Pharaonic Egos Balancing on Sphinxian Riddles

I watched something about the Egyptian Sphinx on Netflix the other day during my afternoon workout.  I should say that I watched with half-attemtion, because I don’t remember any names or titles; and I’m not going to look any of them up, though I easily could, because pinpoint accuracy is not relevant to my intent.  What I mean to show, rather, is that I could poke holes in the Alpha Tenured Professor’s case even while counting my push-ups.

An Academic Maverick made the simple observations early on that the Sphinx’s head is far too small for its body; that the body is that of a lion; that the body’s stones show clear signs of water erosion while the head is comparatively clean-cut; and that the monument would therefore have originally represented a lioness and have been constructed before any of the pyramids, the human head being added much later and–of course–shrinking the original lion’s noggin.

This cluster of theories dribbles challenge all over Egyptologist orthodoxy, apparently (and you may take my metaphor as aquatic, or you may picture a male feline marking out turf: the latter is much more appropriate to academic protocol).  Alpha Tenured Scholar made his appearance immediately after Maverick’s, and his mug ruled over the rest of the flick like a bust of King Tut.   Scholarly Maverick’s theories are balderdash (Alpha argued) because 1) the Sphinx would have been built downstream in a flood plain if the walls of the pyramids hadn’t been previously constructed; 2) there would have been tools lying about such early construction, for some unexplained reason; 3) the stones in the Great Pyramid were plainly quarried from the pit in which the Sphinx’s body nestles, proving that the Great Critter was a cleverly carved leftover; 4) the Sphinx aligns with the Great Pyramid to mark equinoctial events; and 5) representing Pharaoh X on a lion’s body would have expressed appropriate reverence to the Sun (for arcane ritual reasons), now that his pyramid had been built.

From various awkward positions on my sides and back, I wondered 1) why Professor Alpha thinks that the Sphinx did not suffer water damage when the erosion is evident up to its neck; 2) why any tools could not have been carried away by the water, if not leaving them lying about would grossly have violated Egyptian etiquette; 3) why the stones from the Sphinx’s pit could not have been used on the Great Ptramid in afterthought (lifting out blocks being, at the time, the preferred technique of roughing out the enigmatic creature’s figure); 4) why one structure necessarily had to be built before the other to produce whatever celestial alignment was desired; and 5) how a given sacred structure of an agrarian, proto-literate culture anywhere in the world could possibly have nothing to do with solar or seasonal cycles.  Such alignments are still discernible in the Native American mounds up and down the Mississippi Valley, and in Chaco Canyon.

In particular, how is it that the Sphinx’s head is so bloody small?  Never really answered that one, did we?  And back to Numero Tre… how did the quarriers just happen to leave a huge island in their pit that was just the shape of a lioness’s recumbent body if the original intent was not, in fact, to make the Sphinx?

What’s pompously styled scholarship is often no more than fashioning shapes out of fluffy clouds… and then promoting or firing people around you on the strength of their agreement or disagreement.  The one or two really obvious, slap-in-the-face facts sometimes get ignored completely as Professor Pharaoh and his minions labor to erect a lasting monument to his brilliance.

Believe me: whatever we know about the distant past is likely to be found in the pile of “things we don’t know that we know.”  Our explanations are so sloppy and incoherent that entire TV serials are made interpreting all the mystery as evidence of extraterrestrial visitation.  Sure… makes as much sense as the “scholarship”.

Why I Avoid the “C” Word Now

Whenever you do any posting on the Internet, you need a bundle of words and phrases that tell the world–in no wasted space–exactly who you are and what you’re up to.  Good luck with that!  In starting this blog, I was once again faced with the chore of distilling myself into keywords, a ritual which is but one of the e-world’s resemblances to tribal primitivism.  What feathers are you wearing?  Do you wipe your warpaint over the cheeks or the forehead?

I have hazarded the word “Christian” on these occasions before… but I won’t go that way again.  About twenty years ago, I wrote a novel titled Seven Demons Worse and tried to market it through a tiny publishing company which had been assigned a FAX wherein 666 appeared prominently.  My “Christian” clientele crucified me–even though the seven demons are an allusion to one of Christ’s parables.  Generally speaking, more often than not, somebody in my part of the woods who wants to assess your religious faith will ask, “Have you accepted Jesus as your lord and savior?”  And if you return the serve and ask him, “Have you?” you’re likely to get such a cataract of mawkish, quasi-narcissistic sentimentality that you’re reaching for an umbrella with one hand and disinfectant with the other.  Yet if you should ask this person further, “What is the Christian calling?  Is it to help others, or to serve the spirit that others are often trying to throttle in themselves?  If that spirit is the key to our identity, then what comtribution to it does our individuality make?  And do we live eternally only in one great spirit, or does our unique nature continue to color reality beyond this life?”… well, you’ll soon be rid of your companion.  Such questions are received with the same smiling, nervous, arm’s-length discomfort as an outburst from a Turret’s Syndrome sufferer.

So that’s a “c” word which I no longer pin to my lapel when I go audience-hunting.

The one I avoid most cautiously, however, is “conservative”–and not because I’m averse to conserving.  On the contrary.  I want to conserve a pace of life measured by human steps, where people pass each other on sidewalks and speak civilly.  The new “conservative” wants more cars on the roads because more businesses will be reached and drilling for oil will provide more jobs.  I want to conserve an independent way of life where my needs are few and basic enough that I can meet them mostly through my own efforts.  The new “conservative” mocks people like me while proudly confessing his addictions to the latest i-gadgetry and the most convenient remote-control mechanisms.  I want to conserve my dominion over myself and also a certain stilted system of manners that keeps us from grating upon each other too directly.  The new “conservative” wants his appetites satisfied without government intrusion and increasingly allows himself crude displays under the guise of free speech.

That’s not the world of my grandfathers.  I see nothing in this new dog kennel that I want to hold tight.  Indeed, I see an ideology of flux trying to distinguish itself from progressivism by disdaining every centralized–and centrally promoted–vision of the “common good”.  I don’t like thought-police, to be sure: not in the least.  But I want to preserve my freedom of thought precisely so that I may think.

If conservatism is merely intellectual moonshine, then… then I’ll just drink water, if it’s all the same to you.  And even if it’s not.

Why “Nil Novi”?

“What has been is what will be,” sayerh the Preacher. “There’s nothing new under the sun.” The final words of Ecclesiastes (the Greek word translated as “preacher”) would be rendered sub sole nil novi: “under the sun, nothing of new.” (Many languages, such as Russian, join the classical ones in using a possessive with a negative. Of all that’s new, not a particle finds its way into daily life… that kind of thing.)

Seems like a strange handle for a blog, I know. The Internet, news, blogposts, the latest–all of this appears diametrically contrary to the notion that life moves in circles. In the first place, I could plead weakly that the other monikers for which I made a bid were taken. My initial choice was “paleo forever”, reflecting my steady affection for things past… but that, improbably, was taken. (And here I thought that I was the only person who regarded novelty as cheap luster!) To move from that abortive first choice to claiming that there’s nothing new whatever, though, represents a small step deeper into skepticism than I had intended.

But I also must confess that I really do agree with the Preacher. “The more it changes,” quipped a French wag in the same vein, “the more it stays the same.” Here I sit, trying to figure out the intricacies of WordPress so that, in the long run, I may build up an online ebook-publishing concern… and the banner at my masthead reads, “Nothing new”? Have I no shame?

I have, and that’s why I’m writing this post. You see, the publishing game has always been a mess of contradictions–at least if you play it with a conscience. You’re trying to get people to stop and notice a discussion so that they will devote several hours to it–and most people have neither the time to spare as they are blown about in the wind nor the intellectual stamina to hold onto a discussion from p. 1 to p. 200. Those that do are hidden in the crowd, a diffuse and quiet minority. Will they respond to the bull horn or the firecracker? Probably not. Be more subtle… but is subtlety not first cousin to trickery?

That’s how you end up writing a blog titled, “Nothing New”. The paradox is not of my creation, but of life’s. And it has always been so: human life has always been paradoxical.

Forgiveness as Self-Indulgence

Glenn Beck does more charitable work in a day than I’ll do in a lifetime.  He has lately started a project to rescue Haitian children who have been sold or forced into sexual slavery.  Nothing I write here is meant to disparage that heroic and noble undertaking, or any other of its kind.

But I heard the Beckster to say within minutes of describing his work in Haiti that we should forgive everyone–even those who don’t seek forgiveness.  He had already shifted context: he was discussing, I believe, the recent book of a former “guest” at the Hanoi Hilton (i.e., a POW held by the Viet Cong).

I have this to say about that.  If the man who had kidnapped your eight-year-old daughter and rented her out to perverts for three years were captured, put on trial, and released on a technicality, would you forgive him?  Knowing that he had smirked at you in the courtroom and entertained every intention of resuming his lucrative profession, would you simply lift your eyes to heaven and sigh, “I put down this burden–let him go in peace”?  Such “forgiveness” would strike me as grotesque and rather comtemptible.  Sorry… but I don’t think you would be much of a parent, if that were your frame of mind.

Now, I’m not saying that you should plot to ambush the guy and feed his testicles to stray dogs as he watched.  You must not allow a beast to reduce you to another beast.

But I know from my own youthful experience that forgiveness can be an intoxcant–and a relaxant.  Something’s eating at you: you can’t get any food down, you can’t focus, and you can’t sleep.  You have to let it go.  And so you tell yourself, “Though I haven’t deserved this treatment, I have surely deserved punishment for other things I have done that passed unremarked.  The best man who ever leaved was among the most tortured–and I’m not worthy to kiss his toe.”  With that mindset, you can eat again, sleep again.  So liberating!  You feel that you have really climbed to a new spiritual plateau.

What you’ve really done, though, is find a way to eat and sleep again.  Is it morally good that you should be able to eat and sleep… or is it just materially pleasant and helpful?

If someone has truly done you an outrage, is letting go of the hurt a spiritual triumph… or is it a facilitating quietism that leaves the scoundrel free to claim more victims once you stop pressing your suit?

Many Irish peasants in the mid-nineteenth century embraced the notion that the Potato Famine was God’s punishment upon their weak faith.  Thinking that their misery was deserved made it easier to bear.  Nevertheless, what a horrible, ultimately blasphemous idea!  The popular version of forgiving can provide the same kind of Bandaid: wounds can heal beneath it–but more because of what it screens out than because of any inherent curative properties.  In fact, the skin can turn white and anemic under such “protection”.

I would claim that this is not true forgiveness at all.  I think the word is much abused.  Sometimes you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.  Be honest about that and don’t kid yourself.  A good night’s sleep is not necessarily a sign that you’re traveling the right path.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns and Cultural Meltdown

Grading final exams is a dismal enough task: the “someone… they” agreement errors, the use of “like” and “however” as conjunctions, the utter cluelessness surrounding “whom”; but when students who can’t get any of this stuff right begin to lobby for pronouns that don’t “offend” by expressing gender, then I know that I may have missed the TITANIC’s last lifeboat.  Why are you offended?  Because you’re neither “he” nor “she”?  Well, we have “it”… but that’s most offensive of all, because you now sound like an impersonal object!  But if you have no gender… oh, excuse me!  You do have a gender, only you’re neither male nor female!  But if you’re a male identifying as female, would you not be “she”, and vice versa?  Or if you are neither and not neuter, then exactly what are you?

Students clamor for this non-existent fourth option because other professors have primed them to talk and think rubbish–and because, of course, they want to appear broad-minded and compassionate.  Yet how is the stilling of tongues in impotence lest they utter a substantial thought compassionate?  Say that our conversation in the present constantly reminds me of times past.  I want a tense that accomodates both the currency of our words and the nostalgia that their echo awakens in me.  I’m so frustrated!  My language will not do this; and you, by speaking to me in one tense or the other, are collaborating in the offense!  Ouch!  You’re hurting me!

Vanitas vanitatum.  What an infantile, futile, facile era we live in…