Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Out of many, One 2

In the last installment of “Independent Full Gospel Hour,” we left the world’s foremost living radical pantheist, and progressive missionary to the conservative heathens in the West Virginia hills and hollers—yours truly—in the midst of a monthly local Tea Party meeting, on a recent Friday evening, in the Bank of Romney Community Center on Main Street.

There were about thirty people, mostly men, sitting in the brightly-lit room that could have easily accommodated three times that number. We were arranged in rows of folding metal chairs that faced a podium at the front of the room, where a tall, friendly, loose-featured man with glasses was discussing the upcoming special election for West Virginia governor.

I was late getting to the meeting, and had sat down a few seats from a big older guy in a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” scarf, who turned out to be a Tea Party regular. As it turned out, he had traveled with the local group to both the state and nation’s capitals, to let our representatives know that they were mad as heck and weren’t going to take it anymore. Other than that, the Tea Partiers appeared at a loss about what to do next, beyond working on the next electoral campaign, and writing and calling politicians.

I carry around in my vastly overcrowded head an unusual image of the contemporary world political system—what George H.W. Bush used to call the “New World Order—that so oversimplifies things that I think it must stem from my days as an editorial cartoonist on my high school newspaper—a state of mind influenced thematically by Jim Henson’s muppets (as a kid in DC, I used to watch the early muppets in a quarter-hour local TV show, “Sam and Friends”).

My image of the characters who inhabit both the higher reaches and the bureaucracy of the New World Order—which I also think of as the “Empire”—also owes a debt to the mythological iconography into which my view of “reality” has been organizing itself lately.

Just as my yoga teacher and spiritual mentor Swami Ramachandrananda was discussing in last Saturday’s class at the library,


the heightened awareness of reality that comes when you align your own breathing with the respiration of the universe (the Hebrew word for “Spirit” in the Old Testament is Ruach (spelled phonetically, as will be all the Hebrew words in this piece), which means “breath”). That level of awareness ushers you into what the Swami calls the “allegorical” world of archetypes. And it is in this allegorical world where we can get closer to the presence of God (think of it as an antechamber to your inner Holy of Holies).

In this archetypal/allegorical world, you also see “reality” more clearly. So for example, to me, the bankers and financiers who manipulate the lives of great masses of people, and invest in whatever ruthless and blood-soaked activity will squeeze a few more pennies of profit from their multibillion-dollar investments, exhibit a kind of reptilian nature that seems to emanate from what psychologists call the “reptile brain”—the oldest section of the evolved human brain, concerned solely with personal survival, without the altruism characteristic of an integrated human mind.

So I think of the world’s rulers as “Lizard” people.

On a personal level, of course, the Lizards can be perfectly charming (an outsized charm sometimes indicating psychopathology, a not uncommon trait among what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills called the “power elite”—the relatively few humans at the top of the political, corporate and academic institutional pyramid we have built of our society). But a general coldness of heart toward the suffering masses, and the massive scale of tragedy even their slightest uptick of greed can induce at an imperial/corporate level, both add a reptilian sheen to the Lizards’ basic human forms.

Think in terms of the David Rockefeller-Henry Kissinger-Zbig Bzoy axis. We older folks recall the serpentine charm with which then-Secretary of State Henry K flicked his power at breathless beauties, as he slid his blood-stained tentacles around their bare shoulders at society parties.

The Lizards exercise their power at the top of the global fascist pyramid through their lackeys in the second tier:

- the Puppets, the elected officials in all the Potemkin “democracies” that retain the appearance of the old global order of previously sovereign nation-states. The vestiges of democracy left from the old global system also mean, however, that there are still a few Puppets whose strings aren’t fully under the Lizards’ control—although what Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said of Congress can generally be said of all the world’s elected bodies: “The banks own the place”;

- and the Serpents, the corporate functionaries who administer the policies set by the Lizards. The Serpent class can range from discardable CEOs like Don Blankenship, formerly of formerly Massey Energy (the Empire does a lot of shape-shifting), to the nests of corporate lobbyists writhing and slithering within the marble walls of every single one of the world’s domed capitols.

With this view of the world, the left/right Puppet show that is the major topic of most of the world’s political discourse, “democracy” is an illusion—not only in the corporate propaganda systems that are the Empire’s primary means of social control, but even on the independent websites where partisans gather to analyze the world’s woes, peering through the lenses of their own biased world views.

The Lizards know that Clausewitz had the right idea: all politics is war by other means. And their first rule of operation is to keep their enemy—the world’s people, whose God-given wealth the Lizards are mostly hoarding for themselves—as divided as possible into warring camps. The contemporary United States, blasting its way into a sixth decade of culture war, is their greatest success story. Plenty of fast-food bread and a laughingstock political circus to keep the populace sated, amused and unconscious.

So it was from within this mytho-political context that I listened to the conversation of my (for the moment, anyway) fellow Tea Partiers.

They were, like most gatherings of unrelated people for an ideological event in America, a cross-section of types, from the sweet older couple who had invited me here in the first place to help them stop abortion, to the burly bearded redheaded Celt, whose appearance bespoke libertarian pothead to the core. We all have our little divisions.

The crowd was in earnest discussion of what would follow their officially non-partisan effort to elect a Republican in this year’s special election for West Virginia governor (a confusing subject in itself, as you can imagine), because the only thing they seemed capable of imagining as a political activity was electing officially non-partisan Republicans like themselves. (There were also things discussed involving intra-Tea Party dynamics that the podium guy asked us not to discuss publically, so I won’t—but I have to say it seemed like an odd request to an audience with a guy with a big silver peace sign hanging from his ear in the second row.)

They had reached a sort of impasse in the conversation when a guy on the other side of the room who’d been looking at my earring suddenly took note, staring straight at me, that there were a number of “new people” in the room, and perhaps they’d like to introduce themselves to the regulars.

It turned out that about half the people in the room were new, so I waited my turn to announce my name. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an immediate recoil of disgust when I said it. But it’s been eight years since my notoriously leftist column was in the Hampshire Review, and we still have a lot of new people moving into the county. And let’s face it, in a hyper-information age, even in small town America, memories are shorter than they used to be.

After all the new people had introduced themselves, now that everybody knew who I was, I raised my hand to ask a question—one of my favorite ways to “break the ice” with people (now were those Dave Barry quote marks, or what?).

“Now I’m a proud leftist,” I began, a tactic that proved quite successful in drawing the entire room’s immediate, quite focused attention. “But I hate the government as much as you guys do. But I don’t think there’s a ‘dime’s worth of difference’ (thanks, Dave!) between the two major political parties. I don’t see that there’s really that much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. I think they’re all a bunch of puppets, working for their corporate masters.”

When I observed that I seemed to have the support of a majority of people in the room, I decided to have a little fun before I continued.

“I mean, I agree with Robert F. Kennedy’s kid (you can tell what generation I come from) that the only difference between the parties is that the Democrats are only 75 percent corrupt. But the whole system is so ‘rotten to the core’ (bows toward Florida), I don’t see where it makes any difference. I think you guys should save yourselves the gas money of having big centralized meetings like this, and you should be getting together in your neighborhoods, in neighborhood groups, because that’s what it’s going to come down to when civilization finally collapses completely in the very near future—what happens on the local, even neighborhood level.”

(I was taking not too much of a chance that this was an apocalyptic crowd, given the influence of fundamentalist preachers in this county. And nobody really knows for sure who’s going to be left behind, watching their neighbors float like so many helium-filled naked plastic bodies up to the Jesus-filled clouds, while they’ve got nothing to face but cold, hard tribulation. Always a good idea to plan ahead.)

The odd destination my little trance-like talk had arrived at, had discomfited several participants in the meeting, not least of which podium guy, who took advantage of one of my cursed inhalations to interject himself into the spell I was weaving like a spider’s web. He was the one who had organized these meetings in the first place, and he wasn’t going to watch some gosh-darned communist break it up into small-group consensus decision-making. Somebody has to be in charge, after all.

“That’s a good idea, bringing things down to the local level, which is just what we’re trying to do here,” he said, helpfully. But there was another new guy in the crowd, sitting in the row directly behind me with his obvious friend, who was upset with what I said about the two parties being alike, and the aspersions I’d cast upon corporations, whose defense this guy leapt to like a loyal friend. He and his friend were both dressed in the casual downtime sharpness of guys who make a lot of money ordering pretty young women to type things.

“Aren’t corporations people, too?” he asked. “Aren’t corporations just collections of people?”

I couldn’t believe that this guy had just given me an opportunity to ask one of my very favorite questions. I slowly turned completely around in my seat and fixed my gaze directly upon him.

“Are you familiar with the Jewish kabbalistic tradition?” I asked.

I didn’t realize, until I was debriefing myself after the meeting, that that was the point at which several people had stood up, put on their coats, and left the building—a realization that gave me a chuckle of satisfaction. I didn’t know whether they just didn’t want to hear about anything associated with Madonna, or they thought I was going to leap up like some medieval wizard and turn them all into frogs. But the haste I remember is a funny indication of how scary the truth can sometimes be.

The guy gave the usual answer—“No,” with a kind of nervous shaking of the head—so I settled into professor mode.

“The Kabbalah [sometimes spelled Qabala] is a Judaic mystical system based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the language in which that ancient tribe of humans described their experience of God, in what Christians call the Old Testament. In the kabbalistic system, each Hebrew letter also corresponds to a number. These numbers have cosmic properties, and legends passed down in this tradition say that the ability of rabbis to understand this system gave them magical powers.”

Those are unlikely to have been my exact words, but whatever I said, the audience was rapt.

“There are legends about rabbis sometimes making the terrible mistake of using their magic to create a superhuman being called a “golem” [probably where Tolkien got the term]. A golem was a humanoid being fashioned of dirt and magic, very powerful, and meant to be the servant of its creator. But it’s easy to lose control of a servant without a soul, and in some legends, that mistake proved very tragic.

“Corporations are the golems we have created that have now taken over our government and society. The Founding Fathers were very aware of the dangers of corporations. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson wanted an 11th Amendment in the Bill of Rights strictly restricting corporations?” I asked the guy. He didn’t. “Did you know that the original Boston Tea Party was primarily an anti-corporate riot that rose up against the British East India Company, the biggest corporation of its day?”

He didn’t know that, either, but podium guy had already decided to stem the budding riot in the room, as people started talking to each other, and reassert control of the meeting. The theme of working on the “local level” returned at points throughout the rest of the meeting, which gave me a nice glow of satisfaction.

When the meeting was over, I had a little crowd of people who wanted to talk with me, including the burly Celt, who added his email address to our list of people we alert about the natural gas drilling issue. Libertarians don’t think much of corporations, either.

I was feeling pretty good about my little meeting with the Tea Party, though it’s unlikely I’ll return anytime soon. I don’t feel like wasting energy electing Republicans, even though I may not have anything against them personally. I just think electoral politics is the Lizards’ way of diverting real political energy. But at least I do know where I can find some political allies, if I need them.

It was only 9 o’clock, it was a warmer than usual night, and I was in a happy political glow, so I decided to go somewhere I wasn’t surrounded by people plagued by varying degrees of personal rigidity. I have a biker friend I like to visit when I’m feeling particularly rowdy, so I decided to drop in at his house.

He and his wife both come from big, loud families, like I do, and the three of us like nothing better than to sit around and drink whiskey and yell at each other at the top of our lungs, trying to top each other’s stories and laughing our fool heads off. God, they’re fun.

They served me a generous shot or two of Jim Beam on the rocks, and we sat around the kitchen table with another old friend of theirs I also knew, and we rumbled our way through a conversation, probably close to a thousand pounds of humanity among the four of us, having just a helluva loud good time. We like to talk about music a lot, and interrupt each other constantly in the process.

At some point in the conversation, and I don’t recall exactly how it happened, I took my friend’s wife into the living room to show her something I’d written, on the computer. She may be a biker chick, but she is a very smart woman with a responsible job and a large heart that cares about more than herself and her immediate hers.

It was a short piece I’d written originally to introduce another article. But it seemed so complete in itself, as a kind of tone poem, that I decided to title the 300-plus words, “Original intent,” and post it here at the Independent. It’s about how the concept of multiculturalism has been purposely ingrained in the very fabric of American society from the moment of its birth.

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress established a committee to create our national motto—“E pluribus unum,” Latin for “Out of many, one.” The US seal they sketched out to accompany the motto graphically illustrates that the new nation was meant to embody a unity of different cultures, as well as the political unity of the sovereign 13 original states. And it is from the many different cultures that make up America that we get our own unique national sense of oneness and unity. That’s what the Founders intended.

Anyway, I thought Biker Chick would enjoy the brief experience of reading my little tone poem more if I gave her some context, especially about the last line, “Nature’s God intended for Her children to be free.” So this may seem odd, but I was telling her about the first three words of the book of Genesis, in Hebrew, which are translated into the emperor’s English as, “In the beginning, God…” This was a way of explaining to her exactly who that 18th-century Nature’s God actually is.

The first three words of the Torah (what Christians call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament) are, in Hebrew, “Bereshyt bera Elohim…” We translate "Bereshyt bera" as “In the beginning,” but the first letter of Genesis, the Hebrew letter “beth,” the second letter in that alphabet, also has a spatial dimension, as well as temporal. It is a feminine letter that can mean “house” or “container”—which means that the first letter of the first word of the first book of the Bible is a reference to the female aspect of divinity—the nothingness out of which creation is born, just as we are born from the womb. This is an eternal moment that never ceases.

By the time we reach the third word of Genesis—our first word for “God,” Elohim—we have already descended into a lower level of divinity, because Oneness can only know itself. When we even conceive of God with our puny understanding, we are already putting form to what is by its nature a formless Being. But in order to understand God through our human minds, we have to view divinity through the prism of “archetype,” the various universal forms in which we find our own humanity—we being, as everyone admits, “children of God,” with divine DNA.

(I believe that this archetypal world is the “allegorical” level that Swami Rama keeps referring to, but we’re still working that out.)

Elohim is an interesting word for a number of reasons. In terms of its own nature, it is a masculine singular root, “El,” with a feminine plural ending. The direct implication is that God is both male and female—which in itself contradicts the general impression of most contemporary Christians, that the male aspects of the godhead are more important. And Elohim—the original concept of God in the Judeo-Christian tradition—is simultaneously both singular and plural. In Roman Catholic catechism class (where I don’t remember this topic being specifically discussed), this phenomenon would be referred to as a “mystery.”

What makes the word Elohim even more intriguing is that it didn’t originate with the Hebrew tribe, a relatively late, historically vague variation on the human animal. The word originated with the Ugarites, a tribe that preceded the uncertain arrival of the Hebrews in Canaan. They were likely swallowed up by the Hebrews in one of the latter’s many attempts to unite their fellow Canaanites under their own tribal king--a conclusion reinforced by the fact that the Hebrews adopted the Ugarite name for God, Elohim.

In Ugarite mythology, Elohim was the council of the gods and goddesses, united as one Being, but a Being with many aspects. In essence, this Ugarite/Hebrew concept of God—the seed of the Judeo-Christian God—is similar to the polytheism of ancient pagan Rome and Greece, or to the many deities of Hinduism, who are all understood to be individual manifestations of specific aspects of a Divinity united in its universal Oneness.

The pagans weren’t so simplistic that they would believe that their little tribal god or gods was the One true and universal Spirit (what Luke Skywalker thinks of as the Force)—as Yahweh, a minor thunder deity in the Ugarite pantheon who Moses helped to usurp the throne of Elohim and create monotheism, was originally to the Hebrew tribe: that is, a local tribal thunder deity, male and warlike and entirely patriarchal. The pagans simply recognized—as the early Hebrews did, which is one reason the nationalists among them had trouble separating the boys from their luscious pagan priestess neighbors—that the One God has many…let’s say, “allegorical” aspects.

So this was what I was explaining to Biker Chick before she read my piece on the computer. And when she finished reading, and had read the part about Nature’s God being pluralistic and multicultural, she knew exactly what I was talking about.

And she gave me a big smile. And she said that it was good.

--Michael Hasty

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