Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whence? Whither?

But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.
--From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

            Humankind made its first discovered lasting mark of genius thirty-five thousand years ago--a blink in the geological day; roughly seventeen Julius Caesars back as the time flies.  Its subsequent search for distraction is to thank for the good ideas of Western Civilization. 
God deserves some credit too--fear in a supernatural power behind the nomadic chieftan’s tent must have helped align primitive hierarchies.  However, even the earliest social stabilizing ‘Thou Shalt Not’-s could only be enforced by the nascent state (with the help of a material Spirit common in all places in all times to all men who are not psychopaths).  A jealous Yahweh might have persuaded a potential murderer here and a cautious adulterer there to restrain his property polluting impulses, but after a few hundred years of demonstrable unfairness and injustice, only a God who ‘works in mysterious ways’ could remain believable.  And yet, humankind’s tacit agreement to an imperfect social contract made God’s invention no less necessary.    
More compelling than the divine accountant of misdeeds is that pie in the sky distraction numbering every hair on Jimmy’s head, saving Sarah from climate change, filling Fyodor with some senseless wonder, honoring Herschel a homeland, accepting Ahmed’s five times daily chanting yoga, promising Padma that she can come back next time as a real lotus flower, and comforting Chan through the sixteen-hour shift in the EPZ distracting him from the nonexistence of the God that... Such delusions are among the most pleasant available options for getting through another day; however, the anti-empiricist insistence of Gods’ most distracted disciples too often alters His (or Her, or Its) various One True Church sufficiently to alienate differently-abled consciousnesses. These need a different distraction. 
No Godless man could endure to the end of his sentience without Wine.  Alcohol is so compelling an answer that poets and economists are left to argue over which came first, the fermentation or the grain, though whether the civilization-inducing domestication of agriculture preceded the first still or the seventh still demanded the organized production of ever more distilland, the only near certainty is that those thirty-five-thousand-year-old horse painters must have been smoking something--and the artists among them no less than the hunters who kept them in meat and the females who kept the cave clean.
Which brings us to the true seed of civilization: the species-perpetuating distraction: male sexuality--along with bellyfat storage and heritable melanin, an evolutionary vestige wholly incompatible with religion, reason, and the post-industrial human condition.  Exhibit A: As C.S. Lewis justified the ways of Yahweh to Twentieth Century Man, the birth of a child at every male’s desired orgasm would overpopulate his dominion in a matter of minutes; thus, the unceasing desire to orgasm must be a divine temptation installed only to be overcome en route to Heaven.  Exhibit B: As any naturalist would explain it, small, slow, infantly mortal homo erectus’ survival through a few million years of natural selection would not have been possible without meat protein over every fire and a sticky seed in every uterus.  Regardless of the ultimate truth and moving along the geological blink to within just a few Melchizedeks of Attilla the Hun: art, science, and industry would be unimaginable in a world where comparatively small, slow males possessed no desire to compete sexually.  
What? The material betterment of mankind is not reason enough?  Ask the overfed, overmedicated, underemployed North American male how he feels about a dollar-for-dollar standard of living unimaginable to anyone born even a Jules Verne before; he will gladly trade his air-conditioned home for the adobe room of the poorest quadrigymous medieval Mohammedan.     
But perhaps a few of the wealth-generating innovations introduced during the past George Washington really were dreamed up by Huxleyan intellectuals (i.e., people who really had discovered something more interesting than sex; not to be confused with people just sublimating the frustrations of too many wasted Saturday nights at the ale house).  Perhaps, sure, but this tiny minority goes less often by the title of “intellectual” than by the appellation of “Saint.”
Indeed.  What act of a man could engender more praise from his fellow men than the voluntary self-removal from that race to truck and barter the extra mile, a race that affords comparatively small, slow, certain-minded males the opportunity to obtain that little-bit-more than his neighbor, a surplus not to be enjoyed by him but by the neighbor’s wife’s ass that his neighbor ‘Shalt Not Covet’?  Every other available distraction--from football to philosophy--is only a means of furthering or forgetting the pursuit of that seven-to-ten minutes’ extremely expensive (and, too often, anticlimactic) gratification.  Externalities vary.
And all of this is probably for the best, even if the autobiographical prophet of psycho-sexual drive himself misapplied the Literature.  For as Oedipus unsurprisingly shows that a man will fuck a woman old enough to be his mother, a true kindred finds the proto-Hamlet hero's true complex in his undistracted pursuit of Truth.  His courage to spelunk the awaiting abyss and, finding no answers, to continue deeper step by step, is both his story and his pathology.  It is incurable and can be managed only with not-too-frequent dosages of cranberry chocolate-chip pancake.  But for most, fictions are preferable; the Thousand and One Nights had it right: when the stories are exhausted, it’s all over. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remove Your Shoes

Going first person here.  I’m totally in favor of symbolic victories, and so, without even apophastically questioning bin Laden’s recent operational importance, I happily watched stately anchor after failed actor awkwardly iterate his or her three or four sentence synopsis of Sunday evening’s importance as The White House inexplicably appeared to have procrastinated in its completion of the easiest ten minute Presidential (getting-well-past)-primetime address to the nation ever.  That said, all this celebration of a bullet to the head as “Payback” only betrays the hopelessly impoverished collective imagination of any country that “does not torture.” 

For while reliable reports suggest that bin Laden the man stared into the abyss with somewhat less bravado than Saddam Hussein the Stalinist or Ceausescu the Vampire, it is difficult to imagine bin Laden the fanatical caricature dying in any less than Gandhian tranquility.  Thus, imagining that for some people some things are worse than death, I had my own fantasies for bin Laden the idiot.  Having defeated Communism and bankrupted Capitalism, just three months ago this idiot might have gone into his seventy-two virgins confident of ultimate historical vindication.  Then democratic, peaceful, coed assembly defeated a Western-backed dictator in Tunisia.  Then in Egypt.  Then it made efforts in less hopeful police states.  Recalling the eleven years of civil war and slave trading that separate “Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff” from “We the People” and extrapolating similar revolutionary fits and martyrs to our North African expectations, a bullet even three months from Sunday may have left the idiot feeling similarly vindicated.  How divine the foresight of Obama to shoot bin Laden in a head at its nadir of relevance, thus obviating my imaginative fantasy to treat the manacled terrorist to a full tin of halal lamb-over-rice in Zuccotti Park less than thirty minutes before a swim in the nearby Park 51 Islamic Community Center’s coed deep end!  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Leadership

Leadership is that capacity which inspires a following.  Not gathers.  Not reasons.  Not convinces.  Inspires.  Socrates was a poor leader, and Jesus.  These were teachers.  Socrates lives only because--even after being executed by the majority--one of his few adherents happened to be a literary genius, Jesus because--even after being executed by the majority--his small band garbled the message sufficiently for a Leader--Paul--to reduce it to soundbites.  
A leader may still be right, just, or correct. Soviet dissidents probably were; American Communists certainly weren’t; both genuinely believed in the power of contrarian visions to cure the pathologies of their respective motherlands--to similarly disappointing effect.  A random walk from reality suggests that the Leader most likely will be though almost certainly will not be reasonable. A capacity to reason and discern erodes the confidence of others, and only with absolute confidence in one’s powers can a person inspire a following.  Yet, the rightness of the prospective Leader’s unequivocal message remains a factor.  Most men are probably more likely to turn themselves over to a cause or idea that comports to the world their parents bequeathed them.  For this reason, leaders who find themselves on the side that a majority of men in most times and in most places would consider to be more right or good may inspire a following disproportionate to their natural gifts, thus skewing the scorecard of history.  
However, a search for a suitable example has stolen five minutes of typing time without offering a single archetype--neither Nat Turner nor John Brown could round up more than a few dozen righteous fanatics; General Dwight D. Eisenhower was lucky enough to direct an army against absolute evil, something nobody on the Allied side really could have know until after the war (were there Churchillian voices as early as 1933? Yes, most of them singing a song learned from their parents in 1914, their parents having learned it from their parents in 1870, and so on back to Joshua’s conquest of The Land); Lincoln was really too sensible to lead, though his is a nice example of self amusement combining with industrial capacity to eventually defeat passionately intense Leadership.  
Let us pause here.  Again, a clear message falling somewhere to the happy side of generally accepted mores of morality ought to prove compelling enough to restrain most peoples from killing themselves and others--this can hardly be reckoned unto their Kings and Presidents as Leadership.  Only those so consistent and convincing, so committed and blind that they inspire a change of anticipated course, can safely be classified as Leaders.  Often, we in The West call such men Monsters.  Stalin, completely convinced of History’s destination, inspired in children sufficient conviction for them to climb watchtowers and shoot at those of their parasitic parents sufficiently starving to attempt an escape from the Kolkhoz.  Mao marched his followers across a continent, then, even a decade later, retained the capacity to compel them to compel a few hundred million peasants to beat their plowshares into smelters, weeding out a few million more parasitic tares.  Hitler could convince the heirs of Goethe, Schiller, and Kant that--even if it looked like a human being, talked (in the case of 3% of them, in German even!) like a human being, walked like a human being, trucked and bartered and ate and sexed and shat like a human being--any humanoid that ceased its study at the the book of Matthew was in fact a parasite.  This--the willingness and ability to inspire comparatively large numbers of men to do what they otherwise would not--is Leadership.  (Not to be confused with a few dodos flocking together; the president of the Flat Earth Society is not a leader.)

Q: What, besides a capacity for single-mindedness, makes a Leader?  
A: Beyond much natural charisma and blind confidence, very little.  

Q: What, then, makes for single-mindedness?  
A: The incapacity to think a thought’s opposite; the emotional immaturity to find any honesty in all opponents’ arguments; a bland curiosity sated with repetitive soundbites.  

Q: By definition then, are all Leaders idiots?  
A: Heavens no--one can ace the ACT and LSAT, buy into the bourgeoisie, make millions of computer-screen dollars, and raise successful children, all without any capacity for critical thought.  

Q: By definition then, are all leaders smart?  
A: Relative to the common man, yes; relative to anyone tolerant enough to read this far, no.  

Q: Happy is the man intelligent enough to manipulate the common man while ingenuous enough to remain convinced of his own indispensable goodness?  
A: Yes, and well remunerated too.  

Q: Do leaders do anything useful?  
A: Absolutely.  If not for the devout Christian oil executive’s dual conviction that an Invisible Hand guides the human proclivity to truck and barter towards the most efficient use of all resources (as evidenced by his own annual compensation) and that a Still Small Spirit  remains ready to return on a Flaming Chariot when the Time comes, humankind would have no hope of surviving the next meteor.  True, depleted soils and a thickening atmosphere and proliferating arsenals might prematurely doom the human biological accident to extinction, but without the capacity to imagine that perhaps the universe is nothing more than a timeless, expanding collection of atoms that may in a few billion years collapse back in on itself, the Yahweh-fearing oil executive drives his fellow man to confront the sorts of existential crises that may well prepare him to innovate his way out of the next millennium’s approaching asteroid, if not--if necessary--the next score billion years’ cosmic collapse.