Post-Politics

I was just watching the end of a concert by a favorite band, The XX. It was sort of an epiphany – you’d have to see the concert, but it is simply a show full of love. These kids love one another (I’ve seen them in interviews) and I believe they love their fans for giving them a voice. And their fans love them.

It used to be you could just assume folks put love in the “plus” column, unless they’re jerks. But need I tell you? Jerks are on the rise.

And not just love. Everything that goes into it, into art, into soulful expression – into taking that risk of putting yourself out there, in whatever form, to affirm that love is good, to make yourself vulnerable to ridicule by expressing admiration for warm emotions, for friendship and respect. For honor, which is based on honesty, and truth, which is required for honesty.

It appears you risk being some kind of snowflake. Be that as it may, it’s a risk the vast majority of us are still willing to take. Only a few have found this time to be an apt opportunity to reveal an inner, coarser self, one that had heretofore been kept under wraps.

But they are a noisy few!

What my eyes and ears tell me, though, when witnessing an XX concert or a flood of “mad” emojis under a Pence speech, is that they are few in number compared to those who simply want to live and let live. The problem? Of course, it’s simple – though relatively rare, white Christian nationalism is now concentrated in the political class, more specifically the Republican party. This is having, for some, a legitimizing effect on what would have been scandalous behavior not ten years ago.

I mean, remember when you could get impeached for lying about a blow job?

When the governor of Nebraska goes into open battle with public higher education and Planned Parenthood, going so far as to call Nebraska a “pro-life” state (where he is dying to execute his prisoners, but never mind) – this reveals a deeper corrosion that preceded the president’s slimy rise to power. Ditto Walker, Brownback, Christie, Sessions, Bannon, Miller. They were waiting for him as one awaits a savior.

And the Joe Blows out there, with the aid of Facebook, are ascendant in their new nastiness, their on-script, imagination-free on line bullying and harassment.  Feeling their new “legitimacy” [sic] and testing out those “button-pushing” words!

I was never able to imagine how the right-wing political class would normalize Trump. I thought it impossible. And I was right – the man refuses to even pretend to be civilized. But I was forgetting that for a significant minority, it was not necessary to normalize the president’s boorish behavior.

To them, he was already normal.

In this, I believe many of us are “post-political,” in that we know we are members of a sane, rational majority. But we have little representation in the central government or in our region, both of which are seas of deepest, now-darkest red. Our leaders are leaders in name only. They are sectarians. They don’t identify with us, they don’t represent us, and they don’t want to. We are sailing different seas, every day. Our paths do not cross. Or if they do, it is to oppose each other’s ideas.

They are becoming to me as I already am to them – irrelevant.

 

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Two and Two Make Trumpism

I believe we are watching our language break down in real time in the manner described by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984. I believe a lot of people have simply given up on independent thinking and objective reality, and are content to merely spout empty slogans to shield themselves from words they perceive as threatening to their self-constructed, solipsistic world view.

To such people the truth is, in effect, arbitrary and tangential to the goal of communication, which is to win.

This never really occurred to me before, that the principles of Newspeak (i.e. the fewer words people have to use, the better at limiting what they think) would go mainstream in 2016. Instead of the nuanced analysis and acceptance of facts not in support of one’s position required by honest debate,  we get people who’ve been trained to rely on epithets and catch phrases: “swamp creature” and “snowflake” and “lock her up” (complete with 2-minute hates, a la Goldsteinism) and “build that wall” and “violent/intolerant left” and “fake news” and all the other all-purpose MAGA terms that seek to shut down informed debate before it can start.

I no longer attempt to “argue” with self-identified Trumpers, because there will be no reasoned argument. There will be only slogans and Kellyanne-style “whataboutisms” and, if those don’t silence the unwanted sound of information coming their way – insults designed to intimidate or subtly threaten the speaker for not being on the right team, and never mind the details. Wrong team.

What there will never be is an admission that anything Trump ever said or did was wrong or misguided or illegal. Or, if he did make a slight error in judgment, what about Hillary and her emails? What about the murder of Seth Rich by the DNC? And other assorted distracting falsehoods and irrelevancies (oft-repeated to gain that veneer of truthiness).

What supporters of Trump ask of us is that we deny the reality of our senses – that we not believe our eyes and ears. Reality is not the foundation on which their arguments are made – it is the prize to be won by making them. Everything Trump announces about himself on a regular basis – that he is a sexual predator, a misogynist, a narcissist, a bigot, a fraud, a serial liar, a criminal and a cheat – none of these facts can be relevant or even true. They cannot. Because if they were, Trump supporters would be backing a man with no moral authority whatsoever. They would be backing a fraud.

So to Trump supporters, Trump’s not a sexual predator – CNN doctored that tape. He’s not a misogynist – (insert woman’s name) is lying (or she had it coming). He did not make fun of that disabled reporter, even though it’s on tape. He’s not a bigot – Mexicans really are mostly rapists and drug dealers and “maybe a few good people too”, and Muslims are dangerous and need watching anyway. He’s not a cheat – all those contractors who say they got stiffed are lying. The hundreds of lawsuits? Sore losers. And the massive protests? Protesters are all actors being paid by George Soros and the DNC.

Eventually, Trump will have never gotten draft deferments, will never have had five kids from three different wives whom he serially cheated on, will never have called Mexicans rapists, will never have mused about having sex with his own daughter. And he will never have called the press “the enemy of the American people” – once he controls the press.

At that point, the matter will be settled. Two and two will make five. Forever.

***

 

The Crisis of Antifa

Well, here’s a conundrum. What to do about Antifa?

We knit the fabric of our societies around our symbols, those we revere and those we deplore. In America, we revere the flag (the real one), the Constitution, the Statue of Liberty, mom, apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, etc. So far so good. On the deplorable side, we have Nazis, KKK, dictators, police states, etc. In effect, they are the negative side of our identity – that which we as America could never be. But then, somehow, a small subset of society (any society) will inevitably embrace the symbols they are supposed to deplore, and work against the ideals they were raised to respect and live by. Why do they do that? I’d answer that question with another question: Why are bullies mean when we all agree it’s better to be nice?

Ah, but nice to whom?

Like Frank Burns famously said  – “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” But what about the not nice? What about those who embrace the symbols of hate this nation was designed to deplore – the swastika, the confederate flag, the flaming torch of the rabble rouser, the KKK’s white hoods and cryptic logos?

What about the misfits?

Because lest anyone forget, these are misfits. They are the human dregs left over after society absorbs the useful people. These are human failures, who know they are failures. But they don’t know why, because another personality trait they share is a lack of curiosity regarding how they came to occupy their place in the world – as society’s rejects. Instead, they have comforting “lore”, which in this case translates to “lies”, since the lore they celebrate is phony. You know the lore I speak of – it has to do with Northern aggression, the “Lost Cause”, state’s rights, the inherent dignity of white men (as opposed to…other men?), the truculence of the “lazy” entitled classes who have been elevated above white people by America-hating leftists (translation: minorities, immigrants, single mothers). According to the tenets of our white supremacist citizens’ “social clubs”, these interloping “others” are part of a globalist cabal (WTO/EMF/UN/Media/Universities) that seeks to destroy America’s identity by marginalizing white people while the fruits of white men’s labor (i.e. the country itself) is handed off to waves of dark-skinned immigrants and the “undeserving” poor.

Of course, one easy way to debunk that theory is to look around you. Look at the white people. See them trodden underfoot by minorities? Losing their privileged place in society? Harassed by the authorities? Demonized by politicians? Me neither.  This is America – white people still run everything, and everything is run largely for the benefit of white people. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise: think of all the white people you know of in positions of power – the president, vice president, the cabinet, the corporate billionaires, everyone save one in the Senate, all leaders in Congress, the Supreme Court (save two), vast majority of governors, mayors, chiefs of police, state legislators. Now, think of all the minority people you know of in positions of power. (Hint: Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor at SCOTUS and Cory Booker in the Senate.)

But never mind, these misfits are not into truth or objective reality – they are into themselves and their fake dogma. They feel they are society’s “castoffs”, and ironically, they’re right. Of course, they are not castoffs because they’re white. They’re castoffs because they’re willfully ignorant racists who don’t respect their fellow citizens’ rights or, for that matter, the rule of law. They proved that last point in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville – where the shit literally hit the fan. Now that shit’s all over the country, feeling emboldened, like it doesn’t stink. But these people are, once again, just the dregs, the misfits, the ones society has no real use for. They don’t have nice things, or a future to look forward to, or the imagination to devise a future they can look forward to. So they sit, and they stew, and then they march, insisting that we all owe them something and that we’re somehow trying to “replace” them.

And why do they march? Do they want to start a “dialogue” as the pamphlets say? Do they want to exercise their First Amendment rights? You know, it doesn’t matter. Because once they get there, and start the violence, it’s all revealed as a scam, an excuse to act out their adopted role as society’s ignorant rejects bent on violence against people who don’t look like them. Second mental exercise:  imagine a group of these people arriving at the town square – unarmed and torch-free – standing together peacefully while listening to a speech, then quietly dispersing afterwards. Hard to do, isn’t it? Because although that’s what they say they want, it almost never happens that way, and that’s by design.

The police – where were they in Charlotte? They were nowhere to be seen for most of the day, which I suppose is understandable since the violent racists who marched into town and started beating everyone up were protected by heavily armed militia men, at least one of whom fired a gun at protesters as police looked on and did nothing (it’s on film). But if that is to be the police formula – violent armed white supremacists are to be left alone to attack peaceful citizens and even fire upon them while peaceful non-white protesters (BLM, Standing Rock, anti-Trumpers, etc.) are to be violently assaulted – then we are going to need another way to handle these violent racists when they descend on our cities.

That’s the very important “if” – the vast majority of us are, of course, regular people who just want to get along with our lives, who have no interest in fringe politics and street drama. We have jobs and kids and mortgages. We prefer the citizen-paid police and other civil law enforcement to work on our behalf to limit the violence that lawless militias seek to inflict on their perceived domestic enemies (i.e. everyone who isn’t white and a Nazi), as well as those violent types on the opposite political spectrum who are so eager to, as the kids say these days, “punch a Nazi.”

But that “if” hangs there, insistently, the “if” of Charlottesville, where innocent bystanders and peaceful protesters were saved from beatings or murder at the hands of Nazi scum NOT by police, but by the black-clad Antifa, or Anti-fascists, who came in great numbers to, they hoped, silence the hate speech and meet the violence on offer by the alt-right.

They weren’t there to ask nicely or play defense. They were there to meet the threat head-on. And they did. And in this case – because law enforcement opted out – it’s a good thing they did.

But then this week in Berkeley a group of  five Antifa attacked a man who was offering no violence or, as far as I can tell, even hate speech. A journalist had to intervene to save him (the journalist was also beaten). So that’s a bad thing they did.

And that’s the rub – outside the governance of law, and acting in anonymity, no group can be trusted to act within the confines of law and in the interests of the greater civil society. They act in their own interest. And we don’t really know what that is. They may not either.

Antifa is not new, they are a loose-knit group of communists and anti-globalists with few visible leaders and no set philosophy apart from a zero-tolerance policy regarding white supremacists and fascists of all stripes. They do not claim to be non-violent, and many are armed.

But who Antifa “is” is less important than why they exist. They are not a proactive grievance group like our domestic Nazis. They don’t really have a message – they are the reaction to the message. They might be likened to the antibodies of the country, seemingly philosophically programmed to attack the Nazi virus before it spreads. And as long as the White House, Jeff Sessions, and law enforcement in general are determined to play footsie with white nationalists and give them some rope (as it were) in the form of  a wink-wink plea to the legitimacy of “both sides” or a stand down approach to armed Nazi/KKK rallies, it appears to me Antifa is necessary for the moment. I won’t say I welcome them – I welcome none of this nonsense. But if Antifa is a reckless endeavor – and it is – it would be much worse to nurture a pollyannaish pacifist ideal as the violence grows. To allow the current vacuum of moral authority to provide an opening for these loosely allied white nationalist groups to metastasize into a unified, out-of-control cancer causing the mutation and eventual destruction of our republic – of its ideals – that would be the real tragedy. To be standing amidst the wanton destruction of our own American Kristallnacht, pretending to wonder what went wrong, would be the unforgivable choice.

Both of these groups are fringe groups, and both represent a very small portion of society. But as we’ve seen, the smallest amount of encouragement from the White House/alt-right press sends ugly white nationalists into a state of dreamy delirium, and they act as if they are on the cusp of sparking the “race war” their hero attempted to jump-start by murdering those nine Black people in South Carolina as they prayed to a Christian god.  Each time they get a subtle nod or wink  from the president, or Stephen Miller, or Breitbart, it feels as if the nation’s leadership is secretly in league with the nation’s most vile enemies. It’s a terrible feeling. Whether or not it’s true, the important thing is that the misfits believe it to be true. They talk of the day being “closer” every time they are able to rally openly, to spread hatred and intimidation without resistance.

Antifa provides the resistance that law enforcement seems unwilling – at the moment – to provide. They, at least, seem to understand that you shut down these movements early. You don’t let them get a foothold or get normalized into the mainstream by the continued, unchallenged presence of their vile symbols of fascist nostalgia. You insist they are unacceptable. You do not back down from that.

As we’ve seen in the Charlottesville aftermath, many would-be Nazis are actually punk kids bored with their privilege. The tears flow pretty easily once they are separated from the group, brought into the light and relieved of their tiki torches. If law enforcement can break out the water cannons, rubber bullets, shock devices, mace grenades, etc., and bring all of that to the peaceful Native Americans protesting the rape of their land by big oil – and even bring in law enforcement from other states to get that job done – they should be able to handle a few misfit Nazis and their mentally unbalanced militia friends.

Until they do, we have Antifa. And until they do, we deserve Antifa.

“…and in the darkness bind them.”

The tolling bell you hear is the slowly swinging pendulum sounding the death knell of the Democratic party. I was concerned this outcome would come to pass, and it is coming. I’m no Democrat, but I understand that this government is built on a foundation of two parties in opposition, performing the expected checks and balances on one another. And Democrats seem to have disappeared from the landscape.

When there is only one party, they can turn off the spigot of information, legislate in the dark, and shut down all avenues of debate over government policy. And that’s what the Republicans are doing. Want to complain to Sen. Deb Fischer or Sen. Ben Sasse about the Senate health care bill? Why? You don’t know what’s in it, and neither do they. We have reached the point where, in a room full of citizens and their elected Congressional representatives – who themselves are members of the ruling party –  there is still nobody in the room with the ability to influence government policy.

If no other truism about Americans is reliable anymore, the “winners win” mantra of the pro sports/corporate/suburban/white/government classes remains a bellwether, a rock solid institution of the American psyche that makes us all kin to Alabama football fans. Winners win, and losers lose, and any other value judgment you care to apply is – sorry – irrelevant. This is also one of the very few things the president knows – he knows that by and large, Americans abhor an ethical, morally conscious loser who loses more than they are bothered by the unethical, immoral winner who wins. Trump himself is the poster boy for this American institution. We all know he’s unethical, dishonest, immoral, etc. He knows nothing about government, or frankly anything else. But he was elected president because he projected a winner’s persona and smeared everyone else with his favorite label for everyone who’s not named Trump – loser.

Thus the more Democrats lose, and the more they point impotent fingers at one another for losing, and the more Republicans win on an agenda of intolerance, race hatred, misogyny, corporate greed, xenophobia, white power, and all the rest, the more the idea gets cemented in sparsely-informed American minds that Republicans are on the winning side of these class warfare issues. Trump’s deplorable positions on everything – women’s rights, immigrants, NATO, the “Wall”, free trade, police and government corruption, government transparency and ethics, voting rights, the environment, energy policy, tax policy, health care – these become the winning positions.

I’ve never believed that people in general are “good at heart” – many are, but you only have to study recent history (or just go to a Trump rally) to learn that many are not. Let’s be real – many people are self-centered, vindictive and hateful. Such people see a friend in Trump, who nurtured and shaped their inchoate paranoia and rage into hatred of HIS enemies. History also teaches that good people who find themselves in a society experiencing rising intolerance, fascism, nationalism, widespread corruption – once it gets going they don’t necessarily have the means to stop it from happening. Because the people who are not good at heart (but who ARE in power) quickly render the democratic institutions that could stop their insurgency inert. Meanwhile, they repeatedly bring into question the very nature of law and order, and of facts themselves, until literally everything comes down to a matter of opinion. Sound familiar? Russia provides a great example. We were warned by a number of Russians that they too felt like Putin’s election was just a phase, a hiccup, that the country would “right itself” before he was able to transform a fledgling democracy into a standard-issue dictatorship. They were wrong. (Just last week literally millions of Russians risked their liberty by participating in an illegal Anti-Corruption march. The effect, apart from coverage by the foreign press and many arrests, was absolutely null.) And we are wrong if we think Trump and his eager GOP army of polite, smiling fascists will be kind to our beleaguered republic. Putin did his best to install Trump because he gambled it would help destabilize our delicate democratic balance of power (not because he’s a friend of Trump). Boy did he hit the jackpot.

If you don’t see it now you may one day, when you’re looking down the barrel of an Authorized Unruly Citizen Execution device, thinking “this can’t happen” to white, law-abiding me. But it happens nearly every day, right now, to people of color – just recently in Omaha, in fact, though the murder weapon was a taser rather than a pistol. These people of color – like the Native Americans at Standing Rock, like the people at every anti-Trump protest who find themselves being pummeled with rubber bullets and arrested for “rioting”  – these are the test subjects. Jeff Sessions is in Washington actively encouraging more police departments to engage in such tests by publicly announcing that he is abandoning all Justice Department investigations into civil rights abuses by local police forces (and will initiate no new investigations), while he and Trump quietly remove the legal safeguards of civil rights policy reform enacted over the last eight years. And I believe that eventually, just like the civil rights workers who were wantonly murdered in the American South in the 1960s, white folks who persist in exposing these police murders for what they are in the 2000s are likely to find that same target on their chests.

(In fact, 53 years ago today, on June 21 ,1964, civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner were arrested by a Mississippi deputy sheriff for speeding. They were released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. Recall that Jeff Sessions has testified much more recently that he was “OK” with the Klan until he learned they used illegal drugs.)

The irony is that true leaders in some of the police forces under investigation (Philadelphia, Chicago) were welcoming of federal guidance and federal prosecution of bad officers. They offered that it’s difficult to change police culture from within or prosecute bad actors locally because of the “old guard” and “blue wall” mentalities that can be generated in tight-knit police departments, not to mention local tax/funding issues quashing internally-driven improvements. But Sessions doesn’t want more humane police. He actually wants them to get “tougher” on us, if that’s even possible given that the police are murdering people every week.

I don’t enjoy reaching these conclusions. But given the facts, I can’t see my way to any other, rosier ones. Back in August – November 2016, I implored every forward-thinking person I know (and even some backward-thinking persons) to stop Trump. Quit complaining about Hillary and the DNC, and STOP TRUMP. Not stopping him, to my mind then, would be a signal to the country and to the world that the man represents what we are, and who we are. Not stopping him is the equivalent of endorsing him. “None of the above” or a protest vote for a candidate whose name you probably won’t even remember in a year is unacceptable. Silence is assent. We have assented, we have met the Trumpers and they are effectively us, and we knew all along that the people to whom we’ve handed this power are not the type to put it to good use for the common betterment of the country and its citizens – because they have never been that type, never served and never contributed to the country. Draft-dodging Trump, tax-dodging Trump, pussy-grabbing Trump and his billionaire cabinet – not to mention Steve Bannon – have demonstrated over the course of their lives that they are interested only in enriching themselves and their families or chosen clans.  They’re in it for the money. We threw out everyone who was in it to do some good.

…And He is Us

You know how in the thriller movies, you’ll have a disaster situation brewing because of some evil figure secretly plotting the destruction of the Western world?  Like in James Bond you have SPECTER, or with Superman you got your Lex Luthor?

In these movies the “established order” always comes around to save the day, even if it looked shaky or damaged or a little bit corrupt at the start. Because in the movies, even if they focus on a super-hero (or super spy), it’s “human values” that win in the end, even against the most powerful of evil forces. Because in our American mythology, good may suffer setbacks, but eventually – with the faith of its believers – good triumphs over evil.

But those are movies. How does that work when the ones plotting the destruction of America are also in charge of America? Who will be the “forces of good” that come to the rescue when the American people themselves have, by their votes, elected would-be  destroyers of all things good to lead the country?

In this non-movie I call “reality”, every tenet of democracy that Americans hold dear is under attack – the Constitution, the rule of law, equality under the law, civilian control of the military, national security, an independent judiciary and a free press. But those who we would call to action to defend us? Our representatives in Congress? Yeah they are also the ones attacking our freedoms, as you have guessed by now.

But it’s worse than that. The Trump administration “officials” [sic] and their toadies in Congress who are currently going ahead with their vow to “deconstruct the administrative state” also have the support of nearly half the electorate. So even though it’s plain for all to see that this administration (when not lining its pockets with taxpayer cash) is mainly about the destruction of bedrock Western ideals as espoused in the Constitution, the problem for those who see it is that about half the country refuses to look. They are too elated about “winning” – i.e., the fact that the democratic process was undermined and perverted enough in 2016 to allow a DNA sequencing error like Donald Trump and his amoral billionaire “friends” [sic] to be put “in charge” [sic] of the country.  They are too busy enjoying the tears of their vanquished “enemies” (i.e., their fellow Americans) to be concerned about what it is, actually, that their president is up to.

Resist

Let me be crystal sparkling clear:

I have little use for partisan bickering and the “team sports” of American politics. My observations on the impending destruction of this democratic republic are not “whining” by the losing team (I’m not a Democrat). I have no personal issue with modern Republicans, only my profound disagreement with their Ayn Rand-inspired policies (that particular Russian hypocrite once praised a serial killer’s “strength of will,” you know, but ended up living on Social Security). I also find the lack of civility many in the GOP demonstrate in the political arena to be tawdry, immature, and a barrier to progress (and this goes for some Democrats too).

What I am now radicalized to fight against—yes, fight—is not “Republicans” but the white nationalist insurgency that hijacked that damaged and fractious political party in order to install a neophyte authoritarian narcissist bigot in the White House. What I am against is this same group’s acceptance—even encouragement—of a hostile foreign power inserting itself into what is supposed to be a free and fair democratic election. No matter Putin’s exact level of involvement or success, the mere fact of this blatant incursion by a global adversary, a former totalitarian state (and now a plutocracy/kleptocracy) run by an ex-KGB dictator who despises Western democracy—my God, this should be a blaring siren to highly placed officials who are entrusted to protect this society from those who seek to damage or co-opt it. But what do these incoming “leaders” and their admirers in Congress do instead? They dismiss the facts, they obfuscate, they lie, they deny, and they wait.

They are waiting for the last honorable person to leave Washington in disgust—to leave the keys of the capital city’s vault of treasures unguarded and all of us peasants unprotected by the rule of law.

What I also deplore is the normalization of bigotry, patriarchal misogyny, hate-based polices, and plutocracy run amok.

My position has nothing to do with “politics” and everything to do with fairness, freedom, truth, and honor. All of these principles are on the table now, because just enough Americans (nowhere near a majority or even a plurality, but enough) voted against them in November.

I just want to be honest about this. Clear lines are now drawn, and they have nothing to do with politics, personalities or political parties. I don’t want rebuttals or explanations or anything else from those who support lies, dishonor and infamy. I don’t want to hear from tiresome relativist cynics and closet anarchists about how politicians are “all the same” or “there’s nothing anyone can do” or any such self-deluding “I know the secret truth about the world” nonsense. I read widely and a lot, so I’ve heard it. Whatever a Sophist might say, the facts have emerged and are clearly plain to see. They are staring us in the face, with a sick and twisted grimace that openly mocks the good that’s left in this world. We see it because for now, large portions of our free press are still free, and still working. It will be a free press that helps us find our way—or at least those of us who value that freedom. And all the others.

Fishing for Renewal

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fish

So I’ve also been thinking a lot about civilizations. The idea is that we form a society in order to protect ourselves – from enemies and barbarians without, from famine, from disorder and violence as realized in nature. City States, the advent of Western civilization as first realized in Assyria and across the Fertile Crescent, all had one common feature: walls. And let’s face it: Nature, as well as its products, is violent – dog eat dog, as it were (or lion eat zebra, or bee rape flower, if you like). Nature cares not for the individual, only the continuance of life. In our societies, it was not so long ago that parents could expect half or more of their children to die, either immediately or by age five, from the various deadly agents that infect our bodies. (They too want to live and reproduce.) Women giving birth died too, in great numbers. Go back farther, and whole populations would regularly die from starvation during times of famine. Whole populations would be wiped out by diseases borne by unseen critters we knew nothing about. There is evidence that the great plague of Europe in the 14th Century arrived after wiping out practically the entire population of China. This is still conjecture, but it makes sense. Nearly half of Europe was wiped out, after all. In total, perhaps 100 million people were killed. By bugs.

Most of these bugs are still around, thankfully reaping souls on a smaller scale. Back then, we chalked it up to Provenance. God’s will. Today, we know it’s simply the uncanny ability of the world’s smallest creatures to continuously mutate into newer, more slippery forms – at a rate much faster than we can evolve our science to nab them.

Now, we have conquered so many of these nemeses – hunger is rampant, but starvation (in America at least) is pretty much unheard of. America can grow enough to feed the world, and we do when we can (logistics remain a challenge). Science has made great strides in conquering our most pestilent friends, who in past times would visit us with grim regularity, decimating unwitting populations in a repeating pattern defined by opportunity (mainly folks huddled together for warmth in the colder months).

One conspicuous outlier is war, the penchant for men to kill one another over their squabbles for power and territory. A sort of smallish “club” of willing warriors – fighting for honor, man to man – in the past, modern war claims many, many more civilian lives than military ones. World War 1? World War 2? They were not “wars” – they were massacres, killing millions with violence and even more (in the case of WW1) with disease. They are the shame of the 20th century and the shame of modern “civilization.”

Amid all of this “progress,” though, Western society has maintained a curious fascination with the concept of its own fragility and impermanence. Our myths and legends – the most enduring ones – can be collectively characterized as “destructive/regenerative.” As the pioneering social anthropologist Sir James Frazer demonstrated in his landmark work, “The Golden Bough”, we have been fascinated with the connection between the fitness of our leaders and the health of our societies since we began forming societies.

One of the earliest and most widespread of such legends that Frazer discovered involves the Vegetable King. Early societies were, of course, agrarian. They depended on regular rains – but not too much – to drench their fields. They required predictable seasons, temperatures, winds, etc. And for the most part these elements could be counted on to be friendly. But when they weren’t? When the massive floods or the arid drought years came? Whole cities could perish from starvation within weeks. The idea evolved that when such calamities happened, it was because the gods of the earth responsible for bringing regular rains, moderate temperatures, etc., were not pleased. Not at all. (If you are thinking of Noah and his ark right now, you follow me.) And since tribal leaders of these times (and some in modern times) are thought to be a direct link to the deities, it followed that it was some deficiency in the leader – some weakness, or often simply the infirmities and weakness of age – that displeased them. From a more mystical point of view, villagers could see the weakening of the leader as a direct corollary – a cause/effect result – corresponding to the weakening and death of their crops. The deific king and his realm were entwined in a mystical, symbiotic relationship of mutual good health – or mutual death.

What to do? An infirm king might hang on for months, years. But the land needs healing NOW.

The solution would seem pretty straightforward to one who is steeped in this agrarian/deific tradition of the king as intrinsically linked to the fate of the land he rules, and vice versa. We must have a new king, one strong and vital enough to renew the land through his symbiosis with the environment-controlling deities and therefore the environment – the world – itself. But new king can’t just walk up and take the job, of course. Kings like being king. And there can’t be two kings. Thus the tradition became one of renewal through the death – and rebirth – of the king and, gods willing, the land.

It wasn’t necessary to the theology that the king be “murdered” by his successor. It was simply necessary for him to either heal or die so that renewal of the land might accompany renewal of the king. But events – especially catastrophic ones – can move quickly, so it’s not hard to see why the ambitious successor might be encouraged by the populace to “hurry things along.”

The story might sound familiar if you’re a scholar of the Arthurian legends. Among the connected quests of Chretian de Troyes’ “Morte d’Arthur” (as also told by Malory) is the quest of Percival (aka Parsifal for you Wagner fans). In some versions Percival travels to the “waste land”, where the infirm Fisher King – keeper of the Holy Grail – lay incapable of movement in his castle as his realm steadily declines into an infertile waste. He can do nothing but “fish” from his castle walls, waiting for someone to come and heal him – and his land. There are many tellings of the tale, but in the earliest  Percival “heals” the king of a wound in his “thigh” or “groin” – probably euphemistic for his genitals, symbolizing fertility. The waste land is renewed by Percival’s gesture.

The most famous manifestation of the legend of the Fisher King is, of course, the story of Jesus Christ. The barbarism and inhumanity of the Roman world, so painfully felt among the occupied populations of Palestine/Israel, was due to a rejection of the God of the Talmud. To these conquered Jews, the world itself was a dying place, a barren “wasteland” in terms of obeisance to God’s will, a world run by pagans. These conditions, as the recently discovered scriptures contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us, gave rise to a plethora of “messiahs”, or messengers bringing word of God’s displeasure with this world along with a message of guidance to the next – guidance that must be heeded lest one perish and spend eternity in “hell” – which was then often understood to be to dwell forever in “the absence of God’s presence”.

As an aside, the Christian use of the “fish” symbol can be traced back to centuries before Christ, and could very likely have its origins in these early theologies of fertility. (A fish symbol, or Ichthys, also symbolizes fecundity or plenty. In pagan beliefs, Ichthys was the offspring of the ancient sea goddess Atargatis). Among early, non-dogmatic Christians, the Ichthys could have served as a powerful hearkening to their earlier theologies (much in the way that Easter was originally a pagan goddess of fertility, hence the occasion of Easter in the springtime). Practicing Christians will recall a host of fish symbolism throughout the New Testament.

But of course among all those messiahs, Jesus is the messiah we remember, for reasons I won’t try to divine here. Yet the one aspect of the New Testament Jesus that separates him from the messianic crowd, that hits the legendary Vegetable King nail right on the head (as it were), is his bloody crucifixion and death.  His death was “necessary” for the redemption of Man. For the rebirth of grace. For the restoration of men’s souls. His “restoration” – which created a schism in the early church among those who would deify Jesus and those who refused to “require” his resurrection and deification in order to follow his teachings (the latter group lost) –  symbolizes the restoration of man through Jesus’ suffering and death.

So what am I getting at?

Full circle, I am getting at the idea – as old as humanity – that when we feel our society, our world, has been corrupted and becomes a land of “waste” – our society offensive in its detachment from the land or the spirit of the land or the ‘original purpose’ of society – we seem to get the idea that we need to destroy it in order to “renew” it. Lately, we see so much apocalyptic cultural touchstones – the zombie craze, the “end of times” Christian books, the Bush “holy wars”, endless movies about the destruction of the earth from space objects or space aliens, etc. – but it’s not new. It happens at regular intervals, and always has. Just as in the year 2000, the year 1000 (such a tidy number) saw hordes of people putting bags over their heads to await the apocalypse. The very idea of the apocalypse was invented well after the death of Jesus, by an obscure cloistered Greek monk who had a “vision” of the Second Coming and wrote the story of “Revelations” (by far the most popular of the Bible’s New Testament stories, or perhaps second after Christmas). Why is Revelations in the New Testament at all? It has nothing to do with Jesus’ life. (It does provide a tidy ending to the whole thing.) Other sects “decide” arbitrarily that the world is “ending” from time to time – such as when a large comet arrives or the planets align a particular way. On a more concrete level, many during World War 2 thought the overwhelming amount of death and destruction happening around them must surely harken the end of everything – especially the Jews in Europe, who were in fact on a path to eradication.

So I guess that’s why all this has come to mind. Journalists, pundits, pollsters – none of them foresaw  our Nov. 9 disaster – our American political “Ground Zero,” our unprecedented act of self-destruction via the voting booth. We put the nuclear codes in the hands of a reactionary, thin-skinned narcissist when we could have chosen “business as usual”. Why? The press says now (should we believe them?) that they “missed it”, and that “it” was a subterranean desire for “change” at any cost. Because society is “ruined” by the current regime’s “corruption” and faithlessness.

Change they did want – and possibly, also renewal.