A Thought on Eternal Evil

Eternity is not just more time, in a sense similar to how  God is not just a bigger cause. As God is the Cause of causes – the Unmoved Mover, in classic Greek philosophy, wherein, in Christian theology, all created things live and move and have their being – eternity is that within which time takes place. Eternity is more than the sum of all time.

This has implications for redemption and repentance. We, bounded by time, find it strictly unimaginable (strictly, since our acts of imaginations are realized over time) that a creature could act eternally. Angels are such creatures. We, having been given eternal life, are also such creatures, though we haven’t (in both senses of that word) realized it yet.

Image result for the fall of luciferWhen we talk of the fall of Satan and a battle in Heaven, we are speaking about events that take place (if that’s a meaningful way to say it) in eternity – they are not something that happened in the past. Satan is falling now, has fallen in the past, will continue to fall in the future – that’s how events in eternity necessarily look to us living in time, like seeing a 2-dimensional slice of a three dimensional figure, and trying to imagine the figure – only it’s worse, since eternity is not just the sum of a bunch of snapshots of time.

People sometimes wonder if Satan or any human in Hell can repent and be saved. If eternity were just more time, then that would be an interesting question. But if eternal acts are eternal, there is no ‘later’ in which to reconsider or be redeemed. This will be our fate once we realize, in the sense of make real to our own eyes, our eternal nature. This is why saints, as they start to see God, are mortified by their slightest fault – becoming more Christ-like is also becoming more aware of their own eternal nature, and how their sins tend to become eternal as a result.

So here’s the mind-bender: Satan and his angels knew all this. Their ‘act’ in falling away from God included all the temptations, manipulations, possessions and horrors by which we see evil unveiled over time – and their defeat at the hands of Christ. All these acts took place at once, as it were, as it was, is now and ever shall be. The fall of the angels IS the evil they work in the world and our lives. There was no ‘before’ Satan fell, and no ‘after’. He is falling now; he is rejecting God now; he is hating us with a white-hot passion now. And he will be doing all this for ever – for all eternity.

The fallen angels knew all this, saw how it worked out to their own destruction and pain, and rejected God anyway.

Christianity proposes we all get to make eternal decisions, that there comes a point where we pass from time within which one can change one’s mind, to eternity, where knowledge and decisions are complete.

Perfect Solutions

One thing working with one’s hands gives us is a perspective on perfection: there ain’t any in this life. You can work longer or with greater skill at something – laying a brick, painting a picture, sewing a skirt – but you will never get it perfect. What you can do is keep improving, learning more skills and (as important) more patience.

For an adult or even a sane child, that is enough. What is frustrating is working hard and not seeing any improvement. To expect improvement shows a hopeful yet rational grip on reality; to expect  perfection is to live in constant frustration in an unreal, irrational world.

I’ve written about the difference between a flat and a rich moral universe. The ultimate morally flat universe is nihilism in its various manifestations: it supports only a homogeneous 2-dimensional world of actions in which one might move around on the plane, but where no act is morally any higher or lower than any other act.

Slightly more interesting and much more common is the moral landscape of power dynamics: either you are oppressed, in which case everything you do that can be construed to have resisted oppression is good, and anything you might do as a victim of oppression is presumptively excused. Or you are an oppressor, wherein suicide of one sort or another (you may keep your body for the time being, but your intellect and integrity must die!) is the only possible morally good act you can perform. Everything else you do, no matter how apparently innocent, is an act of oppression and thus eeeevil.

In such a world, there are nothing but failures and perfect solutions, meaning there are nothing but failures. People who are oppressed can’t make small improvements in their lot over time – as long as they remain oppressed, they are objectively miserable no matter how happy their little improvements may seem to make them. The only success allowed is movement toward the day they shall be free from oppression, which mostly means getting more miserable – because happy people don’t usually have revolutions.

So, in yet another Orwellian moment, Misery is Happiness; Failure is Success. No really: as some wit once said, Marx’s call to revolution sounds a lot less convincing when all you have to lose is your suburban home, a couple of cars, a snowmobile, 4 weeks vacation, health care and all the rest of your stuff. Better you be destitute and miserable, as that is closer to Paradise. (1)

The lack of perfect solutions is used as a criticism: since there is STILL injustice in the world, every effort made by every man, woman and child,  has FAILED. Everything that has created a better life for several billion people is not good enough. The world *should* be perfect!  We may think the small and shrinking percentage of people worldwide in true poverty is a good thing, that the growing number of people who are not insecure for their persons, who have food, clothing and shelter, is a good thing – but they are not good enough! In fact, insofar as they delay the true freedom only to be had via revolution, they are eeeevil.

On the other hand, if all one hopes for is improvement, one can realistically hope to achieve something. This happy state requires a rich moral universe, where our choices and actions are judged within a moral framework with room for nuance – with room for improvement, one might say. In such a world, it is possible for such subtle shades as it being  wrong that I murdered somebody richer than me, or right that I paid him for that snowmobile. My faithfulness or unfaithfulness to my spouse is not washed out to meaninglessness by my presumed membership in one or the other of the oppressed/oppressor pair, but has – at it most certainly appears to have – real, concrete, *moral* consequences.

The richest, most detailed and thus most lovely and terrifying moral universe ever described can be seen in Dante, or in the Catechism. That is a Universe without perfection in this life, but of improvement within it. Within it can be lived a life of meaningfulness, a life standing against the blandly evil and tasteless flat moral universes being pushed upon us more every day.

  1. The devil parodies in Marxism the voluntary surrender of goods in this life for greater goods in the next.

Bullet Points,Stream of Consciousness Friday – You Weird, Too?

(TMI. You’ve been warned!)

Stream of consciousness:

  • Image result for weird talesDo you recall the point at which you became officially weird? That point where you realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sure what to make of you and wasn’t particularly interested in figuring it out? For me, two incidents from 5th grade made this all clear. I don’t remember the order, but, taken together, I came to realize that I really didn’t fit in. These, along with a couple other less amusing incidents, are what made me, effectively, a drop-out in spirit: my body was in the desk, but my mind was elsewhere.
  • Incident 1, circa 1968: someone had the brilliant idea to get TVs for all the classrooms at St. Mary’s of the Assumption School in Whittier. This being SoCal and all, sometimes it was so hot and smoggy that, by the afternoon, teachers and students hTaj Mahal in March 2004.jpgad had their fill. Our 5th grade teacher decided one day that enough was enough, and deployed the TV – she let us watch Jeopardy! for a half hour. So, suburban 5th graders hear an answer something like: “This masterpiece was designed by Ahmad Lahauri to house the remains of the Shah’s favorite wife.” – something like that. From the back of the room where I was even then hiding out, 10-year-old me says: “What is the Taj Mahal?” followed one beat later by “What is the Taj Mahal?” from the TV. Approximately 3 dozen sets of eyes turned toward me – at least, that’s how it seemed to me.
  • Image result for moonIncident 2, same circa: The teacher was trying to explain astronomy, and said that the moon, since it always faces the earth, does not rotate on its axis. Well, I started in simply objecting: of course it does, once every orbit. A room full of eyes rolled hard. Then, having not learned to shut up – a lesson still not learned nearly 50 years later – I jumped up, and walked around the teacher, showing that, if I did not turn, I would be facing the window – only by turning could I keep facing the teacher. Didn’t click. After wearing out the already thin patience of the class, I sat back down in frustration. In some fuzzy way, I learned that I was not like other people.
  • A thought constantly before my mind: I am an intellectual cripple. Oh, sure, I’ve got more than enough horsepower to be a pretty good scholar, but I almost completely lack – something. Perseverance? A methodical approach? Patience? Whatever it is, on those rare occasions where I try to be scholarly about something, really get down and understand and properly reference my sources and build valid arguments from well-supported premises, I usually end up petrified in short order.
  • Instead, mostly, I rely on what might be called a gift, but might be a curse or might be at least a temptation: my mind’s barely, if at all, conscious compulsion to make connections. On a trivial level: almost any event can trigger a song to run through my head. If I deign to notice it, I will find that it is in fact the perfect song for the situation, that the lyrics fit exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment. Weird. A more profound example: I went from questioning school to Calvin’s Catechism in an instant, when the whole inevitable drift from the anti-reason of the great reformers to the current totalitarianism most perfectly expressed  in classroom schooling (1) was suddenly clear. While recognizing the risk of confirmation bias, it’s still true that everything I’ve read since that touches on the topics confirms this.
  • My mind works like that all the time. I’m often unable to sleep, or sleep very poorly, because these connections suggest themselves, and will not leave me alone. If only I were a better scholar, maybe I could write them out, as in write them until they are out.

On the reading front:

  • Conclusion to an epic review and analysis of Nethereal (pronounced to rhyme with ‘ethereal’ – isn’t that much better?) found here, spread across many posts at the Puppy of the Month Book Club. Spoiler-rich, so read the book first. Even though I’ve read Nethereal three times, the review was still full of stuff I didn’t catch/didn’t know. In addition to increasing my appreciation for the novel, I came away in awe of the reviewer’s chops – he’s catching Biblical, Dante, anime, RPG and video game sources, as well as the usual SFF stuff. I mean, dude! Dude!
  • Finishing up Souldancer, the middle volume in the Soul Cycle trilogy after Nethereal. Next up on my reading list is Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs of the renowned Statistician to the Stars blog. Since I lack the both the math chops and the discipline to get them any time soon, I’m boning up on logic instead. This was really interesting, and reminded me of how difficult, at first, I found the classic Monty Hall problem. If any additional evidence of the poor state of mathematical reasoning to which I have descended were for some ineffable reason required, it took me several passes to get how the base rate fallacy worked – just as Feynman recounts the story of the two mathematicians arguing over a proposition, where the first asserted that it was obvious, then proceeded to perform a half-hour long explication, at which point the other mathematician concurred: ‘You’re right – it’s obvious.’
  • After that, will try to work in Nine Princes in Amber in the next month, as it is the next book up in the Puppy of the Month Book Club. My wife read it years ago, says it was good – I never have. It’s short – we’ll see how it goes.
  • Then, as the days grow short and darkness envelopes the earth (and, sure, spring has always followed winter in the past, but are we really sure it will again this year? Huh?)  I will turn my baleful eyes back to Hegel, education history, and the biographies of the great educationists. Then write essays, blog posts and even perhaps a book about it.
  • Also will try to sneak in some Flynn, Wright, and Wolfe which have been giving me the stern, accusing eye from their lofty perches up in the bookcase for lo these many months. And there’s a couple novels on the Kindle still to get to. And  a disorderly pile of Asimov’s and Analogs on the floor…
  • Aaaaand – just bought Feast of Elves, the second book in John C. Wright’s  A Tale of Moth and Cobweb series. Book 1, Swan Knight’s Son, I review here. At least it’s not too long…

As far as writing goes:

  • There are reasons I’ve got 67 and counting draft blog posts in the folder, chief of which is that, somewhere during the drafting, I lost hold of whatever weakly-formed ideas I thought I was pursuing, so that, like one whose ill-behaved dogs got off leash, I’m reduced to comically chasing them around the park, intermittently pausing to shake a fist and utter curses. Which gets old fast, and doesn’t make for a very good blog post. So, before I inflict any more of them on you, my gentle readers, I’ll try to ask that eternal, hard question: what, exactly, am I trying to say, here? and require a satisfactory answer before hitting publish.
  • Seems I’ve got maybe a couple dozen pages of notes and diagrams that represent what might be generously called research or, even more generously, an outline to this dream of a shadow of an idea for a novel that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple decades. I need to do more: since I envision it, in however a blurry fashion, as episodic – one could think of it as checking in with the protagonists and their descendents every few decades or centuries – it would be quite possible, nay, advisable, even, to simply write it as a series of short stories/novelitos. I’ve even sorta kinda started doing just that more or less on purpose. I need to sit down and get serious, settle on and spell out in some detail a timeline, major characters’ development, tech, and, most important of all, the social underpinnings. All that, and setting up a decent final story – so far, I’ve got three major arcs going, roughly settlement, a crisis of connection, and a bit of romantic/comic relief.  The second story is very dramatic and tragic, but I think it needs to be second. The first might end up as two or even three stories…. See why I’ve got to get serious?
  1. A good portion of this blog is devoted to this idea. Short version: the Aristotelian/Thomistic idea that all truth is one, that what is known through science cannot contradict or be contradicted by what is know through revelation, was targeted by the Reformers immediately. No, revelation (which, in practice, meant Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretations of Scripture, no matter how idiosyncratic or inconsistent) trumps human reason always. Luther responded in a very modern way when any of his myriad logical inconsistencies were pointed out – he attacked his interlocutor, accusing him of being at best an idiot or scatologically gifted devil. See: Erasmus and Luther‘s back and forth for examples – while Erasmus is not above the occasional low blow, Luther has nothing else. Luther wanted the state, assumed to be and always remain under the control of solid Lutherans, to run the schools – in order to produce those solid Lutherans, complete with his solid contempt for human reason. From this foundation springs Kant, Fichte and Hegel, from which springs Harvard and Horace Mann, from which spring schools designed to make our children mindless sheep.

 

A Living Culture: Division of Labor

There were people (may still be) who lived under what might be called a flat management structure: there wasn’t much difference in the day-to-day lives of any two adult members of the group. I’m thinking of, for example, the Moriori as described by Diamond, or, really, most hunter-gatherer tribes. There may be some division of labor – men do most of the hunting, women stick to gathering – and the occasional official – medicine man, chief – who might have duties that free him, to some degree, from the hunting and gathering. But, in general, there is little material distinction in the lives of any two members of the tribe.

Image result for moray eel
A moray, not a more. Rather anti-social than not.

This flat structure makes it possible for everyone to be a carrier of the complete culture, more or less. Any man, woman or child could probably adequately explain for all daily purposes all the lore, traditions, taboos and mores as well as the next member, with age perhaps allowing more depth of understanding. With the flat structure comes a degree of homogeneity in cultural understanding among the people.

Once you start farming, things get more complicated. The division of labor soon becomes more extreme and exclusive. Need for craftsmen, soldiers, and, ultimately, government create groups of people whose daily lives are indeed much different from those of people in other groups. A farmer, a blacksmith and their lord pursue different activities, socialize differently, and might even follow much different rules of behavior – a milkmaid might not need to know how to perform a courtly curtsey; a plowman might never handle a broadsword. Perhaps only a tiny class knows how to read and do figures, or fight from horseback, or a dozen other things.

The rough homogeneity of culture seen in hunter gatherer groups  disappears with growing specialization, not to mention fragmentation into classes, specialists, guilds and other groups within which exist different expectations and traditions. In the extreme – here, now, for example – groups within a nation hardly share a culture at all. At best, we retain (most of) a language and some norms for social interactions. Are these enough to say we share a culture?

Nonetheless, specialization has been an inescapable aid to making life as materially good and pleasant as we now find it. Indoor plumbing and hot running water, not to mention penicillin, refrigeration, vaccines and so on, are not luxuries I’m prepared to give up at the moment. Such specialization, even if considered apart from class differences, does fragment the culture to some degree. There are scientific (and pseudoscientific) subcultures with rules and expectations that non-scientists don’t need to concern themselves with very often. In many fields, day to day interactions take place in a jargon that might as well be another language  for all an outsider can make of it.

How is a culture passed on, given that no one can be a master in all fields needed for a complex and living culture? It must be passed on in pieces, so that some piece – the art of bricklaying, for example – gets handed down one way, while the art of writing a good essay gets handed down to a mostly different group some other way. This is not a hypothetical, it is an issue that has been with us for thousands of years. Here I want to talk about one aspect only: how the intellectual and artistic achievements of a culture are passed on.

First, I will assert that, while many people in a society might see no value in art and literature and philosophy, the culture as a whole is healthier when there is a strong intellectual tradition within it. (Not too controversial, I trust.) It is a better place to live even for those who have no interest in it. Admirable cultures of any sophistication have well-established means of passing such intellectual culture down. In ours, until recently, that means was colleges and universities.

Thinking of colleges and universities as existing to serve a societal role in passing along an intellectual tradition would have made as much perfect sense to a Harvard grad 200 years ago as it is perfect nonsense to the people who think everyone should go to college for free. That would be like saying everybody should learn bricklaying at public expense. At least since the 1940s, a college education has been viewed primarily as a meal ticket. (1) Depriving someone of a degree came to be seen as an act of Oppression. Rather than having a somewhat self-selecting group of people, maybe 10% of the population (2), pursue a ‘useless’ degree in Liberal Arts for the acknowledged goal of keeping an intellectual tradition alive, we think it good to try to send a majority of kids to college.

The problem is that a majority of kids, if they are clear-headed enough to want anything from college, want a job. This has become so ingrained that a grad with a [fill-in-the-blank] studies degree thinks she ought to have a job, and that somebody somewhere is doing something wrong so that she doesn’t have it (3), and the bank completely unreasonably wants its money back!

In this context, it’s a weird and inconsistent fact that I got a Master’s in International Business and Finance from a University. Business degrees are vocational training, no different in essence from learning to weld, lay bricks, file papers or prosecute a case in court. Why are such things taught along side Liberal Arts (properly considered, not just a euphemistic catch-all for ‘things that can’t get you a job’) and given the same or higher level of honor?

I’ve long pushed on this blog for a bifurcation of college education into those fields which depend on objective evidence for their validation from those that don’t. Thus, engineering, math, medicine, accounting, chemistry, business and so on would be taught in the ‘real-world’ schools – and get you jobs. Women’s Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Comp Lit, Creative Writing and so on would be taught in faerieland, and not get you a job. Expectations would be forcefully adjusted accordingly.

But this, while gratifying to contemplate, doesn’t solve the challenge of passing on an intellectual tradition. For that, we’d need, frankly, Great Books schools, as well as various institutions passing on the arts. After one has made the acquaintance of the Western intellectual tradition, one would be free to go Vo-tech (4) or even faerieland, if one wished (just don’t expect to suck at the public teat if you do!).

So now we’ve provided for the handing on of an intellectual tradition, and for training people for jobs (and for identifying the people to avoid at parties). What’s left is finding a way to pass on a baseline culture, to make sure as much as possible that the chemist can talk civilly to the clerk, and the auto mechanic to the lawyer. The ancient Greeks (can’t keep them out of an argument for ever) had ephebia – schools that, initially, were for training young men to be soldiers. When a boy turned 17 or 18, he was expected to spend a year or two at this specialized school. Over time, the ephebia became more of a tool for expressly passing on culture, so that Alexander the Great set them up in all the little ‘Alexandrias’ he founded – and allowed the non-Greek natives to attend. This practice continued for centuries, and is part of the background to the books of the Maccabees – what Judas Maccabee and his team are fighting against is the efforts of their Greekified conquerors to inflict Greek culture on them – via, largely, the ephebia (with it’s naked gym  class and all that).

The reason the ephebia persisted for centuries is that they worked. A core of men, who like modern college grads identified themselves with their graduating class, would grow up and gain power together, always sharing an idealized Greek view of the world. They would nurture the following classes, and send their boys – and promising non-Greek boys – in their turn.

My ideal education system might consist of the following stages:

A. Age 0 – 14, 15, 16: Leave them the hell alone. If they want to do sports or take music or just hang out during the day, cool, let’s do that. As for reading, writing and math – any competent adult can show 95% of kids how to do it once they’re ready to learn, in a tiny fraction of the time the schools waste on it. The whole ‘professional educator is REQUIRED’ for these ages myth is exploded once you dip your toe into history.

B. Once they take an interest in joining the adult world, let them take whatever they want. We ran this experiment on our own kids, and guess what? They all started taking classes at the local community college by age 14 or so, and, except for the 12 year old – little early still – all got into great colleges (hey, we want to be part of that 1% that preserves the culture/saves Western Civilization) with no insurmountable problems.

C: Only mandatory schooling is 2 years of an American ephebia, which is pretty much anti-school as it is now practiced: learn about America, how it works, and why you should love it and keep it.

D: Vo-tech all around! Do it now, do it later, just do it.

There, problem solved!

  1. I’m one of ‘them’ – the scion of a family with no intellectual ambitions, but with plenty of jonesing for a better economic future. I’m still a little amazed at my dad’s enthusiasm for St. John’s Great Books Program. It worked out well, financially, but how he thought he could see that escapes me. Heck, *I* could barely see it.
  2. Of which maybe 10% might actually really become Guardians. We probably have to train 10% to get that 1% of the population who will understand and be willing to defend our culture.
  3. The colleges do their best, hiring scads of otherwise worthless intellectuals to teach the next batch of marginal students, thus rendering them unemployable in their turn.
  4. Or before – there’s no reason a 15 or 16 year old should not be trained in whatever they want to do. Delaying such training until after age 18 or 22 is just silly.

 

C. S. Lewis Sums It Up

As he often did. From That Hideous Strength, Merlin and Ransom discussing the state of affairs:

“This Saxon king of yours who sits at Windsor, now–is there no help in him?”

“He has no power in this matter.”

“Then is he not weak enough to be overthrown?”

“I have no wish to overthrow him. He is the king. He was crowned and anointed by the Archbishop. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King’s man.”

“Is it, then, his great men–the counts and legates and bishops–who do the evil and he does not know of it?”

“It is–though they are not exactly the sort of great men you have in mind.”

“And are we not big enough to meet them in plain battle?”

“We are four men, some women, and a bear.”

“I saw the time when Logres was only myself and one man and two boys, and one of those was a churl. Yet we conquered.”

“It could not be done now. They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived. We should die without even being heard of.”

“But what of the true clerks? Is there no help in them? It cannot be that all your priests and bishops are corrupted.”

“The Faith itself is torn in pieces since your day and speaks with a divided voice. Even if it were made whole, the Christians are but a tenth part of the people. There is no help there.”

“Then let us seek help from over sea. Is there no Christian prince in Neustria or Ireland or Benwick who would come in and cleanse Britain if he were called?”

“There is no Christian prince left. These other countries are even as Britain, or else sunk deeper still in the disease.”

“Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office it is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.”

“There is no Emperor.”

“No Emperor . . .” began Merlin, and then his voice died away. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged. Presently he said, “A thought comes into my mind and I do not know whether it is good or evil. But because I am the High Council of Logres I will not hide it from you. This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this west part of the world is apostate, might it not be lawful, in our great need, to look further . . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there–beyond Byzantium. It was rumoured also that there was knowledge in those lands–an Eastern circle and wisdom that came West from Numinor. I know not where–Babylon, Arabia, or Cathay. You said your ships had sailed all round the earth, above and beneath.”

Ransom shook his head. “You do not understand,” he said. “The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”

“Is it, then, the end?” asked Merlin.

I don’t think it’s the end yet, for whatever my opinion is worth (hint: not much). But a sense of dread grows, one I never before felt even as a small child when we worried seriously about getting nuked.

The solution? A walk in the California sunshine, and maybe some fresh home-grown cucumbers. That ought to do it for me, for now. As for the problems on a larger scale, those are in the hands of the Oyéresu, thanks be to Maleldil. We don’t have to figure out how to win, we just have to do the best we can in the face of the ever more strident and diabolical requirement that we get in line. This fate is glorious in the infinite and divine sense – in this world, there will be only shame and destruction in standing firm. But a servant is not superior to his Master.

What We Should Never Forget

We’re doing it wrong, this whole ‘never forget’ thing. We are forgetting, as the growing enthusiasm for euthanasia and genetic engineering testify.(1)  You start with the idea that some people are better off dead, and kill them, at first only those who we can pretend to plausibly have chosen to die. But come on, that old guy in a vegetative state (2) over there – he’d *want* to die if he were only able to think clearly. And grandma, who’s burning through my inheritance a lot of health care that could go to someone with a higher quality of life – she may think she doesn’t want to die, but she really does. And those morons over there on the Wrong Side of History, who refuse to get with the program and are causing trouble for the good and enlightened people over here – well, it goes without saying they’re better off dead…

When you set up a template to manufacture something, it’s a given you’ll knock off at least a few rejects until you get it right. The lower the experience level and the harder the engineering, the higher the likelihood of lots of rejects. Genetic engineering is really hard, and we don’t know much about it compared to what we don’t. Those rejects will be what would have been considered people in more primitive times. Letting them live would be contrary to spirit of the whole experiment.

We’re having trouble cultivating even the low threshold of memory required to never forget that Germans – good, solid, dependable, logical Germans, makers of excellent beer, cars and poppy seed strudel, people who loved their children and pets – people remarkably like us! – somehow came to kill about 6 million Jews for the crime of being Jews, and around 6 million others for the crimes of being disabled, gay, or otherwise On The Wrong Side of History. In the name of Progress.

We should never forget that, especially the part about them being mostly likeable people remarkably like us. Germans hold Oktoberfest every year – they only killed 6 million Jews one time! We might add never forgetting that they elected a demagogue who promised to fix things and didn’t let little things like laws and rights get in his way, a fate likely to soon befall us regardless of which of the 3 leading candidates we end up electing.

But these are not the points of this essay. What we really need to never forget is that the Holocaust, for all its horror, is hardly unique. Not only have horrible slaughters been visited on people throughout history for the crime of not being or not doing what their betters wanted, but, even in the 20th century, the Holocaust only ranks as the third most horrible slaughter of innocents in the name of Progress.

Number 1 goes to Maoist China, where at least several 10s of millions died in the Cultural Revolution. We don’t have a better guess, because it happened in China, and they aren’t telling. It seems many Chinese wound up on the Wrong Side of History, and so wound up in the ground.

Number 2 goes to Stalin, or maybe, to expand the timeframe to encompass the whole Russian Revolution project, to the whole Bolshevik Menshevik etc. gang. Stalin slaughtered about 20 million Ukrainians; the Revolution did in a few million more. Again, the capital crimes these victims committed were being on the Wrong Side of History and hindering Progress.

Surely, that many eggs should have resulted in bigger and better omelettes than places people were willing to risk death to leave.  Let alone Cuba and Venezuela.

Hitler also believed in History and Progress. His differences with the Russian and Chinese Communists were for the most part what might best be called arcane theological squabbles – on the root ideas that History dictated a new world order, and that they were the chosen leaders of Progress toward that order, and that the people who stood in the way needed to die, they completely agreed.(3)

So we need to expand our memories to encompass the reality that nice Chinese and Russian people can be brought to slaughter millions of their helpless fellow citizens/subjects without feeling all that bad about it. That’s the world we live in. That’s the world we’re trying to save.

Here is the idea: It is a good thing that Holocaust museums have sprung up around the world, and that Auschwitz and other death camps have been preserved, so that we Never Forget. What would kick the whole memory thing up a few notches, and make these more general ideas as outlined above more sticky, is the creation of a set of genocide museums for each of the modern genocides, where each building is built to represent the relative scale of the slaughter. Each museum, furthermore, would be split between one wing which shows all the charming and delightful characteristics of the people doing the slaughtering, while the other half would be dedicated to the victims. The buildings and exhibits should creatively reflect what is known about the murders. They should be arranged largest slaughter first, so the scale of the horrors can be understood at a glance. We should build this in D.C., on or right off the Mall. Thus:

The Museum of Chinese Cultural Revolution: 700,000 square feet, maybe built like a pagoda or chinese temple. On the right as you enter will be a museum of traditional Chinese life circa 1965, with all the respect, honor, learning and refinement that characterizes the best of China. Included should be exhibits on peasant life – rice farming is hard! – and some on the aristocracy and royalty. Include exhibits of children’s toys, feasts and festivals, clothing – you know, the good, human stuff. The restaurant will serve both a basic peasant menu of beans and rice (and, I’m sure, lots of local variations – China’s a big place) and more refined fare. All in all, a great introduction to a great and ancient country.

Then, on the left, will be as detailed an account ot the slaughter of the Cultural Revolution as can be assembled.

The Museum of the Russian Revolution: 250,000 square feet, perhaps a brightly colored onion-domed palace. Same drill: on the right, exhibits of everyday and noble life from the turn of the 20th century. Nested dolls, faberge eggs, colorful clothing. Special emphasis on the life of the kulaks. The restaurant again serves both peasant and high cuisine, again from representative parts of the areas affected.

On the left, we have photos and 1st person accounts of the Ukrainian massacre and the Gulags, with special emphasis on the complicity of the American press in keeping all this out of the news and singing the praises of Stalin – that’s one thing we should Never. Forget.

New Holocaust Museum: 100,000 square feet. Same as above – on the right, emphasize the truth, that the Germans under the Third Reich were not really very different from us, just nice normal people doing their jobs and living their lives. The early supporters of the National Socialists tended to be from the professional classes – your lawyer and dentist were more likely to be members than the dairy farmer or working stiff that lived next door. We could include fun educational activities. (I’d include a section of quotations, where the reader would be asked to guess whether it was said by a Nazi or a contemporary American politician. Hilarity ensues. Dark, bitter hilarity – the best kind!)

Obviously, the buildings – I’m thinking split-timber waddle and daub just maxing out the cute, but I could be convinced to go fairytale castle –  should enclose a beer garden! Tutonic beauties with fistfulls of steins! Strudel!

Annnd – on the left side are your standard Holocaust displays.

Maybe we need a refinement: one must go through the section celebrating German (or Russian or Chinese) life *first*, then the restaurant, THEN the slaughter part. The messaging – what to Never Forget – is better that way, and the restaurants are likely to do better business.

And so on. The Armenian Genocide might get a 15,000 square foot display; Pol Pot would get around 30,000 square feet – research would need to be done, the whole exercise might need to be scaled up so that these smaller genocides – the ones around a million or so – would get enough space. Then maybe, at the end, a single large museum with rooms for the yet smaller slaughters.

We could expand the time frame – that would be entertaining! The indians slaughtered by the Conquistadores (as opposed to those killed inadvertently by disease) would get a largish room; the Spanish Inquisition would get a file drawer. The American Indian genocide would, again, get a largish room, even if we rolled the entire 4 centuries into one event. The European witch hunts get a file in a drawer. Again, research needs to be done.

Heck, we could even apply the same principles to other historical horrors. We could build, for example, a Europeans Enslaving Africans museum – which would be dwarfed by the Muslims Enslaving Africans museum next door. (And that last museum would remain under construction to this day.) The Africans Enslaving Africans museum would surely start many an earnest discussion. The possibilities are many!

So, yes, as the Pope visits Armenia last week and Auschwitz later in July, let us Never Forget. But let us up our game, and learn more about what we ought not ever forget.

  1. What is the point of genetic engineering if some people aren’t genetically better than others?
  2. Whatever that means – we should also never forget that definitions that are used as lines that may not be crossed tend to get flexible over time. People want stuff that’s off limits, which creates pressures to evolve the definitions. As Rocket and Drax so amply illustrate in Guardians of the Galaxy:

Rocket: Question. What if I see something that I want to take, and it belongs to someone else?
Corpsman Dey: Well you will be arrested.
Rocket: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Corpsman Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket: That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand?
[to Gamora who’s laughing]
Rocket: What are you laughing at? Why? I can’t have a discussion with this gentleman?
[he starts following Gamora towards the Milano]
Drax: What if someone does something irksome and I decide to remove his spine?
Corpsman Dey: That’s…that’s actually murder. It’s one of the worst crimes of all, so also illegal.
Drax: Hmm.

3. The other material differences, as far as I can tell, are that National Socialists were overt Nationalist, while the Russians lied about being nationalists (the Chinese are about as unrepentant a bunch of nationalists under any scenario as one can find); that the Russians and Chinese accepted the idea that there’s nothing special about industrialists or bankers or generals – any party hack can do that job! – and so slaughtered them all, while Hitler thought maybe those guys knew something, and instead bent them to his will. I assume he’d have eventually gotten around to slaughtering them all, too, once he’d conquered the world, on the well-established principle that all excellence is a threat to the tyrant, but who knows? Other points of disagreement between the National Socialists and International (sic) Communists seem like so much smoke in practice.

Taking a Trip Out to L.A.

A. #1 Daughter, fresh off collecting her bachelors (magna cum laude – hey, if I don’t brag, who will?) from Benedictine in Atchison, in music and theater, is down in Hollywood doing a one-woman show based on her senior project (which, in turn, was based on Taming of the Shrew) in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Her brother and sister, who, in turn, are just in from their freshman year at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, respectively, were pressed into service as, again respectively, tech and stage managers (if one can properly be said to be managing a crew of one that is also one’s self). Daddy has, so far, taken tickets and handed out programs. 2 shows down, three more to go. P 3744 i 2534242

The show is amazing. She had to cut it down to 50 minutes to fit the Fringe requirements. This on top of the cutting she did to get it down to 90 minutes for her senior project. (Her professors are who encouraged her to take it to Fringe.) So you have this one young lady with a single prop – a mustache on a chain around her neck that is used to indicate someone in disguise – and a stage manager (if that’s the right term for this) who sits off to the side and writes scene changes and characters on a whiteboard (including little mustaches if said characters are in disguise). All she then has to do is to convey the different characters somehow, all while delivering what amounts to a 50 minute monologue (and she must remember what she cut out from the 90 minute version!) while leaping around the stage and from character to character.

*I* was impressed – it’s pretty darn funny, and amazing. Which I already said. The amazing part.

So, if by some chance you find yourself in or near Hollywood tomorrow or next Friday/Saturday, and have $10 and an hour to spend, come on down! I’ll take you out to lunch.

B. This weekend, the shows were set for Friday and Sunday, which is how I find myself sitting in a cheap (well, by Hollywood standards) motel typing a blog post on a Saturday afternoon. Teresa and I stayed over Saturday rather than put another 800 miles on the cars. The other kids took my car back home to attend graduations for their friends. My wife and the Caboose (12 year old David) stayed because she works at the school and was giving a graduation address, and David wanted to attend the end of the year party – a hoary tradition at Diablo Valley  School tracing all the way back (barely) to the last century!

So, at about 5:00 A.M. tomorrow morning, the wife and kids will be making a bombing run down to Hollywood – we’ll catch the 11:00 Mass at Blessed Sacrament (where I went to mass sometimes in my youth when staying with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Art and cousins – but that’s another story), then the Show Must Go On and all that. Then, it’s the 5-6 hour drive home! Wheeee! And then we’ll do something very much like this again next weekend!

Yes, I and we are insane. This wasn’t obvious already?

C. Today I spent several hours walking around Hollywood, but not as one might think. As mentioned above, I spent weeks at a time in Hollywood with my cousins growing up, where we’d catch movies at the Grauman’s Chinese like you’d catch a picture at your local cinema – because it *was* the local cinema. That high school dance scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? My cousins went to that high school (Hollywood High).  And so on.

Anyway, it is, as mentioned, another story. Suffice it to say that Hollywood never held any mystique for me – it was just where my cousins lived. Emotional underpinnings laid in childhood can be very persistent. So no Walk of Fame or chasing down celebrity homes or gawking at studios for me.

So, instead, after hunting down a passable cup of coffee, I walked up to the Monastery of the Angels and did some Adoration. Then, took a nap, worked on a story, and took a walk to Immaculate Heart of Mary to go to confession. It was good. I was on my own as my daughter wanted to catch some shows, and on foot because my car went north with the middle kids.

D. Hollywood is interesting seen from the ground. It’s like one giant run-down strip mall – miles and miles of roads that could use some work flanked by businesses that, more often than not, are housed in commercial buildings past their useful life expectancies.

It goes on like this for miles and miles. Frankly, it’s a dump punctuated every once in a while by a landmark or show of wealth in the form of an expensive building. Even the few studios left in town look like light manufacturing tilt-ups – which I suppose they are, in some sense.

About every 25th to 50th person one comes across looks like they belong in the movies – snappily dressed, made up, showing too much skin or wearing too tight clothes (mostly but not entirely the women) (1)

E. Freeways are a sort of societal low spot or gravity well. Absent countervailing forces, weak and dead things and people seem to sink to them, or rather to the scars and voids they create. When walking around L.A. on foot (and what sort of nut would do that? I think Bradbury identified the problem in Fahrenheit 451. He did live around here, after all) you notice how unnatural and disruptive to a city the mere physical presence of freeways is. My wandering took me over and aside the 101 at various points. In some places, access and egress to the freeway took up entire city blocks: you’d cross the two lanes of exiting traffic, then the bridge that spanned the freeway, then two more lanes of traffic existing from the other direction. Only most of this expanse is paved or walled freeway – the rest are little islands and long strips of land where everything from weeds to trees spring up – and homeless encampments and their open-air toilets, to give it too dignified a term.

Thus, it also seems to happen that those willing to build here don’t seem to want to build too close to the freeway, unless, somehow, they can shield their customers from the reality that these lacunas attract. There’s pretty much nothing else to be done – these areas are an inevitable result of the traffic engineers art, and society is no nearly confident enough to say: homeless is crazy. (2) You want to live in a strip of feces-laden dirt 5 feet from freeway traffic? We say: No. You will stay in facilities provided even if we have to make you. And so we look the other way, and civilization in the form of people doing peaceful, legal commerce or even taking a walk retreats a bit.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused a number of freeways in San Francisco and Oakland to be removed. I, for one, was very surprised at what a vast improvement the affected areas underwent. Blighted areas got revitalized, foot traffic returned, and so, therefore, did businesses. Perhaps the cost of freeways is too high for a civilization worthy of the name to pay.

F. Finally, I’m considering staying up late and writing a bunch of book reviews I’ve been meaning to write. What they heck, sleep is overrated. That’s the ticket.

  1. You know those times when you think of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late to say it? Today, I had a sort of Mobius inverse of that: I actually thought of the snappy thing to say – something about one can never be too ready for the next wet t-shirt contest – and actually had the presence of mind NOT to say it. Yeah, me. Although it would have been fun, in a stupid comedy sort of way, to see her reaction. On the other hand, I’m alive now to wonder….
  2. Had some run-ins with homeless people today. Mostly, they are just sad people, and their state is easy enough for me to imagine being in myself. Any number of things can cause a soul to lose whatever it is that makes us get up and do those things we call ‘sane’. I did run into a frantic woman at the Monastery when I went back to get my hat I’d left on the pew. I spoke with her – rather, I listened to her – for a long time until she seemed calmer, all the while praying for guidance. My general rule, which I sadly do not live up to all the time, is to give people who ask money if I can, and to try to be pleasant and treat street people like people – smile, return hellos, that sort of thing. This lady was sure she’d just died – that her heart had stopped – but somehow she’d recovered. Her tale included much current sci-fi, including how she needed to find the secret entrances so she could get back to her job at Area 51, and how her sister had died just as she was making a drop-off as her last assignment before retiring – that sort of thing, phenomenal imagination and often right on the edge of coherent. Eventually, I excused myself and wished her well (what else can one do?) which she accepted fairly graciously. I prayed a rosary for her on my walk back to the motel. Again, what is one supposed to do?