Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane (Plus a Treatise on Mantras)

It's Saturday afternoon in New Jersey. I have done all of my weekend errands early, like everyone else in the state the last two days, because tomorrow we are under a "state of emergency". Hurricane Irene is supposed to bring fire, flood, earthquake, a plague of locusts...oh wait, that was a literal reading of the Book of Revelation. Sorry about that.

Someone from the Fire Department knocked on my door a couple of hours ago, to give me a hurricane preparedness pamphlet, and to tell me that power would be out for a very long time if it did go out, as the electric company was only stopping at stations long enough to make them safe before moving on. I looked at the pamphlet, which was from the town's Office of Emergency Management. I'm surprised we have one of those. We don't even have a police department in this town (we use State police).

In any event, I suppose it's not bad to be too prepared, but I do think that's what this is. I just read somewhere that the brunt of the storm is heading for Atlantic City, and may wipe it out. With all due respect to those who live there (who I hope are evacuated), I sincerely hope that happens. Atlantic City could stand to be razed and start from scratch. It's really become a hell-hole. Maybe Trump will finance it.

My indoor cat is fully prepared for this, snoring away on my bed. I am also prepared, as I managed to fight the crowds in the grocery and liquor stores yesterday, and I also have two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. I've removed every possible thing from my porch and patio that could turn into a projectile in high winds, and I've prepped the basement for flooding. I have a plan for vacuuming out water every few hours--provided the power does not go out. And there is a tarp secured over the root cellar door. Where I live, I can't do more than that. In retrospect, maybe I should have brought cat carriers inside if I have to evacuate, but again, I don't think that will happen.

This is going to be a "personal intuition versus scientific weather forecasting equipment" weekend. I am told that this will be the most catastrophic storm to hit New Jersey in 25 years. I'm not sure I believe it will be any worse than the torrential downpours we had 2 weeks ago--which did flood my basement, but not in a catastrophic way. By this time tomorrow afternoon, it will already be winding down. I was told the big threat was that it would be a Cat 2 or 3 when it reached here. My "intuitive" prediction was that it would make landfall and weaken to a Cat 1 or less before hitting New Jersey and New York. So, guess what category Irene is now? Yep, a 1. With a less organized center of circulation. We will see if science or personal intuition wins out in the end. I suspect we will both be right--some places probably will be hit hard. But I doubt here will be one of them.

You'll be reading plenty about the hurricane elsewhere, so I figured I would turn to the topic I'm focused on during the wait--Enochian magic. I'm reading several books at once right now, and one of them is Lon Milo DuQuette's excellent "Enochian Vision Magick". This is one of my first forays into Enochian, but I've been told by practitioners that this is easily a one-stop-shopping guide to Enochian chants and ritual. It's also helpful that Lon's writing style isn't obtuse--he's very clear and straightforward, and gives easily understandable examples. This is true of all of his books.

For those of you who don't know, "Enochian" is the term for the language spoken between Adam and the angels, before the "Fall", traditionally. This was a language and system revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Apparently the men received this rather complex system, but never used it themselves.

In reading the opening section with his chant, I can't help but notice some similarity, at least in cadence, between this:

Pa Med Fam Med Drux Fam Fam Ur Ged Graph Drux Med Graph Graph Med Med Or Med Gal Ged Ged Drux.

And this, from the "prana pratistha" (establishment of life) in the Kali puja:

Om am am hrim krom yam ram lam vam sam sam sam hom ham sah

Yes, different sounds, but using monosyllables to establish something. In the former case, the Enochian chant is used prior to scrying (as part of a much longer chant), and is a prologue to the work. In the latter case, the chant is to "establish life" in a murthi or image--hence, I do not recommend that you use this second chant at all. I don't use it. I'm not trying to establish "life" in an image. (This is a ritual used when Hindu temples are opened, and prayers are said over the carved images being installed there--in this case, a Kali temple).

In Hinduism, such monosyllabic mantras are called "bijas", or "seed" mantras. They are derived from the primary sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet laid out in the Maheswara Sutras. The number of syllables used is significant. Most mantras used in pujas have 24, 28, or 30 syllables, and are referred to as gayatri, usnig, and anustup mantras respectively (creation, preservation, destruction).

There is a mantra referred to as the "gayatri" mantra that has two variations: "Om bhuh bhuvah svaha tat savitur varenyam bargo devasya dimahi dyo yo na pracodyat", and "Om tat savitur varenyam bargo devasya dimahi dyo yo nah pracodyat". The second variation is a true Gayatri mantra, with a meter of 24. The former is the gayatri including the mahavyahriti (great utterance). They both refer to that goddess known as Gayatri, a goddess of learning, and "mother of all the Vedas", though the deity invoked through this mantra is Savitri, who is usually not worshipped directly, but known as the "rouser".

This tells you a lot about the working of the mantra. It is meant to bring true knowledge, and it does so through an invocation of Savitri, the "rouser" (i.e., one who stimulates the kundalini flow from its sleepy base of the spine towards the sahasrara chakra at the top of the head). The chakras below the anahata (heart) are thought to be "survival" chakras--they represent impulses that help us in our mundane, day-to-day lives, and in survival. From the anahata upward comes spiritual knowledge (and the anahata is known as the center of the "Virgin Birth"--the birth of true spiritual man), and raising the kundalini consciousness to this level and beyond allows us to become aware of that knowledge. Hence, the mantra's association with the Sun--that which "illuminates us".

But back to the bijas. According to another book I've read, "The Tantra of Sound", reciting these bijas leads to a slowing of the heart rate and of bodily functions, so that one can enter a still, meditative state. It puts one "in between the worlds", you might say. The idea of sound connecting us with this other Mystery is incredibly old; if you think of the notion of the Harmony of the Spheres, you can work backwards from that to these Indian ideas that are thousands of years old.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say there is a connection. For years I did puja daily, and sometimes I would recite mantras for 3 hours straight. That definitely changes your consciousness, without question. In Lon's book, he prescribes a formula that includes 18 minutes of chanting, and this does indeed lead to an altered state of consciousness. It's hard to cultivate awareness when you're hearing so much external noise--both in the physical world and in your brain. Mantras are a way to overcome that noise with noise. It tricks you into a deeper awareness.

Ramakrishna's wife, Sarada Devi, once said that mantras were necessary, as there was "too much distraction in the Age of Kali" (Kali Yuga) for humans to focus their minds. From my own workings, I think she is right. A case of fighting fire with fire, in a sense.

With that--it's only a few more hours til storm time. Not sure if I'll be able to sleep upstairs with rain pounding on my skylights. Maybe I should just recite my mantras to drown out the rain...

Thursday, August 18, 2011


It’s been awhile since I’ve worn a wristwatch. The last one I bought was very loose, and the clasp on it eventually broke. I only paid 5 bucks for it, so it wasn’t a real loss. This time I used a gift card I received and bought a man’s watch. I happen to prefer the sensible leather wristbands of men’s watches to the wimpy and delicate bands that usually hold together women’s watches. I’ve lost more watches because the pathetic wisp of leather used as a wristband has worn out. Not likely to happen with this one.

In any event, I found myself staring at the ticking clock today, and realizing that time is appearing to slip away. Autumn term begins in about three weeks, which means I am back to teaching, and not long for a trip to the UK, mostly to see John Foxx on an 8-city tour. August has been a tiring month; Mercury retrograde has thus far eaten two Macbook power supplies and one VCR, has screwed up at least two important mailings, and four programs that I use regularly suddenly decided to stop working or crash in medias res. Perhaps the desire to return to bed and stay there until September is not entirely unwarranted.

But back to time. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but when I find that my ability to produce work is stymied in some way, I get very frustrated. This can result in minor temper flares, major temper flares, complete inertia, or a sudden binge of cleaning everything in the house just to feel like I’m doing something useful. But it begs the question—why can’t one just spend time doing nothing, without feeling like one is wasting time?

We used to joke about my mother growing up. She was contending with five of us, and it seemed like she was forever cooking, cleaning, doing yardwork—my brother once said that if she had nothing else to do, she’d wax the driveway. In high school, I had a friend who came over quite often. She and I were watching television, and my mother was washing the living room walls. She looked at me and said, “Um, why is your mother washing the walls?” I shrugged. “She’s bored, I guess.”

In retrospect, though, I think I get my mother’s behavior. What often happens when we have spare time is that we sit around speculating about the future, and not in a good way. If I’m busy, I’m not sitting around worrying about finances or relationships—I’m focused on doing something, and in the end, I hope I’ve accomplished something. People are surprised at how clean my house is, given how much I work (at my day job, at my teaching job, and at my writing). But I think I have become like my mother—I always have to be doing something, and when I’m not, I feel like I’m wasting precious time.

This attitude may not be unjustified, in one sense. I find myself hearkening back to my Heidegger seminar days, and his notion of “authentic existence”. The bottom line is that you don’t know what will happen in the next minute, if there will be a tomorrow. Life should not be wasted. However, I’m not sure the problem is not wanting to use time wisely. The problem is how we define “waste”.

What is a “waste of time”? If I’m laying on the beach enjoying the sounds of the ocean, is that a waste of time? If I’m out with friends having a drink instead of sitting at home researching, am I wasting time? I guess it depends, and it largely depends on others. If we have a deadline of some sort, we might harm someone else if we “waste” time by not doing our part by the deadline. We may create more mental anguish by procrastinating (though some people work well under pressure). But it’s hard to convince our productive little selves that slowing down is not a waste of time.

I have to wonder where this comes from. It may be a regional phenomenon, and it also may have to do with our Protestant/Puritan work ethic roots. I hear all the time how the unemployed are “lazy” (before you yell at me, yes I know this is a fallacy). Life in the Northeastern U.S. is certainly fast-paced; if you go down South or to the Midwest, you don’t find the level of frenzy that you find on the East Coast. Walking through New York Penn Station, or through Times Square, is like a video game. You’re constantly bobbing and weaving through crowds of people, some moving fast, some moving too slow, some suddenly changing directions without warning. I read an article recently about “sidewalk rage” in New York City—native New Yorkers getting furious with tourists in Times Square who stop and gawk at everything, blocking the sidewalk traffic. I’ve experienced this myself (and I’m not even a New Yorker, though many people view New Jersey as an extension of New York, rightly or wrongly). And it’s a perfect example of what I mentioned above—the frustration of having the momentum and not being able to move forward.

Fast movement does not guarantee swift movement of time. I’ve done an entire morning’s worth of work, only to find that 2 hours have gone by instead of the whole morning. Other times, when you feel leisurely, you find that a whole day has gone by, and you can’t imagine where it went.
I sometimes think surrendering to our motion might be the best thing. If I’m fired up and do all of my Spring cleaning, I don’t think that’s bad. When I crash out the following week and don’t feel like doing much, at least all that is done. There are times to charge ahead with new projects, and times when you should finish old ones. Scheduling is good, but I never schedule too much in a day—I try to allow for the unpredictability factor. If anything is predictable—it’s that the obstacles we face are unpredictable.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Spook File

While doing some things around the house the other day, I popped in a VHS tape of some old episodes of "Scariest Places on Earth". I've commented on this show before, with regard to how much I felt Alan Robeson's dramatics ruined any potential credibility the show may have had. Those were the "family investigates haunted place" episodes; these were the regular Robeson-free episodes.

The episode I was watching was about Athens, Ohio, supposedly #21 in a worldwide list of the most haunted places. (I can't remember now who made the list--possibly the British Society for Psychical Research). The story centered around an abandoned lunatic asylum and the local university campus in Athens. The library archivist kept something called the "Spook File". It was a folder in a vertical file full of newspaper clippings and photocopied articles about the weird goings-on in the city. According to the archivist, it was the most heavily-used item in special collections.

I had forgotten about this episode, and it occurred to me how cool the idea was of having a campus "spook file". I started to wonder why more universities didn't have them. After all, I've heard strange stories about almost every university campus I've ever visited. Maybe some of them do have that kind of information. On the whole though, I suspect that they are not looking to encourage student interest in ghost stories or legends regarding the campus. This is a shame, because I think it would make the site more interesting, not less. If I had been aware of such legends about the universities I attended when I was a student, that would make me more interested in my school, rather than being a largely apathetic commuter student. (OK, I was pretty involved as an undergraduate, namely because I had an amazing major department that kept us involved. But that's a digression.)

It's probably been almost 10 years since I went on the Chester (NJ) ghost tour. It was a big tourist draw for the town. I was working in a public library at the time, and I went to dinner with a group from work, and then went on the tour. The tour guide informed us that we were the second to last tour ever--they were closing it down. Why? The Chester Lions Club, which apparently has control over town events, said they no longer wanted it because it "attracted a bad element" to town. He then looked at us--who were mostly library staff and high school teachers--and said, "There you go, folks. You're a bad element." I guess that's where Chester's Mendham neighbor, NJ governor Chris Christie, got his idea that teachers were evil and must be destroyed.

Chester is a nice town, and I still like to visit there, but it's always been hard to deny the undercurrent of snobbery there. One might chalk up the Lions Club's assessment to that, but it really reveals a pervasive attitude among "polite" society. It goes back to what I've said about esotericism and mysticism--the religious are afraid because it may be "demonic", the non-religious are afraid of appearing mired in "superstition". Interest in "weird" and sometimes unexplainable happenings is often a guilty pleasure in "normal" people.

I think it's a sad fallout of demythologized society. We're convinced that science explains everything, so stories are no longer needed. Upper class social events in Victorian society (and earlier) often included the telling of ghost stories. In fact, it was a tradition at Christmastime. Some stories were just for fun, but today even the "true account" tales would be picked apart by skeptics. Certainly a large portion of them probably could be written off as imagination, or an illusion of some sort created by an external event. But there is a smug superiority we have about the unknown that really has its roots in fear. The reasonable mind cannot endure things that it can't explain. So, it has to find any explanation to keep from succumbing to fear. Fear of what? Probably that some of the unconscious myths that we reason away might have a grain of truth to them.

I think there's something of a sickness in this. Unconscious fear doesn't go away with reasoning alone. I think it's legitimate to want to explore these things--either for historical reasons, or to see if such things "really happen", and what they are. But our modern worldview doesn't allow for it; anyone who would take it seriously is seen as a crackpot. To be fair, I think discussion of such things has always been a bit taboo. In early societies, there was a great fear of the "other world", and only the shaman approached it. The shaman was revered, but also feared--he wasn't part of the rest of society. He was "other". In our modern, "non-superstitious" world, we've just exchanged one fear of the unknown for another one that's probably worse, because it tries to pretend that it doesn't have any "real" reality to it. The unknown and unexplained will always be with us, and pretending there is no such thing creates a psychological fracture.

It is interesting how culture has tried to balance this out. Shows like "Ghost Hunters" and others attempt to look at "paranormal" activity from a skeptical point of view, only giving credence to what can be recorded with equipment. That is not enough to satisfy skeptics, who will always say it is faked. But there is clearly an attempt to put together two myths--the old ones about ghosts and spirits, and more modern myths about truth that can be gained using technology as a medium. Such beliefs don't go away because they are integral to human consciousness, and our vehement dismissals of such things is foolish. As Aleister Crowley said, such priori considerations "have done more to retard the progress of science than any other form of human folly." It is foolish to think that we can absolutely "know" anything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I've been reading Aleister Crowley's lectures on yoga this week, as well as some of his other writings on meditation. He's pretty on-target vis-a-vis the things I learned from my guru about meditation. Some things I don't agree with (e.g. if a dog interrupts your meditation, shoot the dog), though I'm pretty sure Crowley revised such ideas later in his life. It is impossible in this century (or even in his) to meditate without distraction. If the distractions don't come from the outside, they come from the inside. I do recall a later Crowley anecdote, where he complained about the noise of London while trying to meditate, but then realized it was the perfect training ground. Anyone can be still when everything around them is still. Being still amid chaos is really the point.

I have great admiration for Crowley's writings, while still thinking he's a touch "insane". He certainly did things that most "normal" people would not think about doing or pursuing. But is that a negative?

Monday's Colbert Report episode featured Nassir Ghaemi, author of "A First Rate Madness". Ghaemi is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University, and the premise of his book is that those with mental illnesses may actually make better leaders, especially in times of crisis. Those in mania, for instance, have a rush of ideas coming to them, and are likely to come up with more creative solutions to problems. Those who are depressed tend to be more compassionate to others, and have an empathy for suffering. They also have a more realistic view of the world.

If you've seen the extremes of manic-depression, you know it is definitely an imbalance, and definitely a difficulty for the person living with it, and those close to them, especially if untreated. But it is clear that characteristics of the illness are vital to human advancement. I start to wonder about our whole mechanism for measuring psychological norms when I think about this.

Psychological norms seem to represent a group of perceptions accepted by a majority of people. These norms may not be any more "right" or "wrong" than other viewpoints, but they are treated like the "facts of reality". Most "normal" people have no grasp on the scope and magnitude of reality. This is clearer with every new article I read on quantum mechanics. The universe is much more complex and mind-blowing than our perception of it. Our brain acts as a filter, so that we're only processing so much information at a time. The person with the mental illness---schizophrenia, manic depression, temporal lobe epilepsy to name some obvious examples--often takes in much more of reality than we're used to, and hence perceives things in ways that seem "crazy" to us at times. The medication they take is designed to provide them with filters, so that they can function in "normal" society. We use the term "delusional" to describe them, and assume they are hallucinating because we don't experience what they experience. It's really those who are "normal" who are delusional, because they really don't have the big picture.

In order for society as a whole to have the "big picture", we'd have to throw away our current yardstick for measuring "normative" and do something entirely different. It's hard to say if this will ever happen, though the trends throughout history would be against it. Mysticism and esotericism are the "mental illness" of religion, in a way--they seek to go beyond the "normative" dogmas and doctrines of organized religion, and therefore are viewed as "deviant". But to discount either would mean that religion is just what hardcore atheists say it is--nothing more than a means of keeping people "in their place". If reality isn't bigger than what we experience daily with our five senses, then it would be a lot of bunk. Even science tells us that there is more to reality than we experience empirically.

In a certain sense, it is all a lot of bunk. But that "bunk" makes up our existence. We tell stories, and these stories guide us through life. Most of them are false, but it really doesn't matter. In the end, there isn't any "thing" or goal you can look to, even if you are a religious person. This is why the Buddhist says we move from knowing to unknowing--and then back to knowing that we don't know. That's really the only "truth". I think insanity lies more with "normal" people who are too afraid to question their stories. We cling to the most absurd things out of fear. Not fear of "God's punishment" necessarily, but fear that our life will lose meaning and that we will face the unknown by ourselves and be swallowed up. But--if we don't question and change our stories, we never actually go through the human process of growing and maturing, and we become unable to live with others in the world. Like it or not, this is where we are, and this is the game we're playing. I prefer to look at it as a game--you want to do your best, but you don't want to take it too seriously.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Weather is a boring subject. People talk about the weather when they want to avoid talking about other, less controversial things. Someone who only talks about the weather generally is not a social magnet; unless, I suppose, they were hanging out at a meteorologist's convention. The Weather Channel tries to make weather exciting, but there's really only so much of that you can stand (though I preferred my father's Weather Channel watching habit to his Fox News habit). It occurred to me that the only time people collectively give a toot about the weather is when it generates fear. Scorching heat waves, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms--if these things are predicted for your area, you're typically glued to some weather outlet, either online or on television.

I find myself checking the weather several times a day. Maybe this just says that I'm a boring person. Sometimes there's a practical reason--planning a trip to the Shore, or just planning to do yardwork. If I hear something about flooding, I have to prepare my root cellar, which always gets some water coming up through the ground if there's excessive rain. But most of the time, it's just a compulsion. I thought about why this might be the case, and upon reflection, I think weather phenomenon is connected to our sense of the numinous. That may sound odd, but I will explain.

First, when I say "numinous", I'm referring to that awe and terror of the unknown, of the mysteries of everything, things that science can only scratch the surface of in terms of knowledge. Seems pretty heavy, but weather is something largely out of our control. We have very sophisticated tools for predicting weather, but we can only warn, we can't stop. Meteorology is like a giant, scientific divination system. Like most divination systems, the data given isn't always interpreted correctly or definitive. But the fact that we have some tool for negotiating something we have no control over is comforting, even if that tool is imperfect.

If I may take a brief detour here--divination is one of those things that our "rational" culture scoffs at, or associates with hucksters or frauds. Certainly there have always been frauds, but divination systems like Tarot are based on universal symbol systems. Jung suggested that we draw certain cards via synchronicity, and just as hearing a certain word or phrase can have an impact on us, the unconsciously-chosen symbol may tell us a lot about ourselves. Since it draws on the collective, where concepts of time and space are distorted, it is often possible to "know the future" from reading them. If used honestly and correctly, they can offer a lot of information about circumstances.

Linking this back to its relationship to weather--it is amazing what the "rational" minded person does in a crisis. I have read Tarot and various other systems for the last 25 years (not professionally, just privately). Many members of my family and some friends make a joke of it. However--these same family and friends will suddenly call me when there's a crisis, and say, "can you do a reading for me?" Why would they suddenly take stock in something they think is foolish and irrational? Because they're confronted with the unknown. The unknown doesn't follow rational rules--there's only logic and probability for predicting the outcome, and often that is not sufficient--especially if the logical outcome appears bleak. We turn back to core symbol systems when confronted with things we don't understand and have no control over. We often have to decide on a course of action, and the more accurate advance information we have (or think we have), the more confident we are in our decision. Weather related to "whether".

Now, the weather is out of our control. We hear about things like "cloud seeding" for rain and such, but in general, it's agreed that it's not a great idea to tamper too much with weather systems. One big reason I think I obsess about weather is the need for control. Not of life in general, which is impossible, but of my own circumstances. It's a difficulty, really--I have to balance my own need for discipline and structure with the fact that the unexpected can drop in at any moment and change everything. Going with the flow is more important than having a rigid plan. But I find myself comforted by plans, even though my guru has said, "You want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans."

I am one of those people whose mood can be affected by the weather. This is not extreme--I don't go into clinical depression when it rains, for instance. But I find that I can do more on cool, autumn-like days with clear skies. I don't mind rainy or snowy weather, but if it goes on for a prolonged period of time, I get impatient and frustrated. It makes my friends wonder why the heck I'd want to move to England if I'm not crazy about rainy dreary weather. But English weather is not all about being rainy and dreary--often it will change many times in one day. So--it may start out rainy and dreary, but be sunny and breezy with blue sky by lunchtime. And raining again by nightfall. At least things are broken up.

Nonetheless, for me (and perhaps others) the weather is usually part of a pattern that makes me feel secure. Like my old house, old books, bread baking in the kitchen, and a glass of wine on the patio with a book--nice weather is a creature comfort, and at least gives the illusion of everything being stable. Facts sometimes are a lot more troubling, and we cling to familiar comforts as transitional objects. Humans are usually not adventurers at heart; we like to know where we are, where we stand, what is coming down the road. Fear is dispelled by information, and despite the amount of flack meteorologists get for being "wrong" at times, the forecast is still a daily symbol of our desire to predict and control our environments.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


I've been rather quiet these days, blogging-wise. I've been quiet at home, too. 3 solid months of writing has left me drained, I suppose. And to be honest, the nonsense in Washington has left me drained as well. This is a big statement coming from me. I'm fairly indifferent to politics. Certainly I vote in every election, and I sign petitions and write letters for issues I think are important, but beyond that, I don't spend too much time contemplating what goes on in D.C. Mark Twain famously said "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." And that was in 1891. I tend to look at Congressional idiocy as a lot of "same ol', same ol'"

What bothers me these days is not that Congress are idiots. What bothers me is that Congress is psychotic. Seriously. While you can't paint everyone with the same brush, the "Tea Party" contingent that has made it's way into Congress like a tapeworm has turned the Republican party into a bunch of passionate defenders of utter insanity. So insane, in fact, that if you or I started talking like they do, they'd come with a straightjacket and take us away.

Republicans have historically been against taxes, against "big government", and in favor of conservative spending. In balance, this does not have to be a bad thing. What they're trying to do now falls along those lines. But how they're doing it is what is screwed up. Just say it out loud, and you'll realize how nutty it is. "We need to cut trillions of dollars in our deficit. Right now the top 1% of earners (i.e., billionaires) make the majority of the income in this country. Because of tax loopholes, they don't pay any taxes. The people who are struggling and have the least of the money pay taxes with very few breaks. But they will have to sacrifice more, because we can't tax the billionaires, even though that would solve the revenue problem, and the billionaires would still be...well, billionaires."

When you consider how irrational that statement is, you have to ask "why"? The Republicans say it's because billionaires are "job creators", even though every bit of evidence is to the contrary. These people are GREEDY. They are not interested in sharing their money to stimulate the economy. That's why the economy broke down in 2008. The psychology of the rich has never been different--they have money because they don't spend it. And they're certainly not going to spend it on you. Trickle down economics has been proved to be utterly false, and yet they still cling to this, a piece of driftwood in the ocean that they claim is a boat. It's not coincidental that the so-called "Tea Party" movement gets a lot of its funding from the Koch Brothers--oil billionaires whose father had connections with the Nazis and the old Soviet Union. He had a falling out with the Soviet Union, then suddenly denounced Communism, and was allowed to do business in the U.S. again. The Koch Brothers are anti-regulation (environmental and otherwise), anti-green energy (they're an oil company, after all), anti-Labor, and of course, they have been financing a lot of the anti-Obama campaign as well as the Tea Partiers. Regardless of their family past, it's as Bill Maher said: "it's not a grass roots movement if it's funded by billionaires".

Now, after the fiasco of the debt ceiling debate, and the downgrading of the U.S.'s credit rating, it's incredibly obvious that much of Congress ought to be taken away and medicated. How did these people even get voted in? And why the constant battling with the President? (Who, by the way, is not blameless--he needs to stop pretending these people are sane and can be worked with. They're not going to work with him--they want to get rid of him. He's been far too weak and caves in too easily).

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am fixated on this idea of "narrative vs. fact". I believe that we are driven more by our unconscious assumptions and "stories" about what is "normal" and "moral" and "decent" than we are by any facts. We are irrational, not rational creatures in many ways. It's why I'm a big believer in the Humanities, because the point is to teach you to think outside your own narrative, and to question it. But I'm not going to repeat all of that discussion now. What I'm interested in here is the narrative driving what's happening in our country.

On one of my trips to London, I picked up a book by David Reynolds, a Professor of International History at Cambridge. It's a history of the United States, from all of its colonizations to the "Bush II" years. I like to read American history from the point of view of the British (and other Europeans as well). I'm interested in how Americans and American history look from the other side of the pond. The title of the book was "America, Empire of Liberty". Early on, Reynolds explains his thesis--the paradox in the title is deliberate. America has always boasted that it is about "freedom" and "liberty", and are not empire builders (in the way Britain once was, for example). However--we also allowed slavery in our "free" country for many many years, and were reluctant to let it go, mainly for economic reasons. The South claimed they would be financially ruined without it. But we had slavery for such a long time--and Blacks were legally second-class citizens for so long--that the inherent racism of slavery has become embedded in the narrative. How can a "free" country also have a "slave" mentality?

I wasn't sure I was convinced by his thesis until Obama was elected President. As I've said before, this brought out the ugly American narrative in all of its horror. Basically, the "normal" American citizen is white, Christian (Protestant), wealthy, and straight. America is for these people, and these people alone, according to the narrative. Everyone else is just a parasite on the system. If you are poor, it's because you don't work hard (Protestant work ethic twisted). Non-whites are poor because they don't work hard, and they want to murder and rob the good white Christian families. Arabs and Muslims have joined this narrative since 9-11. If you are a Muslim in government, you want to impose Sharia law on all of us. Capitalism is also part of the narrative, and the "dime-novel" mentality that anyone can become filthy rich if they work hard enough. Therefore, any attempt by the government to have social programs smacks of "fascism" and "Nazism". A bastardized version of Christianity completes the narrative, and branches of it are taken up by fundamentalists who believe we are in the end times and should start a revolution against the "immorality" of the United States--with things like homosexuality and abortion rights on top of their hit list, but they've also managed to extend it to the poor and needy. Yes, that's right--being Christian is no longer about helping the poor. God is obviously rewarding the rich, and it's every man for himself.

Why Obama, you might ask? Because he's a Black man. He doesn't fit the "normal" model of the President. The fact that he is also in favor of helping those in need now makes him suspicious--he's not a capitalist, he's a "socialist", which they equate with "Nazism" (even though European socialism isn't remotely like Nazism, nor is the United States becoming socialist). Also not coincidental is that people want to associate him with the "enemy" religion of Islam. It also reminds us that our slavery heritage, and its later treatment of Blacks as second-class citizens, has not left the national mentality--it has become unconscious, which makes it more dangerous.

All of this narrative is obviously and patently false. But it's clear that people believe it, and take it as the "norm". The Tea Party would not have gained traction, nor would people like Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin be taken seriously as candidates for President if this narrative wasn't embedded in our national consciousness. This is not to say everyone follows this narrative--it seems to be largely in the "red" states (which, again not coincidentally, were the former slave-holding states for the most part). But many conservatives in the North have jumped on the bandwagon as well, drinking the Kool-Aid given freely by Fox News. The people who believe this narrative aren't necessarily "stupid"--they're just unaware how afraid they are of anything outside the narrative. They may not even be aware that it's their narrative.

Jimmy Kimmel's satirical take on Michelle Bachmann is a pretty good take on at least part of the "narrative" in all its absurdity:

I could talk about having "awareness" of our hidden assumptions, but I think Bertrand Russell makes the point better than I do:

I'm not even going to apologize for soapboxing this time. Apparently most of America is sick of this crap too:

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