Inspiration

What can the Skeleton Warriors of Papua New Guinea teach us about Christmas.

I didn't expect to be blown away by the sheer beauty of a people that paint themselves as skeletons, but it happened.

What is it about these men that took my breath away?

They embrace life.  To paint your body with the visage of death reminds us of the precious and fleeting nature of life.  More than that, their willingness to play with their traditional art form.  This is a quality we have lost in the us vs them culture we adopted over the last several decades.

This is most evident this time of year with some people's reaction to Christmas.

Culture, tradition, and religion

It is undeniable that Christmas has a special significance to Christians, but it is also an American cultural institution.  Movies like Elf, The Santa Clause, and Miracle on 34th Street, not to mention Rudolf, the Night Before Christmas, and A Christmas Carol, all provide secular images that have become cultural fixtures over the years.  Don't even get me started with How the Grinch stole Christmas.

My point being, while, yes, there are some cultural institutions that should be abandoned in the name of inclusion and diversity, we as a culture need to learn to play with the images we have inherited, rather than reject them all blindly.

We have lost too much of our culture to hostile copyright laws to trash what little of the public domain we have left.

If a cultural image bothers you, ask what about it is so troubling.  Is it something inherent in the image, or is it baggage you are carrying with you.

There is too much either/or thinking.

Santa Claus can be both a Christian reminder of St Nicolas of Myra, and a secular figure who sells Coca-cola.  He doesn't have to be one or the other.

If we don't learn how to reconcile the contradictions facing us in these images, we will never be able to cope with more fundamental ones like how all life is sustained by death.  Hydrogen must die to give light to the plants.  Plants and animals must die to sustain our lives.  We ignore these issues by telling ourselves that plants can't feel or think, but they still have to die.

Truth often presents itself through paradoxes.  The sooner we get comfortable with that, the sooner we will start to find peace in our hearts.

Play with your culture

If we don't play with the images we have inherited, they will go away, and if we don't make new ones, we will follow soon after.  We like to think that we are rational creatures, but we are also emotional ones.  Logic speaks to our reason, but images speak to our emotions.  For too long, we have abandoned our emotional natures to fend for themselves, gleaning what little nourishment they can from pop culture.

We are the agents of our culture.  It doesn't belong to us. It has only been entrusted to us until we leave it to the generations after.  Leave it better than it was when it was handed down to you.  Don't short circuit the culture out of some short sighted need to react to the past rather than create the future.

 

Don't you know it's gonna be alright

A friend of my shared a story today about a Transgender Kid who left a suicide note on Tumblr asking for the world to change (read it here).

Stories like this trash my spirit. I only hope that we are moving forward in some ways...

What we need more than anything is a cultural revolution that reconnects us to compassion and hope and breaks the chains cynicism, nihilism, and isolationism have wrapped around our necks. Only when we learn to stand up will things change.

One moment, I need a musical break, sing a long if you know it, if not, it has the words.

For years, decades, centuries, people have tried to change the world, and as Joseph Campbell said:

When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.

Every time I quote that, my friends sigh, and tell me that I just don't get it.  We talk for a couple hours until we finally get back around the point.  We cannot change other people, we can only change ourselves.

This is one of the most troubling aspects of modern social movements, our solution is always to pass a law, change a law, or enforce a law.  If history has taught us anything, we have to see that law is only a minor part of the change we need.

Yes, anti-discrimination laws are important, and so are hate crime laws.  They won't accomplish anything if we don't take wise action to change ourselves in such a way that it encourages others to take on the same change.

All of this starts with compassion.  Compassion is simply living by the gold and silver rules:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
— The Golden Rule
Do not do unto other as you would not have them do unto you.
— The Silver Rule

When we act according to these simple rules of compassion that every culture on earth has come to over time, we start building the world that we want to see.  We only have control over our actions.  We have to take responsibility for our own actions.

How can we expect others to treat us with respect if we will not grant them the same courtesy?  How can we expect society to celebrate difference if we demand conformity?  The path forward it to demonstrate through our lives, our jobs, our entertainment, and our businesses that diversity and compassion make us stronger.  If we do not demonstrate the basic interconnectedness of all people, places, and things, we have no hope that others will see it.

In every encounter, be kind, be compassionate, and celebrate the differences between people.  Only through living a life that makes others envious of our joy, hope, and prosperity will others start looking for ways they can have the same thing.

Become a beacon for compassion.  Live compassion in all your words, thoughts, and deeds, and you will be the change that we need.  When others ask you why your life is so different, tell them, but make they want to ask.

One by one, we will realize that we are all interconnected, and that our actions effect everyone and everything.  Eventually, this will change the world.

Glorious Angel in the dark

The angel was originally made by Silver Limit.

That line reverberates through my mind.  Images of shadows and a wounded angel struggling against it.

There are so many stories layered in that one simple sentence.  It speaks to my heart.  I need to build armor to defend against the fiery darts of the wicked.  Leaves' Eyes is a wondrous muse.

The real question is: Is it for Dragons of Night, Our Solemn Hour, or Both?

Wildness

I’ve talked a lot in the past about my love of Robert E Howard and his love for the the Barbarian, especially through the character of Conan.

What he means by Barbarian is not an ethnic group or even a particular class of individual, but is simply a person unburdened by the the social norms and rules of “polite society.”

If that doesn’t make sense to you, check out The Importance of Being Earnest or An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, or the BBC farce, Keeping Up Appearances, where the humor is based on a how people are forced to act within the gilded cages of polite society.  They are not Barbarians.

On the other hand, check out Almost Famous, Farscape, and Firefly to see Barbarians at their best.

Barbarians have Honor

What makes barbarian society possible in the absence of etiquette and mores of polite society is that integrity and reputation are more important than social standing and lineage.  If you are a renown liar, it doesn’t matter who your father is or what company you work for.

Cultured society, by definition, adopt certain norms of speech, action, and etiquette.  The end result is a subjection of the natural state of an individual to the homogenized whole.

In its worse extreme of a cultured society we get Stepford Wives and 1984.

The Problem with Words

It is hard to talk about these things, because English is biased against me.  I mean, a good person never does anything beyond the pale, right?

“Beyond the pale” refers to the people outside of the British controlled area of Ireland.  Norman/English conquerors felt that they were better than the Irish, so the notion of Irish culture, language, and people were denigrated.  The Statutes of Kilkenny (1366) forbid English people from marrying the local Irish, talking like them, adopting their culture or language, or even riding a horse like them.

The idea of the Irish as barbarian is not the only racist problem with the language, but is a fair example of it.

The word barbarian itself derives from what the Greek thought non-Greeks sounded like when they talked.

I love the word barbarian, but you have to bare in mind that I am referring to something different from the idea of a culture different from my own.  I am using the word cultured to mean the sort of cultural fundamentalism that institutes a polite, public image and rituals to reinforce it to mask the inherent hypocrisy such an institution requires.

Are barbarians civilized?  Uh, well it depends what you mean by civil or civilized.

To quote Robert E Howard, “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

Violence and Barbarism

One of the reasons I am bending towards the use of the word Wildness as apposed to Barbarian is the association of violence with barbarism.  In English, the two words are synonymous.

With all respect to Mr Howard, I don’t think the threat of violence is what marks the difference between cultured people and their uncultured counterparts.  I think the difference is born out of respect.

Anarchy and Subculture

The punk and goth movements that I grew up in are modern “urban barbarian” movements.  They were both anarchistic, and rejected the accepted culture, not just the pop culture.

**The following represents my person experience, and to hell with all the pop culture stereotypes.**

In high school, I got into punk.  For us, it was part rejection of social norms and part an attempt to express our individual identities.  It was born out of frustration on many fronts.

We were confrontational, and anyone who saw us dancing at a show or a club could easily be excused for thinking a riot broke out.  For us, the violence of the pits was a pressure valve that exorcized our anger in a controlled way.

I am not sure I could explain life like that to an outsider.  The encouragement of individualism and honesty is something that I have taken with me my entire life.

In fact, the only person who has ever betrayed me was an average pop culture hipster who tried to fit in, but always read as trying too hard.

Open revulsion was accepted, but insincere politeness was derided and used against people to prove they weren’t trustworthy.

Wildness and Empire

The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to eminence, have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source. It is because the children of the empire were not suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the northern forests who were.
— Thoreau, Walking

I never thought I would ever quote Thoreau, but that one is just too good.

While I have been singing the praises and virtues of the barbarian, it is important to see their effect on the world.  The American Revolution was born in the Colonial Taverns.

So was Thomas Jefferson a paragon of wildness?  Some quotes:

“A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit.”

“A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circlue of our felicities.”

“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”

“On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Okay, so he may not have had a mohawk or listened to the Germs, but I am not asking if he was a punk

Wildness is all about natural, native state of things.  If integrity (living honestly), respect (not forcing everyone to copy your patterns of life), liberty, fierceness/relentlessness, and fearlessness as the measure of wildness in a person, I think he makes the grade.  He may not have been a party animal, but that is a personal trait, not a requirement.

Thoreau was right (wow, I said that), Wildness builds and conquers empires.  Makes you think about the effects of Valley Forge on the army in a different way doesn’t it.