The Barbarian Within: A Feral Memory Trace

[In the spirit of last week’s post, I offer further reflection on our modern predicament and its attendent cultural alienation, as well as the potential for recollecting our primitive core.]

The tame and domesticated contours of civilized life have eclipsed our sense of the feral in everyday experience – that irrepressible anchor of human embodiment and our elemental interlacing with nature, “that subtle knot which makes us man.” Neglecting this wild core, we abandoned our original gift of freedom, the inherent power of just being-there, outside the chains of time and the terror of historical consciousness.  Forsaking that primal autonomy – not to be confused with the modern ideal of unrestrained individual freewill or license – the groundwork was laid for our own entrapment, the beginning of our enslavement.  But we might again reawaken that sense of primitive sovereignty by recollecting the untamed power of life-in-the-body-in-the-world.

I hear some of my critics in the back of the room shouting, “What are you talking about?  Are you crazy?  It was civilization that bought us our freedom, and brought us out of savagery and our slavery to the waywardness of nature’s wild and uncertain bounty!”

“Oh really? And agriculture was a liberating enterprise?  Not quite,” I would retort.

To the contrary, farming required constant diligence, daily planning, control, and management of the land, leading to our own self-domestication, as it led to domestication of the earth and other creatures.  It was the initiation of enslavement – the very opposite of independence.

Neither was the birth of the city an actualization of human autonomy; it was a yoke around the neck of manager and laborer, landlord and tenant, legislator and citizen alike. Do we not now find ourselves preoccupied with the daily obligation of urban wage-slavery, ensuring the emptying of the present moment, with extended focus on an ever-receding future where we can plan our release from such drudgery?  Is this not the elusive promise of every modern rational politics, especially that which underlies the American Dream?

I wager that genuine self-rule can emerge only with the recollection and re-instantiation of a more primal psychic state – delivering us from subjugation to the inflexible demands of artfully constructed and controlling institutional hierarchies, releasing us from the hypnotic attachment to some promised future, and ultimately, liberating us from the terror of history and the fear of death. This, however, requires overcoming the learned-forgetfulness concerning our phylogenetic inheritance — our pre-civilized, feral ground.

In our current state of forgetfulness we are strangers to ourselves, having been molded into artfully crafted products of an epochal cultural construction.  But we also remain strangers to our culture because we come to civil society from a wilder, pre-civilized past – each person bearing within him or herself a certain surplus of being, a feral core, that does not fit naturally (or comfortably) into domesticated patterns and cannot easily be assimilated into the hierarchical, institutional milieu.

By virtue of natality and the ability to act, each new individual poses a threat to civilization… The child carries barbarism within him or her. [Einer Overenget, Hannah Arendt]

This forgotten and well hidden feral core represents, in my view, the authentic and ultimate source of our experience of self-estrangement in civil society today.  Yet, for most individuals, understanding the source of this alienation and recovering its liberating potential is at best an intellectual exercise or a romantic dream.  For some, whose self-estrangement is identity itself, it could be a frightful nightmare.

Recollection of that genetic memory trace is key to owning and then breaking through the experience of alienation – an estrangement not only from one’s culture, but from the civilized sense of self as well.  In this way, cultural disaffection becomes a gateway for returning to and recovering the underlying veracity of my lived-body in its primal and autochthonous intimacy with nature. It is a liberating event and a rebirth of spontaneity in the midst of everyday life.

This is, perhaps, part of what the Russian expat, Mikhail Epstein (Transcultural Experiments), was referring  to when he spoke of life’s ordinariness, the spontaneous emergence of a rent or tear in the fabric of our civilized life, offering a glimpse of that inchoate, undomesticated heart that unwaveringly beats beneath the surface of each citizen – a potential occasion and haunting reminder of our ineluctable beginning, and our underlying engagement within the world!

So where is this experience – liberating, spontaneous, autochthonous – to be found in the midst of civilized life today?  As I had learned, this memory trace remains embedded deep within the flesh of every human animal (a phylogenetic gift, if you will) – present even within the symbolic systems we create – granting the possibility for episodic and periodic recovery of that primal integration at any moment.  This feral memory calls us back to that chiasm, the pre-reflective intertwining of my body-as-subject and the world-as-lived-by-my-body (Merleau Ponty, The Visible and The Invisible). But today this call seems most dominant within those marginalizing experiences in a culture already made crazy by its own unyielding, domesticating demands. This chiasm seems to find its voice in those culturally ambiguous or extreme circumstances where our normal (rationalized) frameworks come into question or simply no longer function properly – conditions that breed alienation and cultural ambiguity.

Whether such indeterminateness emerges in more private moments of extreme distress or euphoria, or in more public experiences, like foreign travel, emigration, or cross-cultural exchange, a common thread seems to be the emergent feeling of difference, of otherness – either in the sense of ‘being-beside’ oneself, coping with the alterity of a strange world or a stranger in our midst, or a growing awareness of the otherness of our own cultural landscape.  As Georg Simmel writes:

The stranger [the Other], like the poor and sundry ‘inner enemies,’ is an element of the group itself. His position as a full-fledged member involves both being outside it and confronting it… (The Sociology of Georg Simmel)

It is here that otherness, strangeness, difference become positive, stimulative catalysts of primal recollection because these are fundamentally marginalizing elements buried within each of us. Whenever we are confronted by such marginality or have the feeling of being adrift without the safety and security of our cultural world (psychically, semiotically, or physically), it is precisely in these gaps that we may be struck by the uncultivated, untamed “ordinariness” of life hiding just beneath the veneer of civilized artifice. Perhaps wherever we come face to face with our own facticity (being-there), we recover the experience of life as it once was and always remains. Perhaps this is why the barbarian within us poses such a threat to civilization, because a citizenry so exposed would be very difficult to control.

It is in these chiaroscuro moments, at once clarifying, obscuring, and disaffecting, that a schism, breach, or fracture in our typical, everyday world becomes like a beacon pointing us back toward that chiasm, that subtle knot which makes us human.  It is here that we can gather up the surplus of existence lying just beneath the surface articulations of our civilized selves, find the energy to return to that feral core in an act of retrieval, of recollective resolve, recapture the intimacy of a kairotic moment, beyond historical consciousness, a moment that reestablishes us on a new path in the midst of the confusion and helter skelter of modern civilized life.

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91 Responses to The Barbarian Within: A Feral Memory Trace

  1. Patric Roberts says:

    Sandy, I truly enjoy your posts and look forward to them now~a~days. Imagine the wild man of Western Civilized barbaric not as blood~thirsting primal rage of survival of the fittest, rather a reflective emergent wholeness as an observer sitting in relaxation on a hill becoming aware the pictures of clouds providing sketches of wisdom from a creator and the evening stars mapping the inner cosmos of connectivity in living. Imagine the moon’s reflection of light bringing forth flows and patterns in daily life. The surrounding world was not out there in materiality (space and time) rather an inward wondering in realization~in~living through natural law, being~present~in~living~in~the~moment. Imagine the wonder of the male’s experience in the birth of a child through the womb of woman, and the participatory natural engagement in social interaction in partnership. Imagine the development of man’s caressing hand within our humanness in this innocent feral state where there was no act to exclude, appropriate or kill for one’s self survival and species surrounding us where accepted as social relations assisting us in wise sing up. Imagine ordinary common man embracing the wonders in a surrounding living loving universe not threatened by everything surrounding us.

    Recently, my Lakota friend shared the legend of how their people entered into relationship with the horse. A lone indian was on a hill overlooking the camp and found a large herd of horses down in a valley. He gently left the hill top and descended into the valley. The head lead horse came over and spoke to him, offering his friendship as a brother. The lead horse asked the indian to take some of the horses back to camp with him and by caring for them they would be friends and help with their burdens. The indian returned to camp with a herd following. The horses helped migrating there camps, hunting and defending their communities. They did not need spurs and bridals to control the horse. No friendship is a social interactive coordination of will power that naturally serves the common good. Maybe this legend shares the essential denial we suffer in on too many fine beautiful days. Maybe we never born to suffer and suffering is of our own creating? Thanks.

  2. rg the lg says:

    The other … if I read this correctly, are you saying that to be ‘other’ is what is needed?

    OK. I could agree … but, being me, I won’t.

    I live in a town that uses the other for its own purposes … cheap labor … doing things for less than minimum wage … in extraordinarily nasty and dangerous jobs …
    To be used, and when used up, discarded.

    I have spent most of my life as a form of ‘other’ … always the odd man out … and am still ‘other’ because of my refusal to cut my beard (though I do keep it trimmed along the sides and very end) … and I teach the unteachable. So, I can claim some expertise at the art of ‘otherhood.’

    Being ‘other’ can be uncomfortable, and as the progeny of the ‘curriculum of the west,’ we abhor being viewed as ‘other.’ I would submit that this very blog is a place for attracting like minds, or at least like feelings, such that the feeling of being ‘other’ is shared?

    Thus, this site is to recruit other ‘others’ to staunch the feeling of ‘otherhood’ as much as it is anything. Got lonely thinking the way you do … didn’t it? But, here is the ultimate question: when being other reaches a certain mass, is it still truly ‘other’ or is it just a modification of the same old same old.

    Looking at your career, I would posit, it could be anything …

    Still, the essay was worth reading …

    • kulturcritic says:

      rg/lg – I can’t get away with anything with you, can I? LOL… When I am awake later today, I will give real thought your the conumdrum (sp) you have posited for me.

    • kulturcritic says:

      rg/lg

      What I said is that the experience of difference or otherness, as we often find in the event of self-estrangement (the feeling of not being ourselves or alien to ourselves)… that this experience may lead to the recognition that we are not our civilized/socialized selves, at base, but that we have a more remote core, a feral base. That forgotten origin can possibly be recovered in those experiences of alienation and the experience of being beside-oneself, or more than oneself (as normally understood). In this way the other serves as a reminder of the potential of not-being who we are.

  3. Hasdrubal Barca says:

    Count me as one who is trudging down a new path. At least I can see the chains wrapped around me. However, just seeing the chains presents its own set of problems. Trying to provide for my family keeps me entwined in a system I increasingly reject. I feel like an actor at work, or when dealing with my son’s teacher, or ‘planning the future’ with my spouse. There’s a fear of letting it all go, a fear of perhaps relinquishing my own sanity– a fear of meeting my feral self and not being able to go back. Then again, this insane system will one day reject us all. Might as well practice finding what’s real and what’s not.

  4. javacat says:

    Wow, this post is rich in words and meaning. I had to look up half a dozen words, and still don’t understand them all. 😉

    Philosophical terms set my head spinning, so Sandy, let me know if I’m getting the right drift. Is the idea of ‘re-instantiation’ related to the principle of instantiation, which I just looked up on Wikipedia? Are you saying that we need to again take on this property, this trait of being primal? Later on with kariotic, which seems to have layers of meaning, are you describing a sense of opportunity, in words, in action, both?

    It was only a few years ago that I learned to look at the introduction of agriculture and the basis of civilization as destructive forces. I still struggle–even as I see the clearest signs of exploitation, damage, and death–with letting go of the notion that civilization hath wrought some good…especially when I think of art, music, writing, and aspects of the sciences and medicine. I know that some here may jump on this statement, but that’s okay.

    I start to question my own thinking, even now, as I imagine a Beethoven piano concerto or my favorite Van Gogh, or poetry that has moved me deeply–Yes all these things are beautiful, and deep yet are they direct experience? Am I so distanced from natural experience that I joyfully embraced these apexes of civilized experience? Or do they still hold meaning, even as they are products of civilization?

    What would it be like to return to a feral state (wild would be fascinating, but not possible, since we already are infused–contaminated?–with the essence of civilization)? How far back would we need to go? Return 10,000 years to the Pleistocene? Maybe feral then is the right word. If we were able to return, would we be aware of the reclamation or would acknowledgment mean separation? Would it be like “Altered States”? Can modern awareness and the wild within us be reconciled?

    Rereading the section on ‘otherness.’ “This chiasm seems to find its voice in those culturally ambiguous or extreme circumstances where our normal (rationalized) frameworks come into question or simply no longer function properly – conditions that breed alienation and cultural ambiguity.” Difference and otherness can separate, alienate, cause internal and external discomfort, for sure.

    But those realizations can also elicit break downs, break through, release and liberation–in short, ecstasy.

    From Milan Kundera: “Ecstasy means being “outside oneself,” as indicated by the etymology of the Greek word: the act of leaving one’s position (stasis). To be “outside oneself” does not mean outside the present moment, like a dreamer escaping into the past or the future. Just the opposite: ecstasy is the absolute identity with the present instant, total forgetting of past and future. If we obliterate the future and the past, the present moment stands in empty space, outside life and its chronology, outside time and independent of it (this is why it can be likened to eternity, which too is the negation of time).”

    What is it, exactly, that we’re trying to return to? Can we even imagine what this would be like? My sense from the conversations here is that people envision a return to wholeness of being: of being oneself without the limits–fears and shames and shoulds–of civilization. Of being fully aware with one’s entire body of one’s surroundings and the interactions of that body with the rest of the world, animal, mineral, energy. A Unity, if you will, with the ordinary of our lives.

    Clearly, I’m still working through this post, offering more questions than answers. I look forward to reading what others have to say

    • kulturcritic says:

      Ecstasy… exactly, JC. Read my book The Recovery Of Ecstasy.

    • kulturcritic says:

      I embrace the music and art as well, JC!! Yes, civilization has apparently led to some good things, as well; but, remember; it is all a matter of taste… developed over centuries.

    • kulturcritic says:

      JC asks:

      “Are you saying that we need to again take on this property, this trait of being primal?”

      I am saying that we already are, and always have been primal. We only need to recover what’s buried in our bones and recognize how it participates our life-in-the-world.

      “Later on with kariotic, which seems to have layers of meaning, are you describing a sense of opportunity, in words, in action, both?”

      From the Greek, Kairos is opposed to Chronos: I use it here to describe a full present moment, as opposed to the chronological movement of historical linear time.

      “How far back would we need to go? Return 10,000 years to the Pleistocene?”

      We cannot go back existentially; we are what we are now. But we can recover a sense of that mode of being, of participation, in those unique moments that take us out of chronological time (kairotic moments), where everything seems different and full. And, I believe music and art can do that.

      • javacat says:

        No, I wasn’t thinking of physically returning to the Pleistocene, but wondering about ‘return’ as realignment–which sounds so rigid, but imagine something out of focus until lots of fine adjustments are made, then, everything shifts and is clearer.

        I’m thinking more about how we make changes in different areas that would better align our modern selves with our primal selves: diet, exercise (how we use our bodies), sleep, sex–along with the active, full participation in the kairotic moments. If our DNA that drives us has not changed substantially over the last 10K years, how do we return from this stage of domestication to a more primal, on all levels? I know that there are pockets of folks engaged in ‘back-breeding’ plants to earlier more robust versions, or letting plants go feral in efforts to counter the hyper-hybridizing that’s occurred in agriculture and animal husbandry. Domesticated animals do differ from their wild counterparts. There’s a lot of re-tooling that occurs on many levels.

        • kulturcritic says:

          I think realignment sounds fine. I am not stuck on the terminology so much as the event or experience. Now, with respect to your other point, there is a re-wilding movement of sorts today across the globe. And, I believe that they are engaging in activities that help them recover that lost sense of participation. I believe the necessity for survival in a post-industrial future will require such activities in any event. I’m afraid undoing our domestication will not come easily; we have been spoiled through millennia of ‘improvements.’ We shall see, won’t we?

  5. Dean says:

    We are still feral. We can never leave nature just as the ocean can never leave the planet. I believe the occational glimpse we get of something “other ” or that feeling, is The Observer, or God , what we all are. I’m not religious, just sayin’!!
    Good post Sandy, another head warmer for me!!
    Dean

    • kulturcritic says:

      Hey Dean –

      Glad it helped! I also struggle with the notion of a God; but I think I grasp your sentiment here. 😉

      • Feral Jesus says:

        I think we can identify a feral tradition underlying the Christian tradition that was hijacked early on by empire. I have played a bit with the idea of Jesus as the proto-New primal man. Jesus ascribed to himself the eschatalogical identity of “Son of Man” and envisioned what he called the kingdom of God, which has definite feral implications. Here is my initial look at the primal Son of Man idea: http://www.feraljesus.com/the-return-primal-son-man

        • kulturcritic says:

          Interesting FJ; but I am not completely convinced of the identity you make. seems to me Jesus of Nazareth was stuck in the traditions he was attempting to overhaul; much like the OWS crowd today. His “disciples” got carried away and then the Roman Empire took over the job of promotion and distribution.

        • F. Elaine Anderson says:

          (Sandy – enjoyed reading your anti-civ musings. Right on, right on. Excuse me if you will for butting in on y’all’s old conversation thread for my own agenda, but I will at least make a brief comment to keep things cool, OK? Diet – yeah, I don’t think “civilized man” can make much headway r toward liberation/re-wilding/etc as long as he continues to wallow in his 10-12k year old addiction to wheat, rice, corn and white potatoes: the food upon which civilization was built, the food of slaves. If you want to reclaim your health, your freedom and your mental clarity – my recommendation is: go paleo. You’ll feel so good you’ll never regret it.)
          Feral – I dont know how else to try to get a message to you so I’m intruding among these lovely men here. The spam filter is malfunctioning. I cut and paste password, try to send comment, get error message: “click back and reenter password”. I do so. Try again. Get error message: ” this is a duplicate comment”. What the fish! I’ve spent hours trying to figure out a workaround, to no avail. I don’t think the problem is with my phone.
          Hope you get this message. Grace and peace.

        • F. Elaine Anderson says:

          Opps – so much for mental clarity….Feral, please see the message below that I inadvertently directed to kulturcritic.

  6. javacat says:

    Been there, done that. 😉

  7. rg the lg says:

    The feral base … [started to reply to one of your initial replies, then read the rest of the posts … decided here was not a bad place, instead] … is, without belaboring the point, little more than getting back to nature … simplifying. A post above spoke of the tension created in the self as one begins to understand the futility of the way we are. It is, ultimately, what caused the demise of all movements to get back to alleged ‘natural’ selves …

    The question in my mind, really aside from being a bit of an irritant (another exemplification of my always being odd man out, aka: other) is this:

    Evolution exists. That my neighbors in this corner or the universe refuse to acknowledge it because of what it does with their mythological god, is irrelevant to the extreme. What matters, both in the physical and the societal / cultural realm of reality is that, via a very large number of small changes, the resultant changes sufficiently the be unrecognizable from the original (read, for the word parsers amongst us, ancestral). This creates a dissonance … and an inability to reverse the trend / direction of the change. Therefore, we find ourselves in the social / cultural no more capable of being pre – civilized as we could be Australopithecus. We have changed culturally in the same manner as we have changed physically. That is what, in my view of life, the universe, everything, causes the conundrum.

    The solution for the feeling of being other is to find others … and thus the nature of our response to what Sandy (excuse the word choice) preaches …

  8. Martin says:

    If you want to re-experience (i.e.; we’ve all been there) the human-being in an almost-but-not-quite-pre-civilized feral state, hang out for awhile with a two-year old.

    • kulturcritic says:

      I am there Martin. My son is 2 years, 5 months!!! LOL But, seriously, I do not think that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny exactly. That late 18th C theory from comparative embryology makes a number of assumptions that, when applied anthropologically reveals some rather gross and chauvanistic underpinings.

  9. Disaffected says:

    kC,

    Excellent post once again. As I was reading it and reflecting on last week’s post once again, I realized why such chiaroscuro (I did quite an impressive little art history presentation a few years back on Carravagio, which was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself) moments hold so much meaning to me: they were and are EXACTLY like the first moments of consciousness after first smoking marijuana.

    OK, I know, almost every mainstream reader of this blog just signed off mentally and FURTHER ascribed me to the lunatic fringe, a category where I undoubtedly hold uncontested rule.

    That said, and it’s been well nigh 30 years now since once I took a puff, I still remember that first puff(s) (marijuana is one of those rare drugs that “feels like the first time” every time, provided you don’t grossly abuse it) like it was yesterday. “Ooh, it makes me wonder,” INDEED!

    And I DO INDEED wonder about a culture that prohibits such a calm and pacifying mind altering drug. Coffee and alcohol – our current mainstream psychotic favorites – yeah OK. Marijuana – a mere weed of the field (albeit associated with minorities – aka blacks! – early on) that actually CALMS and PACIFIES our worst tendencies – FUCK NO!

    When I look out on the America that MY generation has created over the past thirty years or so, I have to wonder WHY and where IN THE FUCK did we go so wrong? I can’t answer that one for sure, but I suspect any POSSIBLE answer begins with one of two words: Corporations and/or Profits.

    As in, looking for a reason why we all hate each other “instinctively” these days? Look no farther than our underlying belief system/rationale. In a “winner take all” system, it only stands to reason that the winners will do exactly that, and that the losers will suffer the consequences. That it continues to “surprise” the losers is the better question.

    Perhaps the reason lies in religion, and it’s historical use as a rationale by the rich and powerful to keep the meek and powerless in their place? Perhaps the reason lies in modern democratic (oh, the irony!) politics, and the illusion that “we are all equal?” OR, PERHAPS, the answer lies simply in the fact that the political underclass TRULY IS too stupid to know what’s good for them! Pretty sobering thought, that last one.

    I dunno at this point (although I’ve got my suspicions).

    Anyway. I remain…

    DA

    • kulturcritic says:

      DA – I suspect the answer begins with “buying the story,” the propaganda about the good life, American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, etc, etc, etc.

      • Martin says:

        True enough, and that, I believe, when combined with our collective acute short-sightedness, an almost non-existent cultural attention span and a general lack of any sense of responsibility toward the whole has brought us to the brink of manifesting the destiny we apparently deserve.

    • DA, Extrapolating on what I’ve read by the anthropologist, Pascal Boyer, I think part of the automatic resentment people feel towards each other is a kind of envy. We don’t envy the rich and powerful, we envy those who are in a similar social strata as us. When those around us seem to be getting something we don’t have, we see them as cheaters. For instance, when someone gets their unemployment benefits extended, they are thought to be lazy, undeserving cheaters who are abusing the system. Especially true in difficult times, when people feel they are suffering more than their share.

      • javacat says:

        I think the feelings you describe also tie in, at a deeper level, to a sense of helplessness: an inability to effect significant changes in one’s life or a larger community or culture.

      • Disaffected says:

        Reid,
        Yep, I’ve read that as well, and tend to agree. It DEFINITELY resonates with the underclass feedback I get from my relatives and acquaintances. RESENTMENT, especially among one’s own social class, definitely seems to me a major driver in political decisions among the American underclass. GREAT POINT!
        DA

    • javacat says:

      “OK, I know, almost every mainstream reader of this blog just signed off mentally and FURTHER ascribed me to the lunatic fringe, a category where I undoubtedly hold uncontested rule.”

      For smoking pot? Hardly. For other reasons, maybe. 😉

      This nation has an internal conflict, dichotomy of desiring and claiming freedom even as it desires and imposes control, and therein lies the rub. It’s a very adolescent country, incredibly immature, locked into a ‘me-as-center-of-the-world’ as every parent has seen in toddlers and teens. Except, as a nation, we are stuck there.

      The words about freedom and liberty and equal opportunity sing to our hearts and to our better natures. Isn’t this what we want to believe, the American Dream as genuinely promoted and disingenuously shilled by politicians and Ad Men? The notion is deep part of our national mythology, embedded in popular culture, and deliberately perpetuated as such by those in control–the opiate, if you will, of the masses. It’s a false image of unity and solidarity undermined by the win-at-all-costs mentality–whether that’s in sports (“We’re #1!), politics (Pick your politician or state), education, every-frickin’where.

      Because if you don’t, then what? Where are you and what are you left with? How do you change a world-view, self-view, self-definition?

      And so often, we keep playing by the rules of the game we were given, not realizing or not believing that it won’t work, or that others are playing by a completely different set of rules. Then comes the hard-slam reality that it doesn’t work and won’t work, and can’t work, for what began, perhaps, as lofty, humane ideas has morphed into a gluttonous, even more: ever more growth, ever more production, ever more purchase, ever more waste, disconnect, alienation and abdication of self.

      Another reader commented in another post about the internal struggle of working within the lines of the system when you’ve started to see more clearly. You can do your job as an actor, going through the motions because there’s the reality of the need for food, shelter, and responsibility toward family. At times, you may see chances to change how you act or speak in that setting to better align with where you are now. But once begun, the change doesn’t go away.

      • Disaffected says:

        JC,

        You old hound dog, don’t be so quick to ascribe admitting to smoking pot to be “mainstream,” “Silly Billy” notwithstanding. I sense that the “American sphincter” is once again tightening, and I sense that most American “liberals” (or what’s left of them) had better start tightening theirs too.

        As in, statements of “freedom” and “liberty” coming from ordinary citizens (that would be someone like YOU or ME) are about to become in short supply, unless they’re followed shortly thereafter by statements of allegiance to whatever comes next.

        And what comes next should be obvious by now…

        DA

  10. rg the lg says:

    Terse …

    Yes. Terseness is a value to be encouraged. Suffering is what we do as a species. It may have to do as much with our ability to define things, and pass those definitions on from one generation to another, than with any other concept of our alleged reality.

    The idea of the feral, when contracomposed with the notion of being other, is powerful. but it MAY BE misplaced … insofar as we are the results of generations of evolutionary change both in a species definition and in a cultural way.

    Still, the ideas in this essay, and in many of the responses, indicate that there is an awakening of what directions we may have taken that will result in our demise.

    As Alice said … curiouser and curiouser.

  11. kC, Ten thousand years ago, our sensual experiences were undoubtedly more rich, our feelings more intense, and our lives were short. What was life expectancy then, 30 or so? Back then, we needed a sharper complement of sense perceptions to “read the signs” for survival. And what were our intense feelings in the waning years of the Pleistocene? Probably fear and anxiety. Anxiety over the tenuousness of survival, like where the next day’s food was going to come from. Fear of predation, neighbors, disease, and maybe phenomena like thunder. Our intellectual life was maybe thinking about what the cause of that thunder was.. Today we have an additional 40 or 50 years to develop our perspectives and ponder what we’ve lost.
    So, now we have traded some of our wild freedom for security: a different kind of freedom. Freedom from existential fear and anxiety,or at least a dramatic lessening of it. And with that security comes the opportunity to learn, create, and invent.
    What you’re saying is that even though we are stuck in our hum drum domestication, we can be aware of our primal wildness and catch some fleeting snatches of whenever certain experiences make it possible?
    What about meditation? Isn’t its purpose to strip away the layers of nurture, socialization, and civilization,and let our bare essential nature emerge? Or is that a whole different deal?,

    • kulturcritic says:

      Reid – you have the average life expectancy of hunter-gatherers about right, estimated at a range of 25-35 years (see Mark Cohen, Health and the Rise of Civilization). Naturally, the population densities were vastly thinner, with much opportunity for hunting and gathering without much competition or concern for the next meal (see Marshall Sahlins, The Original Affluent Society). Also, the internal experience of time consciousness was not radically linear, not even primarily unilinear, but rather cyclical (see Eliade, Cosmos and History: The Myth Of The Eternal Return); so fear of death by predation or otherwise was probably not the issue it is for us who are stuck worrying about the future, in particular, our own demise. Predation as well was seen as part of the deal.
      Generally, I would suggest more reading before wondering into such murky waters.

    • mike says:

      Hi, Reid

      Meditation is exactly for this purpose. While we think of yoga as a series of physical postures, traditionally yoga systems placed meditation at the apex. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, it is said that the purpose of meditation is to calm the fluctuatioms of the mind which tend to distort the reflections of our true selves. Of course, meditation can be done without yoga postures, but I have found it very helpful to have a physical, embodied practice.

      What might be a different deal is that in the West we tend to position the return to a decivilized state as an antidote or in opposition somehow to our current state. And so we might expect a certain purity. In Eastern philosophy, the ‘civilized’ mind is not in opposition to primal mind. When we look closer we see primal mind operating and present even in our domesticated state. So, a person that achieves ‘enlightenment’ or glimpses of this state is not expected to stop fulfilling societal roles or abandoning etiquette, etc. These just became masks we can wear and exchange, without identifying with those masks or roles. Nor must we feel the need to stop thoughts or regulate thoughts. The flow of thoughts is part of the whole deal. The less we fight that, the more the flow of thoughts will begin to slow of their own accord.

      Another difference might be that we go into the idea of primal or feral mind with the expectation that the “me” stays intact. Through meditation practice it is expected that the ego will still operate but that we identify less and less with it. So, rather than it being me listening to the bird, it’s just the experience of listening. Being the listening rather than me listening.

      Through meditation, and through mindfulness exercises, people begin to have some experiences of life being more alive again, of colors being new again, etc. And of deep connectivity to the experiences. Results that some look for in drugs, but with more clarity and less confusion about what’s real and what’s not. I can speak from some experience.

  12. Brutus says:

    Nice essay repeating and expanding on some of your earlier themes. Let me provide a couple links to articles that I believe inform your post: “Wild Things” by Paul Sieveking in Fortean Times and “The Barbaric Heart” by Curtis White in Orion Magazine after the book of the same title. The first discusses feral children while the second uses barbarism as a metaphor not unlike your description of our own feral core. I haven’t read either article in some time, but they add some depth to the discussion with respect to what feral and barbaric really mean, literally and figuratively. I will probably have more to say as the comments develop.

  13. Ron says:

    The essay and the responses are very thought provoking. Its seems to me that finding our feral core is tied up with the nature of our awareness and with the the ways we deal with the issue of Self vs Not-self. I am still working all of this out in my own mind.

  14. Disaffected says:

    Good stuff on PBS this week (PUBLIC Broadcasting System, remember that?): Prohibition.

    It’s funny how the “more” we know, the less we know.

    Prohibition is now almost universally regarded as a universal failure; AND YET(!), the war on drugs (indeed, “THE WAR” on everything!) continues not only unabated, but with EXPONENTIAL (in TRUE capitalist form) vigor. A visitor from another reality would have to ask, how could humans BE so stupid?

    But of course that visitor would have to be informed: These aren’t mere “humans” we’re talking about here dear sir. We’re talking about AMERICANS here, and THEY’RE not MERE HUMANS by ANY MEANS AT ALL! THEY’RE “SPECIAL,” by they’re own profession, and they live by their own “SPECIAL” rules.

    LOL!

    DA

  15. Anarchrist says:

    Interesting, thought-provoking stuff Sandy, and elegantly articulated as ever. That ‘acting’ feeling Javacat mentions above is something I’ve always felt and will never get used to. Even though by now I’m fairly good at it (through necessity), what I am left with is a underlying feeling that I am no-one, certainly none of the people I am required to ‘pretend’ or at least artfully ‘appear’ to be, what lies beneath is not defined (or even defineable?) and perhaps it has no inherent limits?

    Heres’s my take: Perhaps what I truly am is not something that can be described by words, or even observed in actions? Perhaps I can be one thing at one moment, and something else the next, according to the demands/stimulus of that moment? Perhaps what imprisons me is the feeling that I should be emotionally ‘attached’ to any isolated aspect of the identities I create to facilitate safe and smooth passage through the demands of the constructed world, and perhaps if I transcend the (culturally cultivated) need for security with the boundaries of ‘self’ as so shallowly defined, then I might learn to drop those attachments (as far as I am able, accepting neither adulation nor blame for percieved success or failure). Perhaps then I can be ‘free’ in my world as I experience it, almost regardless of what those experiences consist of?

    On barbarism vs society (as well as capitalism vs everyone), I watched this interview on TV recently and having enjoyed a couple of the little morsels it offered up, I thought I would share.

    http://rt.com/programs/interview/capitalism-end-system-replace/

    • kulturcritic says:

      AC – The feeling of being ‘no one’ is, I’m afraid, my experience as well. To use psychoanalytic terms, the repression and sublimation of that feral energy becomes a primary source of our alienation from culture and self-estrangement.

      BTW – I liked your link to the video piece on end of capitalism!!

    • Disaffected says:

      AC,
      Some very MAJOR Buddhist shit here, no doubt:
      Heres’s my take: Perhaps what I truly am is not something that can be described by words, or even observed in actions? Perhaps I can be one thing at one moment, and something else the next, according to the demands/stimulus of that moment? Perhaps what imprisons me is the feeling that I should be emotionally ‘attached’ to any isolated aspect of the identities I create to facilitate safe and smooth passage through the demands of the constructed world, and perhaps if I transcend the (culturally cultivated) need for security with the boundaries of ‘self’ as so shallowly defined, then I might learn to drop those attachments (as far as I am able, accepting neither adulation nor blame for percieved success or failure). Perhaps then I can be ‘free’ in my world as I experience it, almost regardless of what those experiences consist of?
      To which I (in likewise Buddhist tradition) both agree and disagree (really) with. Now then, explain the above in terms a Western traditionalist could understand and even (remotely) possibly agree with; OR, explain why the two can’t ever be reconciled.
      OR (and this is cheating in my revealing it), simply reject the argument on it’s face, explain why, and propose another. IMO, THAT’S what REAL(!) PhDs are made of.
      Yep. Indeed.
      DA

  16. Disaffected says:

    Great article about the hollowing out of New York city – and by extension, the entire US – by the one percenters.

  17. Hello, Sandy and All. Following on last week’s session, some rich and thought-provoking remarks are offered and questions posed. At first as I read, I thought of the challenging notion of “being in the world but not of the world.” I love this process, and though it has an endless quality, it is fulfilling. Of course, the fulfilling is proceeded by an emptying. There are so many limting habits, illusions, judgments, contradictions, fears , and short-lived values to be reckoned with and purged. Keeping my mind and heart open is an exercise in stretching and growing in order to incorporate an ever-enlarging “picture.”

    I am not sure what comes first: trying to see the bigger picture or trying to love the One in the many? They do seem to go together. One thing that seems clear to me is that a desire for limited freedom based in self-interest will come into conflict with others’ desires for the same and even the conflicting desires and values we hold in our own unconscious minds. A path to true freedom can simply be moving from selfishness to selflessness, or from seriously identifying with one’s desires to desiring a state of dsesirelessness.

    In a book I bought at our local library booksale the other day, I ran across a few quotes yesterday that fit the topic, but none more than this, I think:

    “The dangerous aspects of nature that kept our forebears watchful and humble have now almost disappeared outside; but they have turned inward (wilderness without–wilderness within!) so that the whole of Western society rapidly approaches the physical and mental cracking point from the inner dangers alone. This is no joking matter, for should the outer wilderness disappear altogether, it would inevitably resurrect powerfully from within, whereupon it would immediately be projected. Enemies would be created, and its terrifying aspects would take revenge for our neglect, our lack of reverence, our ruthless interference with the beautiful order of things.” –C.A. Meier

    • Patric Roberts says:

      Ron, I invite you consider that a desire~less state of beingness in an active embodiment is impossible! The very nature of our humanness is a feral passionate desire to experience legitimacy~in~coexistence within the web of life = love. Love is a desire for wholeness and being glorious in nature. The instinctual, mammalian, neocortex bicameral dynamics of our nature is a process of becoming an “observer of the observer” where reflection, IT~Self, is the crown of creation in a living universe operating within the dynamic plasticity of Homo sapiens amans ~ wise-sing up social loving animals capable of generating wholeness in parts and the household of humanity.

      If we are to find our way out of this current global collapsing predatory chaos by understanding the barbarian within in the feral genetic wisdom (cognitive biological roots of understanding >memory < operating in natural law in momentariness = presence) it's a change in "perception" of what we see as observers. Being in the world and not of the world is an "observer" who SEE's the blind spot mental civilized structure in the swept~along~historic~cultural drift of western civilization. And, it is not a desireless state lacking passion or effective actions. Rather, the opposite is the experience, where one reconnects with the feral passionate enactive embodiment capable of artistically integrating existing structure into history making new patterns and systems operating at a higher frequency then current states or moods in our human collective condition and situation.

      A shared post from yesterday that explains my perception in this appreciative con~versation. (This is an emergent blog book called "Mystic Traveler's" by Rick Meyers open to anyone. Bob is a name given to the creative generative principle that constitutes, sustains and maintains all life.)

      The notion of embracing the whole big picture in a living universe stretches one’s imagination beyond thinking, thoughts and words to a direct encountering of the essence of presence that constitutes the web of life, itself. One can claim it’s mystical experience, yet in the new awareness’s arising in biological cognitive science we are discovering that the universe is structurally determined by Bob and not a mistake. The dimension of awareness I see you pointing to is enactive embodiment in momentariness, an emergent unified singularity in our humanity.

      My viewpoint is an “a~rational” (contrasting rational and irrational duality) perspective based in the fundamental experience of being and the humanness experienced in living. In the new awareness’s arising in cognitive science I am a bicameral perceiver with two eyes ‘i’s; one is autopoietic = Self + Power capable of maintaining form, the skin of my body is a membrane self organized in quantum physics with a spectacular plasticity in the central nervous system constituting a self making inner~prise with coherences with the biological medium surrounding me; The second ‘i’ autognosis = Self + Knowledge is the Noosphere of facticity in knowledge (The Tree of Knowledge) one navigates within in the streaming swept along cultural historic drift of conscious awareness that attempts to explain reality and truth for what ‘i’ do, when ‘i’ do, the things ‘i’ do.

      It’s a circular dance actually of a nameless virtual identity, you refer to as the monkey mind, that is always making assessments, has an experiential story, actually lots of entertaining stories in modernity, living a temporal existence in momentariness. The emergent artist within is another “I” that mirroring of a reflective wholeness in a contemplative presencing with Bob! It turns out in my human experience that this third “I” actually is "i~sing" in the moment and constitutes, sustains and maintains ALL LIFE as the creative generative mind field or source matrix in a living universe. Thus a new state arises, realization~in~living as a virtual self in momentariness.

      I have a beginner’s contemplate appreciative mind of inquire and dialog regarding these three domains of human perceptions. And life offers a co-creative artistic experience in designing a future world together on a blank canvas. Instead of resisting sour fruit or desiring sweet fruit on the tree of knowledge, the monkey mind relaxes into being the living receptacle to sculpt the balance, change and innovations necessary using the soil, drums, colors, songs, presence and breakdowns surrounding experience, itself. The light of the contemplative eye craft’s an enactive embodied action using the autopoietic autognosis to serve the earth and the household of humanity we all belong to, thereby, transforming the breakdowns in situations and conditions encountered to breakthrough history making events.

      What I have discovered so far is that beyond power and knowledge there is an imperturbable nameless loving presence constituting all life, which I agree to call Bob in this appreciative con~versation. I am beginning to “SEE” and look beyond the hypnotic mesmerized bifurcated appearances of our historic mental certainties in the cultural drift. I intuit that this contemplative “eye” is one not two, and thereby heals the mistaken observer error, blesses living experience in enactive embodiment, and lives in a mood of joyful concern, not fear any longer by being a part of the whole in eternal momentariness.

      Final comment in this notion:

      Sandy comment 10-6-11
      "The feeling of being ‘no one’ is, I’m afraid, my experience as well. To use psychoanalytic terms, the repression and sublimation of that feral energy becomes a primary source of our alienation from culture and self-estrangement."

      I submit it is the denied feral energy is the causation of physical, mental and environment collective illness we are currently experiencing. The mental structure, patterns and processes culminating in "Get Money or Eat Dirt" is a mechanized robotic stability killing masses of people's natural awareness, thus profound illness, crime and dysfunctional cultural patterns in religion, education, governance and commerce. What is required to make this quantum leap is not focusing on changing the condition and situation in mental linear bicameral thinking, it's ending and can not continue, death is a certainty. Accept the facticity in the condition and situation. Rather, the emergent change is developing the "observer of the observer" the new "I" of perception that instantly brings forth the wholeness experienced in the genetic feral natural state of our humanness, then, gather the trust of enactive embodiment in family, friends and localized communities to design a future world together with the courageous passionate desire that constitutes the living experience in every unit of our humanity. We see through new distinctions of an "eye" based in an integrated language not with our 'i's of power or knowledge operating in blindness.

      An optimistic viewpoint to consider by Humberto Maturana:
      “Biology of Love” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCp1JdEmeZc

    • Disaffected says:

      Ron,

      That last quote is indeed prophetic. We’ve been living with the results for the past century or so, have we not? Although, in the few instances where nature still manages to intercede, we’re managing to grow more and more hysterical as well, are we not?

      Yep, OUR VERY NATURE is out to get us. And thus, we all need “protection,” conveniently sold to us by [fill in the blank] US Corp – for a PROFIT of course!

      Umm… THANKS, but NO THANKS! I’ll take my life or death chances STRAIGHT up without a chaser, thank you very much! EVEN as these bastards sell us death through the food that we eat, the water that we drink, and the air that we breathe.

      The NERVE of these fucks! PRICKS!

      DA

  18. B Miller says:

    Am I missing something on your blog site re: the pictures/paintings that you feature each week? Some have truly been mind blowing and I’d like to know a bit about them each week.

    • kulturcritic says:

      BMiller – Hey the pix (almost all) are paintings from two Altai artists from Siberia. They are Sergei Prokorov (late forties), Professor of Painting at Altai Technical University, and Yuri Ivanov (mid-sixties). Prokorov’s work is mostly the landscapes, Ivanov’s are the caricatures, but he does landscapes as well. The works are all titled in Russian, but Sergei has a website, http://www.maleral.narod.ru/index.htm (on the left menu there is a tab for English version as well). sandy

  19. javacat says:

    I’ve wondered about them, too. The paintings, especially, are incredible.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Folks, I am coming to the USA in December, and if anyone wants a painting from Prokorov or Ivanov; I could bring a few with me and ship them to you from the States. Maybe I could get a list from them as to what they have available, the sizes, and the costs. Tell me if there is any interest. I would bring them rolled up, they would have to be mounted and framed by you. sandy

  20. rg the lg says:

    Bringing down the empire?

    No.

    Empires bring themselves down … they rot from the inside out … the rot is called HUBRIS …

  21. mike says:

    This is a topic I’ve been thinking about/working with a lot lately. The Taoists talk about the difference between consciousness and “primal awareness”. Primal awareness is always there, underneath the overlay of our rational thought processes. One way of geting there is to not always try to be so clever about everything. We’ll never reach primal awareness through reason or argument. Being aware of the body, of its moment to moment state, without analyzing or naming is another way. Tai chi and yoga are great tools. Primal awareness is said to reside in the lower tan tien in the belly. Strangely, this also the location of what has been termed our “second brain”– a dense nerve plexus that has a role in processing emotions and in inititating movement. Interesting note: when a person wills a body part to move, the first nervous signals register in the second brain not in the “brain” brain.

    I recognize what you’re saying about the shock of newness- as in travelling to a country with a radically different culture–being a spur to awaking from our civilized concepts of ourselves. This has happened to me before. I felt very “new” and alive.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Mike – I’ve always had a sympathy for the Taoist tradition. It is an approach to life that perhaps holds a key to the future of humanity after collapse. Thanks for joining the discussion. sandy

    • Mike, you are hitting upon a subject and awareness that I find an important revelation, the existence and functions of the “dual-conscious” mind/body. How marvelous it is that the autonomic functioning in the sub- or unconscious can see to so many of our day to day activities. Digesting our food, riding a bike, operating a car, etc. are all happening primarily autonomically. Only a proper balancing of conscious awareness is required to keep these activities safe and effective. My research (actually books and articles appear to find a receptive me) brought me a couple of books by John E. Sarno, MD. They are Healing Back Pain and The Divided Mind. They delve into Sarno’s and others many years of research about how the brain functions in the mind/body both as a great healer and at times as a distractor by creating, through minor malfunction, painful physical symptoms, otherwise known as psychosomatic.

      Over the years, I have become aware of these flare ups as being psychologically based. The way Sarno thinks about it is that when one is holding an emotion unconsciously that is too painful to deal with consciously, it distracts the conscious mind with a painful physical breakdown. As it is the brain that “supervises” all the various systems, the manifestation could happen in any system, such as: ulcer, acne, aches, pains, asthma, allergies, etc. This approach to medicine was gaining popularity in the 40’s but by the 50’s the AMA attacked it and drove it out of the mainstream. When it gets reestablished it should prove revolutionary.

      One of my personal experiences is a severe pain in the middle of my back that would come and go and be on one side or the other. The pain could not be relieved with massage and I didn’t seek any medication or opinion from a doctor. This was occurring in 1979. I was living in a house with a friend. What came to me intuitively is that I had a few domestic issues that I was embarrassed to bring up with my house mate, and that this was actually the source of the physical manifestation. So, I took courage and brought up my issues with him and we resolved them. The pains did not return. However, when I would occasionally feel a twinge in that spot, it would help me to recognize that I was lapsing back into the embarrassment/false pride routine. I would then speak up and feel the twinge disappear. Magic!

      If this rings true, I recommend reading and thinking about this. The results can be enormous.

      • Disaffected says:

        Ron,
        Good stuff, and I agree with you for the most part. As usual, I think that you (and yours) simply don’t take it MERELY far enough. I won’t say any more than that, other than to add that my personal mantra is “BE YOUR OWN GURU!”
        DA

      • mike says:

        Hi, Sandy! Thank you for the welcome.

        I will look into this, Ron. How great that you found a way to overcome pain and avoid the prescription merry-go-round some people get pulled into. I’ve had low back pain. I’m sure it was related to deeper issues and I resolved the pain by listening to it and relaxing into it and not fighting it. I do have occasional g.i. problems, so that’s a good time to check out Dr. Sarno’s ideas.

        It is fun to explore the mind body relationship in wellness, too. Lately I’ve been playing with letting go of the whole “broken-up” or segmented internal map of the body and just feeling the body as one whole field of sensation. The subject/object relationship of mind to body falls away and feeling of the body as separate from what’s outside the body begins to dissolve, as well. Where it goes from there, we’ll see….!

  22. javacat says:

    Thanks for the link & the heads up on price. I may have to settle for a screen shot!

  23. rg the lg says:

    Art, religion, culture, history, politics.
    A strange, though viable mix in these postings.

    Someone asked where I was ‘driving this truck’ … and the answer is an unambiguous nowhere. I simply see most things as being a function of change over time. However, I am not convinced that one should worry overly much about the future, that is a function of too many contingencies by players we, as individuals, may be totally unaware of. So, I live essentially for what I am today … human, husband, teacher, father, grandfather, actor on an ever diminishing stage. So … you tell me where this truck is going … because I won’t know unless and until it arrives.

    Religious traditions … something that I have fiddled with all of my life … seem to have a great deal in common: solace. Therefore, I suppose they can be attractive … but are they real in the sense that they can be measured … analyzed at a level beyond literary analysis … given something beyond simple: this is what I think / believe?

    I suspect that solace is their sole contribution … and that may be enough for those in need.

    This skeptic is way too much in the tradition of Hume … or perhaps Descartes until he blinked in fear of excommunication and being branded a heretic (therefore kindling for a religiously inspired bonfire) … and latterly of Dawkins, Harris, Schermer, Stenger, et al., to believe anything. I accept as probable certain propositions … I accept as plausible many things … I accept as certain almost nothing … .

  24. F. Elaine Anderson says:

    The Plow!…Aaaaaagriculture!!….Civilization!!! freed us from a life of drudgery…. a life of huntin’, fishin’, an’ pickin’ berries in the woods. So come now, wage slaves, rejoice! Let us give thanks for the bread and worship the State.
    You are most gracious to invite me to comment, SK. I’m something of a stranger in a strange land here amongst your cyber community, you know. We can put my “adventure road” spin on the reason for that. As in: Oh, it’s just that the only thing I passionately care about is breaching the defenses of civilization. Or, we could just as legitmately say that I’m too mentally lazy to try to follow the reasoning of these very intellectual (and remarkably polite!) guys that follow your blog. Confession has its place, you know. But in the final analysis, adventure is more fun.
    First prong of my strategy: promoting paleo diet/fitness. I went paleo four years ago in a desperate maneuver to save my life. It [ahem!] worked. Felt so great I stayed with it…and along the way I began to see civilization for what it really is. For a couple of years I thought I was the only anti-civ person in the world, until one day my permaculture mentor quoted to me something that Derrick Jensen said and, brother, it was ON! Anyway that’s my story, short form. Some people go paleo because they’re anti-civ; I became anti-civ because I went paleo. A major impact (at the macro level) of the paleo diet is that it denies Civ the use of the most ancient means it has of keeping the populace pliable. Sweets (sugars and the foods that break down into sugars) make us sweet. And sweet and compliant – in the face of environmental drawdown, mass extinction, the degradation of the biosphere and the intensifying insanity of the dominant culture – is not something that any of us needs to be. I know how hard it is to beat grain and sugar cravings, and sadly most civilized people have been so numbed to their innate love of freedom (domesticated, in other words) that they feel no outrage at the idea of being addicted. So I try to meet people where they are. ANYTHING we do to break our dependence on civilization is valuable: learning to practice direct democracy in the community, to develop local economies, to obtain water security, to form intentional communites, etc. Learning to hunt, fish and forage. Even deciding to grow a tomato plant in a container on the balcony or a rosemary in a sunny window can be an act of decolonization.
    Baby steps are still steps.
    Now, stay with me, Sandy, if you will on the second prong of my strategy. It’s not what you may initially think.
    I’m gonna pick up Feral J’s thread here. Ok – if we ask somebody from the realm of Christendom, let’s say a fundamentalist: “What does this quotation mean: ‘ call no man your father on earth.’ ?” We’ll get a lot of hemming and hawing and will no doubt tell us it probably means that the Catholics got it all wrong. We’ll try this next: “OK, then, here’s a multiple choice question for you: Which personage in antiquity was addressed by the title ‘pater patrae’? Was it…. A) the high priest of the temple state at Jerusalem…B) Clement, bishop of Rome…or C) Caesar, father of nations?(You have no idea how much fun this is!) Take the following passage: “Hey, friends – watch these here ravens with me! You see them toiling in the sun? You see them building barns? You see them planting and harvesting crops? Naww, ‘course not! That’s cuz they eat out of God’s own hand. And do you really think God won’t hold that same hand full of abundance out to you?” Someone like Feral J might read that and exclaim: “Holy shit! That’s the battlecry of an anarcho-primitivist!” But, our fundamentalist guy back there, he’s gonna tell us, “Huh?? It means ‘don’t worry’.” The reason why he knows that it means “don’t worry” and NOT “dont worry and don’t cultivate the fields” is because Christendom has thoughtfully provided us all with interpretative filters so we can “know” without having to use our brains. These filters seem to remain functional whether one buys the doctrine or not . (Radical theologian and lifelong environmental and social justice activist Ched Myers, by the way, is very talented at stripping away those filters, as in “Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of the Gospel of Mark”). Yeah, gospel, evangelion, translates literally good news. And never mind how it’s used today. In Greco-Roman antiquity it was a technical term that was used to announce Roman military victory. Hmmm. So NOW we can ask our friend, “To whom in Antiquity were the following titles FIRST applied- divine, son of God, lord, savior of the world, liberator, redeemer, the very God, bringer of peace on earth?” And when he misses this question too, he will probably come back at us with, “Yeah, but Caesar can’t save us from our sins”. Of course he can, the poet Horace would maintain. “Our children, made fewer by their parents’ sins…to whom shall Jupiter assign the task of atoning for our sins?” His answer was Augustus, in whom Hermes-Mercury, messenger if heaven, had “assumed on earth the guise of man”, and who as “our leader, Caesar,” would remain with Rome, unless once more, the gods became “angered at our sins.” (Source: Borg and Crossan, “The First Paul”). One historian noted that the early vhurchv

    • F. Elaine Anderson says:

      Opps, slip of the thumb. To continue. What the early church did in laying claim to the titles and attributes of Caesar was either ” low lampoon or high treason.” (Quoting here, but cant remembr the source.) The first century Jesus movement was extraordinarily diverse as far as beliefs – or lack of them – goes. What unified them was their orthopraxy: nonviolence, share economies, egalitarianism, etc. Some followed the Judaic moral code, some didn’t. (Now, whether the teachings of this movement originated with their own internal musings among themseles or with a historical personage is not at issue here. Some of the Gnostics, long before modrn skeptics ever came along, denied that their leader Jesus had ever lived in the flesh – they thought of him as pure spirit.) The first century Jesus people held in common a vision of a sane society; they lived by that vision and stood ready to die for it. When you call death a reward, you undermine the power of the State’s ultimate threat against you – capital punishment. After the network of bishops, directed out of Rome, arose in the second century, the consolidation of an orthodoxy of belief began (aka doctrine, dogma) – and groups that would not summit to the central authority were isolated as heretical. Then when the church “married” the Roman empire in the fourth century and was given the authority to have anyone posssessing documents hostile to their beliefs executed, whatever vestages remained of the exuberant and experimental counterculture of the first century were duly domesticated. Sandy, the church today is a rabble rousers to-die-for dream: a ready made mass organizing base with a hidden (but historically verifiable) foundation of fearless subversion. Civilization is built on and maintained by violence. The Jesus people countered with nonviolence. Civilization is based on dominance. The Jesus people countered with service. Civilization promotes hatred and revenge. The Jesus people countered with love and forgiveness. Civilization stands on patriarchy and racism.The Jesus people formed multi-ethic communities with prominent woman leaders among them. Yeah, brother, Empire thought they won when Constantine got baptized. But some of us are about to turn the tables on them; the kingdom of God is at hand. So the kingdom of God is like this sharecropper, ya know, and one day when he was out working in the rich man’s field, he unearthed a spectacular treasure! So real quick-like he covers it back up so the rich man won’t know it’s there. And then for a long long long time he struggled to get together the resources to claim that field for his own. Finally he did it, and he and his treasure lived happily ever after . Amen.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Good quote from Dominic!!

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