Perfectibilists

Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati by Terry Melanson is a rich treasure trove of history, much of which I found I hadn’t quite been familiar with yet, and that, in spite of the author’s barely hidden bias, really puts the infamous Illuminati in a heroic position in their time.

I’ve always been surprised, and am now even more surprised, that the Illuminati are vilified. They were on the ground in the front lines of what became the Enlightenment. They were struggling against entrenched and violently repressive regimes in religious, scholastic and secular society. I think, ultimately, the Enlightenment and Revolutionary periods left them in the dust, perhaps justly, but they were there, at the beginnings, part of the vanguard for what has become the modern world. In the days before Revolution was possible, it seems rational to think “the only recourse, it would seem—short of a revolution—is to operate in the shadows.”

For example, I think, aside from the, perhaps spurious, part about poisoning and a caveat in regard to “passion rather than reason”, I can agree quite strongly with “such vicious moral and religious sentiments as that life should be controlled by passion rather than reason, that suicide is justifiable, that one may poison one’s enemies, and that religion should be regarded as nonsense and patriotism as puerility.” And, I largely laud “how harmful and dangerous the Order of the Illuminati will be for the State and religion, if allowed to flourish here and beyond.” I find I am mostly in agreement with the sentiment that “every King and every priest is a traitor and a thief,” just maybe not quite the Populist rural rabble’s revolting take on that, but in rather an equalitarian and egalitarian way of where humanity could be, if only it were perfected. I fear, for the author’s sake, I’m more aligned with the idea and ideals of this historical Illuminati now having read this history than I was ever before.

I agree with Weishaupt “in the indefinite perfectibility of man” and that humanity “may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, & of course to render political government useless.” To the extent this is a “conspiracy against all government” and against the “evils of private property” then so be it, but we’re also not there yet.

The role of the Rosicrucian orders as agents of the Counter-Enlightenment was a bit of a surprise to me. Finding that out explains several things I found curious, not the least of which is Franz Hartmann’s switch from a Rosicrucian to an Illuminati focus in his fiction. But, I have a stronger idea of the tension around what became of literary Rosicrucianism when it began to accrete later innovations. But, suffice to say, it turns out, for me, anyway, the Rosicrucians are the villains that most people seem to think the Illuminati are.

I’ve gotten a lot of new book titles and names of people from this that I’ve put on my list of things to research. I’ve also become far more interested in the way Deism has played out in the Enlightenment in Europe and the Revolutionary period in North America. I’ve also started to read ancillary materials mentioned here, for example I picked up Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey because of this book. So, in addition to the historical information contained directly, this was a great point of departure as well.

Through this book I developed an appreciation for how the secrecy and hierarchical nature of the Illuminati went from being a reasonable and rational security culture to being a burden and ultimately, I think, the reason they were left behind by the overall Enlightenment, which proved too popular and too widespread for them to stay in control as much as the opposition was unable to control its advance. There’s much in the critical analysis of how the Illuminati failed as an organization that could be considered and contemplated by other orders that exist in the world. For example, Baron von Knigge is quoted:

“[As a rule, under the veil of secrecy, dangerous plans and harmful teachings can be accepted just as well as noble intentions and profound knowledge; because not all members themselves are informed of such depraved intentions, which sometimes tend to lie hidden beneath the beautiful façade … because for the most part, unknown superiors lie in ambush and it is unworthy of an intelligent man to work according to a plan, which he does not fully see, for whose importance and goodness he is responsible to people, whom he does not know, whom he must bind himself to, without them binding themselves to him.. because they [secret societies] cost time and money;…because they soon became the assembly places for adventurers and idlers; because they favor various species of political, religious, and philosophical Scwärmerei [zealous or insane enthusiasm]; because a monkish esprit de corps prevails in them and brings about much harm; finally, because they provide the opportunity for cabals, discord, persecution, intolerance, and injustice against good men, because they are not members of such an order or at least not the same order.”

In addition to technocratic autocracy dangerously enabling organizational dysfunction and antagonists, there’s much to be taken seriously here in the analysis of how hierarchical and secret orders can become burdens to themselves and their membership and the society in which they operate. I’m afraid that here I must finally, for reasons principled and philosophical and personal, part ways with this illustrious company so closely aligned with my own thinking, but ultimately not my allies.

The author makes a largely credible case that the Illuminati continued at least indirectly to exist past the point when it is largely considered to have demised as an order. I don’t take very seriously the idea that indirect influence and inspiration qualify as absolute continuity of conspiracy, as the author seems to believe, but it seems clear enough that the ideas of Enlightenment and methods of organization championed by the Order of the Illuminati were broadly influential long after the order, per se, ceased to be.

But, one thing else, that does come across for me, is that the Enlightenment is an ongoing struggle against which the collective diverse forces of Counter-Enlightenment are constantly and continually resisting. This is even more serious a point to me in the intervening months since I read this work to the time that I am writing now. There are people of serious mind to return to the way things were before the Enlightenment, and some of them are currently running the United States. The struggle is real. The Enlightenment is in danger.

Perhaps there is still a place, and moreover a need, for the Illuminati to continue to exist after all. But, it’s clear they don’t exist, because even if they did still exist, then they’re doing a really damned shitty job.

In the Kindle edition, the illustrations are awful and tiny. There’s also a lot of errors that appear to me likely problems of taking the original text and turning it into an ebook without proper quality control. One of the most common issues is that hardcoded line endings end up in the wrong place, causing lines of text to be split mid-sentence. Someone just didn’t bother checking the ebook output, I think. But there’s other numerous egregious errors, for just one example repeatedly misspelling something as obvious and central as “Wishaupt” instead of Weishaupt.

I made 151 highlights.

Secret societies, societies with secrets, and societies with spoilers

When thinking about secrets and mysteries in practice, I’ve long tossed about the idea of a difference between secret societies, societies with secrets and a society without spoilers. Especially in this day when so much is being made available online, but that really is just a matter of scale when there are plenty of historical examples of similar things, such as Aleister Crowley revealing the initiatory rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as serialized in the pages of the Equinox, the varied publication and exposé of so much Freemasonic ritual, and so forth.

There are still some pretty legitimately secret societies, which while well-known to exist are not revealed, such as the Skull and Bones society, and recently breaking the Copiale cipher seemed to tantalizingly promise that there might be still some complex and completely unknown societies, at least until it was revealed the material was pretty clearly Freemasonic in nature. But for the most part, I object that when people talk about secret societies they are engaged in flights of fancy about group about which not only their existence but much of their particulars are known. Quite often, of course, such wild imaginings are part and parcel with an agenda of fear mongering, but even still there are otherwise sane and rational people talking about certain societies as if they were actually not completely or almost completely public. Certainly Freemasonic tradition and ritual cannot rationally be called secret anymore, and the membership is in the habit of parading around, not to mention things like having decals on their cars and fobs on their keychains, and thus it cannot be called a secret society. Even traditional boogeymen like Aleister Crowley and Ordo Templi Orientis can only by the slimmest margin come anywhere near being called a secret society, with websites, public spaces, public event calendars, and so forth. There may indeed be legitimately unavailable secrets still, for example within A∴A∴, but that’s not enough to call these fraternal orders by the name of a secret society. In these cases there’s perhaps some legitimate secrets, but there must also be a practical recognition that most material related to these groups is available, outside the structured system of the society itself, somewhere, if one wants to find it.

Of course, just as much as one can avoid spoilers for movies and books and other things sequentially revealed, it is possible to avoid, for the most part, much of that material. It is not that there are no spoilers. Rather that spoilers do very much exist. Which is to say, the existence of spoilers requires one to decide to avoid the spoilers in order to fully enjoy the reveal. This is quite different from a society that pretends it doesn’t exist to outsiders, or a known society with things that it keeps secret.

 

There are modern examples of working with secrets within esoteric systems, and there’s clearly something interesting going on around secrets. There is smoke pointing to something important and useful at the source. There’s a tension, perhaps much as it ever was, between the urge to make information available and the various efficacies of secrets. T Thorn Coyle wrote a bit about the division in Feri between what had been called the “Mystery tradition” and the “public religion” factions, at “The Sundering of Feri“. Thorn, of course, also runs an online Mystery School. I was trying to find a quote where I recall her saying something about how paganism needed to have a Mystery tradition as part of it, but can’t find that right now.

Generally, when I talk about such things to people who ask, I suggest that initiation ritual, especially, is like a good book or movie with a savoury plot twist or two. You will only ever get a single chance to experience the participatory drama without knowing how it develops; that’s if one goes through it the first time not having read the materials. One and only one chance. Ever. So why throw that away by reading ahead? One can always read the materials afterward, as many times as one likes; but to read the spoilers is to waste a wonderful opportunity that cannot ever, barring soap opera amnesia tropes, be experienced once the reveal has been spoiled.

Whether one “gets” it or not (either initially or on subsequent viewings of a ritual or readings, of material) is another question entirely. And, it seems to me, in my experience, what constitutes “getting it” will likely evolve and change over time no matter what else is a consideration. When given the opportunity, I like to point out that one can go to many stagings of a play by Shakespeare and get new things, new depth of understanding and new enjoyment, as well as savour slightly different interpretations, so to me the re-play value depth of meaning of a work or body of work is something that is a different question to the idea of seeing something for the first time without spoilers.

But, still, people freak about things unknown, and try to minimize and control things by figuring things out ahead instead of being comfortable with being uncomfortable as a thing itself. Seems to me the still prevalent modern desire to conquer Nature and the pervaisive post-modern existential nausea about information overload and slavish ‘inbox zero’ mania are examples, perhaps symptoms, of where the ability to just relax about not knowing, not being in control, would be useful for people to practice in specific so they can have skill in applying it in general.

 

Another aspect that always comes up around secrets is the idea that somehow no matter what is revealed, the real secrets are impervious to such petty concerns. Seems to me blather about mystery being unspoilable is semantically empty jazz hands (or worse self deception (or worse-worse deception of others) about “spiritual” exceptionalism), and misses the point of initiation as orchestrated stressful situation intended to create a kind of imprint vulnerability, an altered state, in the initiate, and attempts to diffuse that stress and that experience before experiencing it is an attempt mitigate and in some form to not have the experience at all. The efficacy of secrets in a system are not just about the information, true, but the information is interwoven into an experience, and the experience is changed by the quality and obscurity of the information on which the experience is built. If one knows the rollercoaster has a blind drop at the end, one still experiences the drop in and of itself, but the surprise in and of itself is changed into anticipation, and that’s a different thing entirely which not only changes the experience of the drop but distracts from the experience of what occurs before.

For me, when I talk about “reading ahead” (spoiling) I mean that as a placeholder for activity the diffuses the effectiveness of initiation and mystery, whether written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered. For me, being a candidate in initiation and mystery is to be an improv actor stumbling into a rehearsed stage play, and both savoury and exciting. One tends to think all kinds of things about structure and likely scenarios, if nothing else than a rite of passage (exit normal, experience liminal, re-enter normal changed) but it is the actuality, specifics and plot twists, the things that can be spoiled, which I think should be avoided and, yes, allowed as a personal experience.

 

To bring it around, my point of wondering about classification of societies is that there is a kind of society which is not itself attempting to pretend it doesn’t exist, and which has essentially much of its material revealed or potentially could be in future somewhere, but that points out there is a reason not to “read” ahead as a practice of discipline in and of itself; that there is a place for not knowing as a thing, and experience, to be embodied through ritual, especially dramatic ritual like initiation.

The trick of improv is to have characters and bits of business prepared and figure out ways to fit those into any circumstances, so perhaps the corollary is to become good at mystery and a good initiate prepared by building the foundation of skills, whatever those are in one’s tradition, that make the personal experience of the unknown richer.

If an initiatory working is in some form or another purely ecstatic, then perhaps more than one person will have no prior exposure. That seems quite different than a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. If those others have exposed themselves or been exposed prior to some element meant to be revealed, then they have failed to avoid spoilers, they have whatevered the whatever.

Maps certainly won’t always apply, especial when applied outside their intended scope. Just add as given to any structural approach “except where this doesn’t apply”. But, to be clear, there are other structures, but I’m primarily talking about a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. Here the word ‘mystery’ in a religious sense comes from Greek mysterion “secret rite or doctrine,” as in a thing to be revealed to initiates, whether, additionally as previously stated, those are “written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered”, a secret doctrine passed on or a secret rite enacted.

Which begs the question: without a mystery (neither secret rite or secret doctrine) to be revealed, whither the mystery cult? Further, without a mystery, one might even be tempted to ask how can there actually be an initiation at all?

 

Perhaps, one might say of a modern non-mystery that an “impromptu ecstatic divinatory rite” took place which offered UPG, such that a previously unknown rite is enacted or previously unknown doctrine is developed. But without the secret rite or secret doctrine, which would have to have previously existed to those initiated few inducting others, there’s nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred, no previously held in secret doctrine or rite, tautologically.

“Nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred” may offer another name, perhaps more tripping, instead of “society without spoilers”: a “sacred society”, a society with things held sacred as in separate, something bound, enclosed and protected.

Unfortunately, one can follow the etymology of ‘secret’ to essentially the same place, the difference being one implies holiness and the other does not, I suppose, which “holiness” seems, to my mind, just a special case of any of the others three terms I suggested.

 

I suspect the apparent failure of the modality of a “mystery cult” in the modern world has to do with modernity, modernism and existentialism, and the lack of acceptance of shared concrete and coherent gnosis, thus the ground on which a modern mystery cult would be built is unsuitable for lavish neo-romantic structures, except for those already conditioned to such things, such as lapsed Catholics and such. Which is to say, perhaps any mystery cult would seem too superficial to a modern person to have the same religious and social impacts, simply because the assumed rich foundation is missing.

So, the feeling one might have that a mystery cult or tradition in the modern age has lost its luster is due not to the mystery cult but rather due to the overall modern age. There is still a lingering notion that something may be missing for rootless moderns which a mystery cult can offer by way of a more structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual; more robust spiritual meaning which then, in turn, offers deeper experience of life in general. But, I find myself wondering if the project of modern mystery traditions is undermined by a general lack of cultural foundation, those foundations of community and cohesion being so efficiently eroded in our public, political and even private lives. Not to mention the lack of what is still called a “classical education” with the broad base of and relationship of familiarity with languages, myths, archetypes and so on. This, then becomes a chicken and egg, which can only be resolved by realizing the false dichotomy that one must be completed before the other, and that the development in general is aided by development in specific, and visa versa, synergistically.

One possible route out of the morass, for moderns and post-moderns, I sometimes come to is the suggestion that situational certainty is a tool for meta-cognition. By this I mean, that the ground on which a mystery cult could be built, the solid ground of structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual is sufficient when internally consistent for its purpose and held to be true for the time that it is necessary. But, that threatens what is perhaps an entirely different discussion.

 

But, to bring it back around again, a ‘mystery cult’ is a cult with a mystery. A ‘cult’ is the external activity enacting a religious metaphor, a ritual behaviour. A ‘mystery’ is a secret rite or secret doctrine (to be revealed). Therefore, a ‘mystery cult’ is specifically ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine. ‘Tradition’ is shared belief or behaviour through time. Therefore, ‘mystery tradition’ is belief and ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine shared through time.

I’m so strongly reminded by this of something. I believe it was something by Karl Kereny (but it might be form Van Gennep or Turner, I can’t recall right now) which I paraphrase: “Ritual enacts Myth and Myth explains Ritual.”

 

It seems possible to conflate a general meaning of “mystery” as more of a kind of ‘gnosis’ or noetic experience with how I understand it is used in the specific sense within the term “mystery cult” which is more what I am talking about here. When speaking of the idea of whether a ‘mystery cult’ within modern systems would be useful in order to ground the work in structured behaviour, I’m assuming that we’re actually talking about ‘mystery cult’ not general unspecific noetic experience or so forth. This of course somewhat ironically points out a possible initial critique of paganism as a generalized, syncretic, eclectic system which lacks the benefit of what a mystery cult offers and hence the possible utility of that structured influence, offering specific external ritual behaviour around a secret rite or secret doctrine.

If you want mystery without mystery cult, that already exists in various forms of wild and wishy-washy moments of gnosis within the ecstatic traditions of modern life; but, why not try adding an actual ‘mystery cult’ back into the cultural mix? In fact, I could easily argue that there already is ‘mystery cult’ in various places within neopaganism, with a facile example being initiatory orders like OTO and others, which are perfect examples of mysteries for which spoilers exist and which spoilers therefore can be intentionally avoided.

A very salient point for this modern information age is the value an experience of not knowing, so that one can and must do less thinking prior to events, not more. Perhaps the suggestion contained within the experience of not knowing is that one should do one’s thinking after: praxis before theory, so that theory is informed by praxis without prejudice. If this is the case, why not work toward maximizing the possible experience instead of minimizing the probable damage of knowing by seeking after spoilers of any kind, even the mundane accidents surrounding specific quanta and quality?

Indeed, I would suggest that one approach an initiatory experience within an mystery tradition not as a result of successful prior thinking or a seal on attainment, like we are so often familiar with from diplomas, certificates and honors; but an invitation to view the world through a particular lens for a particular period of time, determined by the particulars of the ritual and tradition in which the initiation takes place. In other words, the initiation is really the beginning, suggested by the word itself, of an pervasive life experience.

The full experience of a mystery event intended to involve surprises, plot twists or situations unknown can be self-evidently spoiled by prior knowledge of those circumstances. Especially if part of the trigger for the full experience is the stress of not knowing. Certainly, I don’t mean that these things are binary (and it may be possible to salvage some part of the experience even if spoiled, but why not go for the whole thing instead of the tatters?), but that avoiding spoilers is a discipline that seems worthy if one is serious about that experience, and looking to have it be as rich as possible.

And, that this, in specific, will inform one’s general life as well.

 

And yes, one can point out that for completely ecstatic visceral events and such that are not within a mystery tradition, there’s mostly nothing to spoil by prior knowledge, per se. Except that maybe even still, for example, having that ecstatic visceral experience is based on a not knowing, in some fashion; for example, there’s only one time for the first such experience. All subsequent such experiences are informed by prior such similar events; but also, there may be circumstances around how the experience is induced that involve some fashion of not-knowing the mechanisms being used, which after the initial experience become less effective in themselves and experienced practitioners then rely on other means more, such as anchoring past experience to ease induction subsequently.

Also, for purely personal experience based on involvement in a mystery cultic practice, the former requires the latter, so saying the former can’t be spoiled is only true on the former level but it’s a logical typing fallacy to presume that spoiling the more primary function of mystery cultic practice can’t spoil the dependent personal experience of it. Mystery rituals are built around some kind of surprise, a revealing of the secret practice or doctrine at least. One could try to criticize the practices of mystery traditions by bringing up features of non-surprise ritual is not a feature of surprise ritual merely because they participate in the prior category of ritual. But, still the one is not the other. Noetic mystery is not mystery cult merely because the English word mystery is in both. But these are mostly different topics than suggesting the efficacy a mystery cult with structured ritual behaviour involving a secret doctrine or secret rite to a previous practice of generalized, syncretic, eclectic practice.

 

So, for my own part, I have come to prefer the discipline of having structured ritual events with their reveals unspoiled so that I can experience them with as little prior knowledge as possible, because it’s the only time I will ever get that experience in that way, ever. Of course, you go about your experiences however you like, but I suspect if the initial spoiler free experience is not preserved you’re not actually experiencing ‘mystery cult’ anymore, but rather just, one might say, an extended re-enactment of a transcript of someone else’s dramatized experience. And, if you want that, just watch reruns of some reality television program, or another, instead.

In name only

Well, how interesting that the topic of Magdalene and the Reclaiming approach to story came up over the weekend as a way to explore what I see as paradigmatic difference between my relationship with Reclaiming and my experience in O.T.O. [also]. Interesting because when I got back from an extended weekend away, at an O.T.O. conference on the Divine Feminine, I had a message in my inbox that the theme for BC Witchcamp 2009 is Magdalene.

Below are two selected bits from a message, which isn’t up on the site yet so I can’t link to, that BC Witchcamp actually did manage to select Magdalene, which I really didn’t think they’d manage to do, but also did exactly the thing I was afraid they would do to the story if they did select it:

“The Story:
Mary Magdalene
Activist, Lover, Priestess of Isis
Witness to Change”

and

“Story of Mary Magdalene: Request that teaching team assure a strong presence of Deity/Isis
Reclaiming Mary’s story, correcting the bad PR, like the witches, like so many strong and powerful women
Not focusing on Jesus story
Mary as high priestess of the Goddess
Tie into history, tie into current politics, age of Aquarius, group consciousness, feminism, social justice”

I’m trying really hard not to be a manic ex-pat, but I feel like snidely suggesting that next year’s theme be St. Patrick.

Only, without all that noise about christianity.

And, let’s explore the fact that St. Patrick was a Priest of Serapis and his relationship with snake worship. That whole bit about St. Partick converting people to christianity was just bad PR … we should set the record straight.

And, you know, not so much with the Irish either … so, let’s talk about his history as an enslaved Roman from Wales instead and just skip the part where he’s in Ireland. You know, because what the hell good is cultural context when it gets in the way of a good week of appropriation to a self-consciously politically aware tradition such as Reclaiming? And, you know, the source culture is historically oppressed so the less said about where we appropriate … er, respectfully honor and celebrate … it from the better.

Oh, and St. Patrick will now be St. Patricia [contra], because any male role that’s more dangerous than or different than sex toy or buffoon threatens an welcome level of self-examination. After all, it’s easier to stay in control of the bloody mess of revolution if instead of changing the system one simply exchanges dictators. The history of actual revolutions [see] not withstanding, of course; but, we’ve already established the inconvenience of research.

Oh, man, I’ve got to stop before I go on a rant. Ugh. Too late.

I get it; I do. But, what a horrid disservice to the richness of the source material to do Magdalene in name only. It’s like the worst example of a Hollywood translation from book to screen [also, et] … but, I offer the selected quotes from the announcement e-mail above as an example of the looseness with which such things are treated, which honestly surprises me at least as much as I understand it as an act of reclaiming and Reclaiming.

I mean, really, Magdalene as a priestess, sure, but of friggin’ Isis?! A woman in a self-consciously pro-Jewish, anti-Roman faction was the priestess of what by that time was a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian goddess?! Asherah will be pissed when she hears about this. Asherah gets stood up on Prom night … again!? And, I can really see in my mind’s and heart’s eye Magdalene going medieval on someone if they said to her face that Jesus had nothing to do with her story. She’s the real first disciple, to my own mind … and disciples tend to be focused on, oh, I don’t know … something other than themselves.

Don’t get me started on the irony of a retelling of a story about the loss of the Beloved that self-consciously scrubs out the Beloved. Don’t get me started on the irony of Reclaiming selecting a story and modifying an authentic Herstory in such a way that it silences the voice of the central female out of expediency and convenience because of a political and religious agenda.

I really do get the deep and dire need to take control of social, religious and political narrative because of the magical sympathy and contagion between consciousness and reality mediated and changed through narrative. I also get that the story doesn’t really matter in the end because the real work is about coming together in a religious and political collective to do community sustaining ritual and organizing. But, how sad that to achieve these goals means sanitizing a story to the point of denaturing it.

I think Magdalene, by which I mean that aspect of her fullness with which I have a relationship, and I will both sit this one out. While others are off at camp, we’ll commiserate over the loss of our Beloveds, dear Magda for what’s-his-name and I for Reclaiming. And, when camp is over, maybe we could get together over tea for a post-mortem on our various experiences. Let’s be sure to do that and remember to invite the gardener. Maybe some time around Ostara?

That took long enough

Via “Golden Compass Points to Controversy“:

Based on the first volume in the award-winning trilogy “His Dark Materials” by religious skeptic Philip Pullman, the movie already has been condemned by conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals. They say it will hook children into Pullman’s books and a dark, individualistic world where all religion is evil.

But at least one liberal scholar has called the trilogy a “theological masterpiece,” and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film “intelligent and well-crafted entertainment.”

Meanwhile, some secularists complain the movie from New Line Cinemas waters down Pullman’s religious critique. They feel sold out by the author, who has described himself as both an atheist and agnostic.

Ha. They got hoist by complexity! Not so easy to simply condemn this outright is it?

I wondered what was taking so long. After hearing that the movies were being made, I expected immediate uproar, like there was for several other movies. When the response was silence, I figured the knee-jerk condemnations would have to wait until the dumb people managed to find someone that could read the books.

Now, how proud can Pullman be about this? The response to his complex work is complex! Maybe the person the dumb people got to read the books for them couldn’t explain it simply enough? However, I thought it would be as simple as saying, “They killed Kenny!” But, the complexity of the story appears to be such that even the condemnation of the movie ends up being not so simple as that. Witch hunts hunts aren’t so easy anymore, I suppose. This is a kind of progress, isn’t it?

Politics in the Dark Ages of Online Games

Via Boing Boing:

“Can you be a citizen of a virtual world? That’s the question that I keep asking myself, whenever anyone tells me about the wonder of multiplayer online games, especially Second Life, the virtual world that is more creative playground than game.”

There’s been an online multiplayer RPG called Dark Ages for a long time. It’s old school. It’s isometric view. It’s chibi. But, it also has a functioning political system with offices, voting, laws, and political campains … and it’s a game that deserves to be noticed.

It’s called Dark Ages. I may not get this completely right, but I recall that it was a Korean game that was localized for the US by a US team headed by Dave Kennerly. Kennerly contributed to the game the political system and the system of religions, but of which have really good innovations for the game play. Over the years, Kennerly left and the US team bought the rights to their work and re-named themselves Kru Interactive.

There’s a small article on the game at wikipedia.

But, you should definitely check out the player-created guide to the political system “Politica Dominica” and one of Kennerly’s own articles on the political system “Dark Ages Politics in Theory and Practice.”

Rain is still wet

New Year’s day was blustery and wet here in Olympia. I was heading out of town to pick up my partner at the airport, and noticed a young man hitching. I decided I had enough time, so I pulled over to offer a ride.

“Are you headed to downtown?”
“No, I’m not, but I can get you as far as Harrison.”
“Okay.”

“Thanks for the ride. There’s no bus service today, so I really appreciate it.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about no service today. That sure sucks. Tell you what, I’ll go ahead and take you downtown.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure, it’s not a problem.”

“It’s annnoying that I couldn’t get the bus, you know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, having no service seems silly to me.”
“And, what’s with New Years anyway? I mean, it’s not like anyone important died on that day. It’s just a day … no wars were won or lost on New Years, not that I know of anyway, you know what I’m saying?”
“Holidays are kind of arbitrary anyway. Most of the time, it’s got more to do with making a day for people to shop, it seems to me.”
“Yeah, holidays like Easter … that’s a strange one. What’s easter all about? Where did that get started? I’m a Christian evangelist, and it’s not really Christian, you know what I’m saying?”
“Well, Easter is Ostara, which in some Pagan and Indo-European thought is the time that the Goddess arrives from the underworld, the beginning of spring. Like Persephone for the Ancient Greeks …”
“Um, yeah.”

“Okay, well, thanks so much for the ride!”
“No problem. It’s a blustery and wet day out there, so ..”
“Yeah, but I’m a Christian evangelist, so I believe in Jesus Christ and any day that you’re alive is a great day.”
“Well, okay, but rain is still wet.”

“The sword of Damocles is hangin’ over my head …”

Be careful what you wish for, the consequences may be more than you expected: “Isn’t that what you wanted all along – freedom of religion? That freedom means all religions – even ones you don’t happen to like.” [via]

In this article, an elementary school is forced to open up a system by which kids are used to distribute flyers to families so that one religious group in the community can distribute flyers. Then, other religious group in that community use it too.

The myopic view of the advocates is that they think the community is only like themselves, or at least that they have some privilege that makes them the only ones that matter in a community. But, it seems this disingenuous advocacy for privilege matched with hatred and intollerance for others is the point.

(This isn’t just about religious issues either. Just take, for example, the advocacy of line-item veto that was hated once Clinton started to use it. Or, think about the way the 109th used their power against the minority party, and now is scared they will face the same, or, you know, might have to work more than 3 days a week for their 6 figure incomes. Or, partisans pleading for bipartisanship once they’re on the outs.)

This turns out to be exactly reason why the debate over putting monuments, like the 10 commandments, in public places is so myopic and manipulated. The question about the 10 commandments was on the questionnaire sent out by the Christian Coalition of Washington to candidates for city council last year, and was worded in a way that showed absolutely no subtlety and allowed no nuance in response … in other words it was merely a doctrinal litmus test. But, getting religious monuments in public places is a sword of Damocles hanging over their ultimately intollerant heads while they complain of persecution.

Political surveys seem to fall in that category of thing that most resembles a catalog of indexical or symbolic links to an ideology. For example, the Christian Coalition of Washington includes, in a survey sent to candidates, the following “cultural diversity” question:

“Voluntary display of the Ten Commandments on public property? Support, Oppose, or Undecided?”

The sinister beauty of this question is beyond compare. There’s no context. There’s no subject to the verb in this sentence. In fact, it’s not a sentence at all. The nouns are general. The choices of response offer no room for thoughtful consideration. And, whether intended or not, none of the answers can be chosen. I am not undecided, except that I have an open mind to future contexts. I am opposed to some aspects of the issues, but I support others.

At a fundamental level, the question is a horrid distraction from seriously pressing issues of social inequity and injustice. At a more complex level, the question begs for an answer from the supporter of the Christian Coalition that is fantastically dangerous and self-defeating.

Historically, it has been possible for non-public entities to offer displays intended for public spaces. The distinction between whether the volunteering entity is itself a public or private entity is intentionally lost in this question.

If a society chooses to allow expressions of culture on public property, that society must be prepared for expression with which it disagrees. If a display of the Ten Commandments is given to the public by a public entity, like the Lyons Club, and allowed to be placed, then the Pastafarians are likely to follow with a display of their faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Logically, it follows that this is so and this is an unintended consequence of the answer that, I suspect, is expected. At least one double bind in this question is that it asks for a logical answer to a question based on non-logical reasoning. There are more than this one.

On reflection, it becomes clear the entire survey, which could appear to be completely straightforward, is of a similar nature.

In a section on “growth management” the survey asks another zinger.

“Eminent domain – U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, 6/23/2005? Support, Oppose, or Undecided?”

Again, a simple question that is wildly suited to trip up, and trip out, the thoughtful person.

I do believe that the government should reserve the rights of eminent domain and the ability to escheat the land for the common, greater good. This ability has been steadily chipped away, so there is a value in the Kelo decision. However, the SCOTUS decision seems to implicitly link the common, greater good to economic interests, essentially extrinsic use of property. This tends to deny the intrinsic value of property, such as the value to future generations and other needs which are balanced in a triple bottom line. I have a concurring opinion on this issue. While I tend to agree with the overall decision, I do not follow the logic or reasoning that was used to get there. However, concurrence is not an option provided. Kelo does seem to lead down a road that parallels the misuse of the 14th amendment by the courts. It is a good outcome that will come to no good.

The fact that I have spent so long unpacking these questions is, in and of itself, a victory for the framers. I have been well and truly monkey-wrenched.

These are post-modern koans. Just try to not fall into the spiral. Witness the bumper sticker on a local car:

“Pray that President Bush keeps God’s promise to Israel.”

Lewis Black’s voice echoes in my head, “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”

I’m at the end, and I don’t even know where to begin. One can hardly imagine another, more concise welcoming message for those on a trip down the rabbit hole than this except, perhaps, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Update 25feb09 @ 2:01pm:

Looks like there’s some more on the issue of monuments like the donated ten commandments in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum which moves the issue more firmly into the realm of establishment clause conflicts than first amendment by making monuments in public areas actually government’s speech. I’m not sure that’s better. I’m not sure it’s worse, but it seems worse to me. The whole issue is still wonderfully complex; which is too much for some people to be bothered with thinking about, but probably still useful for shallow and knee-jerk litmus tests.

Update 25feb09 @ 2:59pm:

Somewhat randomly, or maybe guided by forces beyond my knowing, I ran across an interesting article at h2g2: “The Ritual Decalogue versus the Ethical Decalogue“.

Historical context for the War on Saturnalia

Here’s an article from National Geographic which attempts to put some historical context on the debate over holiday celebrations: “War on Christmas” Charge Echoes Past Debates, Expert Says

Christmas was outlawed within the history of the early republic, within the colonies, as part of the religious legislation by the puritans. The puritans, apparently, were upset about the pagan season being co-opted by the Catholic church.

The article doesn’t specifically talk about the notion of broad consumer appeal as a motivation behind the decoupling of the specific religious observance and the purchasing of goods. But, it does cite the use of the term “holiday” as belnding the religious and consumer aspects of the season.

It does talk about Target’s policy change, which I didn’t know about. However, I did notice that Safeway and Target in Olympia were both saying “Merry Christmas” at the checkout counters.

It is interesting that the article draws a parallel between the puritans then and the conservative groups now both working to “impose their beliefs.” And this reflects a distinctly non-post-modern view of the world. The notion that the world can be any way it wants as long as it is like oneself seems to me to be significantly immature and complex in it’s speciousness.

The article also re-iterates an argument that I have heard before that the proper place for a birthday mass for a biblical Jesus would have to be in March, not December. Therefore, from this one could continue with the corollary, any rabidly textual bible reader that defends a December holiday as Christmas is in violation of their own professed beliefs.

The War on Saturnalia

It seems to me that it is neither the progressives nor the pluralists who are the reason that “Christmas” has become a “Holiday” but rather it’s the capitalists. In an effort to extend the season, business has had to work to make the season less specific to a religion and appeal to as many people as possible.

Politics and economics get conflated and confused. It just happens that the agenda of business appears to be the same as progressive or pluralist agendas, but the purpose and desired end are completely divergent.

So, the “Christmas Warriors” should really think about taking steps to rescue Saturnalia from the capitalists who have secularized it in order to appeal to the widest possible audience of consumers for the greatest period of the calendar possible.

But, if you want to get down to it, the romans stole from the etruscans or somebody the holiday that became Saturnalia fair and square centuries before it became associated with what has become modern Christianity.

On a serious note, this is one of those places where it seems to me that the conservative political agenda appears to be contradictory in it’s support of both crass commercialism / corporatism and conservative / fundimentalist religion, two things I do not think mix and I’m inclined to disagree with independently anyway. This would be something that I would have to sit down and discuss with someone that held those views.

Voices talking to themselves

An amusing story of various gods talking to themselves via Positive Liberty

Reminds me of the last chapters of “Job” by Heinlein

This one made me laugh out loud:

““But wait,” said Shiva. “Allah isn’t just any old god. It’s also said that He’s the God of Abraham. Surely that counts for something. And what do you think Christians call their own god when they translate the Bible into Arabic?”
No one needed to answer.”

Exit stage right …

Via Crooks and Liars, “South Carolina and the Chrisitian Exodus…“:

“That is because South Carolina has been chosen as the place for hundreds, even thousands of Christians to move to, in hopes of impacting the government. But people who live here have mixed opinions about the Christian Exodus…”

So this move is to South Carolina. What ever happened to the call for libertarians to move to some state? I recall that they identified a state in which they would locate.

Here’s an example of the kind of mobility I was thinking about before, perhaps. People move to be near a community in which they wish to participate. In Michael Albert’s Parecon he proposes local councils and communities which determine their own rules for work and life. My primary objection to Parecon was in this fact: communities could decide to be racist. The claim that self-organized communities would be enlightened in some way, seems to be false. Self-organizing isn’t sufficient, apparently.

The potential for developing xenophobic community is a reason to be skeptical about social organization along bio-regions, or any other form of regionalism. One might think that means I suppose Globalization, but I’d rather there be social instead of economic globalization. The term “Globalization” has too much baggage from a specific political-economic agenda.

For example, the Free Trade movement is one in which global connections are made, but it is not “Globalization” as it would be. It seems to me that what proponents mean by “Globalization” is that corporations are to be larger than the entities which might regulate them. The railroad lawyers managed to allow corporations to organize across state boundaries, which they had not before. Then, when national government was able to enforce behaviour, the corporations moved multi-national … that’s the progression. Now the WTO and various treaties subjugate national governments to an economic cartel.

I’ve gone off topic.

This move toward regionalism is something that is also reflected in Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America from ’81. However the regionalism occurs, the more insular, the more xenophobic, I suspect. At some point, it may be a chicken-or-egg on whether the regionalism or the xenophobia came first.