Epiphany

Epiphany is an unveiling of reality. What in Greek was called epiphaneia meant the appearance, or arival, among mortals of a divinity, or its recognition under a famailiar shape of man or woman.  Epiphany thus interrupts the everyday flow of time and enters as one privileged moment when we intuitively grasp a deeper, more essential reality hidden in things or persons.  A poem-epiphany tells about one moment-event, and this imposes a certain form.

A polytheistic antiquity saw epiphanies at every step, for streams and woods were inhabited by dryads and nymphs, while the commanding gods looked and behaved like humans, were endowed with speech, could, though with difficulty, be distinguished from mortals, and often walked the earth.  Not rarely, they would visit households and be recognized by hosts. The Book of Genesis tells about a visit paid by God to Abraham, in the guise of three travelers. Later on, the epiphany or appearance, the arrival of Christ, occupies a central place in the New Testament.

Czeslaw Milosz (?)

 

Our Most Articulate Advocate for Peace

For the last 15 years, David Swanson has made it his mission in life to put an end to war.  He has read and digested a great deal of history.  He convinces us from every side that war is a fraud.  He argues always from the mainstream narrative, never risking being labeled a ‘conspiracy theorist’.  Even when evaluated by the criteria that our leaders put forth to justify war, war fails miserably.  It is not merely that everything gained from war pales by comparison to the lives lost and shattered, the hatred engendered, the problems the next generation must absorb.  No, beyond this, there is no gain to be balanced against these horrific costs, unless you count the money accumulated by a few tycoons who have adopted patriotic postures to sell us wars in the first place.

Swanson’s books are overwhelming in their truth.  In this department, he turns ‘overkill’ on its head.

War is a Lie             War No More          War is Never Just           Curing Exceptionalism

The Noble Soul of Solomon Northup

I recently completed reading Twelve Years a Slave, the autobiography of a free Negro from New York who was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in 1841.  Maybe we don’t need these graphic reminders of the brutality with which slaves were routinely treated in America’s ante-Bellum Deep South, but two things about Northup’s account command our attention.  First, his extraordinary erudition and fine writing style, in a man who had limited educational opportunity early in life, and who, prior to writing this volume, had not been permitted paper or pen for 12 years.  Second, and more remarkable yet, is the generosity of spirit with which he regards the very men responsible for the whippings and deprivations that made his life a living hell.  I can only compare him to Nelson Mandela, who so magnanimously forgave the men who held him a political prisoner for 27 years.

The existence of Slavery in its most cruel form among them, has a tendency to brutalize the humane and finer feelings of their nature. Daily witnesses of human suffering—listening to the agonizing screeches of the slave—beholding him writhing beneath the merciless lash—bitten and torn by dogs—dying without attention, and buried without shroud or coffin—it cannot otherwise be expected, than that they should become brutified and reckless of human life. It is true there are many kind-hearted and good men in the parish of Avoyelles—such men as William Ford [Northup’s first owner, for a brief period]—who can look with pity upon the sufferings of a slave, just as there are, over all the world, sensitive and sympathetic spirits, who cannot look with indifference upon the sufferings of any creature which the Almighty has endowed with life. It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave’s back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years.

There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones—there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not—may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance—discourse flippantly from arm chairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field—sleep with him in the cabin—feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. Let them know the heart of the poor slave—learn his secret thoughts—thoughts he dare not utter in the hearing of the white man; let them sit by him in the silent watches of the night—converse with him in trustful confidence, of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and they will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves.

 

‘This has to be wrong’

Science derives its legitimacy from grounding in what anyone, anywhere can observe.  It’s called “empiricism.”  But the very success of science has tempted people in all fields to promote theoretical ideas before there is appropriate empirical support.

String theory had its origins in 1968, and over 50 years it has become the darling of theoretical physicists as a candidate for a Theory Of Everything.  Thousands of scientific papers have been written about string theory, because the mathematics is so much fun and leads to so many interesting places.   But the acknowledged drawback of string theory is that it has so many different forms that it you have to write an exponent within an exponent to write the number.  Hence, there are no predictions from string theory, and no way to test it against the reality of our world.

This spring, finally a general prediction was derived, true of all string theories.  Dark energy must decrease as the universe expands.  But in our universe, dark energy seems to be holding steady.

Woops.

String theorists are not taking this sitting down, but are applying their creative energies to the discovery of loopholes and exceptions.

Article in Quanta Magazine by Natalie Wolchover

An illustration of upside-down grassy hills topped with cosmic blue spheres

Public Banking — an idea whose time has come

The farmers of North Dakota have shown one way. They took the control of their state government into their own hands, and the most important and significant thing they did was to start a public bank. The interests fought them tooth and nail; not merely the interests of North Dakota, not merely of the Northwest, but of the entire United States. They fought them in the law courts, up to the United States Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the people of North Dakota. Therefore, make note of this vital fact–the most important single fact in the strategy of the class struggle–every state can, under the constitution, have a public bank; every city and town can have one, and no court can ever forbid it!

Therefore, I say to all Socialists, labor men and social reformers of every shade and variety, nail at the top of your program of action the demand for a public bank in your community, to take the control of credit out of the hands of speculators and use it for the welfare of the people. Make it your first provision that every dollar of public money shall be deposited in this bank and every detail of public financing handled by this bank; make it your second provision that the purpose of this bank shall be to put all private banks out of business, and take over their power for the people.

The Book of Life, by Upton Sinclair (1922).

This is water

How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out?

That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete.

Let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

[This will be your] actual life routine, day after week after month after year…And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

… Thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom.

— David Foster Wallace
Read the whole non-sermon, or listen to it.