Mar 4, 2013

Notes from oblivion

Notes from oblivion

Well, ‘Death sentence’ is putting it rather harshly, I guess, tho’ it happens to be quite true; kinder to say that human civilization has been found wanting as an appropriate steward and is therefore gently removed by the judge from whom there is no appeal, Mother Earth herself.

Feel any better?

No one owns the earth, she is too old. She owns us. From her we come, and to her we return.

Meanwhile, a little comparative sociology, or study of cultures, might be appropriate.

I pray to Mercury, god of thieves, also known as Hermes Psychopompos, conductor of the dead. All prayers are answered but sometimes the answer is No.

The streams of methane bubbles erupting copiously off the Siberian Peninsula in Russia, and also in the western European Arctic, as the permafrost melts, where all this methane has been frozen for thousands of years, do signal an important shift in stewardship, however. We really didn’t cut it, with all those circuses and no bread.

Hermes? Mercury? What’s that got to do with the price of fish?

Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. Thor, the thunderer, Zeus, Jupiter, the lord of hosts, they’re all models of the Thug, a fearsome figure in warm and comfortable climes where the living is easy and the women plentiful. Living in the frozen North is very different.

To understand the difference read a short story by Jack London, written with all his usual skill, ‘To light a fire.’ It’s only a few pages.

Once you’ve done that, you know without thinking about it why Hermes is now that speeding figure in winged helmet and winged sandals delivering long stemmed roses for Valentine’s Day. And why Odin himself, an old one eyed guy in a slouch hat, and Vili (Thought) and Ve (Memory) rule our icy world.

The Thug is no use in the frozen North, a permanent liability, in fact. But the guy who knows a thing or two, has some special knowledge, aha, yes!

[It’s worth mentioning, perhaps, that Uncle Sam might wonder if a white hat after all those black hats might not be a great idea.

Generations of schoolboys know, from lighting each others farts, that methane is highly flammable. Throw in Halliburton, and KBR, (and Red Whatsisname who put out the burning oilwells in Iraq)under a declared state of emergency, and start the factories mass producing flame throwers. With any luck the ascending streams of bubbles of methane could catch fire, the flames rising ever higher to burn the methane off.

A possibility, but not a very strong likelihood.]

Northerners, Scandinavians and such, tend to be scornful of Thor, the Thug, his defeat in the wrestling match against the old woman in the hall of the ice giants seen as the fate of the arrogant. That the old woman turned out to be old age, which nothing and no one defeats, is not really relevant.

But did not the poet say we must learn to laugh and to grow roses in the black stones of the meeting halls? Why not long stemmed at $25 a pop for Valentine’s? Life affirming, and they look good.

‘C’est toi, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.’

The Buddha does not strike one as a very bright guy compared to, say, Thomas Aquinas. The main reaction to any of his really illuminating statements is to clutch one’s forehead and say “My God! He’s right! It’s obvious! How come I never noticed that?” The answer is that like everybody else you didn’t start with an ingrained experience of normality, but got dropped straight into this sewer where you spend the rest of your days.

A reasonable example is his instruction to spend a year without opening your mouth, just doing your chores. At the end of the year, said the blessed Siddhartha Gautama, “You will know that there is nothing to ask, and there is no one to answer.” Indeed.

The Turks, much feared for their savagery in battle, are responsible, by the way, for a number of things we now see as distinguishing marks of Islam. Mohammed (PBUH), a junior member of a good merchant family, started life as a program manager for a company owned by a woman rather older than he was, who eventually proposed marriage to him, and he accepted. This should warn us his world was not what we’d now call Islamic.

It was the Ottoman Turks who had the custom of “hareem,” and the sultan used to wander in, when fancy took him, to the separate palace where he kept all his nookie guarded by large guys with important items of equipment removed. He might actually tell one to report for duty that night, an almost unbearable honor, but probably he’d look at a few with interest and exchange a few words. Persons thus honored got to wear a badge saying “smiled at by the sultan” and the others had to kiss their butts and make their tea and so forth.

These Turkish customs became the model of correct behavior during the hundreds of years the sultans were the head of Islam, right down to the remote and dusty province at the extreme limit of their empire called Arabia. Those in between not quite wealthy enough to afford a separate establishment and eunuchs for guards tended to adopt the Syrian habit of sticking a bag over their head if they went out, and forbidding by law contact with any male except relatives.

Still, most life went on inside, of course, and the typical Damascus house, all blank stone walls from the outside, looks terrific on the inside, all fountains, and gardens, and balconies.

Your typical bedu would be convinced you were deranged if you suggested any such thing to him, of course. “Who the hell’s going to look after the goats?” If you think the women spend all day inside the tent painting their toe nails while the lads get the work done and haul in the tucker for them, you’ve never been in a large family.

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