Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Le Monde 100: The Abyss

The main purpose of Man is Men's exploration of the Le Monde 100 is not to get particularly involved with summarization and analysis of the list of works. But, as this list was compiled primarily on the impact that the books had on the public, I am mainly focusing on my personal response to these books.

That being said, I was stunned by a particular passage from The Abyss. Not for its literary value or message but due to a tidbit of information that affected me personally.

Looking back at the relationship I had with my late grandmother, I realize how enormous the impact of her opinion and life-choices made upon me. The strength of viewpoint was forceful. The seriousness of her intent was ever present. The lifestyle of her choice was so nomadic and selfless in so many ways that any assertion that she made carried as much currency as one can gather through a personal example.

Her opinions were solidly grounded in the supernatural. Her studies of the Bible were as thorough and proactive as her lessons were to her children, grandchildren, and students. 

She directly influenced my personal decisions as well. As Bible education was an ongoing perpetual endeavor between us, she was present as I prostrated myself and attempted to align myself with the heavens. She taught me that the connection between the material world and the spiritual was solidified through morality and love as manifestations of heaven. It was through her counsel and her counsel only that I forewent a life path into a secular career in order to pursue higher spiritual goals. 

The supernatural realm brought with its morality its own manifestations of fear. Invisible to the rest of us, my grandmother was constantly complaining of attacks on her by demonic forces. I, too, lived in fear of these beings as well as she would never fail to relate the dangers of their ilk. 

However, in time, I grew doubtful of these attacks. Although I was always on the alert for them, they never showed up. This lead to an unfortunate interchange with my grandmother between my grandmother and I. Unfortunate because it was the last interaction we ever had.

In 1995, she was not necessarily abreast of technological advancements especially in the world of computing. My uncle, however, had given to me a computer to take across the country to her. I was to set it up and help her understand how to use it for one solitary purpose - to access the state of the art CD-ROM Biblical library that had been recently released by our organization.

Upon arriving and installing the computer, we had a long arduous lesson together on the basics. It was unfathomable to me how she could not make the connection between the white arrow cursor on the monitor and the movements she would make with the mouse. For her, it was an alien concept. In time, though, she conquered it and immediately immersed herself in the rabbit hole of clickable archived research.

A few days later, I received a panicked phone call where I was working about an hour away. She was very distressed and demanded that I take the computer away. When I arrived, she was at the kitchen table composing a letter to the organization. It was a warning to headquarters of the fact that computers are an avenue for demons and that they must not be used.

After digging a little deeper, I realized that as she was researching certain passages of the Bible would be stored in the Window's Notepad for later use in a similar way as cutting and pasting. As it was 1995, glitches in this sort of thing happen all the time. So, when she inadvertently opened the Notepad, she found a passage overlaying an apostle's urge to be faithful over a reference to Baal of Peor, which she interpreted as a demonic scramble urging her to be faithful to Baal of Peor.

When I found the reason why this happened, we launched into an epic argument. She was convinced of a mystical origin to this situation whereas I was equally convinced of an earthly origin to the same situation. As the discussion heated up, she looked me squarely in the eye and said that she was being attacked at that very second. I could not, for the life of me, understand in what way that could be. Was I the source of the attack to her?

I wanted to drop the subject completely knowing that we were philosophically polarized. But she would not. When I left, we were both fuming.

The letter that she was writing is of importance to this story. She viewed herself as one of the Chosen Ones of our organization, which, at that time, made her one of the symbolic voices of the organization. However, as this unique role is strictly self-revealing, there was no call from headquarters to receive counsel from any of the Chosen Ones. My grandmother was never one to wait for an invitation to counsel though.

This brings me to The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar. This passage jumped out of the book at me:

"Friend Zeno," said the Captain,"...Is it worth the trouble of toiling for twenty years' time to get no further than doubt? Doubt will grow by itself, anyhow, in any well-stocked pate."

"Yes, incontestably worth it," Zeno affirmed. "Your doubts and your faith are but bubbles of air on the surface, but the truth which condenses inside of us, like the salt deposed in an alembic during a hazardous distillation, is beyond explanation and all limitation of form; it is both too cold and too burning for human utterance, too subtle for the human word, and more precious than writings can be."

"More precious than the August Syllable?"

"Yes," said Zeno, but he lowered his voice, in spite of himself.

The August Syllable.

What was that? I had never heard of that. What made the doubter Zeno lower his voice in spite of himself?

I started looking for what this was but I found nothing on Wikipedia or in any reference books.

But in the special notes to Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, I found this passage:

At first it may seem amusing that by the simple process of resolving the word "hallelujah" into its elements and then translating it in harmony with its force and intent that we actually get rid of the word (as one compound word) altogether! That is so but consider the gain. We not only catch a fresh sight of the ancient worship as a living thing, but we gain an accession to the instances in which the thrice Holy Divine Name (in its abbreviated form of "Jah" = "Yah") occurs in the Old Testament; and to condescend on the minor matter of pronunciation, it seems peculiarly becoming that the same translation that ventures upon the spelling "Yahweh" should set free from its almost meaningless combination (often flippantly ejaculated, and sometimes lightly used as a badge) the AUGUST SYLLABLE YAH. The relation of Yah to Yahweh is so generally admitted , that to accept the obvious pronunciation of the former and refuse the proposed pronunciation of the latter, would appear to be inconsistent.

The division between my grandmother and I was not unique. Her proclamations of insight created problems, as the policy of headquarters for our organization was to maintain a unified approach towards revelation as opposed to following haphazard spontaneous epiphanies.

One of the last major rifts between her and our leadership that I can remember was the abandoning of any usage of God's name in any form except for THE SYLLABLE "JAH."

This was unsettling for other members of our organization as our standard usage was an inherent part of our culture and worship. My family worked to mute my grandmother's attempts to make this particular revelation a major part of her but she was captured by the concept of the August Syllable. Now, going through her memoirs and journals, there are numerous places where Jah is written over other words to take prominence in her writing. Slips of paper are sandwiched among the pages with just the August Syllable. It was a very big deal to her towards the end of her life.

In the Abyss, Zeno was a man of vigorous rationality but the moderation of his voice was a nod of involuntary respect to the August Syllable. In spite of every logical computation that a skeptic may make, whatever vigorous reasoning is employed on belief and existence, we must always tip our hats to our inherent limitations. Uncertainty must be ever-present in order to flow with this life in the most sincere way possible. The August Syllable is the boiled down product of a belief - the final stronghold of the discipline of finding divinity through language. 

To be truly sincere, I too must nod to the August Syllable.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Le Monde 100: Asterix the Gaul

It is odd to see how values perceived as a childhood can transform into adulthood.

I was absolutely obsessed with Asterix the Gaul as a child. I ransacked the Tintin bins at the library, looking for any new adventures of the French hero. The concept of Asterix is quite simple. Under the Pax Romana, the entire country of Gaul is subdued and put under the Roman system. All, except for one small village that was a hold-out, due to a special magic potion that gave them invincible strength in the face of the most powerful army in the world.

On the surface, it seems quite obvious that Asterix and his fellow cohorts are the heroes because they maintain their individualism. They do whatever they like in the face of the enormous pressure of the Roman empire. Like the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars or the Tea Party in Boston, they bear the virtues of the underdog. These were values I could relate to as a kid. David and Goliath. A no brainer.

Now, as an adult, I unearthed my old copies of Asterix as it is heralded by Le Monde as one of the most memorable books of the twentieth century. The striking thing about reading Asterix now is how this vigorous independence, the greatest asset of the rebellious village, is held above all other virtues. I can't  help but be reminded of ultra-libertarians, who want freedom above all else, even at the expense of peace.
Now, I understand that an occupying force is reason for resistance. But Asterix and his cohorts do come across as thugs who enjoy fighting for the sake of fighting.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Le Monde 100: Nineteen Eighty-four.

Does anyone at all remember this from a post in 2010?

Here is Lenin and Trotsky having a grand old time ringing in the Bolshevik Revolution:

And here's Trotsky being "extracted":

This was in a post loosely connecting Jorge Luis Borges with Wikileaks and the Russian Revolution and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. After reading 1984 by George Orwell, it hit home to me just how tiny the window of our perception is in the stream of time and how those with the power to limit the exposure of that perception can dramatically mold the entirety of an individual's existence. 

 I am reminded of Hubert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God and his legacy. Over the course of his life, he built up a religion with a massive following, visiting heads of state from all over the world and influencing millions with his magazine "The Plain Truth." But, as soon as he died, his replacements denounced him as a false prophet and a heretic. They dismantled the structure of his doctrine piece by piece from the inside without hesitation. 

The result was rather predictable. The WCG lost more than half of it's membership. The detractors were aghast at the dilution of Armstrong's original interpretation of doctrine and left indignantly. However, the people that REMAINED will control the future perception of their religion. Their children will never fully comprehend the original vision of Armstrong. He will eventually become a footnote in their history.

The same is true, if not more so, for the Mormon church. There is a chilling parallel between the policies of the LDS and the policies and language of Big Brother in 1984. 

1) thoughtcrime: the holding of beliefs that are contrary to those of the party of the government.

This is not the act of just talking about or spreading contrary beliefs. The suspicion of dissent would bear the same penalty as the dissemination of that dissent. According to the protagonist, "Thought Crime does not entail death: thoughtcrime is death." A belief is not an action. Therefore, the state of having one is the equivalent of being in the state of death according to the law.

Of the LDS, Wikipedia says:

the LDS Church retaliates against members that publish information that undermines church policies, citing excommunications of scientist Simon Southerton and biographer Fawn M. Brodie.[74] They further state that the church suppresses intellectual freedom, citing the 1993 excommunication of the "September Six", including gay LDS historian D. Michael Quinn, and author Lavina Fielding Anderson. The Ostlings write that Anderson was the first to reveal the LDS Church keeps files on LDS scholars, documenting questionable activities, and the Ostlings state that "No other sizable religion in America monitors its followers in this way".
The American Association of University Professors, since 1998, has put LDS-owned Brigham Young University on its list of universities that do not allow tenured professors sufficient freedom in teaching and research.

Of course, excommunication is not death. However, for Mormons, it is death in the social sense. 

2) memoryhole: the process by which any embarrassing or potentially negative document is attempted to be made as if never to have happened or existed.


An analysis of B. H. Roberts' work History of the Church when compared to the original manuscripts from which it is drawn, "more than 62,000 words" can be identified that were either added or deleted,. Based on this analysis, Jerald and Sandra Tanner contend that the church distorts its history in order to portray itself in a more favorable light. Specifically they allege that there was a systematic removal of events that portray Joseph Smith in a negative light.

3) Thought Police: every aspect of daily life is monitored by the authorities. Dissension can be determined through something as small as a facial gesture.
Richard Abanes and the Ostlings criticize the LDS Church for maintaining a group called the Strengthening Church Members Committee, led by two church apostles. According to the Ostlings, the purpose of this committee is to collect and file "letters to the editor, other writings, quotes in the media, and public activities" of church members that may be publishing views contrary to those of the church leadership.

Everyone can't be a historian. It's just not everyone's personality. Most of us just want to get on with the business of life, leaving all the boring worldview stuff to the authorities. But, when a narrative is trying to be created to support a current authority system, nothing will get in the way of their alignment of past facts to present interests.

Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World approach totalitarianism in two opposite manners, one through oppression and the other through sedation, but the common thread between them and all over-reaching authority systems is the denial of the individual.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Le Monde 100: Tristes Tropique

I'm not sure I was prepared for the AP level of of hanging out that the Bourbons were accustomed to at their megalith of opulence at Versailles. 

The design process of the architects and decorators, no doubt, had a strict default-to-opulence policy. Not sure about what to do with the hedges? Default to opulence. How should we set up the back entry stairs? Default to opulence. Where should these mops go? Default to opulence. You can just imagine the designers jolting awake in the smallest parts of night from ghastly dreams involving overlooked un-gilded corners of the east corridor and hidden alcoves tragically un-muraled.

Can't you just feel the overwhelming message that's being sent as you stroll through this?

The Hall of Mirrors. Private opera theaters. Regime-change inspiring Bedchambers. There was no soft spots to this place. 

But, for all the extreme wealth pouring form every orifice of Versailles, it's majesty had to compete for my attention with a fellow tourist wearing this:

It was jarring that in the context of being a visitor to Versailles, one of the most glorious palaces in the world, I was traveling in the same strata as this t-shirt. It really brought to mind a term that stands out in Claude Levi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques, - monoculture.

As Levi-Strauss traversed the continents, despising travel books, and searching for authenticity, he lamented the corruption of the purity of traditional cultures by the homogenizing influences of colonization and what we basically know as globalization. He is venomous as he writes:

"The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown in the face of mankind."

This is a concept that I would instinctively align myself with as I viscerally despise the diminishing returns of mass market culture. When everybody adopts the same thing as part of their identity, then it takes away from the identity of the individual. 

However, on the larger scale, there is something terribly adaptive about having a culture determined by the market forces at large. Markets are composed of adaptive and flexible elements and it is only through adaptability that humanity can ultimately survive. 

I am a great believer in technology and the human ability to change in order to meet any challenge. The only time that change in humanity may seem dis-favorable  is if this impedes on the individual's personal experiences, biases, prejudices, conveniences, and, not least, existence. If global warming wipes out a majority of humanity, there will be a lot of unhappy individuals. But, those that adapt to the change, those who survive, and those that allow it to become the new reality by letting go of old presumptions about what should be, will be the ones who will enjoy the overall net happiness by flowing with the circumstances. 

As much as I can't stand corporations and monoculture, they must exist in order for the cumulative resources to be available for technological advancements, which will ultimately allow for the amplification and implementation of the human spirit.