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 (?)

 

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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

Pay them off—it’s cheaper than war

In the 1840’s, Henry Clay of Kentucky was the most prominent and influential Senator.  Though he owned dozens of slaves himself, he was ideologically opposed to slavery, and proposed a compromise solution:  Let the U.S. government buy every slave at fair market value, and give them their freedom.  (The importation of slaves had long ago been outlawed, so this would have put an end to legal slavery in the U.S.)Image result for henry clayThe estimated cost of buying all the slaves was $1 billion dollars, an enormous sum compared to the Federal budget of that time.  On the other hand, the cost of the Civil War was $5 billion, and that doesn’t count the lives lost or the damage to the fabric of society which continued for decades, or the resentment and division that continues to rent our country 150 years later.

On the one hand, it seems utterly immoral to reward people who have purchased another human being as if he were a horse or a tractor.  On the other hand, it might have saved 600,000 human lives and avoided the trauma and embitterment that war engenders, passed from generation to generation to this day.

Upton Sinclair was a social reformer and prolific author in the early decades of the 20th Century.  This was a time before the ruling class had so firmly established “socialism” as a dirty word, among intellectuals and workers alike there was a sense that a socialist uprising in the U.S. (peaceable or violent) was a real possibility.  There were socialists and communists and anarchists and syndicalists, all promoting their various radical agendas, but what they had in common was democratic control of the corporations by working people.Image result for workers of the world uniteEight years before the beginning of the Great Depression, he wrote his most personal book, with views on everything from nutrition to parapsychology.   The last part of the book is reserved for a roadmap of the journey from capitalism to democratic socialism.  He proposed that the government should buy out the stock holdings of the powerful capitalists who controlled the economy, and reconstitute corporate boards with directors chosen to represent the employees and the public.  (Today, this model of corporate control is already a reality in Germany, and still German companies manage to remain internationally competitive.)

Sinclair regarded this transition as inevitable in the long run, because he saw the contradictions inherent in capitalism.  The simple fact is that because the aggregated workers’ salaries are only a fraction of the retail price of the goods they produce, the nation’s total output can never be sold without foreign markets and imperialist wars.  (Sinclair never considered that America’s imperialist wars might be continuing 90 years into the future, nor did he count on the effectiveness of the long-term propaganda campaign that would keep workers convinced that organizing as workers was not in their interest.)

Blackberry Authorities

 

When I first came out to the country
…… I knew nothing. I watched
as people planted, harvested, picked
…… the berries, explained
the weather, tended the ducks and horses.

When I first came out to the country
…… my mind emptied and I
liked it that way. My mind was like a sky
…… without clouds, a summer sky
with several birds flapping across a field
…… on the eastern horizon.

I liked the slowness of things. The empty
…… town, the lake stillness,
the man I met who seemed contented, who
…… sat and talked in the dusk
about why he had chosen this long ago.

I did better dreaming then. the colors
…… were clear. I found something
important in myself: capacity for renewal.
…… And at night, the sky so intense.
Clear incredible stars! Almost another earth.

But now I see there are judgments here.
…… This way of planting or that.
The arguments about fertilizers and organics;
…… problems of time, figuring how
to allocate what we have. So many matters
…… to fasten on and dissect.

That’s the way it is with revelations,
…… If you live it out, you start
thinking, examining. The mind cries out
…… for materials to play with.
Right now, in fact, I’m excited about
…… several new vines and waiting
for the blackberry authorities to arrive.
.

by Lou Lipsitz
from Seeking the Hook
Signal Books 1997

 

The Illusion of Separation

Many prophets whose wisdom I acknowledge have said that the self is an illusion, that I am not a separate consciousness but part of a Universal Consciousness.  In fact, this tenet seems to be at the core of every mystical tradition. But it is not my experience. My experience is dominated by conditions of this body, its physical needs, its habits, its aches and its yearnings.  Even my thoughts and reveries I experience as my own—no one else is thinking these thoughts when I am thinking them. I can experience empathy, but it is less immediate and compelling. I sometimes know a resonance or a consanguinuity of experience with another; but rarely, it is an intellectual experience, less palpably immediate than empathy.

I want to know what they are talking about.  I want to have the experience of Universal Consciousness.  I crave the palpable sensation of what these sages say is my deep nature.

If I didn’t have a lifelong antipathy to drugs, maybe what to do would be obvious.  Maybe ayahuasca is the answer to my prayers. 

What other paths present themselves? Moments of mutual orgasm? The marriage bond? The all-embracing commitment of parenthood?  I have known all these, and they have transformed me. But can I say that they broke through my sense of being a separate self? Have they softened the boundaries of my ego so that I could say, even momentarily, “Thou and I are one”?

My instinct is to look to meditation or dreams to find this experience, but isn’t it more likely to be found in a community or an ecosystem?  A oneness with nature, or maybe a culture that takes nature as a point of departure?

Sign me up.

But wait.  What sense does it make to say “I want this experience”?  There are some things you can obtain by trying, and often wanting something enough is a big boost toward achieving it.  But this direct experience which “I” seek can never be the experience of an “I”. It is the dissolution of the “I”. It is the feeling of what it’s like to not be an I.  It is what it is like to not be. It is death.

Don’t sign me up quite yet.

— JJM

If you find yourself feeling utterly separate, you are not alone.

Labor Unions alive in Wisconsin

In 2011, Gov Scott Walker changed the rules of collective bargaining and killed the unions that fought for better schools and hospitals, along with working conditions for teachers, doctors and nurses that support their ability to do their work.

For the last 7 years, every weekday at noon, the Capitol building in Madison has been regaled by songs of liberation. Walker tried jailing the singers, and even criminalized listening to their music.

From July to September 2013, Capitol Police made almost daily arrests and issued more than 350 citations — most since dismissed — to those participating in the Solidarity Sing-Along.

Publicity about the arrests and the limitation of Constitutionally-guaranteed rights to free speech became an embarrassment to the Walker administration, and they eventually figured out that promoting media silence was far more effective than creating martyrs.

Read more…