Death reincarnate

Lord, have mercy, fire & brimstone
I’ve been dancing with Master D

Nefarious
NefariousKnavish
a wicked activity | dishonest & unscrupulous
I read today an article by Yuval Noah Harari“Attitudes to Death” — that used corona as a flag to muse over humankind’s attitudes to death: in the past life after death was considered a dead certainty (for peasants in pestilence, paradise was presumably a positive prospect), nowadays science reigns supreme, it is faith in cutting-edge technology as an enabler of ever greater stays of execution that had arisen to become our confession of choice.

The modern world has been shaped by the belief that humans can outsmart and defeat death. That was a revolutionary new attitude. For most of history, humans meekly submitted to death. Up to the late modern age, most religions and ideologies saw death not only as our inevitable fate, but as the main source of meaning in life. The most important events of human existence happened after you exhaled your last breath. Only then did you come to learn the true secrets of life. Only then did you gain eternal salvation, or suffer everlasting damnation. In a world without death – and therefore without heaven, hell or reincarnation – religions such as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism would have made no sense. For most of history the best human minds were busy giving meaning to death, not trying to defeat it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Vedas, and countless other sacred books and tales patiently explained to distressed humans that we die because God decreed it, or the Cosmos, or Mother Nature, and we had better accept that destiny with humility and grace. Perhaps someday God would abolish death through a grand metaphysical gesture such as Christ’s second coming. But orchestrating such cataclysms was clearly above the pay grade of flesh-and-blood humans. . . .


God causes you to live, then causes you to die; then He will assemble you for the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt,’ but most of the people do not know.

— Quran, 45:26


Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

— John, 5:28-29

. . . Then came the scientific revolution. For scientists, death isn’t a divine decree – it is merely a technical problem. Humans die not because God said so, but because of some technical glitch. The heart stops pumping blood. Cancer has destroyed the liver. Viruses multiply in the lungs. And what is responsible for all these technical problems? Other technical problems. The heart stops pumping blood because not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle. Cancerous cells spread in the liver because of some chance genetic mutation. Viruses settled in my lungs because somebody sneezed on the bus. Nothing metaphysical about it.

And science believes that every technical problem has a technical solution. We don’t need to wait for Christ’s second coming in order to overcome death. A couple of scientists in a lab can do it. Whereas traditionally death was the speciality of priests and theologians in black cassocks, now it’s the folks in white lab coats. If the heart flutters, we can stimulate it with a pacemaker or even transplant a new heart. If cancer rampages, we can kill it with radiation. If viruses proliferate in the lungs, we can subdue them with some new medicine.

True, at present we cannot solve all technical problems. But we are working on them. The best human minds no longer spend their time trying to give meaning to death. Instead, they are busy extending life. They are investigating the microbiological, physiological and genetic systems responsible for disease and old age, and developing new medicines and revolutionary treatments.

In their struggle to extend life, humans have been remarkably successful. Over the last two centuries, average life expectancy has jumped from under 40 years to 72 in the entire world, and to more than 80 in some developed countries. Children in particular have succeeded in escaping death’s clutches. Until the 20th century, at least a third of children never reached adulthood. Youngsters routinely succumbed to childhood diseases such as dysentery, measles and smallpox. In 17th-century England, about 150 out of every 1,000 newborns died during their first year, and only about 700 made it to age 15. Today, only five out of 1,000 English babies die during their first year, and 993 get to celebrate their 15th birthday. In the world as a whole, child mortality is down to less than 5 per cent.

Humans have been so successful in our attempt to safeguard and prolong life that our worldview has changed in a profound way. While traditional religions considered the afterlife as the main source of meaning, from the 18th century ideologies such as liberalism, socialism and feminism lost all interest in the afterlife. What, exactly, happens to a communist after he or she dies? What happens to a capitalist? What happens to a feminist? It is pointless to look for the answer in the writings of Karl Marx, Adam Smith or Simone de Beauvoir.

The only modern ideology that still awards death a central role is nationalism. In its more poetic and desperate moments, nationalism promises that whoever dies for the nation will live forever in its collective memory. Yet this promise is so fuzzy that even most nationalists do not really know what to make of it. How do you actually “live” in memory? If you are dead, how do you know whether people remember you or not? Woody Allen was once asked if he hoped to live for ever in the memory of moviegoers. Allen answered: “I’d rather live on in my apartment.” Even many traditional religions have switched focus. Instead of promising some heaven in the afterlife, they have begun to put far more emphasis on what they can do for you in this life.

The only modern ideology that still awards death a central role is nationalism

Will the current pandemic change human attitudes to death? Probably not. Just the opposite. Covid-19 will probably cause us to only double our efforts to protect human lives. For the dominant cultural reaction to Covid-19 isn’t resignation – it is a mixture of outrage and hope.

When an epidemic erupted in a pre-modern society such as medieval Europe, people of course feared for their lives and were devastated by the death of loved ones, but the main cultural reaction was one of resignation. Psychologists might call it “learned helplessness”. People told themselves it was God’s will – or perhaps divine retribution for the sins of humankind. “God knows best. We wicked humans deserve it. And you will see, it will all turn out for the best in the end. Don’t worry, good people will get their reward in heaven. And don’t waste time looking for a medicine. This disease was sent by God to punish us. Those who think humans can overcome this epidemic by their own ingenuity are merely adding the sin of vanity to their other crimes. Who are we to thwart God’s plans?”

Attitudes today are the polar opposite. Whenever some disaster kills many people – a train accident, a high-rise fire, even a hurricane – we tend to view it as a preventable human failure rather than as divine punishment or an inevitable natural calamity. If the train company didn’t stint on its safety budget, if the municipality had adopted better fire regulations, and if the government had sent help quicker – these people could have been saved. In the 21st century, mass death has become an automatic reason for lawsuits and investigations.

This is our attitude towards plagues, too. While some religious preachers were quick to describe Aids as God’s punishment for gay people, modern society mercifully relegated such views to its lunatic fringes, and these days we generally view the spread of Aids, Ebola and other recent epidemics as organisational failures. We assume that humankind has the knowledge and tools necessary to curb such plagues, and if an infectious disease nevertheless gets out of control, it is due to human incompetence rather than divine anger. Covid-19 is no exception to this rule. The crisis is far from over, yet the blame game has already begun. Different countries accuse one another. Rival politicians throw responsibility from one to the other like a hand-grenade without a pin.

Alongside outrage, there is also a tremendous amount of hope. Our heroes aren’t the priests who bury the dead and excuse the calamity – our heroes are the medics who save lives. And our super-heroes are those scientists in the laboratories. Just as moviegoers know that Spiderman and Wonder Woman will eventually defeat the bad guys and save the world, so we are quite sure that within a few months, perhaps a year, the folks in the labs will come up with effective treatments for Covid-19 and even a vaccination. Then we’ll show this nasty coronavirus who is the alpha organism on this planet! The question on the lips of everybody from the White House, through Wall Street all the way to the balconies of Italy is: “When will the vaccine be ready?” When. Not if.

When the vaccine is indeed ready and the pandemic is over, what will be humanity’s main takeaway? In all likelihood, it will be that we need to invest even more efforts in protecting human lives. We need to have more hospitals, more doctors, more nurses. We need to stockpile more respiratory machines, more protective gear, more testing kits. We need to invest more money in researching unknown pathogens and developing novel treatments. We should not be caught off guard again.

Some might well argue that this is the wrong lesson, and that the crisis should teach us humility. We shouldn’t be so sure of our ability to subdue the forces of nature. Many of these naysayers are medieval holdouts, who preach humility while being 100% certain that they know all the right answers. Some bigots cannot help themselves – a pastor who leads weekly Bible study for Donald Trump’s cabinet has argued that this epidemic too is divine punishment for homosexuality. But even most paragons of tradition nowadays put their trust in science rather than in scripture.

The Catholic church instructs the faithful to stay away from the churches. Israel has closed down its synagogues. The Islamic Republic of Iran is discouraging people from visiting mosques. Temples and sects of all kinds have suspended public ceremonies. And all because scientists have made calculations, and recommended closing down these holy places.

Of course, not everyone who warns us about human hubris dreams of getting medieval. Even scientists would agree that we should be realistic in our expectations, and that we shouldn’t develop blind faith in the power of doctors to shield us from all of life’s calamities. While humanity as a whole becomes ever more powerful, individual people still need to face their fragility. Perhaps in a century or two science will extend human lives indefinitely, but not yet. With the possible exception of a handful of billionaire babies, all of us today are going to die one day, and all of us will lose loved ones. We have to own up to our transience.

For centuries, people used religion as a defence mechanism, believing that they would exist for ever in the afterlife. Now people sometimes switch to using science as an alternative defence mechanism, believing that doctors will always save them, and that they will live for ever in their apartment. We need a balanced approach here. We should trust science to deal with epidemics, but we should still shoulder the burden of dealing with our individual mortality and transience. . . .

“Last Judgement”
A triptych by one Hans Memling (1466–1473)

. . . The present crisis might indeed make many individuals more aware of the impermanent nature of human life and human achievements. Nevertheless, our modern civilisation as a whole will most probably go in the opposite direction. Reminded of its fragility, it will react by building stronger defences. When the present crisis is over, I don’t expect we will see a significant increase in the budgets of philosophy departments. But I bet we will see a massive increase in the budgets of medical schools and healthcare systems.

And maybe that is the best we can humanly expect. Governments anyhow aren’t very good at philosophy. It isn’t their domain. Governments really should focus on building better healthcare systems. It is up to individuals to do better philosophy. Doctors cannot solve the riddle of existence for us. But they can buy us some more time to grapple with it. What we do with that time is up to us.



Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them.

Allen Edgar Poe 📙 “The Tell-Tale Heart”

“A Fit Medicine for Melancholy”

Prank-Star
Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests


Footnote

* Resurrection or anastasis is the concept of coming back to life after death. It is mentioned in the scripts of various ancient Near Eastern religions. Sir James Frazer in his book The Golden Bough brings to light several references to Egyptian and Babylonian resurrection happenings (i.e., Osiris and Baal). In Greek mythology too: Asclepius was killed by Zeus, only to be resurrected and transformed into a major deity. Achilles, after being killed, was snatched from his funeral pyre by his divine mother Thetis and resurrected. In the King Jame bible, the character Jesus is said to have raised several dead people such as the daughter of Jairus shortly after death, a young man in the midst of his own funeral procession, and Lazarus of Bethany, who had been six feet under for almost a week. Christians regard the resurrection of Jesus as the central doctrine in Christianity.

Just saying…

Life is short /
chill the duck out.

Keeping_it_real..[Banksy]
See no evil, hear no evil, say whatever “The F” you want so long as it ain’t
argumentum ad hominem
Life_is_short_...[Banksy]
Let’s remind ourselves just how very much the Brits love the F word.!.


I
I will be queen
And you
You will be king

We can beat them
Just for one day

We can be heroes
Just for one day


David Bowie


{ A Correction }
We may wanna say: “courses for horses” as opposed to, “horses for courses.”

Bittersweet

~ ~ ~ irony
Symphony

At the outset of the 2015 BBC documentary Bitter Lake, Adam Curtis suggests that,


We live in a world where nothing makes any sense and those in power tell stories to help us make sense of the complexity of reality, but those stories are increasingly unconvincing.

The contention argued in Bitter Lake is that Western politicians have manufactured a simplified story about militant Islam into a “good” vs. “evil” argument. This argument, which is informed by and a reaction to Western society’s increasing chaos and disorder, is neither really understood by the governments and think-tanks that have manufactured it or the people (the citizenries) to which it is being peddled.

📹 Bitter Lake (2015)


Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis collection


Post Script

1.   Eric Hobsbawm
Hobsbawm focused on the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism and nationalism. His best-known work is his trilogy about what he called the “long 19th century” (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848, The Age of Capital: 1848–1875 and The Age of Empire: 1875–1914). Read on …

2.   Edward Saïd
Saïd focused on the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, and contends that “orientalism” is a powerful European ideological creation that is the key source of the inaccuracy in cultural representations that form the foundations of Western thought and perception of the Eastern world {نحن نعيش ، نموت}. Read on …

3.   Horses for courses 🐎
Proverb • British
— Different people are suited to different things.

4.   Bidoonism  ❱  Politics &c.  ❱❱  History
According to me, “history’s basically histrionics… because, to attract attention, we inevitably state it melodramatically. Read on …

Daydreams & Nightmares

** actions have consequences.

The Power of Nightmares is a 2004 documentary made and produced by Adam Curtis. It explores the origins of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. Curtis draws parallels between it and Neo-conservatism in America and then considers the impact of both. It consists of three parts:

01. — It’s Cold Outside
02. — Phantom Victory
03. — Shadows in the Cave

Anti-capitalism_color—_Restored
Life’s a Layer cake.
Banksy---Visitors-not-welcome
Them & Us
Divided-we-stand---United-we-fall
Divided we Fall /
United we Stand //

but what about individuality¿?¿ ‘What’ indeed!


Oh So You Kay:

“Yes Minister”
— Classic British political satire.
The Thick Of It
“The Thick of It”
— Political satire at it’s very best.
The Mash Report
“The Mash Report”
— Contemporary political lampooning.

Selfish {self.E}

The Century of the Self

The Century of the Self is a 2002 documentary made and produced by Adam Curtis. It considers the rise of psychoanalysis as a powerful mean of persuasion for both governments and multinational corporations. It consists of four parts:

01. — The Happiness Machine
02. — The Engineering of Consent
03. — The Policemen Inside our Heads
04. — People Sipping Wine

The Trap…

what’s happened to our dreams of freedom?

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is a 2007 BBC documentary series directed and produced by Adam Curtis (think: Hypernormalisation). It consists of three one-hour episodes which explore the concept and definition of freedom. In short, Curtis argues that today’s idea of freedom is based on a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures.

Episodes

01. — “F**k You Buddy.”
In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought.
📹  watch episode 1

02. — “The Lonely Robot.”
The second episode underscores the first but develops the theme that the drugs such as Prozac — Happy Pills — are being used to normalise behaviour and make us behave more predictably… more like machines.
📹  watch episode 2

03. — “We Will Force You To Be Free.”
The final episode focuses on the concepts of positive and negative liberty that were introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin.* Curtis explains how negative liberty might be defined as freedom from coercion, and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential.
📹  watch episode 3


Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis collection:
📹 Adam Curtis documentaries


P.S.

* “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes a thesis put forward by Isaiah Berlin regarding the philosophy of history. Although there have been many interpretations of the aphorism, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. Berlin’s extraordinary essay offers profound insights about Tolstoy, historical understanding, and human psychology.


Isaiah Berlin’s essay:
📙 The Hedgehog and the Fox

According to Berlin, humans can be divided into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (he cites: Plato, Dante, Hegel, Nietzsche and Proust), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be summed up into a single idea (he cites: Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, and Joyce).

The American Dream
“The American Dream”
— Gabriel H. Sanchez (BuzzFeed, 2018).
The American Dream
“The American Dream”
— Gabriel H. Sanchez (BuzzFeed, 2018).

L. O. {Lesbos} V. E.

“Once again love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.”

Sappho

lesbos_1
Sapho, by Gleyre | Lesbos today | Sapho, by Mengin
— “Do You Get Me?”

Refendi [dot] com
Photography by Rena Effendi (2016–17)
We Are All Human Beings
In this photo by Petros Giannakouris, 17-year-old Soumaya is holding her baby at a UNCHR refugee camp in Greece.

“In the crooks of your body, I find my religion.”

Sappho

lesbos_1
— “You Do Get Me, Don’t Ya.”

Unspeakable, unspoken.

young_americans
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
— by Toni Morrison


I planned to call this paper “Canon Fodder,” because the term put me in mind of a kind of trained muscular response that appears to be on display in some areas of the recent canon debate. Also I liked the clash and swirl of those two words. At first they reminded me of that host of young men — black or “ethnics” or poor or working-class — who left high school for the war in Vietnam and were perceived by war resisters as “fodder.” Indeed many of those who went, as well as those who returned, were treated as one of that word’s definitions: “coarse food for livestock,” or, in the context of my thoughts about the subject of this paper, a more applicable definition: “people considered as readily available and of little value.” Rude feed to feed the war machine. There was also the play of cannon and canon. The etymology of the first includes tube, cane, or cane-like, reed. Of the second, sources include rod becoming body of law, body of rules, measuring rod. When the two words faced each other, the image became the shape of the cannon wielded on (or by) the body of law. The boom of power announcing an “officially recognized set of texts.” Cannon defending canon, you might say. And without any etymological connection I heard father in fodder, and sensed father in both cannon and canon, ending up with “father food.” And what does this father eat? Readily available people/texts of little value. But I changed my mind (so many have used the phrase) and hope to make clear the appropriateness of the one I settled on.

My purpose here is to observe the panoply of this most recent and most anxious series of questions concerning what should or does constitute a literary canon in order to suggest ways of addressing the Afro-American presence in American Literature that require neither slaughter nor reification — views that may spring the whole literature of an entire nation from the solitude into which it has been locked. There is something called American literature that, according to conventional wisdom, is certainly not Chicano literature, or Afro-American literature, or Asian-American, or Native American, or… It is somehow separate from them and they from it, and in spite of the efforts of recent literary histories, restructured curricula, and anthologies, this separate confinement, be it breached or endorsed, is the subject of a large part of these debates. Although the terms used, like the vocabulary of earlier canon debates, refer to literary and/or humanistic value, aesthetic criteria, value-free or socially anchored readings, the contemporary battle plain is most often understood to be the claims of others against the white male origins and definitions of those values; whether those definitions reflect an eternal, universal, and transcending paradigm or whether they constitute a disguise for a temporal, political, and culturally specific program.


Read the full essay…

REFERENCE
Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” (1988).

001_hw_dig_cropped
Artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff was commissioned to paint the Amistad Murals in 1938.
006_hw_dig_cropped
Here, Woodruff portrays the repatriation of freed slaves in Africa.
009_hw_dig_cropped
In this 1939 mural, Woodruff depicts the trial of the Africans aboard the Amistad.
007_hw_dig_cropped
In his 1942 mural The Underground Railroad, Woodruff shows slaves about to cross the Ohio River to freedom.
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
by John Biggers (1966)

English dogs

Quite why the British love dogs so much I dunno, maybe it’s cos they like to boss people around — dear reader I joke! I’m a proppa anglophile. Dogging is one thing (I’ll let you look up this pastime yourself) but, what’s it mean to be called a “poodle” or a “lapdog”?

Private Eye
Private Eye — subtext: The U.K.’s Prime Minister is a ‘control freak,’ he only appoints Ministers who will agree with whatever he does or says.

Poodle
[insult]
In politics, “poodle” is an insult used to describe a politician who obediently or passively follows the lead of others. It is considered to be equivalent to lackey. Usage of the term ‘poodle’ is thought to relate to the passive and obedient nature of this breed of dog.

Lapdog
[insult]
A weak person who is controlled by someone else.

Here’s one more but it’s Chinese in origin:

Running dog
[insult]
This is a pejorative term for a person who unquestioningly helps more powerful people. It is like being called a ‘yes-man’ or a ‘lackey.’ Usage of the term ‘running dog’ is thought to relate to the tendency of dogs to ‘blindly’ follow after humans in the hope of receiving food or a favour of some kind (e.g., shelter or a pat on the back).


FOOTNOTES

More Private Eye covers etc.

Political satire
Subtext: The U.K.’s PM is being pulled in two different directions.