There be dragons!

Monday, September 24, 2007

In praise of garbage

I ought to write a book (I ought to write several books) and title it "In Praise of Garbage". Reflecting on the Federalist papers leads me to believe that our national penchant for just mindless junk is actually a very fine thing. Oh, don't get me wrong, I still think that filling the heads of the young with a lot of mindless garbage can be a bad thing if that's all there is. I still have valuable RAM taken up with the words of Oingo Boingo songs, Oscar Meyer weiner ditties, baseball stats of the Chi White Sox in 1980s and trivia about Star Wars. But Hamilton claims in Federalist 10 that one of the ways to remove the deadly threat of factions is to make the populace share similar values. He dismisses this as impossible since people by nature are different and will choose different things. But what if something has occurred that Hamilton could not foresee? In our time, the last 100 years we have seen the development of the automobile and road system allowing people to travel far and spread out in a mass Exodus throughout the nation; we have seen the rise of movies, TV, and radio, and now internet and video games allowing people across the nation to share the same entertainments; we have seen the rise of professional sports allowing people throughout the nation to have similar loves of divergent activity; we have seen the mass market of foodstuffs, toys, clothing, and gear allowing people to collect cheaply a vast array of similar junk; we have seen the rise of the shopping mall, the waterpark, the drivein movie theater and all the other pasttimes that people enjoy in their leisure time; we have seen the evolution of the five day work week, the summer vacation, and the watercooler allowing people to make a good living and gripe about it to boot; we have seen the proliferation of various foodstuffs of all ethnic and bland variety (KFC and Bucca di Beppo in the same block) allowing people to eat good food from various backgrounds.

Much of this might be dismissed as the work of the devil which only serves to corrupt our sensibilities, make us hedonistic bread heads, and lead us into a callous Americanistic boorishness not shared by our more elite neighbors on the other side of the swimming pool. True, true, true.

But think of it... where else on earth do people from so vast a geographical distance get together to share a love of Hummells? where else on earth do thousands of screaming fans go to watch the Twinkies beat the tar out of the White Sox and then go home amicably? where else on earth can people on either East or Left coast talk jovially about the latest episode of Survivor? Garbage brings us together.

I know, there's alot more that brings us together, but no one seems to give credit to this amazing American phenomenon of the production of garbage. No other country does it on so vast a scale. No other country seems to share so various and so similar tastes. And no other country enjoys the relative peace and amity that America enjoys. Even when we hate the opposition we don't actually go out and flay them.

In the Middle East to solve a problem means open carnage in the streets, murder, mayhem, yelling, screaming and riots. But then, the Middle East has never had a professional sports league like the Giants. Is there a connection? I think that indeed there is and if/when I write my book I will give a big hats off to whomever first said, "that'd sell to the American people."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Alexander Wilder and the Greek Gods

This excerpt from Alexander Wilder struck me as quite significant:

The worship of these subordinate beings constituted the idolatry charged upon the ancients, an imputation not deserved by the philosophers who recognized but one Supreme Being, and professed to understand the hyponia or under-meaning, by which angels, demons and heroes were to be regarded. Epicuras said, "The gods exist, but they are not what the [[hoi polloi]], or common multitude, supposed them to be. He is not an infidel or atheist who denies the existence of the gods whom the multitude worship, but he is such who fastens on these gods the opinions of the multitude."

Aristotle declares: "The divine essence pervades the whole world of nature; what are styled the gods are only the first principles. The myths and stories were devised to make the religious systems intelligible and attractive to the people, who otherwise would not give them any regard or veneration." Thus the stories of Jupiter, the siege of Troy, the wanderings of Ulysses, the adventures of Hercules, were but tales and fables, which had a deep under-meaning. "All men yearn after the gods," says Homer. All the old worships indicate the existence of a single theosophy anterior to them. "The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise it cannot be the right key."

~Alexander Wilder

What Aristotle seems to touch on is a fundamental reality of human existence; we perceive metaphysical realities first and foremost through artwork, images, forms. Philosophy and theology express metaphysical truth and make it intelligible, but myths and stories make metaphysical truth intelligible and attractive. Thus we find ourselves "relating" to a song or movie or story, though not to the doctrine of three persons in one god. The "gods", then, are these powers or manifestations of the One God that occur in our world and through us. We still today make heroes of our celebrities. Emulating them and admiring their enviable success, we tacitly wish that we too could be famous and svelt and successful. We still conjure the pagan gods as well each time we covet the luxuries of the shopping mall, or make a deity of alcohol and drugs, or over-romanticize sexual love through porn or adultery. The pagan gods and heroes are still very much with us b/c they are part of a fundamental longing in the human heart. By worshiping them we run the risk of becoming again their slaves and making them, as Augustine said, into demons. But by studying them and pondering what they really embodied, we not only come to understand the unique greatness of Christianity, we also come to know the metaphysical world and ourselves as well.