Is a Five-Year-Old’s Tantrum Protected by Free Speech?

I’m getting a little tired of hearing about free speech this week from people who can barely talk. If a pre-schooler crawls up to the American flag and wipes his nose on it, you sit him down in time-out. If an adult does it, you call him a champion of free speech.

Glenn Beck seems to think that reverence for a flag is akin to goose-stepping nationalism—a position not devoid of merit, but very odd in a man who also styles Confederate secession a pure and simple act of treason. (The fine art of “becking” could be a subject for another day: you achieve it by savaging convictions or figures associated with your ideology yet unattractive to you for purely personal reasons, thereby showing your broad-mindedness to the far political polarity.) I’m not going to say that athletes who take a knee as the flag is raised are vile traitors. After all, I myself have refused to mouth the Pledge of Allegiance ever since I discovered that defrocked Baptist minister and rabid socialist Francis Bellamy composed it in 1892 to program school children into believing that individual states had no rights. Yet I still stand for the Pledge. I do so because I realize that others around me don’t know what I know, and that their act is thus intended to show devotion to constitutional government rather than rejection of self-determination. In the same way, I would be appropriately quiet if a group of Jews or Muslims among whom I might find myself were to engage in a quick prayer that made little sense to me. It’s a question of manners. Why go out of your way to make others feel awkward?

Exhibitionists do precisely this: it is their definitive characteristic. They don’t care if you notice them with admiration or contempt, as long as you notice them. They need to occupy center-stage.

And here’s why I cannot accept “knee-taking” as anything more than the attention-grabbing gesture of an obnoxious brat. Expressions without any verbalization—without actual speech or even the few words of a placard or bumper-sticker—rely heavily upon context to be interpreted. I might wish to fly the Confederate battle flag in my front yard to advertise my support of the Tenth Amendment… but, no, that would be a terrible idea, because so many KKK types have decided to commandeer the flag as a condensed advertisement of their claim to be superior humans by virtue of their DNA. Did you know that the word “swastika” is used in Sanskrit Vedic texts to convey a certain meditative posture? Yet neither you nor I would hoist a swastika to ask the household not to disturb us during our meditation time.

The American flag, at this point in our history, represents to the vast majority of us the idea that we remain united in our support of certain humane values, whatever our specific differences. In this context, refusing to rise for the anthem, turning one’s back on a flag-raising, fixing one’s hat firmly aloft while stuffing one’s hands in one’s pockets, and other such displays would be interpreted by 99.9 percent of the native adult population as overt contempt for those core values. The contemptuous should not be stoned or driven from the crowd. (One of our core values is that no one may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.) Their message, though, is clear: they’re giving the bird to the notion of a transcending endorsement of principle, declaring instead that some specific circumstance or other has exploded the principle’s credibility. They’re “saying” as much in semaphore, though they may say something else in speech or print after the fact. I can’t torch an emblem in public and then claim later that I wanted to show my warmth of feeling for what the emblem represents. Nobody would interpret my behavior that way, and I would be a) insane if I truly expected otherwise, or b) a slippery hypocrite if I argued otherwise.

Childish brats, I suppose, don’t fully qualify either for insanity or hypocrisy. And since five-year-olds can’t write, you can hardly expect them to pen an op-ed; or since their vocabulary consists of about five hundred words, you can hardly expect them to go public about legal or social dysfunction and enunciate a plan to address it. Even so, a child who was truly upset about an environmental condition would throw a fit intended to highlight the condition rather than himself. He wouldn’t wait for a very public, very solemn moment and then roll on the ground screaming.

What we have here is a crisis of boys raised without fathers. They passed their juvenile years acting out so that some adult might notice them and impose limits upon their lives… which never happened. Now, apparently, they’re going to spend the next two decades of their biological manhood playing the same game.

 

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The Toxicity of Linear Time

A subject that has increasingly preoccupied me in recent years is time. This isn’t just because I’m getting older; or, rather, my aging probably is a major factor–but only because I begin to understand more of what’s happening around me, not because my own hour-glass is running short of sand.

I perceive, for instance, that people become less concerned about their moral duty as they become more convinced in the relentless linearity of time. Today is soon yesterday. You’re not the same person now as you were ten years ago (as cliché thinking would have it), and ten years from now you’ll be yet another being. Promises therefore fall by the wayside quite naturally–for how can a butterfly be held responsible for the commitments of a caterpillar? And you are supposed to grow wings, aren’t you? Isn’t that a good thing–to change and grow, to “evolve” in your thinking? You’re caught in a circle if you’re not moving in a line; but as long as you keep moving forward, there’s a chance that you’re also moving upward…

And so on, and so on. I’ve come to find these truisms very tiring. They’re excuses for so much duplicity, cowardice, and slovenly thinking that I’m near to declaring them void of any truth at all. That wouldn’t be fair, of course; but the “morally evolved” person, even when he sees that his perspective of yesterday was short-sighted, continues to stand by promises made yesterday upon which others depend–or else he accepts the penalty for not doing so without complaint. How many people of that sort do you see around you right now?

The linear/progressive view of time, by the way, hasn’t always been around. In fact, it’s a very recent arrival, characterizing none of human pre-history and perhaps one tenth of our recorded history. A far more natural perspective (to judge from its statistical dominance) has been that of conforming oneself to the values and examples of one’s ancestors. An ethos collects from the practices of several centuries; it has been refined by the process of trial and error and has withstood the “test of time”. Why should we assume that we can break with precedent and suffer no consequences? On the contrary, only a fool ignores the directions of those who have preceded him down the road of life.

For much of the Christian era, we of the West have adopted a fusion of the two views. We were no longer looking back over our collective shoulder at the Heroic Age, but forward, rather, to the end of earthly time and the fulfillment of our identity in a loving, purposeful god. We struggled to put the Old Man behind us and live in the New Man; yet that New Man was ascending to complete a circle whose first movements were embedded in our basic nature, not “boldly going where no man has gone before” in an indefinitely extending exploration of the physical universe.

Science has thrust us upon this Star Trek trajectory wherein change may either have little sense or may, indeed, end in disaster, since it is no longer magnetized to a transcending, metaphysical objective. We morph into multi-sexual beings who no longer reproduce: that’s “progress”. We fuse with robots to reduce our susceptibility to disease and prolong our material presence: that, too, is “progress”. We introduce our hybrid selves into solar systems far from our own but not endowed with any property that will prove more salutary to the soul than was Planet Earth; and that will be styled progress, as well… but I wonder if it might not be eternal Hell by any other name?

Linear time can become a toxic drug. We would do well not to pay too little attention to ourselves today as we await the new-and-improved beings we imagine ourselves becoming tomorrow.

The Most Frightening ET Could Be the One You Voted For

It has been almost exactly three years since former Lockheed engineer Boyd Bushman delivered a now-famous (or infamous) deathbed confession on video, the gist of which was that he had many times been funneled alien technology from Area 51. Bushman’s tour de force included photos of little gray men like the one above, as well as accounts of his telepathic conversations with the strange guests of Motel 51. De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum est dicendum, and all that… but Internet commentary that reverse-engineers the Bushman Bombshell into the ultimate prank is easy to come by. My own greatest problem with the “confession” is that, as I have long maintained, extraterrestrial visitors would almost certainly have to be robots or bio-robotic hybrids. Even if an alien race discovered a quick way to reach us through (say) a wormhole, infections, depression, quarrels, consumption of food and water, sleep, and a host of other problems would confront any carbon-based life-form.

So in the Bushman case, we have the long-sought smoking gun of ET visitation… or else we have a dying old man’s last bid to shaft his employers or just enjoy a good laugh. Possibly, too, we have a pack of clever lies that was meant to be exposed as such, and thereby to discredit the entire conspiracy industry surrounding ET activity. In that case, Bushman might be the ultimate company man who served his masters faithfully even unto his final breaths. The Soviets were well known for grinding out disinformation of this variety. You make it eminently credible, secreting a couple of ruinous inanities in layers of splendid intel; then when the whole package explodes, the one-time believers are caught up in such a disillusioned letdown that they want to hear nothing whatever related to the subject for the rest of their lives.

There remain enough plausible accounts of UFO’s, however (such as the Phoenix Lights incident, witnessed by hundreds and recorded by dozens), that no thoughtful person dare rest satisfied with a “business as usual” conclusion. Something is being hidden from us. Quite possibly, an immense amount of Space Age gadgetry—a new universe of technological options completely fantastical in the eyes of currently taught and published physics—hums away a mile underground or in hangars around the desert Southwest. Here is what bothers me and has always bothered me about the situation: our “dark government”. How many unelected covert operatives funded with cataracts of off-budget wealth are planning the future… and whose future is it? Are we to believe that it’s ours, when Kim Jong Un is allowed to toy with nuclear weapons though a zippy little Frisbee might annihilate him and his staff with a laser beam? Are these ultra-high-tech gurus also responsible for running up our national debt to unsustainable and suicidal levels? Are they the same geniuses who have left our power grid unprotected while Russia and China secured theirs? Is part of their plan for future prosperity to overrun our society with immigrants who reject its language and customs and want only to bleed its social welfare programs dry?

Perhaps the real question, then, is this: what’s the relationship between the Washington ruling elite and the “black ops” white coats? How many senators know what’s going on in the bunkers? Two? Five? Forty-five? Eighty-five? Are they destroying the nation because they’re pompous idiots who can think no further than the next election… or are they destroying the nation because they plan to be in those bunkers as all the architraves come crashing down, drinking champagne until it’s safe to re-emerge à la Dr. Strangelove?

We don’t need to be asking what visitors from another planet intend to do with, for, or to us; we need to be asking just how much covert knowledge is in the possession of the oligarchy that arranges our lives—and exactly what purpose is being served by that knowledge.

True Slaves Are Self-Made

This past week, I happened to hear a bit of discussion on Michael Savage’s radio show that pertained to nineteenth-century painter Giulio Rosati’s work. The specific subject was a series of paintings sharing the title, “Choosing the Favorite”. Each work graphically portrays a white European slave girl being made to stand stark naked before some sheikh or caïd who is eyeing her critically to decide if she’s worth the oily dealer’s asking price. Savage remarked that the painting (and he spoke as if there were only one) induced him to look more deeply into Arab enslavement of European coastal populations depredated by piratical raids. An entire Irish village was once emptied of its inhabitants when these corsairs swooped in unexpectedly. The total number of white Europeans thus lost to the Arab slave trade–the men to find an early death toiling in galleys, the women and children to satisfy the voracious sexual appetite of wealthy grandees–exceeded one million from the early Renaissance to the first years of the nineteenth century. Jefferson’s war on the so-called Barbary Pirates finally ended these atrocities.

Surprisingly (to me), Savage professed ignorance of most of these historical facts. He is far from alone, apparently. Indeed, the prevailing opinion of the slave trade among contemporary Americans seems to be that white Southerners raided deep into Africa and bundled their captives off to plantations in the Carolinas and Mississippi. In fact, virtually all of the mercantile sea traffic that reached the South hailed from home ports far to the north or across the Atlantic; and as for the actual slave raids, these were conducted by Arab traders and their minions on the African mainland. That is to say, at the heart of some of the filthiest chapters of human history from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century stood imperious lechers like the sheikhs represented by Rosati: the sort of people whom Western civilization is now forbidden to revile and is, indeed, often to praise as superior figures unsoiled by our Western values.

In the canvas that I have reproduced above, especially, the sheikh looks down his nose at the shivering girl as if a maitre d’ were begging him to taste of a dish whose smell was a bit suspect. This is our beacon of true civilization!

I’m very much in step with Savage, as far as feeling indignant that Islam would so long tolerate such depravity; and I’m further indignant that the slave trade’s roots would be so neatly extracted from our history books. I’ll always remember my pity and disgust when, as a young man, I learned that Cassius Clay had transformed himself into Mohammed Ali in protest against the European Christian tradition responsible for enslaving his ancestors. Clay seemed a pretty cool guy: a lot of us were drawn to him. But come on, man! If you want to register outrage about the imposition of slavery upon your forefathers, why would you embrace Islam? Don’t you know that it was Christianity which eventually abolished slavery throughout the Western hemisphere? Didn’t you know that, in the days of our youth, slavery was ongoing in places like Ethiopia?

Now I find, having probed about the Internet in search of Rosati’s paintings, that certain people consider it “white supremicist” even to acknowledge the history of European enslavement by the Barbary Pirates. The reasoning seems to be that no slavery was anywhere near as prolific and brutal as the Southern enslavement of Africans, and that to remark the existence of any other slavery at any other time or place is thus a deliberate bid to understate the crime committed by Americans in the early nineteenth century.

I irresistibly remember a passage in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Citadelle when I read such folderol. The work’s fictitious speaker (a noble caïd, actually) is commenting upon a group of beggars as they compete to see who can get his open sores and tumors to run with the foulest puss and draw the most attention from prospective almsgivers. (Saint-Ex knew a thing or two about African slavery: he once bought a slave’s freedom from his Arab masters and flew him north to an area of temporary safety.)

Is this really where we’ve come? I haven’t yet noticed any veterans with artificial limbs commanding, “Open that door for me! Get out of that chair and let me sit! And buy me some food, while you’re at it! Can’t you see I have an artificial leg?” What man possessed of a single ounce of pride could imagine saying such things? Where, then, is the manly pride of those eternally reciting their eternal grievances?

My Charitable Org Signs Off

(Below is the approximate text of the notice that I intend to send out for the final edition of an online journal that began seventeen years ago.)

The final issue of Praesidium has now been published. After seventeen years of struggle, the journal has failed, and more generally my vision for the Center for Literate Values has evaporated into pixie dust. The reasons for the collapse are detailed in my opening article for 17.4, and many have to do with my personal ineptitude as a Webmaster; but the ultimate and decisive reason is that our society is significantly, perhaps terminally post-literate, and that no amount of expertise could have salvaged the project. As I view the contemporary landscape, I see staggering evidence of a people that has taken progressive leave of reality.

Item: The Commanders in Chief who presided over the first sixteen years of the new millennium (almost precisely overlapping the lifespan of the Center) did nothing whatever to secure the nation’s power grid, thus neglecting their primary constitutional duty as they went merrily courting new venues of patronage and popularity. Their gross incompetence (and, in my mind, criminal negligence) is surely a prime reason why we cannot face down North Korea, any one of whose satellites drifting over our air space could be the platform for launching an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that would leave as many as ninety percent of us dead within a year.

Item: In the face of such crisis, our elected representatives continue to escalate our levels of debt to the point that national suicide of an economic variety is virtually inevitable.

Item: In the face of these accumulating crises, the base of one major party nominated a wooden sociopath to run for the nation’s highest office—a person constantly forced to imitate the reactions of her trusted entourage in the absence of any natural human affections and whose tone-deafness to the anguish and danger incurred by her fellows is directly implicated in the deaths of some under her authority. Meanwhile, the base of the other major party attempted to out-under-perform this selection by elevating a man who never reads and whose vocabulary consists only of hyperbolic clichés, his lifetime of exploiting legal loopholes and greasing the pumps of local political machines taken—incredibly—as proof of his “outsider” bona fides. As one after another of his bombastic promises crumples under the pressures of hard fact, we are now treated to the unsavory spectacle of these same boosters trying to fashion their Stump King into Charlemagne with feats of imagination reminiscent of children shaping castles out of clouds.

Item: Young people populating supposed institutions of higher learning are expensively protesting the free speech of those who might make them rethink their rigid programming, noisily insisting that they receive the fetal protections which they scorn to extend to genuine fetuses, and aggressively insulting everyone in whose casual utterances they can ferret out the unintended tinder of a faint slight.

Item: Descendants of slaves (but which of us is not one such, if only we knew our entire pre-history?) are defacing public property that may or may not commemorate men who actually owned slaves a century and a half ago, all on behalf of a political ideology that aspires to mire them—and the rest of us—in cradle-to-grave dependency.

Item: Among college students, probably a ninety percent majority (in my personal experience) is convinced to a pitch of quasi-cultic fervor that manmade climate change imminently threatens the survival of terrestrial life. An essential tenet of the cult is that only big government can save us, this despite the distinct possibility that the world’s most affluent governing elites have been playing at the manipulation of global weather systems for strategic purposes since the late twentieth century—a highly risky set of exercises about which our young bright things know absolutely nothing, but which might in fact be responsible for major damage to the natural weather cycle.

Item: University programs in the liberal arts continue at an accelerating rate to ascribe all the miseries implicit in the human condition to a) maleness and b) white racism. We have surpassed the kindergartner’s “Billy made me do it” defense, inasmuch as the charges now grow savagely vindictive and their consequences increasingly punitive. The Western literary canon, along the way, has become hopelessly shattered and scattered, its contents lost to the next generation and the entire spiritual discipline of speculating within reasonably objective boundaries forgotten for the duration.

Item: Meanwhile, the Christian Church (including all of its denominations) has likewise slipped its moorings and gone adrift. The notion of tolerance was once understood as an acknowledgment that we are all impeded from realizing our identity in God by subjugation to various circumstantial factors: wealth, praise, fleshly pleasures, fear of physical pain or privation, and all the rest. Now those very chains are accepted from the pulpit as defining us (a specific race, an anomalous sexual preference, an eating disorder), and the utopian’s blueprint for the perfect society—built according to the aspirations of an elite few—is an overlay forced upon every Gospel passage. We are no longer kept from our true self in God by worldly interference; immersion in the world, rather, is the only path to this new god (who is at least as manmade as “climate change”).

So the Center for Literate Values failed. Of course it did. How do you make an omelet out of mud?

Martyrdom… or Blasphemy?

This is my farewell to Eusebius. I’ve now finished the Loeb edition of his Ecclesiastical History that was in my possession… and my sanity, which has taken so many hits in recent years, might not have remained intact if I’d had another twenty pages to go.

I had intended to type out a few paragraphs of my author’s pious bellyaching over the Montanist (or “Thracian”) bid to steal the A Team’s thunder by churning out its own prophets and chatterers-in-tongues. I find that I lack the spiritual stamina, however, to complete that scholarly exercise: I already feel a fit of psychic vomiting dangerously near.

The early church, you see, appears to have been riddled with such controversies as these even as a roomful of pre-schoolers bristles with fights over who gets first dibs on the Silly Putty. “My speakers-in-tongues did it before yours, and they’re not possessed by putrid diabolical vapors carrying noxious lies and blasphemous filth!” One would have hoped for more, especially at a time when those who professed the faith might truly be arrested, tortured, and brutally executed. Usually such treatment separates the wheat from the chaff. In this era, it seems to have brought the slag to the top.

For rival cells of Christians were competing even over who had the most martyrs and whose martyrs suffered the most hideously: if the printing press had been around, I’m sure we would have seen Martyr Bubblegum Cards with stats for number of hours on the rack and number of lions in the arena. Most of Eusebius’s evidence for this wrangling appears in Book 5; earlier books (some of which I mentioned in previous posts) portray the “faithful” vying to see who can starve himself the most, survive with the least sleep, and abstain from all forms of sex with the greatest fervor. (Some of these cultists went so far as to castrate themselves, though I do not recall any reference to them in Eusebius.)

One of the difficulties of getting old is the volume of disillusionment which you must absorb as you acquire a modicum of wisdom. I had always pictured the early church as illumined by genuinely devoted souls still close to the source of their spiritual ignition. Now I find it a miracle that the later church was able a) to survive the miasma of cultic fanaticism that immediately descended upon the faith, and b) to crystallize eventually into an uplifting belief system. Eusebius’s translator Kirsopp Lake appends a note to one of the final pages about how a glancing mention of Aristotle and the Platonists points the way to certain influences upon that crystallization. Of course, the mention in the Greek text was a sneer, charging the classically instructed with rank heresy.

Constant, inviolable honesty; fearlessness in advocating the truth paired with humility about one’s shortcomings as an advocate; imperviousness to worldly threats and applause alike; inexhaustible generosity to the weak sheathed in ringing denunciations of those who encourage weakness for selfish profit… such are the qualities (among others) of the ideal Christian. That this paradigm, within a few generations, should have decayed into verbal warfare about whose followers had thrown themselves before more freight trains is depressing on a colossal scale.

And my “freight train” metaphor is less tropological than you might think; by the merest of coincidences, I also happened to hear—for the first time in my life—of the “circumcellions” this past week. This Heaven’s Gate of yesteryear would send its followers out with blunt clubs to attack Roman soldiers, the objective being to irritate armed men of war sufficiently to get oneself impaled on spears or swords and “exit this life in martyrdom”.

It’s worse than lunacy: it’s blasphemy, of the real variety. To transform a holy message into the pretext for a suicidal ego trip… how loathsome. Again I say, Don’t show me how many pieces your martyrs were torn into before they expired: show me how you yourself handle the dreariness of earning your bread every day, the challenge of resisting advancement offered on condition of duplicity, and the fearful task of providing a model to young children. Show me how you live, not how you die.

The Point of No Return Lands Us Right Back Where We Started

The History Channel began airing a special titled Two Degrees: The Point of No Return on Friday night, September 15. I survived about five minutes before my own temperature started to rise alarmingly. Here are some reactions based upon that minimal exposure.

The documentary appears to be somewhat more credible than Mermaids.

The two fatal degrees actually refer to the Celsius system, meaning that they equate to nearly four degrees in the Fahrenheit system more familiar to us laymen. No attempt to dramatize there, I’m sure.

The footage of Arctic icebergs releasing sheets of ice into the ocean has been so widely circulated among the documentary community that I quite literally saw it fifteen minutes later on another station where the Ice Age was being discussed.

Juxtaposing footage of melting icebergs, ambulances on a tear, hurricane-flooded streets, and high-rises in conflagration is a very sorry substitute for rational argument.

Similarly, footage of smokestacks belching out pillars of fumes is evidence of nothing whatever. Most of the billowing effluvient may be water vapor (i.e., steam); and the videos themselves may have been taken in 1968 or 1975, or at any point over the past fifty years when pollution controls were lax to non-existent. The documentary’s argument, of course, would not be served by acknowledging that we’ve gotten much, much better—not in China, but in the West—about filtering out toxic particles.

Is it entirely arch, by the way, to observe in passing how much this kind of fear-mongering serves the imperialist ends of Communist China, its objective being to curb our own industrial production rather than to point the finger at immensely more zealous offenders? Might full disclosure reveal some modest involvement of the PRC in this production, I wonder… wonder… wonder?

The opening assertion that, in the century and a half since weather records have been kept, eight of the hottest ten years have occurred in the last decade is a prima facie absurdity. You cannot take the planet’s temperature the way you take a sick child’s. In 1880, a great many reaches of the planet were not even fully explored. Today as then, furthermore, many areas where temperature readings may be harvested in abundance are, naturally, urbanized—and we can indeed say confidently that urbanization has both increased over the past century and that urban construction heats things up. But…

But the manmade activity in the crosshairs isn’t hyper-reflective, headache-inducing steel and concrete, all of which god-awful mess I detest as much as anyone on earth; the culprit is supposed to be CO2, which alone (for some reason) must take the rap for nudging up the mercury. But…

But plants love CO2. They eat the stuff up. I’ve never seen the desert Southwest so green as it was this past summer. Is that bad? Does that spell the end for us all?

Well, yes… because mosquitoes will descend upon New York and Boston just as they currently do upon, say, Brazil. Bet you didn’t know that there actually aren’t any human beings still alive in Brazil. The mosquitoes got ’em all.

I could go on. I could question, for instance, why the same people who want to shut down our industries (but not the PRC’s) also want our southern border flung wide open so that millions of blue-collar workers driving uninspected, high-emission smoke-bombs can take their place in our twice-a-day rush-hour traffic. But…

But my temperature is starting to rise again. Yeah, I hate car culture and the contemporary American city. Hate it more than the ambassadors of Green who fly innumerable jets to endless conferences in Seattle. But kindly stop insulting my intelligence with the Halloween panoply of skeletons and ghouls held together by paperclips and Elmer’s glue. Come back after you’ve done your homework, and try to talk like an adult.