Monday, December 13, 2010

On Gods

All primal human cultures assume the existence of higher powers, that is entities with our reasoning and decision-making capabilities, but without our animal characteristics, present within the world (god-like entities outside of the physical/chronological universe are a later invention [largely out of logical necessity], and will be considered separately). Although there is no direct evidence for the existence of such beings there are myriad phenomena attributed them and despite a long history of philosophical, academic atheism the vast majority of the world’s population continues to place great faith in them with no apparent ill-effects.
Religious and spiritual people are not, on average, any more or less happy with their lives than irreligious people. And although religious justifications have been given for many acts generally thought of as heinous and unjust (although actually just brutally self-serving) the irreligious have shown themselves to be just as capable of such atrocities (Hitler, Stalin and Mao are roughly on par with Cardinal Richelieu, Hernando Cortes and the Knights Templar). Thus a consideration of the existence of higher powers should refrain from calling upon consequential examples - no way of thought so essential can possibly result in a necessarily better life, for the truth, which is the ultimate subject here, is something a great many people are perfectly content without.
It must be noted that what is being dealt with here is probabilities. Religious texts may be considered but will not be given an authoritative status, for nothing nearly as specific as a name or physical attributes can be given to such higher powers. These will be hereafter referred to as gods - this term is used to simplicity’s sake, it is meant to imply nothing as to the sexuality or plurality of said being(s).
Assuming then that such gods exist, the question becomes what, if anything, can be said about them. The fundamental attribute of a god, found in all conceptions of them, is immortality. This shall serve as a premise or definition, rather than a point of discussion. Positing mortal spiritual entities would imply a whole field of study (celestial biology, chemistry, physics) that no one is in any position to study. It is also a matter of the burden of proof, death as we think of it is a peculiarly animalistic trait, for the rest of the universe, including some other forms of life, the distinction between the living and the non-living is not nearly so clear (a severed limb is dead immediately, a flower may be kept alive in water for days before it begins to wilt, all its life systems apparently intact and unless cut down or otherwise destroyed trees of certain species may live for millennia). Thus unless evidence is presented otherwise one must assume that gods do not live and die as we do and are thus immortal; immortal not in the sense of Tolkien’s Quendi but in the sense of the hydrogen molecule or mathematics.
Following from this, the immortality of gods, is the limited quantity of gods. Which is highly useful, as it contradicts the “god as universe” pantheist fallacy. If gods are defined as everything than the attributes of said gods are no different from that of everything, and referring to them as anything other than the universe personified is pointless. The tendency toward this in certain academic circles can be traced to a valid reaction against Indo-European anthropomorphism, but it is not the only escape from it. Therefore, as gods cannot be everywhere and everything, and are immortal, they must be of limited quantity. The arguments of panentheism would offer a logical counter to this, claiming that god is not everything, but everything is contained within god, this however, does not avoid the essential problem, which is a confusion of topic: in speaking of such “gods” one loses any cohesion to the concept. If such an entity which contained all the universe can be called a god, the beings within the world that have been thus-far discussed must be called something else (or vice-versa).
If gods, that is immortal entities possessing conceptual powers akin to that of a man, exist it seems highly unlikely that, given their utter separation form the mammal-primate line of development, they would bear any resemblance to men, even the imposition of human-like thought seems a pretension. Some of the oldest conceptions of gods admit this. The judaic YHWH - I am that I am - clearly defies any attempt at humanization and the later Christian idea of the trinity can, as Nietsche claimed, be said to have killed god. The original Latin and Chinese conceptions of gods were equally vague, prior to their interaction with the Greek and Indian cultures (respectively) neither even deigned to give their gods names and considered them more as immutable forces than as anthropomorphic entities.
In the development of theologies there seems to be a tendency to reduce gods to a simple force of goodness. By the classical era of Greek culture philosophers often spoke of god as a singular entity despite their polytheistic religion (a contradiction Socrates pointed out in the dialogue Euthyphro), by this time the old stories of Zeus’s philandering and Hera’s rivalry with Aphrodite and the like seemed to not have been taken very seriously (anyone trained in critical thinking could tear Helenic religion apart in a few sentences). The resulting religion, emphasizing cults and practical philosophies, eventually morphed over the course of the hellenistic era into a sort of Proto-Christianity. Christianity and later Islam continued this reduction that has been nearly completed by the more liberal contemporary faction of each. “God” has become a embodiment of whatever ideal the culture happens to possess and the scriptures themselves are moralistic enough to be twisted into nearly any message. There are two possible responses to this, one rejects the ethically monolithic basis of the reduction, the other points again to the potential alienness of gods and the unlikeliness that they would follow popular morality so closely.
Indo-European polytheistic spirituality (anthropomorphic or not) is based on a world of competing forces, both in the world around us, the sea contending with the land, and within us, desires for passion, wisdom and glory often seeming to pull in very different directions. In opposition to this monotheistic religions posit one supreme deity, usually either in a patron relationship - the god of the Hebrews, or as a universal force - the Christian god of love. Whether or not love is the ultimate force in the world is a matter for another discussion, but it must be admitted that there are other forces present contrary to love and some that seem to bear no relation to it what-so-ever. Which is how the Greeks and other polytheists would justify gods of love, wisdom, war, the earth, the sky and the sea; though despite its representational superiority to monotheism any sort of spirituality as an explanation of the world suffers from a lack of positive evidence, leading to the second argument against value-centric theism.
Popular religion has created a divinity that is fundamentally humanistic. The first concern of the deity(s) is humans, human concerns, and human morality. Given all that has been stated regarding the otherness of gods, especially relating to the earliest conceptions of them, this seems unlikely. The chances that the will of the supreme power of the universe would fit whatever value society currently holds most idealized are small.
Aside from post-hellenistic religious texts and modern theorizing (which essentially amounts to wishful thinking) there is no reason to believe that gods bear any more relation to us in their values than in their physical appearance. The total otherness of such deities baffles any real attempts to consider their attributes. Issues including their relation to time, human will (free or otherwise), and love presume such essentially human characteristics that the entire discussion is foolish. In short, immortal, bodiless entities may exist, or may not and there may be entirely psychological explanations for spiritualism. Any further development is blind assumption.

An observant reader will notice that this essay, like many platonic dialogues, established almost nothing that it did not presuppose. This was not its intent, but it is a perfectly acceptable result; divinity, like piety or justice, is a problem that defies explanation. All one can do is become familiar with the problem and use the lessons learned in more relevant circumstances.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Hazards of Fish II

They are binding my hands
Thick cords of leather
And my feet
Around the binding is another rope, thrice-wound and strong, between my hands extended
And lashed to the harness of an ass
My feet as well
They yell curtly and the animals trot each forward
Each their end to me
Dragged through the dirt as the lines goes taut, one before the other
And then I am suspended
And my spine is separating
And the cord is cutting my wrists to the bone
And my stomach tears
And my intestines are in the dirt
And the ass does not stop, pale coils dragging behind
Passing them, my murderers, I see their faces
Mine each one
And the ass too I see is myself, pulling with all the strength of my body
And there are no bindings, I grip the rope my fingers clenched
For no man may be torn to pieces such that he himself is not party

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wishful Thinking

My sister asked me today that if I could have three wishes (as in from an all-powerful genie) what would they be, and then hinted that she had the prefect answer but wouldn’t tell me until I came up with three of my own. I said something about land, power, billions of dollars, a wife and immortality but I was surprised at my inability to put it concisely. I could think of several futures to aim toward but mixing goals would be pointless and I wasn’t sure which one I would actually wish for if I knew the wish would be granted. She had evidently thought about the question substantially more than I. Her first wish, she told me, would be to succeed at everything she tried, with this she could have any of the normal desires, wealth, power, love, but also virtually any superpower. Her other two wishes were less ingenious but her third does bear mention, she would wish to know ahead of time of her death and for it to be sudden.
The genius of her wish is that it concurrently avoids the traps of wishing for infinite wishes, which is often expressly forbidden, and the problem of shortsightedness. The man who wishes for power or wealth will find it difficult to maintain and quite possibly end up worse than before but the man who wishes for success in everything can have almost whatever he wants, as long as it is possible to attempt. A wish bound only by what can be attempted though, has some fascinating implications. A common wish is to be able to fly, yet no man can attempt to grow wings, some men however, have attempted to be another species (specifically referring to that one freak who tries to be as similar to a tiger as possible). Many people however, attempt to live forever (or rather to avoid death), and to stay young forever, and so immortality is here a possibility, if not an inevitability.
The issue that then emerges is what constitutes an attempt, how hard does one have to try for it to be considered a try? If one tries to get a job but this involves nothing more than perusing a few job search websites would one have to succeed? And can one consciously dictate one’s goals? Would the wish operate on stated attempts or mental patterns of thought, would you succeed at what you were trying to do or what you thought you were trying to do? And what if this is applied to the wish itself, what is one trying to do by wishing such a thing? And would success be nothing more than the wish being granted? People like the idea of limited wish granting because it gives them an opportunity to think about their priorities, to condense all of their wishful thinking into a few relatively simple requests. What one is trying to do by wishing for success in all things is to eliminate the possibility to failure, but the phrasing of the wish would not actually accomplish this. The critical term of the wish was “try” - one must try to succeed. So suppose one attempts to fly by launching oneself off a tall building. Having made an attempt, success would be assured, and so one would indeed fly, but only as long as one was trying. As soon as one became comfortable with it and started to consider other things one would cease to fly and begin to fall (the same occurs when driving on familiar roads, without thinking about it, without trying, one can find one’s way home). If the wish itself is acted upon by its granting however, this would not occur: by wishing for success in everything one is trying to avoid failure, and if one must succeed in avoiding failure one would not fall from the sky the moment they ceased to try to fly. There remains though, the issue of whether one can fail to do something one is not trying to do, and for some instances it would appear not. One cannot be said to have failed to run if one is sitting down, but conversely one can be said to have failed to graduate from high school without ever having made the least attempt to do so.
The actual implications of never failing though, have more dire consequences than logical dilemma. Humans need adversity, without it our efforts have no meaning. We judge the value of an endeavor by how difficult its completion will be and by its risk of failure. If one knew that one could not fail, that all one had to do in order to insure success was try, some element of this challenge would be lost; one would never know doubt and would be solely dependent on oneself. The nastiest consequence of this would be in human interaction, specifically romantic human interaction. With this wish granted anyone one attempted to attract would be attracted, rejection would be impossible and other people would cease to have any value or significance.
The crucial point in all of this though, is the definition of “to try.” It can be validly argued that if one tries one must eventually succeed regardless, and that we only fail when we cease to try. There are of course extreme cases that would seem to contradict this - no matter how hard one tries to swim into the Mariana Trench one will fail. But as we are human a more intellectual definition of try is necessary. To try does not mean to approach in the most direct possible way, if faced with a tall fence a man will not press himself into it until it breaks but will attempt to climb over it. Thus to try to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench men invented the deep-sea submarine; to truly try to do anything is to approach it in the most intelligent possible manner. If this is to be the case it must be shown that any time man has failed it has been because he has not truly tried.
In the field of warfare this is clearly true - few battles are fought to the last man, most often the losing side retreats or surrenders before they are destroyed, thus they stop trying to win before they are defeated. The few cases to the contrary, the Battle of St. Jacob’s, The Alamo, etc. (in which the defeated side refused to surrender and was massacred), would contradict this if a wider idea of success and failure is not adopted. In both cases the “defeated” were not trying to achieve victory in the normal sense, they were trying to have an effect on their enemy other than defeat, to deter them, to cause them to reconsider the cost of victory, and in both cases they were successful. And thus in trying they were successful.
In the various scientific fields this is generally the case as well, man did not discover flight in the years before he did from failure but from lack of a genuine attempt (Da Vinci never built his machine). The Romans had much the same technology as the 16th century Europeans, yet the latter discovered the heliocentric universe and the former did not. Motivation and compulsion are much more powerful forces in science and engineering than ability.
The field of politics offers the most difficult challenge to this theory. Men have been trying to invent a stable political structure for millennia and no one has ever succeeded, the rule of man has defied all attempts. It is possible for the theory to be maintained only if one sees the decay that infects a state in its middle and later years as a product of changing efforts, as the state begins to appear secure, men stop trying to secure it and begin to further their own personal aims (at times at its expense), and the state begins to collapse. The try-succeed idea then becomes continuous; constant trying is necessary for success. And success, once achieved, is easily lost. It almost appears that success is never actually possible, one can only approach it as a man pushing a bolder up a hill, unless constant pressure is exerted the bolder will begin to roll backwards. And even if the crest of the hill is reached the bolder is apt to roll down the other side, in keeping it at the summit the man has an even more difficult task to getting it there in the first place.
If then “to try” is as it has been here described the wish for success in all one tries would be no different than the normal course of life, and therefore quite foolish thing to wish of a genie. And even if it is not, and trying can be as simple as original intent, such a wish would make one prone to either sudden reversals of fortune (as one stopped paying attention) or success in ways one never intended (trying as underlying motivation) and regardless one’s treatment of and relations with other people (as other people and not as slaves) would undoubtedly suffer. If I am ever confronted with such an opportunity I think I’ll stick to wife, property and literary talent.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Hold Four Hydras

I the crippled satyr
Have left cloven hoof prints in the garden and
Found the child entombed
Her fetal bones soft in her bejeweled casket

I fail and call
Have the oak in her mourning
Found refuge from deathly Saturn
Her limbs barred before the gale

I move not and
Have never a fear
Found though she is
Her door is shut

I sleep in the sun on my bed in my room and I
Have a dream that high though the peak rose I reached its summit and
Found dead men
Her face in the moonlight, too far from the shore

I hold four hydras
Here in my hands
And they bite and they tear and I cannot let them go

special thanks to John Darnielle and Seattle University Housing And Residence Life

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pedestrianism as System Revolt

When I am walking late at night, and by that I mean early in the morning, I do not use the side-walks. Instead I walk in the left lane; it’s safe enough, even if I failed to see a car behind me I would certainly hear it, that hour is the quietest time of the day. Walking thus the street appears differently, we are so accustomed to seeing the road from the side that to view it from the middle, and not through a window (which is to not see it at all) is an odd experience. One almost feels as though in the middle of the road, one almost feels as though in the middle of The Road. As if with pistol, rusted shopping cart and the last god in your care, you should be paying better attention to your surroundings that you ever have in your life.
I have said before that one does not know a road until one has walked it, so much is missed going 35 miles per hour. And so in the normal course of things one never knows the road, only the side of it. When driving one does not think in terms of land - elevation, terrain, exposure - one thinks in terms of traffic lights and stop signs and a double yellow line. Travel is reduced down to a grid, observation at the mercy of momentum.
I have read that the human body withstands collision quite well up to around twenty miles per hour - the upward limit of the unaided man. Past that speed our bodies break in exponentially gruesome ways. We are not built for faster travel; normal, accepted life should not require a harness.
One comes to understand, walking at night, the alienness of our roads, that we are not built for them, because they were not built for us. They were built for oil and steel and the madness of industry. And by their form the structure of our world is dictated. Here the urban is totally victorious, the rural - self-sufficient and traditional - has no place. The horse, requiring no mechanic for its maintenance and no international commerce and industrial infrastructure for its feed, is too slow and too dirty (leaving its feces in a heap on the pavement instead of in particles in the air). The serfs too have no place, those who cannot afford a car cannot function in this system, theirs is not a plight, they simply do not exist, they function in another system, oceans and seas away from their lords.
And so at night, when I cannot see headlights behind or front, I walk on a road not made for me. I jaywalk with impunity, ignore stop signs, laugh at navigational aids (road turn reflectors passing at ten second intervals) and try to teach myself what it should feel like to walk the straight path on a curving earth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Taste of the Lethe

Always new, always savory, rich and chilling: that is the taste of the Lethe; beyond hated Styx, sorrowful Acheron, wailing Cocytus and burning Phlegethon it lies and there in farthest Elysium I wish to be
Clear the water is, as the silver laced gravel of its bed and tasting it one loses want for all but the bliss of the sunlit fields
There I wish to be, to dwell by the river in deep oblivion, to drink from its rippling flow and sit and sleep and forget, to lie on its grassy banks and know nothing but the vision before my eyes
Such is my wish, those happy glades
And my life its course run
And my children filling the earth
And all the energy of my spirit spent
And the taste of the Lethe my only desire

Monday, November 1, 2010

Song of Exile

In the farthest hills of Taur-nu-fuin there twists a road. At its crumbling end lies a pool, pure and cool and deep to all infinity. Rising from it stands a prophetic obelisk, carved by sheol knows not what creatures. Etched in that stark script a cyclic verse - the song of the exile of all.

There is a place - of our fathers and of our sons
There is a place - of our life and of our death
There is a place - where the earth is of our flesh and our flesh is of the earth
There is a place - where in some tomorrow we will stand anew

Each morning the sun reaches down and lights upon it, beaming from some high notched crag.
Read it in this hour, read it just before the dawn, for passing cross the sky no sun’s light will reach its mysteries again.
Read it and remember, for by it you shall see the highest road.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Society I Would Want To Inhabit

In the past I have described my ideal government, reading utopian literature one cannot help but form one’s own versions. Despite claiming to be composed of ideals mine and those of others were generally somewhat less than their name, they assumed a great deal about man that seems inescapable in modern society: issues of population, bureaucratic control, military strength, and industrial infrastructure being examples. This essay is an attempt to describe my ideal society in its purest form, that is to formulate a culture that accounts for only the basic nature of man and none of the modern dilemmas of civilized life. Issues of applicability will be addressed, but they will not affect the final form of the society described. The underlying idea of this exercise is simple and somewhat egotistical, it is to describe not a society that would be economically successful, politically just, or socially liberating, but a society, in as detailed a form as I know, that I would actually want to inhabit, a society in which I would no longer feel the compelled to imagine a better (yet still real) world.
The most basic problem with creating any feasible utopian society is that of connection with the modern world, since the 1960s idealistic young men and women have been forming communities based on the principles of simplicity, nature and anti-industrialism but these have always been short-lived. Aside from the constant temptation to re-join mainstream society the greatest problem they have faced is one of generational rebellion. Our society is one that glorifies revolt, unconventionality, innovation and originality; while this was necessary for the overthrow of the entrenched traditional ideals that culminated in the dysfunction of the Victorian age it has since hampered any attempts to replace those traditions with an equally resilient, but yet non-repressive, system. What anyone who attempts to engage in utopian dreaming needs to realize is that rebellion, revolution, can never be an end in and of itself, the Maoist idea of permanent revolution is the path to total societal destruction (as was experienced during the Great Cultural Revolution, which continues to haunt the Chinese psyche). Thus somewhere in this account there must be the creation of a tradition, a strong, enduring social order that children feel neither the desire not the imperative to revolt against. This might seem impossible to the modern reader, as we equate the teenage years with rebellion; but as someone who has observed, because of his upbringing in the current society (and perhaps his nature), a tendency to rebel against any idea he has heard enough times, it is absolutely necessary to avoid this pattern of thinking.
The basic function of a society is the propagation of the human race, and thus the most essential system of society is its life-cycle, the expected path of its children from birth to old-age and death. But before this kind of description some background must be given regarding the geographic basis of the proposed society. This essay will presume that the region inhabited is temperate, forested, at least somewhat mountainous and sparsely populated. Alaska and Western Canada between the 65th and 55th parallels being perhaps the best example of this. The basic communal structure of the society is a small to medium sized village, the exact population of which would be heavily dependent upon the resources of the region, which will be henceforth referred to as the Polis, in the manner of the Ancient Greek philosophers (certain similarities between this Polis and the Polis of Sparta need not be denied, the reforms of Lycurgas were among the most direct inspirations for this train of thought). The life of a member of said Polis begins when he or she is born to a married couple (man and woman) living and working in the community. Their lifestyle is one of the settled hunter-gatherer, depending on subsistence farming for their staples but still engaging in hunting and foraging. From birth until the age of five the child is the responsibility of his or her parents, although assistance from other member of the community, specifically older (post-menopausal) and likely parental members is assumed. Between the ages of five and sixteen the child is educated communally, in a largely informal but extremely rigorous manner, the child continues to live with his or her parents but most, if not all of their waking time is spent with his or her peers away from the home and their biological parents. This education takes two forms: physical and mental, neither being favored over the other. Physical education consists of the skills necessary to survive in the wilds and involves both physical conditioning and skill acquisition (both practical: tracking, designing shelter; and theoretical: mathematics, biology etc.). Mental education follows, somewhat vaguely, the classical form - Philosophy, the love of wisdom. Put more concretely - how to think. This would involve training in thought (or logic - what is generally thought of as philosophy), literature, and history.
Upon a child’s 16th birthday her or she becomes an adult and the male and female paths diverge, the young man is cast out of the Polis and forbidden to return for four years, if he survives he may return and marry. The young women remains in the Polis for an indefinite period of time (at least two years) until she is wed to a returning man. Her education however, is not over. For at least two years, more often four to six, she is trained in one of the advanced crafts: farming, herding, tanning, sewing, metallurgy, word-working, music and the fine arts being among them. The intent of this division is two-fold, first it aims to get young men, restless and potentially rebellious, out of communal life. No demographic has the potential for societal destruction of young men, whether their efforts are directed toward their peers, specifically their female peers, or their elders the results are never good for the community; the only way to avoid this pattern without intense repression during early youth is to literally expel them, force them to ‘make their way in the world’ or die. Ideally this would be seen as a test of manhood and not as a hostile rejection and young men would be eager to pass into this phase. For the path of a young women the intent is somewhat more complicated; anyone with a knowledge of modern feminist theory would point out, quite accurately, that this sort of society would tend toward paternalism and male-dominance. Men, after learning how to survive in the wilds and returning to claim their just reward, would see their wife as somewhat inferior, a very valuable possession, but a possession regardless. The extra education for women is aimed to minimize this, despite his superior skill in hunting and general wood-lore a man would need the skills, not just the womb, of a women to procreate effectively. In this society women would be the primary artisans, and thus would not fall into the place of a second-class citizen and would never be subservient to men.
One could claim that this dilemma would be entirely avoided if only young women too, having received the same training up until that point, were cast out; for women are certainly just as capable as men of tracking large game or operating a crossbow. This however, would jeopardize the survival of the society. It is assumed in this system that some of the young men who are cast out would never return, killed by starvation, exposure or larger predators; this is accepted not only because it functions to weed out the weak and incapable, those who would be a burden to the Polis rather than an asset, but because it maintains a high ratio of women to men, which would compensate for the inevitable child-bearing related deaths. Maintaining this ratio is much more than a matter of convenience, the growth of a society is a function of the number of women and societies with an excess of men tend to be very violent and unstable (much of medieval european history is an excellent example effect these measures attempt to avoid).
After marriage the newly wed couple would return to the wilderness and live there, alone or in small communities, until the wife becomes pregnant, at which time they would return to the Polis for the raising of their children. This time apart is meant, aside from further avoiding the problems of unoccupied young men, to solidify their relationship; forced to live together without refuge or die the couple’s bond would ideally become strong enough to last until death. While this is partially to compensate for the comparatively minimal time they would have spent together between the man’s return and their marriage (no more than a month or two) it is also to avoid the blight of divorce that seems today as intractable as juvenal delinquency. After their child-bearing years were over an older couple would have the choice to remain in the Polis and continue in an increasingly advising capacity or return to the wilderness.
While life outside the Polis, as that of the young man or young couple, would be relatively simple, nomadic hunting and gathering, life in the Polis requires additional explanation. Following the Spartan model members of the Polis would eat two meals a day together, this would help to create a communal spirit and avoid factionalizing and isolation. This, and several other measure, are meant to deny a more economically successful couple any means of expressing superiority. The most powerful of these is collectivization, two thirds of all food and other materials gathered, hunted, or farmed would be collected, one third for immediate use in communal dining and one third for winter or other times of famine. Necessitated by this practice would be some sort of authority structure, decided annually and by lot. Two Overseers would be picked from different families in the adult population of the Polis to regulate collection and distribution. In addition to these a Judge would be selected, likewise by lot, to mediate any disputes, once appealed to his or her decision would be final; these decision would be enforced, if necessary, by two Officers, one appointed by each Overseer. If the Polis were ever to be threatened by an external force these Officers would be responsible for defense, and therefore should be male, as they would be better trained for combat through their experience hunting and tracking in the wilderness. Above all of these positions would be the Archon, the oldest member of the Polis, who would be responsible for major decisions and to whom the Overseers and Judge would answer.
All of this in place, a number of issues remain; principally how, and if, such a society could be implemented. This kind of utopian theorizing ranges somewhere between pointless and totally ridiculous if it has no relevance to our actions today and obviously this particular ideal is of no use, as Plato or More’s utopias, as some sort of metaphor or model to strive for. Either it can exist, and we should go off into the wilderness and create it, or it can’t, and all of this has been a pointless exercise in rhetoric and reasoning. The most problematic issue is that traditional societies, as this one would be, cannot co-exist with modern society, even if adults cling to the “old” ways the young are always drawn to a easier, more immediately appealing, life. Societies that resemble the one described here all over the world have been destroyed and absorbed by civilization whenever they encounter it. Their fates have varied from invasions by anthropologists and missionaries to open violent to simple, gradual absorption, in which the way of life that makes them unique disappears over the course of a few generations until it is nothing but an artistic aesthetic and an ancestry box to be checked on government surveys. To avoid this, total, or near total, isolation would be a prerogative, cultural exchange of any kind would have to be avoided.
A less conventional issue in “traditional” society is one of implementation. A planned society will always be somewhat artificial and thus will never have the strength of thousands of years of custom. While this would likely be a problem for only the first two or three generations of the Polis it would be a very difficult one to overcome. Tradition is validated by history, the less history an idea has the easier it is to reject, and as of this moment this vision has less than 24 hours of history. Instilling in a generation an ideal that they (the previous generation) admittedly made up, especially when such a thing required them to separate themselves from all other humans for years at a time (a trial their mentors may or may not have undergone themselves) would be difficult.
On a more theoretical note the very notion of planning society has intrinsic problems. According to Kaczynski’s Third Principle of History “If a change is made that is large enough to alter permanently a long-term trend, then the consequences for the society as a whole cannot be predicted in advance.” In other words, complications would surely arise that would challenge the “traditional” societal structure. Not the least among them being what exactly four years alone in the wilderness would do to a 16 year old youth and whether they would be willing to subject their children to the same test. And once the culture begins to disintegrate the individual’s clear, direct and appealing path (the creation of which was the goal of the entire exercise) would be lost. The world would still be a confusing and ultimately unlivable place and if the children of a planned society are ever planning for themselves their own utopias, their own escapes from the world in which they live, the plan can officially be said to have failed.

For a full understanding of the motives behind this ideal consult the following texts

Industrial Society And Its Future (The Unabomber Manifesto) - Ted Kaczynski
The Spartans - Paul Cartledge
Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
What Is Ancient Philosophy? - Pierre Hadot
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
The Athenian Constitution - Aristotle

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Further Adventures Of

In the introduction to The Tolkien Reader Peter Beagle commented that should Frodo, Aragorn and co. have failed, and Sauron had total dominion over Middle Earth, Tom Bombadil would have been the last to fall. I'm not sure of the textual basis for this but it got me wondering what that would look like.
If I was a true Tolkienite I would have written this in some obscure Anglo-Saxon meter but I'm not so I didn't. Call it fan-fiction if you want, I don't really care. Tolkien left too many undeveloped areas to justify the creation an entirely new epic; in other words, if this is fan fiction so is the Aeneid.

The Death of Tom Bombadil

Bombadil is going to war. He has taken up his wood-ax and is shaping it upon ground stone. From hardest ironwood he has hewn himself a sturdy shield and from his mantelpiece his has taken a mighty halberd, gift from some ancient Dwarven king. He is garbing himself in leather and tying his hair and beard into braids. For Melkor had come back through the doors of night and all the earth has hearkened to him.
No elven lord now stands to mar him nor elven maiden to bind him with sleep. No mountain kings to withstand the fiery assault of his dragons nor tree herders to bring the waters down upon his citadel. From the deepest pits his Balrogs have awoken and from the withered heath his wyrms descend. His orcs and trolls were hunted from the earth but men now people the ranks of his host. Men of every land and tongue to fight for the author of all evil. And so old Tom girds himself for battle and, having sent Goldberry west to the halls of Tulkas, prepares his home of the coming of the enemy.
About his lands he casts a mighty enchantment so that no fires will burn and among the trees many traps he lays, pits and springs and wires to dispatch the unwary. He teaches the streams to swallow up any who step even a little into their waters and the badgers to haul trespassers below into their dens and slay them with their own knives. Old Man Willow needs no instruction.
For himself Tom takes up his weapons, ax, halberd and iron-shod stave, and seems to be on all paths at once, patrolling every border and watching every gate. But though many a scout is caught unawares still the host of Melkor comes. Last of all men and maiar is Bombadil to fall and smoke drifts ever through the treetops of his home.
When Melkor’s armies at last converge the land in every direction is burned and barren and flying high as he dares Tom’s sparrow cannot see the far end of their great encampment. The night before the assault a wind seems to blow in every direction from Bombadil’s house and the clouds are banished from the sky. Last of all nights Tom gazes at the stars, Earendil shining still though his nemesis has risen again.
The morning is dim and fog-bound when Melkor commands his forces forth into the wood. First are men, frightened, confused, easily ensnared and cut down. Tom is grieved to do it but he strikes not at the children of Illuvatar but at Melkor himself, of whom they have become a member. Many fall in the mist but slowly his deceptions are found out. Tom is seen to be struck by a dart but no body is found and he is soon seen unhurt on another path. At last come the mighty of Melkor’s servants and the forests are leveled. The dragon’s fire dies in their throats but their cold strength cannot be ruined. On the hillock where once his home stood Tom gives them battle and the wyrms are struck down as by the mountain kings of old. But men come still. Tom’s halberd splinters and so he casts it away and draws stave and shield to fight until he stands on a great mound of smote bodies. At this time night falls and Melkor’s lieutenants tally their slain. Many, they count, have fallen to this one man or elder being and their lord is displeased. His great drakes are all but slaughtered and Bombadil’s enchantment stands still, holding his Balrogs at bay. Men seem of no use against this wild primordial thing and so he resolves to do battle himself on the morrow.
The night is long and Tom had no living thing to keep vigil with him. All around him are the hewn and the fallen, men and trees and beasts. He thinks of his long life, of Goldberry the river-woman’s daughter, of the hobbit folk and their merriment now silenced, of the stillness of the river at dawn and the warm peace of the evening. The evil clouds have come and he has not the strength to drive them away and so neither moon nor stars he sees, only the glow the fires of his enemy.
Again at first light he sends forth a mist, but Melkor, emerging with his terrible mace, banishes it and they fight in the open fields of carnage. The dark lord towered above even the trees in the elder times and now is strong as he ever was but Tom seem to grow to match him and fights him as a peer. Across the battlefield the combat rages until Tom’s shield is shattered and Grond hangs in fragments. At noon they take reprieve and Melkor is frightened, for even in Fingolfin he had not such a foe. When again the duel resumes Tom wields ax and stave together and Melkor draws a great black sword, larger in handle than the height of a man and set with all manner of barbs and hooks, but both are tired and the day ends before either have fallen.
At this Tom takes heart, for he cannot know what else they could send at him; what, he thinks, could best he who fought Melkor to a draw? And thinking thusly for half the night Melkor despairs and wonders from where such an enemy could have come then recalls his youth and giving order to the greatest of his lieutenants he sleeps.
Tom is awakened by a great stench and he knows that this day he will die. Brought forth from the deepest cavern of old Mordor is the last daughter of Ungoliant, and she has feasted since dawn on the flesh of the dead. Swollen she is and strong, as Bombadil rises and takes up his ax Melkor reminds her of their promise - kill this last Aniur and all of Middle-Earth shall be hers. She turns to him, eight eyes ravenous, fangs dripping with venom, spinnerets preparing a hideous web, and he is afraid. But as they circle each other a different thought enters Tom’s mind: he will die, there is no preventing that now, nothing he can do can avert that fate and so likewise he should have no fear for no action of his can truly affect his life, its length or its composition. All that stands before him now is to fight and to die and to do each of these well he knows he can.
At that moment the great beast saw in his eye a tear and thinking it to be of terror instead of joy she struck. And Bombadil fought. And his ax cleaved from her two hairy legs but her poison and her entangling web found him and he was overcome and consumed.
Thus did Tom Bombadil die, slain by the most terrible thing ever to walk on Middle-Earth.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Clio's Nightmare

High on Olympus Clio slept. And as she slept she dreamt a dream.
This was her dream. This was her nightmare, spoken by the many headed demons of Khaos.

Here is a world that could exist.
Men are insane. Without sanity, irrational in their every action. The laws that govern them are hunger and thirst and lust. They compose tales noble of their lives and its meanings, but these are lies. Here is a race of men totally ignorant of the root of their actions and terrified that their lives might lack what their fictions possess.
Some among them, by twist of mind or birth, perceive a world so different from that of their brothers that their hungers and lusts too are altered, and so they are chained in wheel chairs and injected with sedatives so that those whose vision is mode would not be bound to question their sight.
Here is a world that is the essence of meaninglessness and yet always they are blind to it for ever is their premise: I must be the master of my fate; me and my fictions, we are the center of all.
So sure are they that significance permeates the universe that they dream up gods and demons to do battle beyond the doors of night for the troubles of the earth. But this is false, all of it false, their is no order in their epic, the deepest desires of these men’s hearts is for bread and water and woman, all else is fiction.
In the beginning was not the word, for the beginning was silent; as it should have been, as all things should be. When first they began to wander, few and scattered, these illusions did not enter their minds. Their thoughts were of the hunt, the mammoth and the rhinoceri. Their gods were horses and their goddesses cattle. They ate and drank and were satisfied. But the desires of men, though simple, compounded upon themselves and as the earth began to fill men grew fearful. They feared that their hunger would never be satisfied nor their thirst quenched and that all the beautiful women would be in the bed of another. And so they raised walls and forged swords and went to war and called themselves glorious.
And men grew thick upon the earth and each man’s desires built up the raging insanity of the race until they forsook the land and gathered into vast cities of false stone and glass and hewn wood and spent all the hours of their lives deceiving their brothers, tricking them to trade meaningless scraps for food and drink and all manner of pleasures that would destroy them, body and soul.

And then she awoke in shaking and sweat and pondered what she has seen. But swiftly it passed from her and again she slept.
Beware you who call upon the muse - here is a world that could exist.
Here is Clio’s eternal nightmare.

Passive Engagement

Composed of equal parts self-pity, loneliness, and a crippling inability to take the initiative, i have decided to expand my social program of passive engagement (not unlike the predatory strategy of the orb-web spider, but without any ability to entrap those who come near) to re-activating this blog. in which, as before, i will be posting the stuff i write, on which i will now comment.
Borges is my most recent inspiration, he is perhaps the only Latin American author i have read who wrote on a topic other than Latin America, and his ideas, if not always his style, are astoundingly original and unlike anything i have ever read, except for at times Lovecraft (to whom he is far superior).
On a more personal note, i have abandoned poetry. For the first time i am taking an english class in which the structure of poems is analyzed and there is a craft to it that i have never been aware of and have no desire to emulate. Meter and verse are not of interest to me, i see no benefit to sounding rhythmical, it only subtracts from the gravity of whatever it is I'm trying to say. given the apparent viability of micro-prose (Borges published it alongside poetry and short stories) dividing my thoughts into stanzas is pointless.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Things I've Learned From 24

The only safe way to get from point A to point B is to have an extensive physical and then walk while alone for 100 miles in every direction.

No matter how long and complicated a crisis is, something very important, something that changes that nature of that crisis, will happen every hour, usually close to the end of that hour.

Everyone important drives a black or silver SUV, or a limousine escorted by black or silver SUVs.

The #1 way a state of crisis is maintained is the kidnapping of family members.

Anyone in upper management is a dick, no exceptions. If they start acting otherwise they will soon die.

A silenced handgun is the most effective weapon in the US arsenal.

Possession of a name is one’s most important asset for survival, people without names are between 5 and 10,000 times more likely to be killed. While a personal attachment to someone with a name makes one more likely to be threatened, a lack of personal attachments makes one more likely to be killed.

All good parents are hysterical morons, even otherwise reasonable and efficient people are stupid when it comes to their children.

If you betray a women she will stab you in the chest with a sharp object.

“Knowing how someone thinks” is a huge bonus in any attempt to deal with them, despite it rarely having any real implications.

Torture is the most effective way of obtaining information; although somehow the government is honor-bound to forbid it, their immortal demigod agents may use it whenever they please with very limited consequences.

The goodness of the people and the government of the USA is the only absolute, all other truths bend around this fact and must be manipulated to support it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Insomnia and Rachel Carson

I feel like this one requires some explanation. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for as long as I can remember, influenced by my recent reading of Rachel Carson, and composed at 3:30 in the morning. I’ve noticed before that late at night my writing changes, this is probably the best example of that phenomenon; I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know where it’s going, It’s just an image - don’t read into it.

The Cavern of the Ocean Tree

He looked out over the blue black flickering sea.
The grey roof above it. The rolling sand. The heartbeat of the waves.
Knelt and unlaced his shoes, placed them on a drift-log.
His socks. His shirt.
The sand was cool. Fine. Dry.
He walked toward the surf, the beach grew firm, ridged.
Moisture pressed out from around his feet.
The foam on his ankles. The eel grass strands pulled along, unwinding.
He submersed and swam. The water cold in its deeps, thickening under the pressure of its vast weight.
And swam. Beyond cresting waves and the reaching headland.
Dove and surfaced.
Dove and did not rise, rip tide drawing him under, far down into the cold.
He reached out, flailing, gripped some tuberous passing mass and was jerked below the current.
Floating before the ancient lord of the ocean.
Tentacles splayed, great body still, eyes meeting his in inhuman focus.
Otherness and strength, beast unmet. Awareness like none else in that place.
Ropey limbs en-twisting him, the behemoth dived.
He did not fight the powerful drag down, his mind numbed by depth and cold and water.
Salt burned his eyes. The mirrored undersurface dim. He could not close them for the gazing. Above him, silhouetted, in the currents and undercurrents, schools of fish racing along invisible pathways to all corners of the ocean.
Dived and turned, arc into a rocky shelf. Last light disappeared.
Then air and dripping and thrashing and the ocean’s blood pressed from him to flow down the stone. Released and collapsed.
Light. Glowing rind of life, blue and white. Flowering polyps and skittering shelled things.
Mussels, shining in the phosphoresce their curious mirrored being, hanging from the notched stone above him as he stood.
Stepped with care, cave floor grooved but slick. Waters filled with some lit creature flowing from within.
Chamber narrowed, shortened.
He crouched and slid, facing the myriad fauna of the vault wall.
Walls opened and dropped away, he tumbled and slid.
A basin pulsing with the same light, shallow and wide.
At the center rising a low isle, on it an arbor of the sea.
Kelp rooted to the stone, reaching up, fronds held aloft, barnacles, sea moss, driftwood and starfish, green mottled crabs.
A hundred denizens of the tide.
All alit. All dripping from some crevice far above. All growing, wild with life.
Across the pool a dwelling in the cavern wall.
A being. Calm, pale as the moon. Young as he and small, standing lightly beneath the luminescent branching leaves of the ocean tree.
Her hair dark, long and haggard, cut against dull stone and washed in diatomaceous water. Gown worn, once white.
He waded into the pool, immersed to his knees, stepped on to the isle. She before him in radiance.
Her eyes afire with the violet crystalline fractaling of the eternal sky.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Yesterday’s Cascadian

What is tomorrow
What is today
What is my dreams in the night

What is the gritty wet sand
on the lines of the road
What a place I am not to be

Low in the realm of the
great vehicles of steel and fume,
passing this way to the narrowing dark.

Lying as crucified on the cooling tar
No star-eyed beams come past

No merciful lights to speak my name
No tomorrow promised today

Wrath of Your God

I am a conscript in the host of the Pharaoh.
I am a child of Canaan.
I am a slave in Gomorrah.
And I have felt the wrath of your god.

Content to tend my fields in the turning of the sun
and the flooding of the Nile’s everspring
I was taken to watch over the slave nation of my king,
watch them toil with brick and mortar until their lost son came out of the desert;
and then saw their god bring low my people without mercy.
In mourning we commanded them to depart
but in vengeance pursued
and died when the waters of the treasonous sea came crashing about us.
Yes, I have felt the wrath of your god.

A child, I played among the cedars of my home on the mountain
and ate from the wealth of my inheritance.
My father was summoned to arms against a marauding people
and fought them at Jericho and Ai and Lachish;
aaw our brother’s walls fall before the feet and the swords of a nation of slaves,
returned to my mother no flesh but the brace from his wrist.
Then unto us they came,
ordered by a deity without name to kill our every lamb and child,
to slaughter for the promise of paradise.
Yes, I have felt the wrath of your god.

Burdened and beset, my life burning hell.
I have been imprisoned the entirety of my years in groveling bondage.
I have been raped each night until I bleed unceasingly and no man will touch me.
Beaten and whipped so that I lay in the street for days,
crawling to hide each night from the languid pillagers.
And this day a foreign man came and all left me to demand his new flesh.
In the early morning I saw him flee the city without backward glance
and behind him came a firestorm to consume this wretched place.
Yes, I have felt the wrath of your god.

I am Dresden, Verdun and Nanjing
I am the whore and the fetus
And I have felt the wrath of your god

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Visit to St. Johns

Following my trip to europe one would expect me to be much more relaxed about travel; not so, I remain nervous, irrationally worried and generally extremely stressed about the whole endeavor. This time however, it was not without good reason: my flight from LAX to Santa Fe was canceled due to snow in Santa Fe, and LAX turns out to be the most gargantuan, byzantine airport ever conceived by man. There are something like 7 terminals and no transportation between them except walking, sometimes through the kind of very long tunnels one might expect in a nuclear missile silo. To make a 12 hour experience short, I flew to Albuquerque after 6 hours in LAX and then took a shuttle to St. John’s College. My room turned out to be some sort of designated visitor room, with two bunk-beds, sheets and blankets, and a window that was very difficult to open; my roommates of sorts were a guy from Utah and another from Michigan, reasonable people in most ways.
The main part of the tour was from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon, and consisted of observation of three classes and a seminar, a tour of the campus, free food from the cafeteria, and panel discussions with administrators, (to console parents), and current students (to get real answers to questions like, ‘can you go to school here and be a stoner? - some can, some can’t’, ‘how can a students religious beliefs be communicated during philosophical discussions’ - as long as you aren't arrogant about it you’ll be fine, and ‘we’ve all heard how wonderful St. John’s is, what don’t you like about it’ - it’s isolated, fairly non-diverse, and historical analyses of texts are discouraged). Also on the down side - the ratio of males to females is 60:40, which would be at least reversed should I attend any even nominally religious school; and this isn’t a ‘my chances of getting a girlfriend’ issue, in my experience females are considerably more intelligent and less inane than males.
Over the two days I attended freshman lab, math, and seminar (Plato’s Phaedrus) and junior language (french), as well as spending copious amounts of time reading, I finished Fight Club, Waiting for Godot, and Brave New World. Final opinions: Fight Club is brutal, ugly, and ultimately very different from the movie, Waiting for Godot was interesting, but I don’t think I understood much of it, Brave New World was a work of genius, superior to 1984 in almost every way; it is much more realistic, and thus much more terrifying. Of the classes, I was immensely impressed, genuine intellectual discussion occurred in almost every class (the math was just math, but it was a good math, as in they learn straight from Euclid’s text). The seminar was especially fascinating, though I think the discussion fell short of the text, they could have explored the soul of good speech but instead got side-tracked into an argument over the nature of the dialectic and the rhetorical, mostly because one of the four main speakers (from which 80% of the conversation came) was kind of stupid and long-winded.
Overall the trip was effective, I feel like a got a good sense of how the college works, what class is really like and the general atmosphere of the student body. Financial aid remains a critical factor in my decision, as will my visit (yet to be arranged) to Seattle University.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Snowmobile Halo Blues

To all who are in despair
Make haste for the mountains
Taste the sweet pine air and the icy waters
Feel the grinding of the ages in the buckling stone

To all who see the inescapable nature of man
Take flight as the lesser birds to soar high beyond the reach of dread victory
Fly into the blue until the air in your bones is heavy
Until you gasp and all about you is ice and stone

A world beyond all that man can bend
Exist in that tenuous balance
All the energies of the human spirit expending themselves into the fine and dusty earth

A couple forgotten poems

somehow these were never posted, posted only to facebook or written and never typed. they are both from last summer.


Neolithic spirits issuing from ancient inks,
hunters and sages calling ethereal of a primeval being,
of aurochs and rhinoceri
and a virgin land fertile with prehistory.

Sagas and myths and glories imagined,
labyrinths ablaze,
runic inscriptions telling of godmen and their battles above the sky.

Winds foretelling gales of ice and stone
to grind this grondian prison into
the earth and forgetful sea;
a nagging pearl of a thought that
beyond the self-abhorrent folly
into which this Teutonic race has twisted
the wild purity of survival calls still.
reaching out a tendril uncorrupted
to which I could cling

Some hope beyond atonement or justice or penance.
A genesis anew,
man becoming the higher power so long sought.

The lethal severity of the mountain instills
dreams of love lost into the hated night,
a most tangible heart of stone set before me:
symbol of the terror of an Idiot God.
That all these visions, sundered as they are from the gaze of any other,
shall fall with my soul into a lake of fire.
Into ashes and yellowed manuscripts and the insane inane screaming
of ten thousand false prophets.

Islets of Sucia

There are no tall trees on the cape,
terra and arbol tapering into the sea.
In the salt air they grow twisted and wild,
virility so unlike the aged denizens of the mountaintops or the soft density of the forest giants.

Between the tide and bush the stone has worn pitted and en-caved,
overhanging the sunlit waters more wrenching than the most emaciated sculptures of man.

Here is a place to bring your children.
Here is a place to remember.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fuck you, english majors

It is
You are
I am
Cold, cold to blind the soul

Sea glass smooth where razor edged and rough where polished
Silica returning to the dust from which it was made

It is
Impersonal and immediate and in singularity
Hoar frost in the chasm
Cathedrals beneath the ice
Man’s strangest preservatives in niches in the caverns at the turning of the earth

I wonder how deeply it can be found
How old the sand
How fresh the surf
How long I could scoop handfuls of chilled stone until I find no evidence of my people

Is it
Are you
Am I
Cold as the forests of stone lie crumbling