Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

Pretending that ordinary incidents are dangerous and ordinary objects are toxic recalibrates reality.  –  Lenore Skenazy

I’m really pleased to see that others are beginning to mock the kindergarten pretense that there is some meaningful difference between authoritarians who call themselves “left” and those who take the label “right”.  We’ve seen these guys before, but this example was provided by Franklin Harris; the links above it are from Lenore Skenazy, Emma Evans, Cop Crisis, Walter Olson, Amy Alkon, and Emma again, in that order.

From the Archives

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Death is what gives life meaning, and fighting excessively against it is as childish and futile as the behavior of a toddler who refuses to let another child take his place on the carousel once his ride is done.  –  “Thanatopsis

Every year on the Day of the Dead I write about the inevitability and goodness of Death.  Yes, I said “goodness”; as I wrote in “Eternity“, “Eternal life wouldn’t be a gift; it would be a horror literally beyond imagining.”  I’ve never been especially afraid of death; part of that is due to the fact that “I was a strange, wild, moody Wednesday Addams of a child, born on Halloween night and fascinated with horror lore and imagery.  Autumn was both my native season and the one in which I felt most comfortable” The rest, of course, was a combination of chronic depression and ruthless pragmatism; for much of my life I endured long periods in which I would have viewed death as a welcome release, and even when I was in a cheerier frame of mind I was still rational enough to recognize that the continuance of life for any given creature requires the regular deaths of countless others.  But it wasn’t until my forties that I started become really philosophical about mortality, and only five years ago did I really start to deeply ponder its spiritual dimension.  The latter development was not merely due to age, though that undoubtedly helped put me in the right headspace; a catalyst was required, and that catalyst was edible cannabis.  I started experimenting with what are typically and not-entirely-correctly called “recreational drugs” near the end of 2014, and though several of them gave me very rewarding experiences with others, it was the psychedelic experiences I had from using largish doses of edible cannabis alone (or more accurately, without human company) that opened the doors to the Infinite and gave me a perspective on death, the soul and my place in Everything which eventually led to a spiritual peace unlike any I had ever known.  I was far from alone; those who refuse to be bound by the Puritanism which has trapped modern humanity in a death-grip have for decades tried to tell everyone else about the healing and mind-expanding power of psychedelic drugs, and since the 1990s studies have increasingly demonstrated the power of such substancies to alleviate depression, PTSD and other mental health issues.  But this is not a new discovery, it is, rather, a rediscovery of truths known to our ancestors millenia ago:

…sacred tripping was not simply a function of prehistoric religious rituals and shamanism, but an integral, even central part, of the world of the ancient Greeks….The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name, by Brian Muraresku…shows…the centrality of psychedelic use…in an elaborate and mysterious once-in-a-lifetime ceremony at the Temple of Eleusis, a short distance from Athens.  We’ve long known about…the Mysteries…and the rite of passage they offered — because it’s everywhere in the record.  Many leading Greeks and Romans went there, including Plato and Marcus Aurelius…The Greeks and Romans went to Eleusis only once in their lives, like the Muslim hajj, to participate in a nocturnal rite, and were sworn to secrecy as to what went on.  But the constant theme in the ancient literature around this ritual is that it somehow took the sting of death away.  “Death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing” was the phrase attached to it…Historians and classicists have long pondered what this meant and what exactly happened, but all agree that it required drinking a special brew.  And new discoveries of ancient chalices and cups — and new techniques of testing ancient residue — have begun to suggest what made these archaic potions so special…they contained countless herbs and spices and ingredients, among them, critically, elements of ergot, a fungus that infected barley and rye and had potent hallucinogenic effects…Another re-examined excavation in Pompeii found the preserved remains at the bottom of large barrels jars dated to 79 CE:  chemical analysis found it included seeds of cannabis, opium, and hallucinogenic nightshades.  The recipe for the psychedelic brew and the preparation of it was restricted to women, who passed on the secret recipes from mother to daughter, and was the particular preserve of older women.  The effect, we’re told in the sources, was transformative: you saw past life and death, you became unafraid of your own mortality, you gained perspective and inner peace…
When I read this article a few days ago, I wasn’t really surprised; I have long understood that knowledge is cyclic, and many truths are gained, lost, and gained again, not merely on a societal level but in the lives of individuals treading paths new to us, but well-worn by countless others.  And my own life is replete with “coincidences” and “happenstances” which are in actuality nothing but; I see them as the Hand of the Divine, though you of course are free to draw your own conclusions.  I do not have access to the sacred recipe for the transformative cocktail at the center of The Mysteries, and yet I nonetheless have followed in the footsteps of my many-times-great-grandmeres by offering to others the wisdom that mortality is not a thing to fear, but rather a blessing to accept when it comes to us in the fullness of time.


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Boo fucking hoo.  –  “Officer” Michael Valva

Forget those incredibly annoying songs written for children by adults; this one was written by a child, three-year-old Fenn Rosenthal (with a little help from her daddy Tom on the music).  It was called to my attention by Mama Tush; the links above it were provided by Melanie Moore, Tim Cushing, Walter Olson, Cop Crisis, Amy Alkon, Cop Crisis again and Dave Krueger, in that order.

From the Archives

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Some creatures…survive by migrating vast and hazardous distances…more recent discoveries hint at a different migratory mode: through time.  –  Daniel Ackerman

This brilliant re-imagining of The Simpsons intro as a Russian art film was provided by Furrygirl, and the links above it by Dave Krueger, Jesse Walker, Franklin Harris, Tushy Galore, Clarissa, and Scott Shackford, in that order.

From the Archives

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I have an incurable, fatal disease: my doctors advise me to expect to live another 30-70 months.  I’m not afraid of dying and in examining my life the only thing that really bothers me is the state of my spiritual life.  While I was born and raised Catholic, I left organized religion as my mind matured and my path to access spirituality became intimate times with my lovers.  I haven’t experienced that connection with something greater than ourselves since my wife left me on the mountaintop 10 years ago.  Regular, long sessions with professionals have immeasurably improved and enriched my life but don’t reach that level.  Tantra specialists offer a kind of enhanced FBSM but none seem to seek that connection to the infinite.  Meditation, yoga, chanting, all are relaxing and enjoyable, but just don’t get me to that higher plane.  Small doses of some recreational drugs have been useful in the past, but only in the context of the intimacy that comes with great sex.  It’s my one and only spiritual life and it’s not what it ought to be.   I’m not sure how to fix it, and don’t want to find myself on my deathbed with this deficit.

I’ve been mulling over how to best answer your question, and I don’t mind telling you that I’m not sure I can give you a good answer.  The problem is that spirituality is so damned hard to pin down and define; religions have been trying for at least 5000 years and probably longer, and yet they all disagree on what exactly it is.  Even the words we use to describe the spiritual dimension are maddeningly vague; we speak of “the ineffable”, “the supernatural”, “the unknown”, “the beyond” and the like.  Since you were raised Catholic you may remember what the religious phenomena associated with the life of Jesus are called (in the context of praying the rosary): mysteries.  And that term predates Catholicism; the “mystery religions” were a group of cults that flourished in the time roughly between the Golden Age of Greece and the fall of Rome, a time when the old functions of religion (social control and explanation of natural phenomena) were being replaced by newer institutions (non-religious legal codes and science).  Classical civilization produced societies far more stable than any which had gone before, and the privileged classes were secure enough in their physical existence that they began to have the luxury of asking questions like, “Is this all there is?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

The mystery religions, more mystical outgrowths of traditional pagan religions, promised to answer these questions.  Hinduism grew out of the old Vedic religion and Buddhism grew from Hinduism; in the West, cults arose around the Egyptian Isis, the Anatolian Cybele, the Persian Mithra and many others.  All of these religions had various circles of initiation which the devout had to work to rise through; Christianity’s innovation (which caused it to rapidly supplant all others in Europe) was that there was only one circle, and every convert had access to all the mysteries right away.  We all know them; transsubstantiation, the Trinity, the virgin birth, etc, logical impossibilities that could not be explained rationally and were supposed to be meditated upon in order to obtain salvation.  The fall of Rome plunged Europe back into a precarious state again, and religion once again assumed its old roles until the Age of Reason gave the privileged classes back the freedom of not having to worry about where their next meal was coming from.  The modern industrial age took that a step further, giving virtually everyone in developed nations that freedom to wonder, “What else is there?”, and of course the result has been the return of old mystery religions (such as evangelical Christianity) and the creation of new ones (such as Mormonism and Scientology), each with its mysteries, circles of initiation, transcendent experiences (such as speaking in tongues), etc.  They all promise to answer The Question, and of course none of them do; oh, they provide the devout with explanations sufficient for many of their adherents, but if any of them could really provide a better answer to the ultimate question than “forty-two”, everyone in the world would’ve converted to that religion long ago and the Millennium would’ve arrived.

By now you may be beginning to get the idea that I don’t actually have an answer to your question, and on one level you’d be right; the truth, however, is that no priest, yogi, guru, prophet or adept in the world does either.  And the reason they don’t is that there is no one answer; the point of The Great Question is not to be answered, but to be asked in the first place.  In other words, the seeking of truth is the point in itself; it’s a limit approaching infinity, but as you and I both know any point along that journey is equally far from its infinitely-distant end.  The observable universe is an infinitesimal particle of all that there is; it’s elephants all the way down and all the way up, and all the way in every direction you can conceive of and an infinity of directions that you can’t, except for “elephants” read “math”.  It is, by definition, utterly incomprehensible to finite beings such as ourselves; the only meaning in existence is the meaning we as conscious beings give it.  So, while sex, drugs, religion, music and other temporal lobe phenomena may give one a sense or feeling of connection to the Divine, the truth is that we’re always connected; we’re just not always aware of it, because if we were we’d be unable to carry out the functions of mundane existence, and would instead merely lie physically inert while contemplating higher dimensions.

I said at the beginning of the previous paragraph that the point of the question is the process of answering it, and that’s not just inscrutable bullshit intended to cover the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about; I meant it exactly as stated.  Imagine yourself a passenger in a vehicle, travelling a road or railway around a majestic mountain; as the vehicle moves, you need to change your position within it to keep looking at the mountain.  And life is like that, too.  In your youth, sex provided the proper angle to see the mountain, but now it no longer does; you’re still looking out of the same window, and though you’ve tried others none of them have yet given you that which you seek.  Perhaps the answer is larger doses of recreational drugs, or trying others you haven’t yet tried; perhaps you should try doing so in a ritualized setting, like a peyote or ayahuasca journey.  I myself have achieved remarkable results with edible cannabis, listening to instrumental music.  Perhaps you might try visiting sacred places, or exploring your own psychosexual landscape through kink, painting or writing.  And here’s the good news:  you can’t get this wrong.  You needn’t worry about a deficit; I can’t promise you won’t feel a sense of disappointment or regret on your deathbed, because we all leave this world in the same way we enter it: in blood and pain, wholly ignorant of what comes next.  But I can assure you that on a spiritual level, no one seeking as earnestly as you are can be considered to have any kind of spiritual deficit.  The point of the question is to be asked, and you’re certainly asking.  The point of the journey is the journey itself.  And when the end of your biological life comes, and you move on to a different plane of existence, you will be able to do so knowing that you succeeded with flying colors in your mission on this one: to never cease asking questions and searching diligently for an ultimate answer neither you nor I nor any other sentient being can ever find.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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After the United States dies, the evil of prohibition will (albeit gradually) follow it into Hell.  –  “Successor

Four years ago I wrote “The Mills of the Gods”, in which I explained that…

…my perspective on human affairs had undergone a dramatic shift toward the cosmic…my viewpoint…receded, as though I had stepped away from a magnifying lens through which I had always viewed the world…since then I have been unable to view the timescale of any human life as “long”, and in fact often catch myself talking about stretches of many decades as “brief periods in history”…

Though at the time of that writing I imagined the process as a singular shift, I have since come to realize that it was only the beginning of a continuing process which has since gone much further, and will probably continue until I leave this world.  Whether the disassociation is merely a part of the original process, a response to the deep emotional trauma of the past few years, a defense mechanism to protect my psyche against the cultural horror show I chronicle every day, an adaptation to make me a more effective activist or some combination of several or all of these, I cannot tell; all I know is that I’ve come to view the present as an historical tableau, a set of events that has already happened, which I observe unfolding as though I were a time traveler from a future age.  This isn’t to say I know what’s going to happen; I usually don’t, and even when I do I arrive at the prediction by cognitive processes rather than precognitive ones.  At least, I think that’s the case, and if I’m wrong it’s probably better I don’t know about it just yet.

So, while many of my friends are extremely concerned and even frightened by the events of this century so far (and especially recent events), I tend to view them with a sort of detachment.  This isn’t to say that I’m not angry or offended by them, but I also tend to burst into tears when watching any depiction of the First World War and a number of other historical events that I’m not aware of having been a part of.  Expressed less metaphysically, the political events I’m living through now don’t really feel any more real or personal to me than the events of the Great War, the Roman civil wars or the constantly-shifting political landscape of ancient Mesopotamia, and my tiny part in the events of the present often feels almost inevitable, as though I’m following a script written for me long ago.  People call me heroic, but I don’t feel heroic; I usually feel as though what I’m doing is the only possible choice, or at least the only moral one.

And so, unlike most Americans, I have no innate sense of American exceptionalism; I understand that the current American government will soon (on the historical scale of time) fall, just as all bloated, decadent, dying empires do, and that we’re already beyond the point at which future historians will divide the “classical” US from the late-period one.  I understand that when the collapse comes, it’s not going to be pretty or nice, and that a lot of innocent blood will be spilled along with that of the tyrants and revolutionaries.  I recognize that it’s very unlikely that a new federal government without a clear line of political succession will be able to hold onto all of the states any more than collapsing Rome could hold onto all of her far-flung provinces, and that it’s very likely that in another century the map of North America will look at least as different from the current one as a map of modern Europe looks from an 18th-century one.  I understand and accept these things as wholly as you accept the events of the 19th century: as phenomena that, while one might have feelings about them (even very strong feelings), there’s absolutely nothing one can do about them.  Call that fatalism if you like; I don’t see it that way.  I see it as history, and I see history as a continuously-unfolding process stretching into the far future rather than as a collection of moldering facts about the dead past.

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All things must end…life depends upon the deaths of other organisms, and…old, decaying things must be cleared away – sometimes forcibly – in order to make way for new, younger and often better things.  Old people must pass on to make room for new children; dilapidated buildings must be demolished to pave the way for new construction.  And old, moribund governments which serve only the entrenched and wealthy must be removed if we are to build new ones which better serve all of the people and protect minorities from oppression by both majorities and other, more privileged minorities.  –  “Cleansing Fire

Every year on November 1st I remind my readers that death is not only not an evil to be feared, but a good to be celebrated; all things are mortal, and old things must die to make room for and feed the new.  And four days later, again every year, I remind my readers that this is no less true for nation-states than it is for living organisms.  Countries and empires, like organic beings, are born from other cultures; they grow, mature, age, fall into decay and eventually die, and their remains nourish the next generation of nations.  But those new nations aren’t necessarily foreign, so to speak; sometimes dead things are dragged off and devoured by creatures from elsewhere, but very often they rot where they fall and give rise to new life right there in the same soil.

fall-of-romeIf you don’t quite get where I’m going with this, remember that the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia weren’t usually succeeded by invaders from elsewhere, but by their own former subjects; the Assyrians were once subjects of the Babylonians, and the Chaldeans and Persians subjects of the Assyrians.  And when the Roman Empire collapsed, individual countries arose from what had once been Roman provinces, and Spain, Portugal, France, England and Germany each became world players with empires of their own.  The British Empire in turn spawned a number of powerful nations as it fell apart, and now the American Empire is decaying and will collapse within the lifetime of some of you who are reading this.  I myself will probably not live to see it, but it’s a virtual certainty that those of you now under 30 will.  The United States, however, is no more a monolith than the Roman and British Empires were; it contains within it 50 independent states and a number of territories, not to mention its many satellites around the world.  As the central government loses control and implodes, the governments of the various states will need to take up the functions Washington is no longer willing or able to provide (I consider the slow procession of states abandoning the cannabis campaign of the drug war to be an early harbinger of this).  Several states already have populations and economies that would put them among the largest countries in the world if they were independent, and even the poorest and least-populous states fall within the spectrum of sovereign nations.  Once the central government is gone or slowly descends into a mere symbol like the Papacy or the title of Holy Roman Emperor, the states will begin to function as independent nations; they will form alliances, trade with one another, and war amongst one another; strong states may conquer neighboring weak ones, and groups of small states may combine into new nations or even claim to be the legitimate successors of the American tradition, just as Constantinople and the aforementioned Holy Roman Empire both claimed to be the legitimate successors of Rome.  And just as nobody in Odoacer’s time could’ve predicted that the rather small and isolated province of Britannia would one day rule an empire far larger than that of any Caesar, so it’s impossible for any of us to predict which American states might one day come to rule many or all of the others.  And when that day comes, I hope its rulers remember the fates of the great empires that came before it, and perhaps learn from their mistakes so as to slow that New Empire’s descent into tyranny and collective hubris.

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Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.  –  Danielle Bargala

Another Halloween cartoon?  Yep.  Pleasant dreams.  The links above it are from  Tim Cushing (“fascism”, “serves” and “hope”), Jesse Walker (“machine”), Amy Alkon (“shoes”), and Women With A Vision (“cops”).

From the Archives

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Valentine’s Day 2016

Most Valentine’s Day pinups aren’t much better than most valentine cards, but this Gil Elvgren piece from 50 years ago is a notable exception.  The only other thing I’d like to say, I already said last year: “I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day…I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.

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Valentine’s Day 2015

An obligatory “gift” of a certain expected value which must be presented at a certain time in order to retain a woman’s sexual favors is not a love offering, but rather a whore’s fee.  –  “St. Valentine’s Day
Kitten Valentine
Regular readers know that I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day, mostly because it’s so nakedly hypocritical but also because, as I explained last year,

…while all the others are inclusive, this one is exclusive.  Holidays are times for friends, families and others to gather and celebrate together, but Valentine’s Day festivities (except, perhaps, for polyamorists) are exactly the opposite.  Lovers tend to seek every available excuse to be alone together anyway; it hardly seems necessary to set aside a special day for that, especially one on which the show is celebrated above the substance.

In fact, I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.  Even most Valentine images are annoying or even creepy, which is why I like the little kitten one above so much.  SEE HOW CUTE IT IS??? Major, major cute.  7.5 on the Richter scale of cuteness.  And therefore one of the few I can stand.  Starting next year, I’ll be generating my own images for this occasion, but until then you’ll have to settle for…no, I can’t say it; some puns are just too awful, even for a Valentine.

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