Uncommon Sense

December 4, 2019

The Hero: A Book Report

Filed under: Culture,language,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:33 am
Tags: ,

I finished reading The Hero by Lee Child, author of action thrillers, most prominently those involving his main character, Jack Reacher. And I promised you a book report.

This is a quick read and quite enjoyable as it the author’s riff on what defines the word “hero.” He uses as a framework the evolution of humankind, focusing on the genetic bottleneck that occurred about 2500 generations ago in which the human population of Europe and its surrounds fell to about 4000 individuals (due to an ice age, you know). He believes that that event shaped us into the people we are. To quote him:

Conventionally our long, eventful seven-million-year evolutionary journey is thought of as an inevitable ascent toward ever-increasing perfection. Which it might be. Or not. It depends on where we started. Who are we descended from? Who was my 1,198-times great grandmother? What kind of person survives an eight-hundred-generation Ice Age? Such a thing doesn’t happen by accident. Potential survivors didn’t sit around hoping for the best. They spent eight hundred generations kicking and clawing and killing and stealing. Maybe they started on the Neanderthals. Then they started on each other. Conditions got worse. The nice guys died out. By the end the human population was reduced to the nastiest handful. My 1,198-times great grandmother was one of them. One of a savage, feral, cunning bunch. They would kill you as soon as look at you. They would steal your food and shelter. A ferocious will to live, with the emphasis on the first part.

Along the way to this conclusion, Mr. Child dissects the meaning of the word hero, from its initial meanings to the almost total meaningless it has now (ordinary firefighters are labeled heroes without having done anything heroic . . . for political reasons). Mr. Child explains why this happened:

The entire purpose of story is to manipulate. Previously who was doing the manipulating didn’t matter very much. It was always just some random person, with talent and energy, and no real agenda beyond some kind of empowering encouragement, which was intended to help the community as a whole anyway. But now there was a state, however rudimentary, and a government. There was an elite, and a hierarchy stretching out below them. There was power and control. The New Stone Age. A new system. Perhaps too long ago and too small and too prototype-crude to be given names from later periods, but all authoritarian and totalitarian governments need to control the story.

The bottom line is that Mr. Child, he of a classical education and quite erudite, has foresworn the use of the word “hero” as being meaningless . . . now.

This is a quick and good read, quite thought provoking.

 

 

 

December 3, 2019

What You Oppose You Make Stronger

I cannot find a source for the quote used as the title of this post but it has been rattling around in my head for a very long time (it might be a Go aphorism). It came to me as I was reading these paragraphs in an article in The Atlantic:

“But the liberal politics of young people brings us to the first big reason to care about rising (religious) non-affiliation. A gap has opened up between America’s two political parties. In a twist of fate, the Christian right entered politics to save religion, only to make the Christian-Republican nexus unacceptable to millions of young people—thus accelerating the country’s turn against religion.

“Although it would be wrong to call Democrats a secular party (older black voters are highly religious and dependably vote Democratic), the left today has a higher share of religiously unaffiliated voters than anytime in modern history. At the same time, the average religiosity of white Christian Republicans has gone up, according to Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the polling firm, Public Religion Research Institute, and the author of The End of White Christian America. Evangelicals feel so embattled that they’ve turned to a deeply immoral and authoritarian champion to protect them—even if it means rendering unto an American Caesar whatever the hell he wants. American politics is at risk of becoming a war of religiosity versus secularism by proxy, where both sides see the other as a catastrophic political force that must be destroyed at all costs.”

I could almost hear the pieces clicking together in my mind. Follow me now. For the last half century, the wealthy elites in this country have engaged in a class war, although all they were doing was trying to reassert the control they used to have over the economy and culture, at least they claim that is what they were doing. They wanted: social stability, lower restrictions upon their ability to make money (lower taxes, less regulation, etc.), and a small grab bag of other things they thought were all to the good for “ordinary people,” of whom they knew none.

As part of that social stability, they saw strong corporations, strong families, and a dominant religion as parts (our dominant religion is “Christianity,” whatever the heck that is).

Their strategy was to control elections and government, something the wealthy elites were used to doing in the past, although they did it socially. It was considered unseemly and “beneath their station in life” to participate in politics. But that changed with the Powell Memo and a new breed of wealthy businessmen (yes businessmen, few women were involved as they were seen as a pillar of families, so they belonged in the home bringing order to that chaos).

In order to expand and protect their wealth, it was necessary to effect wealth transfers, from the poor and middle class to them. This was effected mostly through tax revisions; for example, tax cuts were good so small tax cuts for the poor and middle class (throw them a bone) and large tax cuts for the wealthy were, and still are, the order of the day. Many of the wealthy were shocked at how effective their political spending was. ROIs of over 20:1 were seen (for every dollar they spent on politicking/lobbying, $20 came back to them or their corporations). This was too easy.

But eviscerating the poor and middle class by making them politically impotent and economically disadvantaged, had consequences. By making them less secure, they also were being made less religious. Religious leaders were seen to be as corrupt as the political leaders. This was topsy-turvy to the wealthy; usually insecurity raised religiosity. People turned to God when their needs were not being met. But in this case, people were seeing religions forming coalitions with politicians and religious scandals were undermining people’s acceptance of their religion as being separate from and different from their politicians.

The economic uncertainty has weakened the state of marriage, weakened the hold of religion on people’s thinking, and undermined the social stability these fat cats were trying to effect.

They are now riding the tiger of the populous sentiments that have risen in response to their actions.

Well, it least they got richer.

Simple and Impossible

I love it when things come together, in this case a PBS history of Hanukkah and a blog discussion of Christian ethics. Here, in a nutshell, is the core of the discussion of Christian ethics:

“The Bible says a lot of good things. Fundamentally, as Jesus says, the rule of law comes down to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Heartwarming, 100% a principle to live your life by, good job Bible (though it is bizarre to say that the Bible is its origin).”

I think this “law” is a classic exhortation of an impossible goal. Is it even possible to “Love your neighbor as yourself?” I think it is not. In the hierarchy of things we value, we place ourselves at the top (anybody who says otherwise is virtue signally or deluded or lying at the same time). This is because of a certain practical situation. You cannot serve, help, protect, etc. any of those you love if you die first. You must preserve yourself, so you can protect, etc. others you value. (Yes, it is that simple. Not even lemmings are lemmings.)

Under yourself, are your immediate family: your spouse, your children and then your extended family, your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. (We have names for these relationships for a reason.) Then, past that point there is your tribe and I use this term loosely as people see it differently. These are your extended in group, people you care about, at least theoretically. (Governments try mightily to extend your in group to the borders of the country … and no further (loyalty, patriotism, love for the Vaterland, etc.).

Biologically and socially, we have invested a great deal in making signals for who is and who isn’t in our in group. We have: language (people who didn’t speak Greek were called barbarians), hairstyles, hats and other articles of clothing (flag lapel pins, special underwear, shawls, religious uniforms, etc.), membership in certain groups (religions, churches, Knights of Columbus, Republican Party, etc.), and so on. So, if you are in conversation with someone and they interject “Praise the Lord,” you know who you are talking to.

Okay, so the PBS special? I found it fascinating how the memes of Hanukkah celebrations are supported, passed on to new generations, and used as a binder of Jewish society (which is what memes are for and why they are “transmitted” and survive). All of the ceremonies, special foods (latkes, yum!), songs, games, etc. involved in these festivities establish a common background for all of the people in their particular “in group.” This helps bond people into the group and helps to identify who is and isn’t in the group. (If you don’t know what a dreidel is, you ain’t in the in group.)

Which brings us full circle to Christian ethics. The admonition to “Love your neighbor as yourself” intended that neighbor to be someone in your in group. At that time “foreigners” just did not buy a place in your neighborhood and settle down. Jews lived with other Jews, so “Love your neighbor as yourself” actually means “Love your neighbor Jew as yourself.” It was not designed to include everyone. There was no point, especially in a group that is related genetically as Jews were. (The hostility directed at modern converts is a residue of this feeling. Those converts may be Jews, but they aren’t family.)

And, even when so limited, this admonition isn’t really possible. It was posited, possibly in good faith (no pun intended), as a standard that could not be met but could be strived for, a standard everyone fails at some times, and so it also bonds the in group. And it certainly wasn’t directed at “humanity.”

And, as an aside, the decrying of the secularization of the Christmas holiday (including the Fucking War on Christmas), is a bemoaning of the loss of any grip the Christian churches had on this “holy day.” Festivities were often centered in the church (when the church got over its opposition to the festivities all together) with nativity plays, special services, etc. Now, many don’t include the church in their plans art all. Thus Christians don’t have a powerful meme sharing program to identify with as the Jews have in their Hanukkah festivities. And they bemoan its loss.

« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.