eternity in Hell because of something I had absolutely no control over?  That is not just.  That is evil and tyrannical!  So, if this god is not just, then he is a liar, because he claims to be just.  Punishing people who do not deserve it, merely because they were born is also not love, it is hatred, pure unadulterated hatred.

Sorry, that's just the first couple of verses of the first book and that is mostly my emotional response!  I became agnostic for a time, because I thought about humans trying to prove a deity's existence.  It cannot be done.  But, it also cannot be proven that a deity does not exist.  So, I went on in that way for awhile.  Then, after feeling like I was wasting my time even thinking about it, I just kind of woke up and realized that I believe that there is no god.  This is, of course, different than most peoples' definition of atheism, which states that “an atheist does not believe in God.”  And, it is not simply semantics.  The typical definition begins with the idea that there is a god in which to believe.  True atheism believes there is NO god and so nothing to believe in. 

I'm not a closet atheist, but usually don't just go around telling people that I am unless they bring it up or ask me a question regarding my “faith.”  I guess I want to avoid being responsible for their giving up faith, if that happens.  Not that I am particularly persuasive about it.  I actually don't even think that much about it unless someone asks, and then I can go on and on about it as you can see from this post.  It's not that I even want to go on about it, it just happens because there is like a valve and the question opens it.  This post is me trying to restrain myself from being wordy, and I'm not sure it's working all that well...

There is a lot of Judeo-Christian “stuff,” as well as other mythology, in literature, but it was several years before I was comfortable enough to use what I had learned in writing and thinking about literary texts.  I even avoided certain literature that seemed particularly Christian because I would get angry about the things I had been through.  I then began to realize that most of the literature is just interpretation, like those asserted by all the thousands of Christian sects or denominations out there.  Everyone has their own interpretation and so there is NO single right interpretation, even though thousands of people have killed and been killed for what they believed was the only single interpretation.  What a confusing mess.  Anyway, I’m going to shut up for now.

[1] This is quite similar, in fact to Buddha’s telling his followers to find their own path.
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