I am moved to add this little postscript to my recent letter discussing Immanuel Kant’s notion of time:
The Devil’s Advocate is Catholic and I don’t think Immanuel Kant will be canonized any time soon if the Advocate has his way. Kant’s version of the Golden Rule is not bad although overwrought; and it is almost miraculous that he got people to misinterpret his obtuse text, deny common sense, and fancy they were in direct communication with Reason, the Enlightenment’s favorite name for God in lieu of Logos – the god of his system was actually the unknown Thing-in-Itself or Thingie. But making a pope of every man did not sit well with the established hierarchy; there was something awfully anticlerical about it, The light of the Enlightenment seemed to be coming from Hell’s Furnace.
Now I am inspired for the sake of argument against my intuition to play the Devil’s Advocate in respect to one of Kant’s favorite categories – Kantian Time A Priori. Not that I hope, at the same time, to shed any light on the question of God’s priority by denying that Time existed before God, and affirming instead the contrary, that God was before Time, and is in fact the Parent or Origin of Time born conjoined to World. It is interesting to note that the Zoroastrians resolved their Dualism with a confounding heresy devoted to a single Father of Good and Evil called Zurvan, or Time.
In fact, the Devil’s Advocate is prejudiced: he does not believe Time is God or is a god of anything except worldly intercourse; absent the World as we know it, in sum, the Phenomenon, there is no god or thing called Time. As for the transcendental realm, that belongs to God alone; yet Kant was so bold as to scoff at the Transcendent, drawing a distinction between the numinous noun and his transcendental adjective while admitting that his transcendental logic was an illusion! If he had limited his intercourse to sensible matters and left well enough alone, this Devil’s Advocate would have little to object to. Instead, to begin with, I have this tedious nonsense about time to contend with:
“Time is not an empirical concept deduced from any experience, for neither coexistence nor succession would enter into our perceptions, if the representation of time were not given a priori,” indited Immanuel Kant in his infernal Critique of Pure Reason
Good grief! The concept of time is induced from experience, not deduced from experience! And that is why the concept is in fact empirical, meaning that it is based on sense experience.
‘Time’ is not a thing that can be bottled and sold at Florida’s Fountain of Youth. Rather, it is the name for the experience of relations from which we derive our empirical concepts of time. The concepts follow and evolve from the experience – there is no concept of time prior to experience, nor is there experience of time prior to the experience of time. Experience provides the child with successive impressions, and culture teaches him to “tell time.” Of course after that he might try to kill time trying to define it – he can not succeed short of eternity although his abstractions might have some timely consequences.
Again, the empirical concept we have of time is induced from our sense experience. The cock crows at the crack of dawn and the Sun rises shortly thereafter; and, after the regular repetition of that succession a few times, we expect the repetition to continue in a timely manner, just as we expect our lives to continue after waking up time and time again from sleep. The expectation of the repetition of an experience – the expectation of a becoming future – is our sense of time or experience of time. People might even believe that the crow of the cock causes the Sun to rise. That happened near Sunnydale: a certain farmer owned a prescient cock that always crowed just prior to the crack of dawn and then again when the Sun rose on the horizon. He idolized his cock; other farmers placed idols of the prescient cock on the roofs of their barns to face the wind and catch bolts of enlightenment from heaven! Unfortunately, the farmer who owned the prescient cock was murdered.
In contrast to deduction, induction is reasoning from particular experiences to a general rule or conclusion. The truth of the conclusion, however, can only be verified by future experience. “Every time the cock crowed, the Sun rose; therefore: IF the cock crows, THEN the Sun will rise.” If the cock dies and the Sun still rises, another theory must be devised. As a matter of fact, the crocodile swallows the moon, cries tears to flood the Nile, and causes the Sun to rise.
Kant is correct to say that the concept of time is not “deduced” from experience; for a deduction is a mental process of reasoning from a general rule to the particular instance. It is a logical conclusion drawn from a premise(s) which contain and imply the conclusion which may or may not be true. No further information is added in order to make the deduction. For instance: “All men are cocks. You are a man; therefore, you are a cock.” Now an experience is something we undergo or encounter, something we are generally aware of or know. Brilliant deductions may be drawn from rules known in advance by Dr. Watson because of some particular sense experience which he relates to his preconceived rule. We only hope that the conclusions embedded in his premises are sensible ones. In The Case of the Prescient Cock, a witness heard the farmer scream bloody murder just after his cock crowed, and Dr. Watson deduced that, since all men are cocks, a man had probably killed him – as it turned out, the man’s wife had done the deed. That sort of misunderstand is why Aristophanes ridiculed the sophist and master grammarian Protagoras for objecting to the use of ‘cock’ indifferently as to gender, and proposing instead ‘cock’ and ‘cockess.’
Kant goes on: “Time is a necessary representation on which all intuitions depend. We cannot take away time from phenomena in general, though we can take phenomena away out of time. Time is given therefore a priori. In time alone is reality of phenomena possible. All phenomena may vanish, but time itself (as the general condition of their possibility) cannot be done away with.”
There is no re-presentation of a pre-existing thing called ‘time.’ There is a presentation or intuition, or an immediate (supposedly) awareness of sensation that is experienced or perceived. Perception is a function of mind and body as a unity. Mystics claim supernatural intuition or direct revelation – intuition of knowledge without sensory or mental mediation. The intuition may seem immediate although it is in fact subconsciously or unconsciously mediated by the previous experience of the individual, or of the race, or mediated by unknown factors which may be adequately explained and controlled by scientists in the future.
In any event, phenomena is experienced and that experience is ‘timely.’ There is no ‘time’ separate from or prior to phenomena. If phenomena which can be experienced by all possible creatures vanishes, there can be no times or worlds.
Time is a hard nut to crack. Some thinkers who are far more advanced than I am insist that time does not exist; which leaves me to wonder yet again, What I am talking about? Why bother investigating what does not exist? Still the word ‘time’ has meaning. Why cannot we just accept the notion of time as an absolute presupposition like some people accept the existence of god or that A=A, and let the scientists work out the details? Sometimes I think we have ulterior motives for pressing our different opinions on the subject.
For example, what difference does it make to anyone if time is prior to sense experience, or if it is contingent on experience? Would the belief in one or the other make a big difference in anyone’s behavior, say, in a teacher’s approach to teaching the notion of time to her students? Metaphysically speaking, is this not another, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?”
Kant says time is prior to experience because it is a condition of experience, a form of experience. He insists that we can take away experience and that time will remain, but not vice versa. That seems to make sense. But does not the opposite argument makes as much sense that, if we take away experience, there is no time, that time is a conception we have derived from simple experiences after a lot of hard thought, something we have learned?
I think so. I think it takes two at the same time to tango, but who am I to question the giants of philosophy on this subject? I’m an ignorant man who does not understand the titans unless I question them.
Take William Whewell, the philosopher of science who invented the word ‘scientist.’ He too says time is prior to experience. I don’t know if he pondered at length on this subject, agonized over it as I am doing now. He seems to be simply repeating Kant almost verbatim:
“Respecting the idea of Time, we may make several of the same remarks which we made concerning the idea of space, in order to shew that it is not borrowed from experience, but is a bond of connexion among the impressions of sense, derived from the peculiar activity of the mind, and forming a foundation both of our experience and of our speculative knowledge.”
Experience is not solely derived from the mind in my opinion. Experience is what mind and body as a unity undergoes during the course of time. Whewell said that time is an idea. What is an idea? It is an object of thought. Where do we get our ideas? From experience. What is experience? What we undergo in the course of time. If we keep up this circular course of thinking, we will wind up experiencing a tautology.
Of course we are born with faculties such as the ability to walk upright on two legs. We are born with the peculiar faculty of thinking, and at the same time we are born with the faculty of sensation, from which we have perception, a judgment on sensation. We are born with abilities, not after abilities. We do not find the idea of walking and the more basic idea of change having a drink together prior to someone’s birth. Nor is there anything in our experience proving that we were born with an “innate idea” of time. The idea of time I think is learned from experience undergone in course of time, particularly the experience of motion.
We know from reports of the experiences of ‘primitive’ peoples that some of them do not count past three – four is “many.” They do not have our general concept of time or our concept of universal space, yet they can name hundreds of plants and places individually and find their way across forest and jungle. If time were an innate idea universal to humankind, we would expect everyone to have a very similar experience of time. But they do not. Time is another notion abstracted from experience. Infants across cultures may have a similar experience of motion, but the notion of time diverges as they develop within their respective cultures. Our culture has imposed a standard of uniform time on society, and that imposition is, at least in my opinion, derived from reflection on observed natural phenomena, from experience. Don’t you think so?
“Time is not a notion obtained by experience. Experience, that is, the impressions of sense and our consciousness of thoughts, gives us various perceptions; and different successive perceptions exemplify the notion of change. But this very connexion of different perceptions, – this successiveness – presupposes that the perceptions exist in time….”
The experience of the succession of perceptions also presupposes that perceptions exist, and perceptions are judgments of the mind on sensation. Absent that experience there would be no ‘notion’ of time. Whewell is presupposing that the notion of time, which in itself is an experience, is prior to the experience of time. One might just as reasonably presuppose the opposite, but might be better off presupposing that time is a developed experience, the idea of which, in our culture, has become increasingly abstract.
“Thus time is a necessary condition in the presentation of all occurences in our minds. We cannot conceive this condition to be taken away….”
Neither can we conceive of time without the experience of time.
“It is clear from this that time is not an impression derived from experience….”
It is not clear at all to me, but I am a slow learner.
“Thus time is something distinct from the matter of substance of our experience, and may be considered as a necessary form which that matter (the experience of change) must assume, in order to be an object of contemplation of mind….”
I suspect that Whewell is insisting on the priority of time to experience because his way of thinking places mind over matter and thereby man has his dignity by virtue of his “peculiar activity of mind.” If so, I do not blame him, but still the priority of mind is merely a formal distinction, since an investigator can begin with matter and proceed along the continuum to mind, or vice versa. Note that Marx is wrongly scoffed at for being a gross materialist who turned Hegel the idealist upside down on his head: Marx spoke highly of the dignity or spiritual aspect of man, knowing full well that the elevation of mind over matter was convenient to humankind’s purpose and his form or mode of action.
But what do I know about the true nature of time? I am an ignorant amateur. Now I just stumbled over a text that coincidentally supports my impudence if I understand the author rightly: Geza Szamosi’s The Twin Dimensions, Inventing Time and Space. The title gives his position up front. He opines that Galileo invented time because Galileo’s approach implied a uniform flow of mathematically regulated time: in Szamosi’s words, “Galileo saw that time is the independent variable in the description of motion.”
Before that, there was no such thing as time, not as this author defines it. But I will take up Szamosi’s thesis later after I have a better understanding of Einstein’s concept that time is relative to the speed of light, the absolute standard. Now here is what Szamosi said about Jean Piaget’s study of children:
“When Jean Piaget investigated the evolution of time perception in young children, he found that even in our industrial society it requires considerable maturity for a child to be able to disentangle the perception of the flow of time from the environment and from the more fundamental perceptions of speed and distance. The latter two dominate the perception of all young children at first. At an early age, reports Piaget, ‘All temporal judgements are… actually disguised spatial judgements. The temporal order of events is confused with the spatial order of points of the paths, duration with space covered and so forth.’ Piaget also concluded from these experiments that, at first, the perception of time is always derived from the perception of motion. The passage of time is perceived not in the abstract but through the motion of bodies. If, for example, an experimenter moves different bodies at different speeds, young children cannot say which body moved for the longest time or whether they stopped spontaneously. ‘We merely have to make all speed unequal for all temporal intuition to be falsified,’ wrote Piaget. Only at a later age can children conceive of the abstract passing of time independent of events in the environment.”
“The perception of time is always derived from the perception of motion” makes sense. Which is to say that time is derived from experience.
Madame, I beg your pardon for quibbling over something that makes no difference one way or the other, but you raised the subject. Please respond if you have any time to waste—I hope you do!
The Groundhog issue is too important to be held hostage to semantics. For instance, Nietzsche put forth that our realities are linguistic creations; that is, we reify through language. Appearances that we appropriate through naming eventually become essences and things. T. Beckman (1995) wrote:
“Nietzsche supposes that there is not much difference between realists and idealists, objectivists and subjectivists, except for linguistic habit. At bottom, all of these stem from origins in our passions, fantasies, and interests.”
Now that’s a sharp slap in the face of our rational underpinnings, or at least what we’ve psychologized of our rational underpinnings. Additionally, if we are to consider anything of Nietzsche’s meditations on the nature of what we call reality, time notwithstanding, then we must also wrap our minds around his denial that we have any organ with which to fix reality and thus are indefinitely subject to untruth. Argh! Furthermore, Beckman writes:
“To the Apollonian [sic] scientist this is unbearable; hence, art is what makes our situation bearable because art, being playful with appearance, gets around its untruth. This is probably the most important aphorism of [Nietzsche’s] Book II and it concludes everything that he has been developing about art.”
Is it not possible that McTaggart, in The Unreality of Time, simply was not being artful, that is, playful enough when asserting his logical contradiction between past, present, and future, and therefore could not escape the tar pit of his own untruths? Is not that the definition of a dunderhead?
And then there is Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, which I fear we will not be able to circumvent in our Groundhog musings, so I expect to hear more from you on Nietzsche’s taste for Reality, if that is what it is.
Your Madame Melina
August 15, 2004
Ah, Madame Melina, Time is such a waste of time that I never thought you would ask for another helping, Thank you! Here we go with Nietzsche again.
Nietzsche, despite the disease, rejection and grinding poverty that he suffered over the years, at least verbally accepted nature as it is, and believed that any superior person would embrace life, no matter how good or evil the world appears to one who loves or hates their nature as the source of pleasure and pain.
Even if a miserable life had to be endlessly repeated, Nietzsche would embrace it. And that is at the bottom of his version of the ancient doctrine of eternal recurrence.
He must have known very well that, at least mathematically, the proposition that the cosmos endlessly repeats itself is virtually impossible if not absurd; for, the more complex the universe, the less chance there is of such a repetition, and the universe is almost infinitely complex. Nietzsche’s interest in the doctrine of eternal recurrence was moral. His doctrine was a heuristic or self-teaching device, and was not intended to be a theory of physics. He raised a hypothetical question: If a demon came down and demonstrated to you that, beyond a reasonable doubt, your life as well as everyone else’s would be repeated endlessly, would you rejoice? Or would you despair?
Those who love life would perhaps react joyously and be willing to repeat the cycle time and time again, good and bad; they would stick it out, through thick or thin, for better or worse.
On the other hand, those who deny life would despair. They would probably, in their denial, have resort to the ascetic morality which negates life, the morality that says, “Nothing is good enough, therefore we must have progress, not a cycle, we must be saved from this life, we must have either eternal death of the self, when the body perishes, or we must have an immortal soul that progresses to paradise and eternally perseveres there, providing, of course, that we have blind faith in the god of paradise who booted us from the original paradise because we sinned, and, accordingly deny ourselves in this world, which is ruled by the anti-god,” et cetera.
In the desire for eternal life, or permanent death in contrast to the temporal dynamic life, Nietzsche refers to the religion he despises most of all, Christianity, for which life does not endlessly repeat itself but flies off the earth in a tangent, so to speak, a life that progresses.
For Nietzsche, Christianity is a religion for losers, a pathetic religion, a religion of pity. Pity for him is a disease, and he would have none of it. He wanted to survive in this world, not the next.
The “truths” of Christianity, especially those derived from Plato’s Apollonian idolatry of eternal ideals, which Plato idolizes as real, and the craving for permanent supreme being, which Platonic philosophy identifies with Reality, in fact negate or destroy the actual truth, that of truly sacred life, the real, the dynamic, Dionysian life.
“Plato is boring,” pronounced Nietzsche in The Antichrist. “In reality my distrust of Plato is fundamental. I find him so very much astray from all the deepest instincts of the Hellenes, so steeped in moral prejudices, so pre-existently Christian—the concept ‘good’ is already the highest value with him—that rather than use any other expression I would prefer to designate the whole phenomenon Plato with the hard word, ‘superior bunkum,’ or, if you would like it better, ‘idealism.’
“Christianity has sided with everything weak, low and botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism towards all the self-preservation instincts of strong of strong life: it has corrupted even the reason of the strongest intellects, by teaching that the highest values of intellectuality are sinful, misleading and full of temptation. The most lamentable example of this was the corruption of Pascal, who believed in the perversion of his reason through original sin, whereas it had only been perverted by Christianity.”
Nietzsche naturally contemned Kant’s moral philosophy, which did not depend on proof of god’s existence but on automatic duty to his Kant’s version of Christianity’s Golden Rule:
“What is there that destroys a man more speedily than to work, to think, feel as an automaton of ‘duty,’ without internal promptings, without a profound personal predilection, without joy? This is the recipe par excellence of decadence and even of idiocy…. Kant became an idiot.”
Nietzsche’s fictional Zarathustra is the epitome of opposition to Christianity, the counter-ideal to the ascetic ideal which amounts to denial of life and a demand for another, imaginary life, which is, for Nietzsche, really nothing, eternal nothingness or death, not temporal life, which is everything. His Superman transcends the ascetic ideal of denial. If life is hellish repetition, he will accept it. Yet he believes there can be a higher life, in this world, not in the next. The superior person reaches higher, but he does not at the same time dehumanize or condemn as sin his origin, the very ground he stands on. He does not destroy the old but presses himself into new forms, new values. His life, then, is an art.
In his 1848 lecture on Wagner, Nietzsche scribbled, “I believed that the world was created from the aesthetic standpoint, as a play, and that as a moral phenomenon it was a deception: on that account I came to the conclusion that the world was only to be justified as an aesthetic phenomenon.”
Havelock Ellis (Dance of Life), during the course of his sympathetic discourse on Gaultier’s philosophy of illusionism, Bovarysm, a philosophy Gaultier derived from a study of Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, opined, “Our picture of the world, for good or evil, is an idealized picture, a fiction, a waking dream…. But when we idealize the world we begin by first idealizing ourselves.”
Gustave Flaubert, frustrated Romantic yet acclaimed pioneer of modern French realism in literature, personally felt that reality was “shit,” a disgusting thing he put in his mouth to fashion fiction. His family was well endowed, which allowed him to avoid the detested office work which his legal training might have lead, and to withdraw to his family cottage at Rouen and write novels. He was the literary idol of the art for art’s sake school of thought. Whatever art was, it was a way to avoid reality if one could get away with it. It could be easily justified by reversion to the ancient ascetic view that the real world is really an illusion. But this sort of artist would not be an either/or monk in a cell, but would live an aesthetic life in his studio. The aesthetic life has several advantages, one being that artists and those who appreciate art can enjoy things without actually possessing them, just by looking at and not owning them. Of course a starving artist would relish a study of a ham sandwich and bowl of fruit more than a bulging-belly investor or bourgeois patron of the arts.
Would the world not be more beautiful if more people withdrew from the mad competition for the actual possession of things and enjoyed artistic representations of those things at a distance? Better yet for the greedy world if the art was abstract. Such a better world would be a great market for artists to sell their wares. Others, not so inclined to be painters as such, could instead live artfully, could they not? As for the artists, they need not mix with the crowd and try to prove some version of the ‘truth.’ No, the artist should lay aside the ideological arguments, the attempt to make the truth, and simply take up a fragment of existence and reveal its truth. If artists would only focus on their art in solitude, they would pose no danger whatsoever to society, and their creations would greatly benefit a society that could then enjoy beholding things presented or represented rather than possessing the things in themselves.
Alas, as Ice-T screamed of Ozzie and Harriet, “The world is not like that!” Creativity is revolutionary. Arts of all sorts including literary art have a reputation for fomenting rebellion, “corrupting morals” and the like. Furthermore, we admit that reality sometimes tastes like shit, but so does artifice. There is something distasteful in the view that the world is just a stage upon which hypocrites (Gk. ‘actors’) play, that life is just a Machiavellian “game” of power plays.
“What is good?” asked Nietzsche. “All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing, that resistance has been overcome.” Wherefore Nietzsche was much admired by the militant Prussian ‘realists’ to whom Germany’s economic prosperity tasted like shit.
Finally, Madame, and I believe you will agree with me, although there is some truth in it, there is something insincere in the perspective that the world, including our perception of time, is phony.
THE INFIDEL KNIGHT DISMISSES PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD
FROM THE DOOMAH DISCOURSE BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Your claim that sovereign nation-states are a relatively modern invention occurring with the fall of the Roman Empire and then the Roman Church, and that Islam constitutes a return to the natural tendency to universal theocratic community under world empire pursuant to Muhammad’s 632 farewell address wherein he said, “I was ordered to fight all men until they say there is no god but Allah,’ is false propaganda designed to deceive your students.
First of all, the establishment of new nations or new countries with newly organized peoples by the time-honored tradition of warfare goes far back in history. For example, the nation of Israel, historically a sovereign nation firmly established by war and recognized by other sovereign nations thousands of years ago was deliberately put out of existence by the Romans because the Jews refused to submit to the sovereignty of the empire. No other nation had so continuously and persistently resisted Rome’s take-over as Israel. So, Rome decided if they couldn’t subdue the Jews, they would just make their nation disappear and scatter the people far away.
There was never any sovereign nation of Palestine. The Roman territory called Palestine was actually the land of the sovereign nation of Israel. Semitic peoples calling themselves Muslims wandered their way back onto the land, swearing to the Romans: “We’re not Jews… we’re Muslims… we hate Jews as much as you do, and we won’t cause any problems.”
That was plain old common-sense survival strategy; who could blame them? And so, they continued to live on, and multiply, through the death of the Roman Empire, through the Crusades and world wars, until this very day.
The killing of six-million Jews during the Holocaust was a horror which had not been seen in the modern world. The Holocaust, however, was not the start of the Zionist national movement, which simply the return of Jews to their historic homeland. It was ongoing for many years prior to the historic Balfour Declaration of November, 1917. The Declaration was not merely a personal letter, but was penned after Lord Balfour had talked seriously with many heads of state as to whether or not historical justice would be served by re-installing the Jews onto their historic homeland as the renewed nation of Israel.
It was only after the Holocaust was revealed to the world that the British openly declared that the historical nation of Israel must be re-established in their historic homeland, yet advised Israel that it must be mindful and tolerant of all the new history which had taken place there since their dispersal. Therefore the Jews did not demand the Dome of the Rock, which, although built on the site of the Jewish Temple, was of major religious significance to Islam. They also did not do anything to jeopardize any historic Christian holy sites.
The first reaction toward a peaceful establishment of a Jewish village was the slaughtering of every man, woman, and child in that village by knife-wielding Palestinians. The Israelis persevered, have made their land fertile and their industries productive, and have produced amazing new technological achievements for the world, such as the new nuclear and chemical warfare protective tents I happen to be selling in America. They have re-invested money in their agriculture and business and technological advancement.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, were co-opted by an Egyptian, who couldn’t get a dozen Egyptians on a street corner to listen to him, and by the skilled use of terror and murder against Palestinians, and his proclamation of hatred for Jews, made himself the “king” of the Palestinians. He spent years, raking in hundreds-of-millions, possibly billions of dollars for his own benefit, leaving the Palestinians to wallow in squalor, all the time blaming it on the Jews. Those dollars could have been spent in exactly the same way the Jews spent theirs in making their land fruitful, but that was not to be. Yet there was always plenty of money for weapons and for any and all Muslims who would use those weapons to kill Jews.
So, we continue to see Muslims murdering each other at an alarming rate and continuing to blame their own social and economic problems on the Jews. Palestinians, to boot, are now largely outcasts from all other Arab nations. They are publicly unwanted by other Muslims, yet are allowed to work, own businesses, attend schools and receive medical care in Israel.
I hope I have been of some help in your search for information. I have tried to present as much historical fact as I am able, but have limited time to do research for teachers such as you, so I must bid you farewell. I wish the best to you and yours, a thousand blessings on your family, and all the best to your students. And remember, I am not an infidel knight, but am,
The Doomah Discourse is taken from dialogue on the Roundtable of Authorsden.com that took place circa 2003. David Arthur Walters took on the role of Dajen Doomah, Devil’s Advocate, an Iranian English teacher. ‘Roundtable Rascal’ is the late Hanley Harding of South Florida, an heroic American patriot, Navy SEAL, and the best friend one could ever have in terrifying times.
FROM TRACEY FLAGLER – A SOUTH BEACH NOVEL BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
WITH PSEUDEPIGRAPHIC EXCERPT FROM OPRAH INTERVIEW WITH LORD KRISHNA
The evidence of birth is made more public than that of death; we see many more babies than we do corpses during our lifetimes. Medieval people made no bones about the public display of bones, for instance celebrating All Saints Day in ossuaries, but we moderns manage to keep the most obvious fact of death more or less private, hidden away in hospitals, morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries. Although I was not familiar with my neighbor Stacey Flagler, when I discovered her beautiful body decaying on her bed on Thanksgiving Day, lying there as if it were an offering to the gods of this world, I was profoundly affected.
I worked as an hospital orderly in my late teens, and I saw and handled several dead bodies during the course of my duties – I noticed that deaths came in bunches, shifting from one wing to another. Making money seemed to be the purpose of human life, so when I counted the pittance I received as pay, which was less than a dollar an hour, I told myself that I had better hurry up and become a millionaire before it was too late. But I was really in no hurry, and I soon forgot the corpses I had seen, for I believed in my heart that my own life would go on forever one way or another, that I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted to. Now that I am well over the hill, so to speak, and feel myself slowing down and going to pot; now that my contemporaries, friends, and family members are dying off; now that my bank account is short by nearly a million dollars; – I confess that I have serious doubts about my perpetuity.
Indeed, I am moved to admit that my body will undoubtedly perish. As for my soul, I do not know what that might be other than the “I” that I refer to as mine, the elusive unity or apperception and phantom pilot of the ghost within my machine, a selfish mental field that will most likely perish along with its platform. The thought that my self is merely software, the notion that I am an epiphenomenal ghost that did not exist in the first place, is comforting when not appalling. If I were never born, then how could I ever die? Still the machine does not want to run down, wherefore I cling to this self-conscious life in between nothing and nothing.
Stacey Flagler let go of hers. She had a terrifying craving she could not satisfy, an inability to relax due to an insufferable energy impelling her frantically forward at all costs. Witness this small portion of her handwritten confession to Abraham, the psychic entity that she adopted from Esther Hicks and then channeled for her own consumption:
“I feel like I have never translated my desires into a recognizable life that others could identify with. And why do I want that? So I can relax. Then I would feel like I had succeeded. Success would make me relax, because that would be my joy, and I want to be an example of joy, to teach joy. If only I could relax and let joy and passion and well-being in. But if I relax and find relief, then I don’t believe anything will have meaning! I might as well not have a body. I want to have a specific meaning in this minute, and what I want that specific meaning to be something I asked for and created. I want to know that I am powerful and can create security while I’m here, security for me, Tracey, the human being. As I look back I have always been looking for security even though it doesn’t seem like it, the security of easy joy and of more and more joy. It has all been about finding and keeping joy, choosing love, and love choosing me. Nothing is wrong with me – I’ve actually been attempting for seven or eight years to create my own reality and to accomplish that on a certain scale would be the ultimate security. At the same time, I’ve always wondered if something was wrong with me, if I should abandon my search for joy, to give up my commitment to stability in a physical sense. I think that creating my own reality puts me at a disadvantage. I believe I am unsure of it because just being happy, focused on love, having fun, and feeling contented will not inspire me to be that productive. I work harder discontented. So what does security feel like? It feels like I have to change external things to be secure, so to be secure I have to be insecure, to move from insecurity to security. To be secure I have to focus on my personal preferences, focus on things that matter to me. What do I want security to feel like? What matters to me? Non-resistance, keeping my body and mind clear of resistance, being in a state of joyful grace. Having physical things to focus on here can bring me joy. But then I will transform into something non-physical, and so why do any of this at all? Why does any of this matter? I am to fulfill my reason for being by just being here and being on the leading edge and having my personal preferences, but how do I get in on it? What is it that I wish to experience in the meantime, until I am fulfilled? I want the relaxation and joy that allows me to focus. Why? What is the point of anything? Do I really believe the point of life is to focus on and obtain my personal preferences? Yes, I do, but I just don’t know what they are anymore, or if I can even handle what I’ve asked for, or why they continue to included alcohol and drugs when that is clearly self-destructive! I just want to connect, but then you say that I need to be so connected that they are irrelevant to my connection, and then I can feel the greatest joy. You say I can find that connection on my own. But I think I need a partner to relax. I feel I must have a reason to love, someone else to love besides myself, and then my problems would be solved. But I know from what you say, Abraham, that what I am really longing for is the connection to Source, to my inner being. But if I am looking for my source, which I had in the first place, then why did I come here to look for it? Why have these circumstances with all of the fear and worry and insecurity that goes along with them? What is the point, then? It just doesn’t make sense! “I want to love someone who loves me back in the same way and it is mutual and they see that potential too and they hold onto that potential.”
She had turned to the popular postmodern culture for advice, to the splendiferous effusions of Oprah Winfrey; to the contradictory conversations of Neale Donald Walsch with his super-egotistical god; to the pronouncements of Abraham channeled by Esther Hicks; to the big Secret that must be kept in order to be believed in instead of laughed at – small secrets are leaked from time to time to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. She was told that the purpose of life is to have joy, that death is just a myth, that everyone can create their own planets in a universe that loves them. Since she did not feel the joy and love, since the reality she wanted to create was not obtained at will, and since life had no specific meaning for her, she chose the myth, perchance to be incarnated on another planet if not reincarnated on this one.
The risks attending such a fatal leap are mortal indeed, and I was duly mortified by Stacey’s premature departure. She took too big of a chance, I thought; that is, I thought so until she contacted me from the so-called “Beyond” the other day, from that place referred to at funerals as the Better Place – more on that later. I thought she might not have taken her last life if she had fallen into the right hands. Not that I blamed Oprah, the new high priestess of the New Age, or the postmodern gurus she or her guest celebrities endorse, nor did I blame their crowd of sympathetic sycophants, for elevating Stacey’s expectations and then letting her down when she reached out to them and discovered they were too busy creating their own realities to attend to her desperate needs.
We like to believe that our social icons are really special, but we should realize that, in order to attract the average person and be orthodox and politically correct enough to be popular, one has to specialize in mediocrity to a certain extent. Attractive models are not famous for their brains but for the looks or power or money we would like to have. That is not to say that every model is superficial, or that the spiritual world is really deeper than the supposedly shallow material world. Stacey was confused by the supposed relationship of the spiritual and material; she thought she needed stuff or the million dollars to buy it in order to make matter and spirit one and the same; then she would supposedly be completely relaxed, well loved and joyful, but she preferred the spiritual over the material, and to that extent she was not on the wrong track, she just needed a better model to keep her train on the right track to joyful love and eternal bliss.
To that end, I mused after Stacey’s early end, Bhakti Yoga would have been a much better vehicle for her than the claptrap jalopies haphazardly slapped together from Sixties’ New Age leftovers. She was right: There was nothing wrong with her, at least not for wanting the security and joy of loving and being loved. Untold millions of people are spiritually dissatisfied: there is nothing abnormal about that. Stacey might have been able to tolerate and even love the world with her self in it this world if only Krishna had appeared on the Oprah show, as in the unauthorized depiction below, and Oprah had plugged the Bhagavad-Gita. The wheel has been turning for eons; it is a terrible waste of time trying to reinvent it.
Stacey would have loved Krishna, I opined, so much so that she might have blissfully devoted her every action to the Supreme Personality without consideration of worldly reward. Chanting Hare Krishna, singing praises, dancing and cooking delicious food would be fun. Krishna is playful, by the way, so she would have had some of the fun she yearned for. And she would not have to worry about piling up a bunch of stuff to be happy. On the other hand, loving obedience to authority might not be her cup of tea, although some of that would be useful on a part-time basis. She loved and hated the same men, was conflicted over her objective relationships: she wanted but at the same time rejected love objects. She had to continually tell herself how much she appreciated the little things of life, and I doubted if the big things she thought would gain her respect from others would be good enough for her. In fact, no particular thing or person seemed to be good enough for her. She wanted to be connected to the source of everything, to be at-one with the infinite, yet it is extremely difficult to love an abstraction. Wherefore I imagined a synthesis of Bhakti Yoga, or love yoga, and Raja Yoga, or mystical yoga, would have suited her best; she might do both at the same time. Karma Yoga, or productive work yoga, was out of the question, for she really did not want to work for things, and Jnana Yoga, or philosophical yoga, would probably have flown over her head, for she wanted to get to the point.
OPRAH INTERVIEW WITH KRISHNAPSEUDEPIGRAPHIC EXCERPT
OPRAH: Glad to have you on the show, Krishna.
KRISHNA: The pleasure is all mine, Oprah.
OPRAH: I have been reading about your pastimes. I see you made the National Inquirer again, just last week.
KRISHNA: Don’t believe every scandal you read. I like to have good, clean fun.
OPRAH: Clean fun? What do you mean?
KRISHNA: I always take plenty of soap with me.
OPRAH WINFREY: I understand that you like diary maids.
KRISHNA: I love them with my flute.
OPRAH: And you slay demons.
KRISHNA: That’s what they say.
OPRAH: How many lovers do you have?
KRISHNA: Billions if you count my many forms.
OPRAH: Wow! And you love them all back? How can you serve and be faithful to them all?
KRISNA: I can be everywhere at the same time.
OPRAH: It’s like television broadcasting?
KRISHNA: Sort of.
OPRAH: I feel blessed and graced with so many eyes on me, so many people adoring me. How do you feel?
OPRAH: Is that a feeling?
KRISHNA: It is your bliss if you are my devotee.
OPRAH: Bliss? Do people love you for the joy of it?
KRISHNA: Many of them do, especially my bhakti people.
OPRAH: And what is bhakti?
KRISHNA: Loving devotional service.
OPRAH: Why bhakti?
KRISHNA: Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the grinding wheel, the cycle of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss and knowledge. The ultimate goal of bhakti yoga is to obtain a feeling of pure bliss.
OPRAH: Oh, yeah. Joy is the key word, right? People devoted to you feel splendiferous, feel blessed and graced all the time, true ? I mean they feel really good about themselves, experience a lot of joy.
KRISHNA: Well, yes, all of that and more, but that kind of joy is just the beginning. Bliss is the ultimate state, and is far better than what you call joy.
OPRAH: But isn’t bliss joy?
KRISHNA: By bliss I mean something similar to what some of your Stoic gurus called apathy.
OPRAH: Oh, no, that doesn’t sound good. It sounds depressing.
KRISHNA: Bliss is actually an indifferent feeling. It transcends good and evil feelings. My devotee is ultimately free from joy and depression and the dread of harm. She expects nothing. She is pure, just, impartial, devoid of fear, and could care less about profiting from the results of her action. She is most dear to me and to others, for she is not afraid of them nor are they afraid of her. She who does not rejoice, find fault, complain, or covet stuff, who is not interested in good and evil results, is most worthy of my love.
OPRAH: OK. I guess. Is there equality?
KRISNA: My beloved servant is equal-minded to friend or foe, the same in honor and dishonor, in cold and heat, in pain and pleasure. She is satisfied with whatever happens: she not anxious about what might or might not happen in future. Praise and blame are the same as far as she is concerned. She pretty much keeps her mouth shut because she is content and therefore does not have to talk much. She is blissful everywhere, and may be what you call homeless, for she does not need to live in the same place all the time. I am her home. Her heart, full of devotion to me, is secured by me.
OPRAH: But she must get mad sometimes.
KRISHNA: Of course. But again, my devotee who is free from enmity, well-disposed towards all creatures, merciful, wholly exempt from pride and selfishness, the same in pain and pleasure, patient of wrongs, contented, constantly devout, self-governed, firm in resolves, and whose mind and heart are fixed on me alone, is dearest to me.
OPRAH: Okay, but is she immortal?
KRISHNA: This religion as I explain it is the sacred ambrosia, the very religion of immortality. Those who come to me full of faith, intent on me above all others, and united to me by devotion, are my most beloved.
OPRAH: But what about people who don’t want to bow down to a personal god, don’t believe in things they can see, and think stuff is vulgar. What about those who can’t stand the thought of a definite god and want to love the unbounded and infinite being, the unseen?
KRISHNA: There are many ways to skin a cat.
OPRAH: Please. I love cats.
KRISHNA: I spoke figuratively so that your audience might better understand me. There are several ways to the same goal. Those who worship me as a person, with constant zeal, with the highest faith and minds placed on me as a person, are held in high esteem by me. But those who, with minds equal toward everything, with senses and organs restrained, and rejoicing in the good of all creatures, meditate on the inexhaustible, immovable, highest, incorruptible, difficult to contemplate, invisible, omnipresent, unthinkable, the witness, indemonstrable, shall also come unto me. Yet mind you that for those whose hearts are fixed on the unmanifested, the labor is greater because the path which is not manifest is with difficulty attained by corporeal beings. But for those who worship me, renouncing in me all their actions, regarding me as the supreme goal and meditating on me alone, if their thoughts are turned to me, O Oprah, I presently become the savior from this ocean of incarnations and death. Place, then, your heart on me, penetrate me with thy understanding, and you will undoubtedly dwell hereafter in me. But if you should be unable at once steadfastly to fix your heart and mind on me, strive then, O Oprah, to find me by constant practice in devotion. If after constant practice, you are still unable, follow me by actions performed for me; for by doing works for me you will attain perfection. But if you are unequal even to this, then, being self-restrained, place all thy works, failures and successes alike, on me, abandoning in me the fruit of every action.
OPRAH: That is a mouthful. Can you sum it up for us?
KRISHNA: Sure. There is something for everyone or nothing if they prefer. There are four ways to supreme unity. The ways of knowledge, practice, meditation; and renunciation. Knowledge is better than constant practice, meditation is superior to knowledge, loving renunciation of the fruit of action to meditation; final emancipation immediately results from such renunciation.
OPRAH: You mean to have stuff is bad? Can you have sex? What about drugs?
KRISHNA: You can have nothing but the clothes on your back, a bowl of rice and a flower, and you may also have scrumptious vegetarian feasts for me, but take no drugs, and you can study and dance and chant all day, and have sex at night, but only for procreation of more devotees, and you can do lots of other devotional acts as well. On the other hand, you can meditate a lot, be driven around your ashram every day by a different beautiful woman or handsome man in a different Rolls Royce, and you can have a little laughing gas during your dental appointments, if you like. Just say no to drug use in general, including alcohol and tobacco and marijuana, without a special prescription from me, and don’t allow your disciples to traffic in drugs even if they don’t use them. Worshipping me is the greatest natural high of all.
OPRAH: So I can keep my $2.5 billion?
KRISHNA: As long as you devote yourself to my service, you will be immortal and blissful regardless of your wealth – remember, the Lord Himself is Opulent, and he loves the poor. Whatever is rendered to me is returned with compound interest, or, if you want less, then you will get less, and if you have faith in nothing because nothing is perfect and permanent, then nothing shall be yours for the asking, but it’s best to ask for nothing at all because nothing is infinite and nothing really works. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you have or do in my favor, for all things are mine and should be devoted to me anyway. When you are mine, when you love me, the universe loves you back and is yours no matter what you have on hand at the time of devotion.
OPRAH: I think I like the loving yoga you mentioned best. How do you do that?
KRISHNA: Here, I brought you some anklets. Please put them on. And here’s a bracelet with some bangles.
OPRAH: Oh, thank you! They’re beautiful. Listen to the little bells tinkle when I shake a leg! And the bangles, here, how they jangle so wonderfully. Very exotic!
KRISHNA: Yes, please stand up and shake a leg with me. Take this tambourine and jiggle it in the air. Good. Now take my hand. Let’s do some hip hop dancing and chanting. Repeat after me, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Got it?
OPRAH: I wish Ellen were here. Okay, here we go…Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…. I feel blessed and graced. I think I love you Krishna.
KRISHNA: The feeling is mutual. Here’s a pouch full of my books, and you will find some flowers on top. You can carry it over your shoulder. My favorite book is the Bhagavad Gita.
OPRAH: Then I shall recommend it to everyone! Oh, this is fun! Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna….. We’ll be right back after this commercial….
First of all, I pray that neither you nor your brothers and sisters were unduly offended when I referred to you as a “knight,” a term that I associated with the honorable King Arthur and his noble knights although you appear to be an Anglo-Saxon and not a Celtic warrior. I know why the table was round, but they were still noble knights.
Many of the knights who joined the pre-emptive Crusade against Allah’s people, however, were much less noble than the Arabs. As a careful student of history, you must know that “arab” means “noble.” Although we Persians have our differences with our Arab brothers, we certainly intend no insult when we call them Arabs; that is, “nobles.” Although we ourselves are a humble people, we are proud of our heritage. Our heritage is the foundation of our personalities, which are all not merely biased but faithfully prejudiced in favor of All-Merciful-Allah.
Unlike infidels (may Allah have mercy on their souls) who believe they can take off their personalities like hats under the pretence of searching for the truth, we find our truth within the personal commune. The infidels would too, if only they took to heart the truth revealed by foremost modern Christian philosopher and pope, Karol Wojtyla, in THE ACTING PERSON, a work that I have lately been interpreting for my students.
Indeed, every Christian who sincerely believes that the Prophet Jesus was the son of god – we respectfully do not share that belief – and was and is the same as god but in the form of the Supreme Personality, would esteem the person even higher than we do, and would not pretend to set aside the very personal feelings and prejudices that make him a human being made in the image of his personal god.
Even in the common parlance of your English language, the term ‘person’ is synonymous with an acting human being. Sometimes it is difficult for a people to know themselves through their own eyes, therefore it is useful for other people’s to come to their assistance; in this case, to point out that, no matter how impersonal or objective or detached or scientific a Westerner may think he is, he is still personally motivated and prejudiced, otherwise he would be an inhuman monster.
And, more often than not, when he claims that he is going to set aside his personal biases and feelings in order to speak truly, as you have done in your letter to me, he is about to lie, and is trying to deceive people into thinking he will not conduct himself as usual, most often badly, which if he were honest, he might as well do, that he might be corrected when in error. For the highest Christian truth, what you enjoy capitalizing in English, as Truth, although all truths are one in Allah, is not only personal but is a Person. And this brings me to question that my students are curious about:
How can Christian Americans believe in the Supreme Person while at the same time thinking the person is some sort of dirty thing, a mask that must be set aside in order to tell the truth, which is in effect a lie?
I neglected to pose that question on their behalf in my first epistle to you. I hope you will take it under consideration now while allowing me to address you as a noble person, or “knight,” as it were. For I see that you have proven my thesis true: you have pretended to set aside your personal feelings and biases, but you could not conceal them, wherefore you launched a personal attack on your Muslim cousins.
I assume that, if you are not Semitic by birth, you are, nevertheless, Judeo-Christian by culture if not by faith. Therefore may the All-Compassionate Allah have mercy on your person for the cultivated animosity that you feel for his slaves; may you be forgiven for your defamation of their characters for being Muslims and for mercifully pointing out the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders for their own edification and for surrendering to Allah’s will and following the holy prophets.
Without Allah’s compassion, your groundless hatred of your own kind shall surely work your ruination shortly after Election Day of your Common Era year 2016. Now what have you done, within the context of the Judeo-Christian culture, other than further foment or perpetuate, with your angry accusations, the very preaching of hatred and commission of murder among us that you yourself condemn?
In fact, your speech resembles that of the more “rabid” (as you say) fanatics among our beloved people in Palestine, who are taught to hate their Zionist oppressors in schools. Their teachers fail to make a clear distinction between political Zionism and religious Judaism, a flaw that our Iranian schools are correcting under my direction.
Naturally your personal animosity is due to certain vicious defects in your personal upbringing as well as your public education, which is a political mockery of the meaning “under God” in the idolatrous pledge to a flag of a country instead of a confession of faith in Allah, conditioning all docile students in the confusion of religion with politics, and inciting them to mass murder and organized terrorism.
Naturally religion is the worship of the Absolute Power, while politics is an attempt at its worldly distribution. All peoples have worshipped the Absolute Power, the Eternal Subject of universal religion, the Giver of Life and Death. Fire was the symbol of that Power for my Persian ancestors, as well as for the ancient peoples of Bharat. (Mind you that I capitalize certain nouns as proper without intention of idolizing them).
The Pharaoh of Love looked at the ultimate form of Fire, the Sun, or rather to “the energy within the Sun,” for the solace of the Egyptian people. Our Arab brothers in the deserts preferred the Canopy to the Sun, so they looked to the vast Sky as the one and only, the encompassing deity.
Monotheism was the original religion in our great cradle of religion. But power-hungry politicians worked vainly to variously distribute Allah’s power according to their base, materialistic inclinations, and therefore the number of idols multiplied. Infidels believe that power resides in the ability to manipulate people and to accumulate wealth for their minority interests, and thus do we have the “power elite” that you have mentioned, and we have them even in so called republics and democracies – their abstract idol is money, on which they crave usurious interest.
And it is well worth noting that that both communism and capitalism idolize matter and constitute political instantiations of greed. Your own country, where many immigrants found some fortune relatively small and great because of the vast resources that the invading European barbarians plundered from its natives, is for the most part owned by a neo-barbarian superpower elite that colludes with the money-hungry power elites of its allied infidels to exploit the poor countries of their natural resources.
Your infidel leaders commit this crime against Allah’s desire for peace: that is why we call the barbarian party the Party of War; that is why Iran exports the means for freedom from the perpetual mass terrorism of the infidels.
Now you have mistakenly charged Muslims with the hatred of Jews, when it is actually the Party of War that has perpetrated the persecution of Jews, and has often done so in the name of the Judeo-Christian deity identified under the pagan rubric capitalized, ‘God.’
As a highly educated man, you must surely recall that German philosophers, before and during the Great World War, went so far as to take the Jew out of Jesus by claiming that this holy prophet was Greek, in order to justify their hatred for Jews and greed for their property. Indeed, as the hateful Satan perpetrated a holocaust, just as before the Jews and other Semites had sacrificed enemies (herem) by setting them apart and sacrificing them to their Lord, devout Catholics got on the political stage and gave the Nazi salute (my students have photos of these rallies).
In point of historical fact, Muslims have always treated Jews well in comparison to the barbaric Party of War, and had not the Muslims converted the hordes from the East to tolerant Islam, there would be no remnants of Judah today.
But allow me to return briefly to your confusion in respect to the nature of nations as the native or navel origin of tribe, clan, and folk, and from this origin to the development of diverse populations, via seed-mixing in the harlot cities, into conglomerations subservient to political states that in effect incorporated many nations yet called themselves “nations” – to wit, mongrels – and to your confusion of the political state of Israel with the Semitic tribes, and your mistaken belief that the Israelites or Hebrews before them were the only Semitic people.
You would discover if you took the political course I have laid out for my students, that there is only one god with many names, namely, Allah, and that the hatred you speak of is not the fault of religion but is rather the use of religion by the Party of War as a political excuse to set one individual against another in the name of godless liberty and democracy, to use their mutual fear of one another in their protesting irreligion to organize them into warring parties ruled by the power elite for the accumulation of material wealth via the destruction of the world. The love extolled by the infidel elite is hate-others based self-love. Such is the greed of the Great Satan.
I shall provide you with some scholarly edification on the subject later on, if you wish, but suffice it to say at this juncture that the Great Satan is doomed for his hatred of man. The Great Satan was cast down in the first place because his love for Allah was constituted by his hatred for man. It is this very hatred that is cultivated by the false prophets of Judeo-Christianity, who, on the one hand, profess love for and faith in God in the form of Divine Personality, the God-Man, yet, on the other hand, curl their lips in disdain at humanity and snarl at “humanism” like dogs.
We Muslims do not hate our own kind as infidels do. Allah alone is merciful; therefore, you are our friend only in Allah. No, my noble knight, we do not hate the Jews that you and your commander-in-chief have professed to love. But many of us hate Zionists, for they have forcefully, without a referendum, established an unwanted political state in Muslim country, where nations are anathema.
Your Friend Only In Allah,
Postscript: Incidentally, contrary to your stated opinion, neither kings nor sheiks nor emirs rule Iran. Iran is a holy democratic republic. Lest politicians stray from Allah, we have a council and a supreme holy man to keep it them in line with merciful Allah’s will.
”For in a single hour such wealth has been destroyed.” Something we should consider before rushing to build more towers to the heavens
Experience informs us of the vicious consequences of luxury and the virtuous effects of thrift provided that the savings is put to their highest and best use. Spiritual leaders since time immemorial have urged a broader distribution of wealth. And they have prescribed the disposal of luxuries: we find a relatively recent example in Savonarola, who took over his town and had his flock bring their luxuries to the public square for destruction. That disposition served as a spur to yet another wave of perverse accumulation of obscene luxuries; and it has been well noted that the things destroyed in that exemplary bonfire of vanities were junk rather than previous things like silk and gold. But from whence does gold get its value besides its enduring glitter? John Maynard Keynes remarked, in support of the expansion of money supply to stimulate demand during economic depressions, that if gold coins with no intrinsic value were buried in the ground, people will break their backs digging them up.
As civilization progressed from human sacrifice, to sacrificing present consumption in order to accumulate wealth, excess production resulted not only in the waste of unjustly allotted material resources but also in the waste of spiritual resources, that is, the earned leisure time better invested in meditating and communing than pursuing and warring over material superfluities. Even when material excesses flow from the highest of spiritual motives, unsavory characters, who could be discoursing on Confucius, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, if not studying sacred scriptures, show up to make gross capital of them.
The highly productive unpaid-labor force of the frugal Cistercian monks and their lay brothers created a huge excess over their own consumption, contributing to an economic mini-boom in Europe. Greedy laymen moved in to purchase the leadership of the monasteries in order to turn a quick profit, which is anathema to the true Cistercian spirit. Abbots squabbled among themselves, leaving the ingeniously confederated order in disorder.
That old order of monks, the White Monks or Trappists, was one of the later branches of the Cistercian order founded in 1664 at La Trappe. The Cistercian monastic order, first called ‘Novum Monasterium’, was established at Citreaux in 1098 in reaction to the religious disorder resulting from priestly intimacy with worldly perversity and the general love of luxury that developed within the Benedictine order. The monkish Benedictine defectors longed to actually observe the Rule of St. Benedict, especially as it appertained to poverty and obedience and charity. And so did many others, not only humble folk but rich and noble persons as well. Persons eager for spiritual order instead of material disorder flocked to the remote site, causing the rapid growth of the Cistercians.
The nobleman Bernard joined up in 1112 along with 30 others of noble birth, including four of his brothers. St. Bernard was asked in 1125 to write an Apology for the alleged Cistercian slander of the Cluniacs, a group of Benedictines headquartered at Cluny, from which the Cistercians had defected. The Apology was a continuation of the growing polemic against the old institution: Amongst other things, Bernard had this to say about the edifices at Cluny:
“…There is no comparison here between bishops and monks. We know that the bishops, debtors to both the wise and unwise, use material beauty to arouse the devotion of a carnal people because they cannot do so by spiritual means. But we who have now come out of that people, we who have left the precious and lovely things of the world for Christ, we who, in order to win Christ, have reckoned all beautiful, sweet-smelling, fine-sounding, smooth-feeling, good-tasting things – in short, all bodily delights – as so much dung, what do we expect to get out of them? Admiration from the foolish? Offerings from the ignorant? Or, scattered as we are among the gentiles, are we learning their tricks and serving their idols?
“Is not greed, a form of idolatry, responsible for all this? Are we not seeking contributions rather than spiritual profit? ‘How?’ you ask. ‘In a strange and wonderful way,’ I answer. Money is scattered about in such a way that it will multiply. It is spent so that it will increase. Pouring it out produces more of it. Faced with expensive but marvelous vanities, people are inspired to contribute rather than to pray. Thus riches attract riches and money produces more money. I don’t know why, but the wealthier a place, the readier people are to contribute to it. Just feast their eyes on gold-covered relics and their purses will open. Just show them a beautiful picture of some saint. The brighter the colors, the saintlier he’ll appear to them. Men rush to kiss and are invited to contribute. There is more admiration for beauty than veneration for sanctity. Thus churches are decorated, not simply with jeweled crowns, but with jeweled wheels illuminated as much by their precious stones as by their lamps. We see candelabra like big bronze trees, marvelously wrought, their gems glowing no less than their flames. What do you think is the purpose of such things? To gain the contrition of penitents or the admiration of spectators?
“Oh vanity of vanities, yet no more vain than insane! The church is resplendent in her walls and wanting in her poor. She dresses her stones in gold and lets her sons go naked. The eyes of the rich are fed at the expense of the indigent. The curious find something to amuse them and the needy find nothing to sustain them…” (Translation by David Burr)
Nevertheless, after labor, obedience, poverty and incoming charity had made the Cistercians wealthy, the once abhorred laxity took hold. Unequal justice was done in the once equal ranks. The abundance siphoned off by merchants was not equitably distributed. Thus the good intention of the monks had results that finally fell far short of the higher aims of the human spirit. Thus have so many reforms lapsed back into the very conduct that evoked reform.
Alas that abundance does not mean just distribution, as was evident during the Great Depression, a more recent glaring case on point: food rotted in warehouses because selling it would have been unprofitable. President Hoover, the Commander in Chief, had the American military forces under Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower attack hungry veteran families camping in Washington; just imagine gas bombs exploding, sabers flashing, bayonets stabbing – a child was stabbed in the leg for trying to save his pet rabbit – tanks clanking, women and children running and screaming, babies bawling, hospital filling up with casualties.
What more could this Great Nation of Ours ask for in terms of heroism, other than its own army attacking veterans because they were out of work and without a place to live? Such was the penurious charity of the Puritan ethic, which had helped inspire the boom in private wealth, after the boom went bust; Puritan thrift turned to selfishness made charity necessary. Then Hitler’s greed saved the United States from revolution at the price of millions of lives.
The Cistercian order was the perfect picture of practical economy at its material best. The monasteries were set up over streams to facilitate access to drinking water, milling of grain, bathing, and sewage disposal. But Cistercian Joachim of Flora had a more spiritual form of facility in mind. He conceived of a utopian, cruciform monastic system (New Jerusalem) to live out the Age of Love he envisioned before he died. Like a church, the cross-shaped monastery represented the Ideal Man, Jesus Christ; its functional structure corresponded to the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. For example, if I could stand the disciplining of my cultivated chaos and the tempering of my unruly insubordination at Joachim’s model monastery, I would prefer to attend to Joachim’s Oratory of St. Paul, the center of Learning symbolized by the Ear in the anthropomorphic scheme of things.
Joachim’s utopian vision was of a new world order of monks (ordomonachorum: Holy Spirit) praising God realized at a model monastery comprising, since the Trinity is indivisible, teaching clerics (ordoclericorum: Son), and married lay workers (ordoconjugatorum: Father). Everyone would naturally work, since Work is dignified by the Rule.
Joachim was eventually appointed Cistercian abbot of Corazzo against his will. He managed to obtain acceptance of his resignation, retiring to Flora to write his books. There he founded the Abbey of Flora, a center devoted to strict observance of discipline. He was an eloquent, famous man who dressed in rags. He unwittingly inspired a radical reform movement, first led by spirituals of the Franciscan order; it was taken up by other radicals who believed the pope was Antichrist and the Church had been rendered obsolete by the dawning of the Age of the Spirit, or Love, the Third Age of the Trinity. The First Age was of the Father, or Law, and the Second that of the Son, or Faith.
The reform movement inspired by St. Francis and Joachim became quite popular. One of the central legal battles of the time was whether Jesus and the disciples held property privately, or in common, or neither of the above. A pope, presumed to be the trustee for Christianity, and who was a fine lawyer, won the argument much to the Church’s capital advantage, justifying the piling up as much wealth as humanly possible.
Yet others who wanted to follow Christ were giving away their property to pass through the eye of the needle. Roving bands of Beghards were roundly condemned as scoundrels; Beguine communities of chaste women were likewise calumniated. Numerous wealthy men gave away their wealth to beguinages and joined the Beghards to lead lives of poverty.
Heaven forbid, spiritual tracts were being drafted in the vernacular instead of Latin. Marguerite Porete was burned for elevating Love over Reason and for calling learned university theologians braying asses; historians believe that she was a peace offering to the pope in recompense for the destruction of the Templars. Her writings were secreted by the nuns and handed down through the ensuing centuries. All this presented a serious challenge to the Church’s bureaucratic system of luxurious leisure at public expense.
The early radical reformation movement became so popular that, if it had persevered, today’s Christians would be called Franciscans instead of Christians. Saint Francis himself was believed to be the expected advent of the Son of God.
Radicals went so far as to say that the spirit had gone out of both Testaments and into Joachim’s three books, which they dubbed ‘The Eternal Gospel.’ The actual teachings of the conservative mystic, especially his core theory of history, were distorted by his enthusiastic admirers. Joachim did not intend to foment a revolution against the Church. He submitted his writings to the Church for approval in 1200; he died prior to the 1215 condemnation of his teachings by the Lateran Council. He is presently in good standing with the Church.
Of course history, given human nature, is replete with many examples of social problems or evils presented by the accumulation of great wealth, a form of power which tends to relatively few expropriating hands, and the efforts to resolve those problems by the regulation of greed through involuntary distribution of abundance, voluntary self-sacrifice or loving charity.
Polynesians resorted to potlatch events, where persons of great wealth competed to give it all away in order to be deemed great persons. So great is the almost instinctive need to dispose of private luxury for the social good that men are periodically pressed into militant service against one another with the result that capital and the human resources creating it are destroyed. Great civilizations obsessed by economic motives are leveled and new ones are founded on the rubble.
If no Savonarola calls upon people to pile up their wealth in the center of town and burn it in order to rejuvenate the spirit impoverished by objective idolatry and commodity fetish, people will pile up towers to the heavens; and then, upon command of their political leaders, bomb them into rubble. If the competition for material wealth becomes democratic enough to include all in the invidious war of all against all called the pursuit of happiness, identical twin towers are eventually set up as relative idols, having no value except their relativity; 1=1: the choice is consumer or consume. Radicals will invariably destroy the symbol equalizing good and evil, and set up a tower beyond good and evil in order to gain entrance into Paradise.
A great drama ensues. The logjam of ambiguity and ambivalence is broken into waves of violence and destruction arguably necessary for evolutionary progress. Disgruntled, frustrated idealists or god-possessed enthusiasts seldom engage in a virtual, unspectacular fight for universal good or love. They would rather witness real destruction, murder and mayhem in a dramatic effort to annihilate the relative evils of each other, each thinking he or she is on the good side.
Moreover, the moral stagnation and spiritual impoverishment cultivated by the competitive, pursuit of so-called happiness in the form of material property is so contrary to the preservation of the human race that, in the absence of attack by foreign enemies, the demoralized population sinks into depression; Our Great Nation then requires some internal stimulation, some New Deal; if that new deal is just another deal, only a violent remedy will do, a Revolution or a War. The Evil must be radically extirpated.
The radical reformations may serve us well until they revert to the very principles they originally opposed. There is a tendency to eventually become the enemy radicals once originally waged war upon. There is little visible difference between a tank decorated with a swastika and one decorated with the Star of David rolling over corpse-strewn rubble. We see democratic republics acting like totalitarian fascists while accusing some nation that wants a viable alternative of totalitarianism. We hear huge corporations extolling the virtues of free markets and individualism. We note frugal puritans, now capitalist hoarders, advocating faith-based charities that the poor may be beholden to and even worship the power responsible for its poverty.
We might finally arrive at the conclusion that evil always wins because man is originally evil. Well, if there is such a thing as Progress, that what we call Progress may be a vicious cycle, a progression from evil to evil.
It is true that good must always proceed from evil, otherwise no good would be called for, but evil shall not win until our race is dead. There is always some hope for real progress in the interims providing that we carefully examine the lessons about ourselves revealed by our history instead of inconsiderately rushing ahead to build more towers to idolize until they are destroyed by yet another iconoclastic cataclysm. We should resort to more spiritual dispositions so that Jerusalem may be everywhere. We should retreat from the insane “objectivism” of “modern” civilization. One most important course we should all regularly take for our mutual good is ‘Disposing of Luxuries.’
I am honored to receive your public remark criticizing my fine Internet essay, “GRAMMAR”.
I am unable to find your name listed in the Directory of Physicians. I suppose you are using a pseudonym or an alias, as is the practice of the Anony Mouse Family. Since I am unable to reach you after your indelicate grammatical operation, I am herewith framing your impertinent critical remark along with my impetuous response thereto:
“Although you obviously have talent as a writer, I think you could have said what you were trying to say in a much less pretentious manner. This was not at all easy to read, and I am a highly educated person who has occasionally been guilty of playing sesquipedalian myself. One of the tenets of good grammar is to avoid verbiage. If I may quote William Safire (THE grammar authority): ‘Many of us like to stretch the minds of our readers, introducing them to the big menu behind the list of daily word specials, but all too often we practive polysyllabicism because we want to show off. Lookame, I got this prodigious vocabulary.’ Choose the word that says precisely what you mean and your prose will be less cumbersome and much more readible (not to mention enjoyable). Good luck!” (sic)
First of all, I congratulate you on your dissimulation I mean “dissimulation” in the psychiatric sense: “the ability or tendency to appear normal when actually suffering from a disorder: a characteristic of the paranoic.” (American Heritage Dictionary).
That, together with your underlying pretention to the literary throne, conspicuously qualifies you to lay down your stethoscope and take up the pen that is, after you have improved your handwriting so that somebody can read it. Already, at this stage of your development, it is difficult to ascertain whether you are a pompous ass or a master of irony, an idiot-savant or a perfect mime, a complete fraud or a pernickety pedant. But one thing is clear: you might do a lot less damage as an author to reader’s minds than as a physician to their brains for, in the latter case, the injury would be irreversible.
In any event, your pursuit of grammatical glories might cure you of the great defect of High Education nowadays: the arrogant narrow-mindedness that makes you believe that, if you do not understand something, it must be someone else’s fault, namely, the author’s. This is really the common defect of bad toilet training: the studious student thinks his toilet is the only throne in town, that it raises him to the most exalted summit yet he does not know the true nature of his productions, so dizzy has he become, with his nose up in the air, breathing his own gas.
Therefore, if you are to progress to Grammar’s true realm, you must climb down from your toilet and broaden your education. You must descend from your imperial tripod and study your trivium at the real trivium, on the mean streets, particularly at the crossroads where robbers and thieves lurk. You must descend from your throne and examine the logjam you have created, then go beyond the putrid prejudices you have acquired at random.
For example, take your blind faith in William Safire as “THE grammar authority”. He is an authority in the narrow sense, however, as you should have gleaned from my brilliant essay, I speak of Grammar in the broadest sense, of the best that has ever been said about everything. I can include only one of Safire’s statements in that category: he said a fence should be erected around your state to keep the weirdoes therein.
No, Safire is not THE authority on grammar. Quite to the contrary. He is your created imposter. H.L. Mencken is the real authority. Since you are given to criticism, you might want to examine his distinction between bad and good critics, set forth in his ‘Footnote on Criticism’ (THE AMERICAN SCENE).
The bad critic “writes because he is possessed by a passion to advance the enlightenment, to put down error and wrong, to disseminate some specific doctrine….This is true, it seems to me, only of bad critics, and its degree of truth increases in direct ratio to their badness….It is almost universally held that the thing is a brother to jurisprudence, advertising, laparotomy, chautaugua lecturing, and the art of the schoolmarm.”
On the other hand, “the motive of the good critic who is really worth reading…is not the motive of the pedagogue but the motive of the artist. It is no more and no less than the simple desire to function freely and beautifully, to give outward and objective form to ideas that bubble inwardly and have a fascinating lure in them, to get rid of them dramatically and make an articulate noise in the world….Everything else is afterthought, mock-modesty, messianic delusion….”
Mencken goes on to speak of his criticism of one of my favorite authors, Theodore Dreiser, saying that he has little interest in Dreiser’s main ideas:
“What then, was my motive in writing about Dreiser so copiously? My motive…was simply to sort out and give coherence to the ideas of MR. MENCKEN and to put them into suave and ingratiating terms, and to disclose them with a flourish, and maybe with a phrase of pretty song, into the dense fog that blanketed the Republic.” (emphasis added)
Dense fog, indeed! In case it is still too dense, Doctor Cynica, Mencken means to say he used Dreiser’s writing as a perch from which to sing his own song. To further clarify this point, I refer you to Miguel de Unamuno’s short story about a physician who loved to write, ‘The Madness of Doctor Montarco’.
Doctor Montarco was a good medical practitioner, nay, almost a perfect one, who took up writing fantastic stories to relieve himself of the burden of prosaic pretentiousness, but his patients believed that a good doctor would confine his writings to medical subjects, that Doctor Montarco’s fantasies proved him incompetent to practive medicine, therefore they gradually deserted him. But the good doctor, despite the threat of imminent poverty for himself and his family, kept writing. His motto was ‘All or Nothing’. He would express himself in full or not at all. His writing of the thoughts people think but do not dare to express eventually landed him in a madhouse, where a Doctor Atienza speculated on whether Doctor Montarco was really mad or not.
“It wasn’t madness,” Doctor Atienza diagnosed. “But now they have succeeded in making it turn into madness. I have been reading his work since he has been here and I realize now that one of their mistakes was to take him for a man of ideas, a writer of ideas, when fundamentally he is no such thing. His ideas were a point of departure, mere raw material, and had as much importance in his writing as earth used by Valasquez in making the pigments had to do with his painting, or as the type of the stone Michelangelo used had to do with his ‘Moses'”
And thus, Doctor Cynica, I am using your bad criticism of my Grammar as grist for my own mill, as a platform to sing yet another song, despite the fact that you did not understand my song to Grammar, and chose to blame me for your misunderstanding.
I realize you might have believed you were honorably enaged in well-intentioned “constructive” criticism when you appended your Comment to my essay. Please know, then, that I fully sympathise with THE greatest grammarian, Mencken, on that very subject, which he pontificated upon in his ‘Footnote on Criticism’ as follows:
“In all history there has never been, to my knowledge, a single practitioner of any art who, as a result of ‘constructive’ criticism, improved his work….I cannot recall a case in which any suggestion offered by a constructive critic has helped me in the slightest, or even actually interested me. Every such wet-nurse of letters has sought fatuously to make me write in a way differing from that in which the Lord God Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, impels me to write: that is, to make me write stuff which, coming from me, would be as false as an appearance of decency in a Congressman….Constructive criticism irritates me. I do not object to being denounced, but I can’t abide being schoolmastered, especially by imbeciles.”
Finally, in closing, I must say that I believe the above will be particularly instructive to you both in your effort to maintain your god-like status as a physician as well as your struggle to become an author. However, with that forewarning in mind, I adjure you, Abandon your physical practice for the metaphysical, make your independent bid for the Mad House, and let bad critics remain damned to the hell they live in.
David Arthur Walters
Miguel de Unamuno, ABEL SANCHEZ and other stories. Trans. Anthony Kerrigan, Chicago: Henry Regner, 1956
H.L. Mencken, THE AMERICAN SCENE, a Reader. Ed. Huntington Cairns, NY: Knopf. 1965
H.L. Mencken, TREATISE ON THE GODS, NY: Knopf, 1930
In my beginning there were no objects, then there was something, then there were many. Something was right, something was wrong, and my original sin was to know it, to be an “I” in this hell on Earth. Yes, there was nothing but now there are many things. Aha, this thing satisfying. Here is something right for me and something wrong for me. Both somethings are not me and, alas, I depend on them, therefore I shall do something about them because I need to persist. I need to grasp the right objects, to act on them. I need to make a living.
I have been severely disappointed by objects. First of all, I lost the most important object of all before I got on my feet. Then, time after time, everything pleasurable was taken away all too soon. If only I had never felt pain, if only my every need had been immediately satisfied, then I would know nothing of this objective hell called reality.
Nothing is sufficient to begin with and in the end nothing will suffice – that is the alpha and omega of it all. I blamed the objects for my discomfort, especially the good objects snatched away from me – I must throw them away before someone has the pleasure of making me suffer again. To hell with things! l shall dump that junk! burn that trash! get down to the bare necessities. The less the number of objects desired and the more things put off, the fewer shall be my frustrations.
As repulsive as objects might be to me, I need a few objects to get me by. Even as a creative author who creates things out of thin air, I need some quiet objective space to fashion my phantasms and to lay out my favorite subject of all, the best subject of all subjects, the human subject that I somehow am, no matter what the object of my discourse might be. Let us face it things, let us be objective, let us admit it – objects are ultimately for subjects, meaning for you and for me as poets, as makers, as high priests of our selves in which all ends meet.
And here is some virtual space, an oceanic of digits into which my micturition is added are of no moment – the very grandeur of my insignificance, however, overwhelms me. Here is a place that can stand the full extent of my vanity, that can bear the full brunt of my denial of all those things which exist for me yet deny me because I am not them – I am a negation. I have made a habit of denying things and I have come to love the process – some say it is cowardly, but they fear losing everything.
Please, sir, or ma’am, please give me another bowl of gruel, or otherwise patronize me – I do need the basics of life – but please do not worry about my sanity – I am just screaming, that’s all. People who read my virtual screams sometimes think I am clinically depressed and about to go into a fetal position or off the ledge of a cliff; they would be astonished to know how happy-go-lucky I am in person now that I have nothing to hold me down. I see no conflict in that. I am being as honest as I can be. I am a high-spirited, optimistic pessimist. I am not a desperate member of the Pursuit of Happiness Club or a neurotic Positive Mental Attitude fanatic. It is just that I have my pet peeve – objects. The cluttered-up world starts to get to me in between screams. A department store looks like a junk yard to me – I hate shopping. After about five minutes in any superstore, I feel an overpowering urge to start screaming bloody murder. In fact, just the thought of it makes me want to scream again. After scream or two, I feel great. I used to scream under the viaduct where almost nobody would hear me, but now the wonderful new information superhighway has provided me with this little place to scream.
“Medusa loved to feel the serpents which served for hair curled close to her neck and dangling down her back, but with their heads raised to form an impressive bang over her forehead – in what has since become the fashionable style at Rome. And when she used a comb, their poison would flow freely,” wrote the poet Lucan.
Medusa, as we know so well, could turn anything into stone with a mere glance. “No living creature, in fact, could bear to look at that face, not even the serpents on her head; which explains why they curled back from her forehead.”
Nero himself adopted the Medusa Hairdo. Maybe the Medusa Hairdo will become the rage again in our own time if we can find a suitable model – how about Sharon Stone? After all, Elizabeth Taylor’s adoption of ancient Egyptian garb and cosmetics was all the rage at one point time – a girl could not wear too much blue eye shadow.
Muslim women could drop the veil if the Medusa Hairdo were effectively styled. That would suit two prehistoric cosmetic purposes: disguise the creature oft preyed upon; frighten away would-be attackers; turning them into stone would no doubt suffice. Cosmetic camouflage became ritualized hence we have social camouflage; stereotypical facial characteristics emerge as images of beauty, and vary over time. Perhaps the “stony look” we observe in some men and women today is a vestige of the Roman Medusa Do.
Women employ cosmetics to put their cosmos in order. The cosmetic art of kosmetikos was not only a matter of camouflage and adornment but was a medical art as well. Cosmetics had hygienic uses and were employed as medicines for disease, such as the eye paint used by Egyptians to protect their eyes from a disease caused by exposure to the Sun. Cleopatra wrote a book about alchemical cosmetics. And of course there are psychological advantages to putting on one’s face or war paint: a woman feels more beautiful and secure. However, “painting her eyes and arranging her hair” did not save Jezebel from her fate, as we see in 2 Kings 9:30.
All sorts of substances were used. For example, pomades for damaged hair were made of sheep and bear grease; hellebore and pepper mixed with rat’s heads and excrement; bone marrow of the deer; and so on. As for beauty, coiffures for men and women even in prehistorical times included permanent waving and bleaching – urine was used as bleach.
The Romans set the standard for civilized elegance with their attitude towards hygiene and their liberal employment of perfumes and cosmetics. What Ovid said of the art of cosmetics applies to many artistic techniques to this very day: “Artifice is a fine thing when it’s not perceived…. The art that adorns you should be unsuspected.”
Both sexes of the Roman upper class invested several hours each day in their toilet. Caesar himself was in the wig business: he reportedly forced Gauls to cut their hair as a sign of submission; hence blondish wigs were plentiful in Rome where blondes were having more fun. Portraits in those days had detachable hairstyles to keep up with fashion. Since razors were dull, Caesar preferred to have his facial hairs plucked out one by one; there were depilatories available, made of such substances as resin, pitch, ivy gum extract, ass’s fat, she-goat’s gall, bat’s blood, and powdered viper.
Lucan mentions the Medusa Hairdo in Pharsalia. Cato is marching in Africa at the head of a remnant of the republican forces during the Civil War; the supreme commanders of the opposing forces were Pompey and Caesar. A spring surrounded and inhabited by all sorts of snakes was encountered in the middle of the desert. The men, fearing the water was contaminated by snake poison, would not drink it, but Cato assured them that snake venom has no effect unless a person is bitten; he took a gulp of the spring water himself to prove his point, the only time he had ever taken a drink before his men instead of after them all.
Lucan did not know why Libya was beset with snakes, so he turned to mythology. “Having been unable to ascertain why the soil of Libya is mysteriously plagued with such myriads of venomous reptiles, I can do no better than record the delusive but widespread legend of Medusa, daughter of Phorcys. Medusa is said to have lived in the far west of Africa, at the point where the ocean laps against the hot earth, in a wide, untilled, treeless region which she had turned to stone merely by gazing around her. The story is that, when her head was cut off, serpents were bred from the fallen blood and came hissing out to display their forked tongues.”
Lucan further notes in respect to Libya that Athena wanted Medusa’s head for a trophy, so she advised Perseus how to cut it off. She gave Perseus a bronze shield, and instructed him to fly backwards, using the shield as a mirror, when he reached the Libyan frontier, thereby avoiding petrification. Perseus found Medusa asleep there. and cut off her head. He wanted to fly over Europe with it but Athena forbade him from doing so because Europeans would look up and be turned to stone. So he flew back over Libya with the head; the blood dripped onto its soil, wherefore the extraordinary abundance of snakes in that particular region of Africa.