Friday, March 31, 2023

Wedding In Norway

 Looks like we will be headed to the fjords summer of 2024.

Everyman Poetry

Because I thought of Frost's "Stopping By Woods" WRT women writers, noting that the narrator could easily be female, as indeed it could be someone of any race I pushed it further.  We can all zip ourselves into that one. There is admittedly some difference because of our expectations of the time period. Why would a black woman be out late with a horse cart in New Hampshire a century ago? It would distract us from the poem, thinking that there must be something else up that we are missing. Yet a black woman might zip herself into the narrator's head as she reads and have much the same experience as anyone else. It's an easy identification. Nor does the poem change much if Frost assigned the property to a woman...no wait, that does change it a lot, of a man contemplating a woman's forest.  Never mind. the narrator can be Everyman, but the locale and time is so specific that other deviations from Generic Person for the Setting will make it a different poem.

His other poems mostly do the same. The narrator of Christmas Trees, or The Road Not Taken could be easily imagined as many things other than a white male of productive age. Fire and Ice might change a bit in meaning if we thought the narrator a woman, but I don't think racial differences would matter much. Mending Wall could theoretically have a female narrator - this would be a farm wife after all, not a woman from the city - but somehow it doesn't quite work, and Two Tramps In Mud Time would have all sorts of extra meanings of them expecting her to give up her work for them to do instead, and her reaction to that. Interesting meanings, perhaps, but definitely different.

I have no inclination to consider the other poets. Not my remit. It does have a flavor of Borges asking us to imagine what Don Quixote, word for identical word, would mean if it had been written in the 20th C.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Choir

We are singing "And Can It Be" by Dan Forrest for Easter, and I have joined the choir for this, as I also did at Christmas. At first rehearsal, even though I have received a link to the piece and even a link to the bass part alone, I have not seen the music, and so am only very approximate in my knowledge of the piece. When the director is telling the whole choir about subtleties of the dynamics I wonder a bit about that. 

"You have to sing the question mark."

Hmm. But okay, some of the sopranos seem to either sight-read or know the piece, so maybe this means something to them. But let me assure you that the basses do not yet know what the notes and entrances are, and we are putting all our effort into that.

"Notice the tempo change at measure 28 (from 66 to 72). And it's with movement."

And I am looking for the notes  in that measure.

"I don't want to hear any "r's" 

I would like to find my notes. And then work on my entrances. It reminds me of of taking Interpretive Dance in college. (23 girls in leotards in a mirrored room.  Yeah, you guys go out and beat each other to death on the soccer field.) Dr. Carole Sherman, with some sort of a one-hand drum would tell us to imagine we are floating in free space.  Or that our arms were two feet longer. Lady, I am sure you are a very nice person who knows her business, but I am looking where to put my feet so that I match everyone else at least 90% of the time.

Tomorrow night is second rehearsal, I now have the music, and rehearsed with it daily.  I almost have the notes and entrances, though I will need to start almost from scratch when I have the other two basses, one on either side, who know it about as well as I do, singing in my ear. I am confident of little, except that I am not yet ready to consider what consonants I shall elide.

The lyrics are based on the familiar Charles Wesley hymn, but the music is quite different. It's a nice piece. I'm giving you a version with more basses, some of whom are presumably singing the question mark. Though how would I know?

BTW, the entrance of kettledrums is always stirring.  It would be nice to have kettledrums installed in my life. I would start by using it for my entrances.

Women Writers

The oversimplification is that when men are writing  they believe they are talking about humanity as a whole, but are undervaluing or even excluding women's perspectives.  Women, on the other hand, quite consciously include men in their writing. It would seem at first glance that women are therefore writing more comprehensively. Yet it doesn't seem to work that way, does it? Or not often. This is because when women write they are frequently looking at the specific topics of male/female interactions, of a woman negotiating a world dominated by men, or women observing themselves in their romances. 

The relations between men and women are one of the largest topics of humanity, yes. But there are a thousand other topics that women are much less likely to address. Male comedians will talk about women and sex, but they will riff on many other subjects. Women joke about men, or about sex much more frequently. I sometimes have the impression that it is other women who push women writers back into the boxes of such topics. But I am not a woman writer, so I may not see this clearly.

I noted in my comment under James's discussion about the Great American Novel that Willa Cather would be an exception. Even though marriage and male-female relationships are a good deal of her material for her novels, she is writing about settling the West, and about American attitudes and opportunities and dreams. I'm collecting other exceptions if you think of them. Black and other ethnic female writers sometimes focus on that aspect of negotiating with the rest of the world, but that seems like a parallel track.

Yet there is another large category of women writers who are exceptions to this, and they are the writers of children's books. Laura Ingalls Wilder is writing the American frontier experience. There is no effort to make the protagonist generic or seem anything but a girl, but the perspective is meant to represent us all. 

Not really a digression, because it bears on the main topic, though from another angle: I note that "us all" means "both males and females, but probably only whites" in this context. It is very hard to put any kind of real character out there that does not make some group as a whole feel they are being left out of the discussion. Bill Cosby's early comedy succeeded because everyone - well, all males especially - could recognise their childhood in his descriptions. Jewish comedians could do Jewish mother jokes because non-Jews saw a lot of similarity in kind, if not in degree. When writers and other creators attempt to do Everyman, it nearly always is indeed a man. I will not comment on what that says about our culture and psychology here, I only note that it is so. Everywomen are rare.

Back on topic: Anne Shirley is clearly a girl in all her episodes, and it is well-known that boys don't tend to read books with girl protagonists. Yet her story of abandonment, failures, coming-of-age, and success is about humans in general, not just girls. One series of Madeline L'Engle's books is read with pleasure by boys, girls, and adults, and is not race-restricted.  But her "Austins" series is very much girl-coming-of-age, and it would be an unusual boy who would take to it.

The Young Adult novels, and even YA nonfiction, are far less often accessible to both sexes, precisely because the gender differences, and the navigation of one with the other and the pursuit of identity are the point. That is also a large issue in all of humanity, but it is still necessarily narrow and exclusive. It doesn't include cabbages and kings, or why the sea is boiling hot, or whether pigs have wings. To choose that genre includes a great deal of pressure to have topics chosen for you.

Picture books and those aimed at the youngest children are even better for including both males and females, as well as all ethnic groups. You can zip just about anyone into the illustration and it's the same story. And even farther down that line, animal characters can be very generically human, which is part of why they are a useful device. However, there is now a limitation on that. While animals can be sexless in literature, once one starts to go near the topic of sex at all, they are going to be quite binary. A trans hedgehog is clearly a sermon in the making, not something that is going to flow naturally out of the data. So it may not be surprising the women writers gravitate to writing children's books and animal books. That children are, and certainly were considered one of the special spheres of women is likely the main reason for the focus, not only because of interest but because of easier cultural acceptance of the work, yet the greater artistic freedom, of portraying worlds of girls who nonetheless represent both sexes is also a draw. 

Thinking of picture books put me in mind of Susan Jeffer's illustrated Robert Frost "Stopping By Woods" and it is quite true that it could easily a female, or a person of either sex from any race or group. If we ask why this is, we see that the generic human being a a white male is double-edged.  Yes, it proclaims "majority culture." But it is also rather undecorated, a vague clay sculpture which the reader can decorate as he likes. Even the term"everyman" is rather indistinct, like an undecorated Christmas tree. Even a male protagonist written by a woman can be that. At least I think so. There may be hundreds of examples of Everymen written by women, but I'm not thinking of them.

Minimizing Words

We went to a group meeting tonight where people were arguing.  I had no opinion about which course of action to take. I was therefore swayed, as I often am, by which side was fighting fair. I noticed - not for the first time - that the use of certain words are often keys that a person is being deceptive, mostly usually because they are deceiving themselves. When someone says "All I want" in an angry tone, it is abundantly clear that they want more, much more, than what they are saying in the following sentence. They are smuggling in larger requests while painting themselves as asking for so little that you are completely unreasonable for not granting their humble plea. 

I allow that there are times when the speaker means only what is said and no more. "All I want is a donut." "I just want to get home before dinner." These more innocent uses are more likely in conversation among a few, with no thought of announcement to the world.  The larger the imagined audience, the more we are in the presence of calculated speech.

Lewis covers it in the Screwtape Letters.  

Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: "I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper,"(Italics mine)

and

 "Oh please, please...all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast". You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.

"I'm only saying..." (no you are saying a good deal more than you are pretending, Jasper)

"I just think..." (no, you are thinking a good deal else but you don't want to be called on it.)

People seldom use "merely" in speech, but I think in written discourse it has the same self-refuting nature. I think "My sole purpose" is more borderline, possibly legitimate but instantly suspicious.  "It's just that..." is similarly borderline, and I think that has to do with being more commonly placed in the middle of a sentence. It's sentences that start with strongly declarative minimizing words that are the problem. 

It is interesting that something this subtle conceptually is nonetheless learned by most speakers of English, both its legitimate and its deceptive uses. I don't think people notice it consciously when it comes out of their mouths. They recognise it in opponents, though. Be careful when you hear such words coming out of your own mouth.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Desperado

My roommate was a much bigger fan than I was and got us to sing a lot of their sons.  But I did like this one. We sang it with a lot more harmonies.

Sorta always did that. We never learned the "less is more" lesson.  I still haven't.

Johnny Most

 He was such a force in Celtics history that even the players heard his voice in their heads.


The Taming of the Shrew

Dr. Marilyn Simon over at Quillette has an essay Game, Set, Match about "The Taming of the Shrew." I know about the play, but have never read it.  You know, because it's Shakespeare. She notes that everyone sees it as deeply misogynistic these days - and I always thought from what I could see on the outside that this was likely - but that this is a deep misunderstanding of the play. She sees the interactions as much more fun and high-spirited romantic, competition than would be apparent at first.  In that light, her title for the essay, which I thought just ordinary cleverness, turns out to be absolutely brilliant when taken apart word by word.

She may not convince you, but it was loads of fun. Personal note: looking at the chosen photo for the article, I am reminded that when my wife was in her late teens, an older woman told her that she "looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor." She has held that compliment dear for fifty years.

Update: I wish I had waited to include this right from the start.

Everything in Shakespeare, and especially every strong female character set in any age in his plays, is colored by Queen Elizabeth. Even though it is the Elizabethan Era, we tend to regard that as just a name and disregard its impact. While it is true that not all women attained anything remotely like equal status with men, it is true that she illustrated that a very clever and capable woman could not only succeed, but dominate. Likely, the status of all women, even the poorest, went up a little because of her reign.

Early in her reign there was all sorts of noise that she was not married, as a woman should be, and that offense against the natural order might be costly to the English in the cosmic realm. But the parallel worry was that she might marry, and clearly have a royal husband who was capable of ruling something or another, and that she would be expected to obey him.  They were not fools.  they knew there were queens on the Continent who were more capable and powerful than their husbands, but it would have been a natural disadvantage that she started from.  If she had to obey a husband from another country, at least on the surface or in part, what might that mean for England?

She handled it with breathtaking brilliance. "I shall be married to England, and a more obedient wife you shall not find."

At the time of the Spanish Armada, as the attack was on and going well for England but the issue was still in doubt, Elizabeth went to Tilbury to address the troops and was again breathtaking in her ability to combine unassailable femininity with what would have been called masculine attitudes.

I know I have the body but of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

(Whole article here.)

Such things are not necessarily even being consciously intended by the playwright - though they in all likelihood were - but they were part of the air that he breathed. So if you burn with resntment for the plight of poor Kate and all the clever women of her day and ours, you might imagine her lines on the lips of a young Queen Elizabeth and hear them in a different light. 

Jumping Off Point

James has a new post up Question Before Dinner that immediately sparked fun thinking for me, and I recommend it.  It inspired a post about women writers, particularly women writers of children's literature, that I will begin thinking about and hope to knock out before the end of the day. I commented at length there, which I will not repeat here.

James, you have recorded these rabbit-hole, dinner table questions before, and if you feel the need to write a book about the interesting things that your family seems to get involved in, you could do worse that entitling it Questions Before Dinner.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Experts

We are currently upset at a particular batch of experts, the health authorities who we believe consistently lied to us with bad motives. Some of that is true, both the lying and the motives. Yet conservatives especially are currently exaggerating what went wrong. Fauci is powerful and lied, and for poor reasons for example, but many real researchers and authorities gave the best they knew and...

well, never mind.  You already know my view that the skeptics were even more unreliable, and if they weren't being dishonest then they were fools. 

My main point is that we have always had experts who were fools.  This is not some new phenomenon visited upon us by modern liberals and wokesters. Kinsey was considered a lion of modern scientific research in the late 40s and early 50s. The first expert in the topic, really, and is still regarded as a great liberator of our culture, especially of females and homosexuals.

But much of his data on the sexual responses of children came from imprisoned molesters, who insisted that the children liked this and were squirming from orgasmic excitement, not discomfort.  Still more of his childhood data came from talking their parents into letting the children be fondled and studied. You don't even have to read the exposes. Read his actual books and read between the lines and it will dawn on you the only ways this information could be learned. He was determined to prove that lots of people were homosexual, and used his prison data as evidence.  He had his, uh, own reasons for this.

Police detectives and other investigators insist they are experts on telling when others are lying. There are actually very few reliable indicators, and those take time and comparison to ferret out.  It doesn't stop them, and they have sent people to jail for years on this nonsense.  Were you taught in school to vary your adjectives in writing, so that you didn't sound repetitive saying "big" repeatedly, boring your audience and looking like you didn't know many synonyms?  Did you know that on one of the major tests that detectives in many American jurisdictions administer, that is considered a clear sign that you are lying, and that will be present as such against you in court if your attorney isn't savvy enough to know this is entirely bogus?  I was sent to "lie-detection" inservices early in my career, but the hospital eventually figured out they were worse than useless and it stopped. 

When I came in to social work and mental health around 1980, Freudian psychology, who with his descendants like Jung, Adler, Erikson and on into the Fritz Perls and other ego- or dynamic- therapists was increasingly discredited and abandoned.  BF Skinner was likewise being relegated to very specific lanes (where his theories could be quite useful), and the family systems people were just coming into their own.  The medications were working, but it was mostly only psychiatrists who thought biology was key.  Everyone else scored virtue points for sneering at "the medical model." Eventually people learned that all this "family work" was fun to talk about, but somehow the patients didn't stop being schizophrenic or manic or borderline. The weakness in the medication system is that the side effects are often miserable. Every year that has gotten better, but it is a long tough road for people with most conditions. As I was leaving there was an attempted revolution that looked similar to some earlier ones, discovering political and cultural causes for everything.  It's not going to work and I'm glad I'm out.

Academic psychology had a replication crisis, and lots of experts were exposed.  Social psychology looks ripe for that next. Remember the food pyramid?

I suppose the thing to remember is that some of the experts turn out to have been right, and to my eyes, humility is one of the keys for spotting them.  But experts with feet of clay aren't new. Nor could you count on the skeptics in any of these fields to be right, either.

Pagans and Neopagans, Part Five

I stress again that there were several invading tribes, which entered a Britain of several tribes even on the coasts. The invaders in Kent, including the few Jutes to Eastern Kent, seem to have been elites who were somewhat more part of the trading network than warrior specialists in advance of land-seeking peasants, but the proportion changed as one went north. Customs of authority (dynastic versus consensus), economy (coinage vs gift-exchange), and alliance (marriages vs. community) look from archaeology to be somewhat different along gradients, so differences in religious practice likely were also.

Origins:  Prior scholarship tended to view Anglo-Saxon paganism as a development from an older Germanic paganism. The scholar Michael Bintley cautioned against this approach, noting that this 'Germanic' paganism had "never had a single ur-form from which later variants developed."

There is an mportance of poetry in our understanding of paganism, but even at that, we are outsiders. Was it primarily religious or adventurous entertainment? Lots of Christians go to see Marvel movies now, after all, and Beowulf looks like pagan adventurousness refashioned for Christian audiences. And don't overlook "It's just fun."  (See also Tolkien "The Monsters and The Critics," and CS Lewis's "Hamlet: The Prince or The Poem." Both push back against the prevailing analysis of those works in their day with the simple and obvious reminder that people have liked them for centuries because they are whopping good stories. Appreciation does not imply belief. 

Snorri Sturluson was a Christian, writing in an Iceland that had long been Christian.  He wanted poets to understand the early references so that they could read the earlier poets and also perpetuate the stories. He tells stories in detail and is an imcomparable resource for Norse mythology. However, there are large separations between Snorri and Anglo-Saxon pagans in England. He is 700 years and 1000 miles away, just for openers. They speak related but not at all identical languages, and likely would not have been mutually comprehensible. He is Christian and his interpretation of events is filtered through that. And finally, he writes in poetry, which is, well poetic, and not always easily understandable even to insiders.

We know about sacred groves among them primarily because of the later stories of Christians coming in and destroying them.  When the Christian in question was not immediately destroyed, it was taken as a sign that the gods or spirits of those groves were not as powerful, leading powerful people, especially those who had hope of victory in battle, to convert so they could win. (And you thought your motives for conversion were a little weak?) This was also true of sacred wells, big trees, stones and stone outcroppings which we believe continued but know of no hierarchy.

The various Anglo-Saxons, though they were also Indo-European and thus descended from kurgan builders,  regarded mounds as places of unquiet dead, rather than friendlier ancestors. Of course that might not be much of a difference if one considers that they knew themselves to be intruders and reasoned "Well, those aren't our ancestors.  They might not be happy to see us here." Nonetheless, throughout Brit but more in Wales and North where there was less penetrance of Christianity, we see legends of knights under a mound or mountain, awaiting some signal to return and save their people.

There were Mjolnir pendants, but these seem new among the later Anglo-Saxons, and thus more associated with the new Scandinavian invaders of the 800s. There is no definitive evidence any were simply A-S*. They show up increasingly over the next two centuries. But the more common something is, the more likely it is to be a traditional decoration rather than an actual belief.  Cf Christian countries and the Christian  or semi-Christian symbols of Christmas and Easter. For that matter, compare Christian countries and the pagan symbols of Christmas and Easter. None imply the least belief. It just wouldn't be Christmas without those.

Christianity not supposed to be syncretic, and the official forms from monks or even secular authorities forbid it, but it often is nonetheless. Kings especially seemed to go back and forth between Christianity and paganism depending on alliances. Consider the Franks Casket, with both the Adoration of the Magi and Weland Smith on it.  Was Europe ever really Christian?  Festivals and practices which now survive across the Isles and are claimed to be ancient and pagan cannot be certified as earlier than 1000, and even then, we don't know what meaning they had. If Church authorities left it alone, what does that mean, that they feared blowback from the citizenry, or that they thought it was just a harmless old custom?

When The Vikings came in, we can only say for certain that Thor and Odin crossed the water with them.  Yet we have seen at least some evidence of other Norse-related gods before that. When Saxon and Danish followers of Tiw encountered each other, what was the result?(Oh, sure.  We know that guy... or "Y'know, that looks a lot like a festival we used to have back in Denmark..") Local customs can persist for centuries even when they are not understood the way the were even a few generations ago. Look at how the Christians of the time split over things as small as what a tonsure should look like or how to calculate the date of Easter. There's no guarantee that Frigg-worshipers would have welcomed each other as long-lost cousins. Sometimes people get killed or whole villages get wiped out over such things. 

I should mention St Aldeberge/Bertha, the Frankish princess who became the first Christian queen in England, at Kent around 600. She agreed to the marriage only if allowed to keep practicing her faith and bring a priest/confessor.  Aha!  A foot in the door. And also Eadburh, a Christian daughter of the pagan Penda about the same time. I keep hoping a granddaughter will decide to write a history paper about one of those.

Last bits that don't fit in elsewhere: I haven't discussed how powerful the concept of wyrd might have been among them, or if the triple goddesses owe anything to the Norns or Fates. I will note that a difference with the neopagans is the difference of Magic versus sacrifices. Magic and sacrifice are not the same thing, though from both a Christian and a modernist perspective they look similar.  Magic, which is more neopagan, seeks to change events and is more concerned with individual will and power.  Sacrifice is more about maintaining order between the visible and invisible worlds and creatures, and is more community based.

*With all these tribes perhaps we should designate them ASFFJ+


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Tom Holland

The English writer, not the actor. Interviewed by Tyler Cowen (transcript available).  I liked this section

COWEN: Are there religious reasons why America is more pro-technology than Europe?

HOLLAND: That’s a very good question. I think there are generally religious reasons in almost everything in America.

[laughter]

HOLLAND: I suspect that it’s more to do with the fact that it is easy to bring home improvements into a house that’s just been built than it is to do home improvements in a house that’s 500 years old. European states, if you imagine them as houses — they’re very old. They have all kinds of dodgy wiring, botched jobs.

Everyone knows that the worst kind of DIY is when you yourself have botched it over many, many years. It makes it much harder to do. It’s much easier just to rip everything out and put it back in again. I think that is the kind of attitude that people in America tend to have. I don’t know, I have no stats on this, but I would guess that it would be easier to import wholesale technology into a house on the outskirts of Houston than it would be in downtown Manhattan.

COWEN: Or an English country home.

HOLLAND: Absolutely. One of the things that always strikes me when I go to New York is, actually, it’s an old city. In Europe, we’re accustomed to thinking of America as modern and new, but New York is not a modern city. Boston — not modern cities. I remember going to Boston. I’d go for maybe over 10 years. Every time I’d go, there’d be this massive, great hole in the middle of Boston. They were, I think, trying to develop a subway system. Every time I’d go, it got bigger. [laughs]

COWEN: They called it the Big Dig.

HOLLAND: The Big Dig. A Big Dig, I would guess, is much easier to do in — I don’t know — Vegas or Houston than in Boston because Boston is just a very old city, in exactly the way that Manchester is in Britain, or Lyon or somewhere. 

His discussion of the differing accounts of Moses and the Ten Commandments fit nicely with my understanding of the Talmudic approach to laws in the Pentateuch: if something is mentioned only once, it applies only to that case. If a law is mentioned twice (many are), then it is understood to have wider application.  If it is mentioned three times, then it is understood to apply to all similar situations. That is not the Christian understanding, but I think it can inform ours when looking at the Biblical accounts. The largest stories are told twice, and not the same way. There are two creation accounts; there are two accounts of the commandments; Kings and Chronicles tell the same stories differently. If this is to emphasise that A) the stories are of huge importance, and B) can only be understood in conjunction with each other, and thus in dialogue with other believers, then one other story is told multiple times, and that is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, which is told four times.

Sexual Freedom

I was listening to a French commentator talking about the May 1968 protests in France, which continue to have cultural influence to the present day. He mentioned looking at the earliest protests, the far-left student protests, and the signs that were being carried and noticing that the call for "no restraints," was much more common than he had seen reported in the histories.  As he had not been born then and had had only such reports to inform him, he decided to look into the origins more closely. He found that issues of sexual freedom were often referred to among the students.  They wanted to be able to go into the girls' dormitories because that was "more natural." They wanted society to judge them less for premarital sex. (In France?  Who knew?*) The placard phrase "no restraints" seemed to have primarily sexual meaning, even if it had an image of Mao on it. Though yes, Mao could be a poster child for No Restraints sexual practices, though this was not known at the time.

That is the revolution I remember here as well, and I have mentioned it many times over the years, sometimes in colorful terms. "They wanted to get laid more, and part of that was convincing girls that this is what modern women were supposed to be like." Well, students are young and constantly alert to sexual signals and possibilities. It is hardly surprising that they would imbue even intellectually legitimate revolutionary fervor with sexual themes. 

Thus I have assumed ever since that this was behind revolutionary thought in the West, before and especially after 1968.  I think I believed this even as I supported it, but certainly since. So listening to my French commentator was initially validating, that perhaps one of my earliest blogging topics about black-and-white morality might finally have a chance to come into its own! Yet this was followed instantly by the possibility that the sexual aspects of the 60s political revolution may have been a much greater part of the whole than they were in other eras, and I might have been overvaluing this - and misjudging later young revolutionaries - in my estimations.

*Among American students, the belief was that the French had premarital sex all the time and no one much minded. The arrival of a female European exchange student, but especially a French one, caused eyes to widen. Yet when my wife visited France with a student group shortly after these events, the French boys thought it was the American girls who were easy, and might be quickly talked into bed. To be fair, she was quite the innocent and may not have had the most knowledgeable basis for drawing such conclusions. 

I have since concluded that at least part of this supposed tolerance was mostly about the extramarital sex of powerful men, and actually an expression of quite regressive ideas stretching back centuries in France and elsewhere, dressed up in progressive language. "Mitterand's mistress openly attended his funeral and was not shunned. The French understand these things so much better than the puritanical Americans."

Mere Uniparty Factions?

I have tended to tune out political observers who talk about the "uniparty" in DC. It's not that I don't think they have a point, or even a few points, but that it is almost always part of an argument how they don't like a particular conservative and don't think he's pure enough, and that in turn is likely to be an oversimplified appraisal of that candidate. Or, it is one of those overcynical shorthands that wants to display its wisdom without having to do any hard thinking. Ahh, they're all the same down there. So it could have been a good argument, but too often reveals itself as a cover for a bad one.

But that argument could fold back on me, couldn't it? I'm dismissing an argument that has some force behind it because it's easier to to just find bad motives behind it. And I am relying on an overcynical shorthand myself to get there, telling myself that they are overlooking real differences between the parties, real differences in thinking that are not caused by cowardice or corruption (not even the subtler versions of those faults that we all find ourselves subject to, reacting with dismay when we find we have been acting in accord with one), and real differences in character. With that one thought, seldom expanded upon, I dismiss the others. Well, that's what efficient shorthand thinking does.  We don't reinvent our beliefs new every morning.

We picture the founding fathers as politicians able to reach compromises despite their retaining principles, because they were reasonable, practical men. We like that. But we see making deals as the shoddier version of that practiced by the current men and women, and their many advisors and consultants, who run the government. Or rather, don't run the government but just oversee the real government of a million civil servants and lobbyists. Steering that elephant whose headquarters is the Imperial City is the function of the elected officials. We are voting for a committee of elephant drivers.

Dominic Cummings's contention that I reported in It Takes A Village You Didn't Build a month ago, that politicians are not trying to get the best answer, nor even the fallback that they are at least answering to the public because they are trying to get elected (because once elected, they can get a fine job there forever anyway), but are only positioning themselves for the competitions within their own party, has stuck with me. When I apply it to what I see, it has snapped into place as a fit over and over already within a month. Though I admit, I have used this to reflect back on events and it is not just a month's worth of current political behavior that have provided the many positive examples.

And I might just like the idea because it's my new toy.  There's always that.

Once one has started viewing their behavior in such a light it is not a great leap to view the whole enterprise as mostly uniparty, and the two major political parties as factions within it. It removes the argument that "there aren't any really differences," because we already see from intraparty struggles that there can be real differences between various brands of Democrat or Republican. The differences are real. But the system buy-in of the sort of person who orients themselves around DC may be more real. So I'm granting the general concept more explanatory power now.

Her is a last hurdle, which I fear those who resort to "Bah! Uniparty" arguments will have trouble getting over. Donald Trump is not in any way an exception to this. The escape he provides is merely emotionally satisfying, not practical.  Cummings again "Trump didn't drain the swamp, he merely annoyed it" looks unfortunately true. Trump leads a faction that would exist without him.  That is why he was able to rise so quickly, in a single election, in the first place. He excites emotion among the disaffected, and was even able to take over a significant piece from another faction previously owned by the Democrats, for three main reasons: their trust in anyone else at present is zero; the attacks against him have been more intense, and more unfair than usual even for DC; and he is quite skillful at annoying his opponents, bringing delight to those who have felt they were powerless and unheard. All three are emotionally powerful, and tend to convince people that they like him more than they actually do when they aren't in the heat of a discussion. Donnie from Queens may have have faults that they will admit among each other, but he's their guy and they will defend him in public. 

Well, that's what the leaders of factions are, and what factions do. Trump is nothing outside the system in that way.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Pagans and Neopagans, Part Four - Starting Now, Really This Time.

By now you are asking "But what exactly is this information that you are telling us we have to be uncertain about?  We think we can handle it now.  We won't tell the children we know for sure.  We promise."

On Standing With Stones, the joke is always that when archaeologists don't know what something is, they suggest it might be a temple.  But it could have been multiuse.  Avebury could easily have been for observing blood sports. One said "They could dig up Wembley Stadium years from now and declare it a religious site." "Are you saying Wembley's not a religious site, then?"  If unexplained, then ritual.

Brythonic religion- if you read carefully, you see "Wal, it musta been like what we found almost a thousand years later in welsh and celtic sites, but in strict point o' fact we don't actually know anything.  Modern neopagans love, love, love gods and goddesses, but animism may have been more of the reality. It does seem that societies trend from animism to polytheism... but some don't - and it may also mean that it flows the other way. We fall back into animism without a religious authority structure. Lewis thought societies fell back into pantheism when they no longer believed in old gods, and saw that in 19th C romanticism. Shamanism, gods or spirits inhabiting individuals, is also part of the package, hence berserkers further north, and other Indo-Europeans dressing up as wolves before battle. (See Lewis's Merlin in That Hideous Strength and Charles Williams thinking of coinherence as being authentically Brit as well as Christian compatible.) Modern Christians regard the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the final expression of that sort of thinking. But...but...but...not really any evidence for shamanism right there in the Anglo-Saxon centuries. Divination is likely, but also not clearly attested and hard to ascertain how it fits.

Earth mother and Sky-father deities occurred from earliest known years among the Indo-Europeans, and it is entirely likely that the A-S deities fit that. But entirely likely is not is. Looking for place-names is a way of tracking down possible gods, but even if they include deity, supernatural, or worship/ritual elements they could be mere persistence of the name, and misunderstood.  Names hang on a long time. New tribes come in and repronounce them according to their own sounds, and sometimes squeeze it into words they already have. We are pretty sure that some of the Weyland Smith place names indicate he was a big deal in that era. 

Yep, pretty sure...Dark Ages. Ing looks likely, maybe related to Yngvi.  

Tiw, Frigg, and Thunor are days-of-the-week gods, and thus very likely. No Loki, though.

There were two Wodens, a god that looks clearly related to Odin, but another that is an ancestor of ruling houses of some tribes. Is the second one a downgraded version after Christianisation, or separate and derived from another word or figure?  We can't tell. One of them did make it to being Wednesday!

We have places where we think things happened, because there are animal bones and ash suggestive of sacrifice, and occasional bits of jewelry, and we find grave goods, which is not as unambiguous a sign of pre-Christian and pagan practice as we once thought, but it's something.  Apparently the custom of abandoning grave goods was already coming in even before the Christians were.  Ah, fashion.  As the archaeologist CJ Arnold said about the whole batch of them "However, no unambiguous archaeological evidence currently supports the interpretation of these sites as places of cultic practice." Well they have to be somewhere, don't they? Not always. If your people are big on sacred groves, and trees, and wells, and big rocks, then you might not build much. And some of your ritual practice might be highly portable, like idols.

Part of the difficulty is their illiteracy. This makes it nearly all guesswork.  Names especially can blend, or turn out to come from other places. Just because it looks similar is bad etymology. We are unlikely to find new texts, but archaeology will almost certainly improve our knowledge...as it did over 50y/a when over 150 Romano-Germanic votive inscriptions to the matronae Austriahenae, a triad of goddesses, were discovered near Morken-Harff, Germany. You will notice that this is close to where the Frisians and especially the Franks were. Before that, people had concluded that Bede the Venerable didn't know what he was talking about with these pagan deities, because he didn't leave the monastery and only got his info second-hand. Also, he was writing decades after even the late dates. (Why a monk would make up extra goddesses for people to think about when he was trying to stamp them out did not seem to bother the scholars that much.) But then the inscriptions are found in 1958 and his description of Rheda month-festival (*Hrêðe),  and Ēostre month-festival, and Mother's night on what is now Christmas Eve (March, April, and December festivals) suddenly look like they could be the real deal. Tolkien clearly thought so. In his appendices the third month of the Shire calendar is called Rethe. Attested only by Bede as Anglo-Saxon, the name Eostre, though of a people not a deity, is found in Old High German and other west germanic dialects, and is the possible origin of the word Easter. It may be related to the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn.  Heck, it almost definitely was, because it sounds really similar, and there were lots of other fertility goddesses of very similar name... Just not anything that actually nails that down.

Pagans and Neopagans - Part Three, Chronology

Quick Chronological Overview.  I'll bet it won't be quick.

Prior to the coming of the Romans beginning (not really) in 55BC, there were Britons, a Celtic people.  They shared deep ancestry with the Germanic and Italic peoples and even cultural similarities, but were long-sundered cousins, and none of the groups would have recognised it. They had replaced the people who built Stonehenge thousands of years before. We are only now learning much about any of these people, because of archaeology. Records, not so much.



When the Romans really started coming in, they did not bring any Christianity at the beginning, but their elites increasingly included such believers, and by the 300s it had become the official religion of the Empire, and the elites especially embraced it. The conquered, peasant, heathen, string-of-negative-adjective Britons embraced Christianity very irregularly, and as the Romans left beginning in the late 300s, the older, traditional Celtic beliefs slowly became the norm again. We call this the Dark Ages, not because we don't like the Britons and think they are stupid ( though we did and that did influence later historians) but because they were illiterate and we have almost nothing from written sources about them, and even less from them.  A few inscriptions is it for the latter.

Entertaining digression, because that's why you come here, admit it: one can still find lots of people referring to the Ages being called Dark because it was the age of faith, when everyone was under the oppressive control of Christian priests. It's one of those ideas that just won't die, because so many people want it to be true. Facts are troublesome things.  The Dark Ages are in fact bookended by Christianity, which if nothing else, wrote things down. The Ages were Dark because we don't have any written records and have to stumble about in the Dark guessing where the deities, gold jewelry, and sugar cookies were being kept in this Age. Rather than apologise for this lack of solid info at every turn, I have decided to embrace it for this discussion. It is not just a joke, though I will treat it that way. It is highly revelatory what current scholars, previous scholars, 21st C popular culture and 18th-20thC popular cultures do when confronted by limited hard evidence.  If you are into historiography, you might find that contemplation more interesting than any spurious list of Anglo-Saxon goddesses who were really Spunky Gals on the neopagan sites.

Back to the cliffhanger, where we left the Romano-Briton elites being slowly abandoned by the Romans around 400. Archaeology keeps bending our dates so that we find the Romans started jumping ship ever-earlier, and the various Germanic invaders showed up ever-earlier.  Not really a problem.  We make categories in order to break them. The Angles, Saxons, Frisians, and Franks started looting and extracting tribute in the 400s, and even the occasional Jute may have shown up for the spoils. They were illiterate, and we don't have records.

Scholars take a long time to say we don't know anything for sure but gee, this sure looks like it could be...

I suppose none of us can quite avoid that. 

The A-S peoples settled in like the owned the place over the next few centuries, until the Danes and other Vikings came in in the 700s and enacted the same scenario of looting, extracting tribute, then protection money, and eventually scooping up the best land and wives. The Saxons formed from villages and farmsteads to first The Heptarchy, petty kingdoms from about 500, eventually coalescing into the more familiar Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria, and East Anglia in the 700s. In the meantime, a few of their monks had picked up writing and history, and just as they were all starting to be overrun, began to record history, including what the pagans were doing out in the provinces.

Monks?  Oh yes, in the meantime after the Roman-Briton elites and their Christianity disappeared, there were external efforts made to convert the Angles, etc, and these had some success. Augustine (not that Augustine) came in and became archbishop of Canterbury. Also, Augustine had the tremendous advantage of landing at Thanet which 1066 and All That assures us is the key to conquering Britain. (Haha. Joke.) A lot of the Christianity wouldn't be recognised by too many denominations today, but they at least had the children baptised, got married in church, and went to Mass. This Christianity had penetrated enough that the Anglo-Saxons thought of themselves as Christians, whatever leftover pagan practices they had, and considered the invading Vikings The Great Heathen Army. But even those became Christian in the next few centuries. We won't get into that, except to note that when we find something pagan still hanging around in Britain today, we should remember that it could have originated in any of these historical layers.

The Danes were distant cousins, though no one treated each other that way, but they notably had at least some writing as well, just not right there in Britain at first. The Dark Ages gave way to the Okay, Darkish Ages.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Social Mobility

All this is known to (most of) this group. Why Does Everyone Lie About Social Mobility? (HT: Rob Henderson, again. I've still got a free one-month subscription if anyone is interested.  You can read a lot of archives in a month if you set your mind to it.) The reason I post it is 1) it is from a country other than America, 2) it highlights that it is not just a few eggheads - remember eggheads? - who are refusing to acknowledge reality, but the most powerful political players, and 3) it uses the phrase cognitive ability, which I think is not only more accurate than intelligence, or IQ, but less toxic in introducing the topic. I think IQ is a pretty good measure of group intelligence and almost as good for individual intelligence, and I think intelligence is a rough approximation of cognitive ability, but they are not all identical.  The brain does many things, after all.

Educationalists began to suspect that the problem was rooted in the very early years of children’s development, before they ever started school.  The Major and Blair governments responded with free child care and nursery school places for the under-fives, with a national network of Sure Start centres aimed mainly at poorer children.  Yet the government’s Social Mobility Commission found none of this had achieved much impact on the performance of the poorest children.

Yes, they found that things were not equal at 30, so the problem must begin at 20. Then they discovered that things were already unequal then and went back to 15, to 10, and to the beginning of school at 5. Upon discovering that they still hadn't found the root, they began to scour the territory for what must be happening in the neighborhoods, and then the kitchens, and then the nursery. Still there is inequality, with the same associations of poverty, and lack of parental involvement, and lower parental education, but somehow, anything that could be clearly identified as a cause remained elusive. BTW, if you want to make yourself famous and well-liked in psychology forever, find a causal effect other than heritability for outcomes. Getting hit on the head or eating lead will work, but you won't get credit for those, because you can't make political programs and educational systems with lots of jobs and prestige out of those. But if you can find a real something that can be implemented by educationalists, you will dine out forever and be invited to conferences.

What to do, what to do? Dare we look at prenatal influences? they thought. We could at least build programs around that, even if most of our people aren't trained in anything like that. And to be fair, you can get some good outcome stuff out of prenatal interventions. I'm all for it.  Load it up for government programs.  It's like if your kid wants to run track instead of play an expensive sport like hockey or lacrosse or golf. Arthur, you can have top-of-the-line track shoes and training shoes. Money is no object, son. Heh heh heh. I am pro- going crazy on prenatal interventions. Buy up everything in sight.  Give it away to rich moms, poor moms, irresponsible moms, pregnant trans men, everyone. That is, if we are now admitting that the other interventions from 0-22 are mostly crap and backing them down.

I will allow that severe nutritional deprivation - and I don't mean "food deserts" where the (usually ethnic) poor shop at Wal-Mart for starches and sugary things instead of at farmer's markets - and sometimes childhood trauma can affect outcomes, but even those don't provide the nurturist bang they were hoping for.  Because humans have endured periods of severe hunger intermittently in childhood up until very recently, even in the west, and even trauma seems to have its primary effects as it is happening, and decades later they are nonetheless getting PhDs and/or cuddling their grandchildren. The pain is real, but life is suffering, as the Buddha supposedly said. The theory that we are just genetic material that happened to survive and in some places prosper, wandering around believing that our conversations and exchange of information has any meaning may in fact be true.  About the rest of you, anyway.

But even that won't happen, because it gets too close to an uncomfortable answer. Dare we push our theory of causes back to...conception? They won't. 

As for the politicians, they are not even remotely thinking about what will work for poor people, whatever they say.  They are thinking about what statements will work for them. It is entirely instrumental, and does not pass through the abstract reasoning parts of the brain at all. They are amoeba searching for food and asexually reproducing entirely by instinct.

Economic Stability

"I remember the 80s as being an economically stable time, so long as I mowed the lawn when I was supposed to."  Benjamin Wyman

Origins

Rather than take up a lot of space in the Anglo-Saxon Paganism post - which remains unwieldy anyway - I thought I would take up the idea of origins here. We spoke of Anglo-Saxon and Norse paganism has having a common origin, based on similar names of deities and some evidence of similar calendar observances and burial practices, which often indicate something about religious beliefs. Also, we know that other parts of their culture (language, economy) show similarities, and now know that they share genetic affinities as well. That's fine as far as it goes, but we base it off something of a false picture of origins. We can argue a lot about previous and subsequent influences, but for many religions, we do have an origin point: Buddhism originated with the Buddha; Christianity originated with Jesus; Islam started with Mohammad. Let me switch to an analogy from geography and culture, which would not be inappropriate in discussing language and religion anyway. 

There is an American idea of freedom, and it is distinguishable from Pakistani or Japanese ideas about freedom. When you push it hard enough, it is even distinguishable from Canadian or English ideas of freedom, though those have greater similarities. There will be Venn diagram overlaps throughout, as not all Americans agree on what freedom is. Economic freedom? Sexual freedom? Religious freedom? But where does the American idea come from? Well, it doesn't come from anywhere, it emerged in colonial times as a development, combining and recombining elements from first, various regions and generations in Britain, but subsequently Native groups that were not themselves the same, and then different neighbors from Europe - French from Canada, Spanish in the south and west, Dutch in New York, and beyond that immigrants who came from diverse places. Central Europeans, Jews, and Chinese did not go equally to all regions of America. If you look for an origin, you can't say it's John Calvin or John Lock. You can't point to a particular tavern in Philadelphia (or London). Whatever ideas it started from, those were somewhat separate to begin with, moved to different environments, bumped into different peoples, and did not even interact with each other equally.  In particular, the coastal residents of colonial America had much more contact with each other than even their own literal cousins twenty miles inland. Boston was not Sudbury. Petersburg was not Yorktown.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

It's more like the Danube Delta, above. What thread of water are you going to call the real one? Even the source of a river is seldom as clear-cut as we pretend. By convention, it is based on tracing back main channels and measuring greatest distance from the mouth.

There is no single  origin of the Indo-European language. If we could trace back in time even with exactness there is no spot we could say "There! This little village right here is really the starting point." Because we would have to say that it was only 20% of the starting point, and a village a ways away that had a lot of captured wives from a raid east three generations ago another 20%, and a third one quite a distance out, that had a lot more contact with Uralic languages, was another 18% etc. There was never a time when all of those spoke quite the same language. It was an I-E-ish area of pretty good mutual understanding and exchange of goods and marriage partners.

We can usually do pretty well identifying things in the negative. We can at least say what things aren't. We can see deities that are more identified with Celts than Norse, even if there is some mix. We can say that another was not originally Yahweh, even if the Christians of that area adopted in some aspects later. Unfortunately, we are often up against data that eludes our definitions. Is this type of metal disc worn on a helmet an animistic, shamanistic, or polytheistic practice? Not only can we not tell from here, we might not even have been able to tell if we were there. Yet we can often say "This was new in that time period, and looks deeply related to discs on helmets from this other culture they had recently come in contact with." 

In terms of the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse, they have at least a couple of deities they do not share.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Algorithm

So now I know how the game is played. I have said in many other contexts in my life "Once you are keeping score, I'm going to figure out where to get points."

I listen to many podcasts, as you know, and they all stress how helpful it would be to them if listeners left a review. This has struck me as a bit silly.  I don't differentiate between 4.2 and 4.3 stars, and I don't expect others to. I also don't read reviews of most products. Maybe a hotel. Maybe a book. Footwear, I do read reviews of, actually. But mostly, I know whether I want it or I don't and have little interest in what others think.  Leave me alone asking for reviews.

Today, one of them mentioned that their placement on the app was dependent on an algorithm, and I suddenly got it. Someone might read your review comments, but mostly, machines are totting up your checkboxes of when you reviewed, what country and region you are from, how many stars you gave, etc. Lifeless data to me, but they might get something from it.  They will likely wildly overinterpret what they get and misinterpret the remainder, but the algorithm is how they keep score. It's like the SAT's, where your discussion of what discomfited means is not even noted.  No one is reading.  Move on.

So I'm going back and reviewing all my favorites. Once I know how they are really keeping score, I will get what points I can for my guys, even if it is minimal. There are no style points here.

Administrate

The term has long bothered me.  It seemed from that type of overcomplication that says "utilise" instead of "use," that popular language police from the second half of the 1900s were always railing about. Why not just say administer?  

I now learn that this is not a new creation, but dates back 400 years, back to a previous time when people showed off with big words in English. It keeps happening.

Funny, You Don't Look Jutish

Following Bede, we rely on the formula Angles, Saxons, and Jutes for those tribes which settled* eastern England from Denmark and the north coast of Germany. But there likely weren't so many Jutes after all, and other invaders deserve some credit/blame. It is more accurate to call them Angles, Saxons, Franks, and Frisians. Please make a note of it and enter it into your manuals of style.

*"Unsettled" would be closer to the mark, but invaded is no longer regarded as quite accurate either.

Reverse Basketball


 The caption was "Put reverse basketball in the Olympics, you cowards."

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Last Thing On My Mind

 Everyone covered this.  Which is true of many Tom Paxton songs.


Pagans and Neopagans - Part Two

One podcast and the Wikipedia article in, and I have got way too much stuff already. I'd like to see what Brittanica has to say, and of course I have some background supporting material from my hobbyist following  of the history, language, literature, and later the archaeology of the place and time.  However, previous knowledge mostly just gives you more cuphooks on which to hang the new information coming in, which may be wonderful for completeness, but is hell on summarisation and detecting patterns.  Ah well, we likely impose too many patterns that aren't there on our knowledge anyway. But as I wrote recently, we create categories in order to break them in our learning, but they are necessary for the initial learning of a subject.  

My usual second level of research is to follow the footnotes and references of both the written and audible overviews, and my third level is to go looking for writers who think those mainstream theories are mistaken. We'll see. I suppose I could just post "Here's a podcast or two, plus read the wiki and the Britannica, I liked them," but that isn't going to help me get it organised in my own mind. And it wouldn't give all of you much incentive to comment, either.

Updates on Part Two will occur, because I haven't really said much about the topic yet.  It's looking like a Part Three is also likely, and at the end I will have to have names to go with the numbers.

Pagan is something of an approximate description, toggling between a formal definition centered on polytheism and a mere epithet meaning unbeliever. I will hew closer to the first definition here. Classical Greeks and Romans were pagans. But many tribes of the world are animists and/or ancestor worshipers. Many have nothing that would qualify as a god or goddess, but have spirits, mostly dangerous and harmful, who animate springs or mountains, or that various important animals participate in the generic spirit of. The spirits cause disease of bad harvests, and sometimes diagnosis is required to figure out which spirit, or which ancestor, has been offended and needs appeasing. The Chinese have ancestor worship, and are not thought of as so much polytheistic, but Buddhist temples include offerings to local gods strewn about.

The Norse can be considered mostly polytheistic, but animism is never far beneath the surface, with dwarves, esse, elves, trolls, and the like populating the borderland between the visible and invisible. Think of The Wild Hunt, for example. Odin leads them, but is not always present when they are mentioned.  Christianity since the Reformation and Enlightenment* downplays these or even ignores them, but when the creeds talk about God creating all things visible and invisible, such spiritual creatures that moved about the world was much in their minds. Christians encountering the Norse categories would have places to slot tomten, nisse, and the like right in. Gods may be more of an abstraction and strike us as a step up from animism, but apparently this is not universally acknowledged. 

The Brittonic peoples who the Anglo-Saxon peoples started pushing out in the 400s (or earlier!) were more animist than the Germanic peoples. More holy springs, more burial mounds with unquiet dead in them, more wandering spirits looking to trouble the living.

At least, that is what we speculate, because the Anglo-Saxons seem to be pagans with similarity to the continental Germanic tribes. But we don't know, because the written sources are few, and we mostly say that because the few written sources we have record gods with similar names to the Norse ones. Yet we mostly know about those gods from centuries later and far away. If groups in adjoining valleys on the continent can have different legends about Odin, how much more can there be variation across, say 500 miles and 500 years? We have very little we can nail down.

*Yes, I know, I am on record as disliking both categories.

Pagans and Neopagans - Part One

I am not kind to neopagans in my conversation and I believe I have mentioned druids with irritation a half-dozen times here. I have regarded them as poseurs, relying on an imagined continuity with ancient pagans and misrepresenting what those ancients believed. Hint: they were not interested in "harmony with nature." Following CS Lewis, who saw a lot of good in them, I have looked more kindly on actual pagans, especially those that are safely in the past.

Neopaganism is often an extension of a milder set of imaginings that is not necessarily unhealthy. Many people feel a connection with others from the past, especially if they can be in the same place or believe they have some connection such as descent from them. Yes, the druids and wiccans are just as likely to be adopting their outlook in order to stick it in the eye of the normies and show how transgressive and freethinking they are, but I have focused on that too often. The gentler attraction shows up in the wistful words of legitimate historians talking about how they got interested in a particular site or subject, or even the field in general. "I wondered what it would be like to be standing on this bank as a soldier with a spear in hand, watching the fires go up in the camps across the river..." Or if something already has mystical associations, even more so. "When  was delivering my own first child unexpectedly out in the remote village where my grandmother's people have long lived, I thought about those other women, perhaps with only a midwife and another friend or relative nearby..." "I imagined what it would be like to be that potter, trying out the new design he had seen on the pots arriving from the south..." Nothing wrong with any of that. 

One way that it pretty obviously goes wrong is in making up what you think happened or they were like, not realising that your little narrative is not based on any historical reality, but only on the beliefs of your own era. Scandinavian artists of 100-200 years ago started increasing the number of trolls, elves, and women in the forest in long white gowns in their work, considering them important to national identity. But it seems they had been less important in previous centuries, and we don't fully know what they thought before widespread literacy. Romantic poets start believing that the industrial revolution has separated humanity from the land, and all these machines have destroyed our contact with nature, and pretty soon you have all manner of folk thinking their revival of pagan figures is teaching important lessons to modern woman and man, and the order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley are due to pop up any day (Crowley's parents were fundamentalist United Brethren, BTW). 

I do get frustrated when this infiltrates the church, as it pretty thoroughly has at this point, with frequent reminders to "get out into God's creation," or to contemplate its wonders in some large general way of appreciating natural beauty. This is virtually absent from scripture.  Those people looked at "nature" quite differently. Well, church camp is one of the few ministries that keep the young connected to the church, so perhaps I shouldn't complain.

Also, it seems to be a major foundation of a lot of literature that I am devoted to, beginning with JRR Tolkien. The contradictions are large in my mind at present. 

I just learned that we actually know little for certain about Anglo-Saxon paganism. We make educated guesses based on associated knowledge and reports from much later.  I shall have to look into this. I guess I just started a series, but I suspect it is only one more entry. Still, I'm going to go back and add "Part One" to the title.

Alone or Together

It was quite cold and windy yesterday, so I cut my walk short, but it was sunny, so I wanted to see things. When I shrugged and decided I would just head west for a while to see things i haven't lately, my wife suggested an errand half an hour WSW, and I poked around a bit after that.  No new places. There are no roads I have not been on an hour in any direction at this point. I fancied that a superpower I have not much thought about but would be an enjoyable one would be the ability to teleport - with the car - an hour out in any of the eight directions and then start searching for serendipity as I drove around. That's getting into territories where there really are roads I haven't been on, or pullovers I haven't stopped at, or country stores I haven't gone into for coffee. If I'd had that superpower starting with my driver's license I might have eventually exhausted it and grown tired of it, like Gollum under the mountain, but at my age I would have enough to keep me busy until they take my license away. 

I enjoy that impulsively deciding I'm going to take one route rather than another, spending a less-efficient fifteen extra minutes on the trip but seeing places I haven't for three years, or five, or ten. I briefly thought how much more fun it would be to have my wife along suggesting the turns and variations that she would like. It immediately occurred to me that she doesn't find this anywhere near as much fun as I do.

Yet I think who is controlling the steering wheel has a lot to do with the enjoyment at such times.  I have been a passenger with friends (I am thinking of one in particular) who loves this sort of rambling about, and I soon tire of traveling with him. We grow less curious and weary of a road at different rates, hankering to get back to the main road and knock off some mileage, but not unhappy enough to object to what the driver chooses. We get hungry at different times, we want to see different things. We have friends who have been wealthy since they married fifty years ago who travel often, and seem to be of similar mind in what they will do. My wife and I would look similar in taste and knowledge to outsiders, but it seems less so to us. We don't want to see the same things, even when we want to go to the same places.

And of course, children complaining in the back seat makes that so much better.

It's a very different experience whether you are holding the wheel or sitting in the passenger seat in terms of searching out serendipity. My wife usually drives only if we are exceeding two hours each way, in which case she will start taking 30-60 minute shifts while I nap. But when you start putting in over four hours of driving in a day total, your desire for serendipity diminishes. There are lunches and stretches to arrange, B&B's to check into, and when the daylight wanes, the scenery ain't worth much. When I drove Ben to Houston ago it really drove home the lesson that after dark on the highway, the whole country looks the same. You get some variations in the restaurants noted on the exit signs (we don't have Waffle House up here), and if it's not raining a city skyline can be interesting even quite late, but mostly, Montana looks like Maryland on the interstate. The numbered secondary roads aren't that different either, just irritating because they do not behave as regularly as the freeways. When you can come over a rise and see some landscape in the daylight, or sense whether you are in thick versus light forest those roads are fine. But at 9PM you are stopping at a lot of red lights where you're the only one there, the little shops your wife wants to explore are closed, and the non-chain restaurants take on a seedy, even menacing air.  Not the serendipity you were hoping for. You need daylight for that when driving. Nighttime serendipity requires town centers.

We think we'll head for Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard this spring when there aren't any crowds. A good drive with some new territory and ferries are always fun. Unless you miss them.

Posting in Series

I post in series less often than I did in early years. I wonder if that is an example of my audience capturing me and changing me, as from the link that Eric sent along a week ago. I seldom get much in the way of commenting on those, though sometimes one of a set of five will attract a dozen. I get more of that reward from you for the little offhand things I post. I am aware of the difference in quality over quantity, though.  A lot of times you are just being pleasantly conversational, as I am when I come over to your places. You do tackle the more difficult matter in gratifying fashion. 

Sometimes I would set out to cover a great deal of territory on a subject I thought was being underplayed in my corner of the internet, but more often I would set out to write up a topic and find that it had rapidly grown unwieldy and divided it up into digestible bits. It is likely that knowledge that had been building up for years influenced the many series I wrote in the first 5-10 years of blogging, while I put new things up as I come across them now. Last fall I had so much new info about dating apps, intrasexual competition, the growth of nonstandard relationships over the last fifty years, and evolutionary psychology that it was swamping my thinking because it was spilling out all over, so I forced it into topics and did a series on Dating Apps and the New Polygamies. I had planned it as only a few links and comments, but it eventually attracted more organisation than usual and was eight separate posts.  And I thought lists were bad. But I feel like I covered a lot of territory and organised my own thoughts in better fashion. I now know what I would have thought was almost everything, but turns out to be only an appetiser sampler plate.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

One Church

From a longer article about unity in the church from  our denominational magazine

As I have wrestled with Jesus’s prayer, I have become increasingly convinced that I’ve been thinking about this all wrong.  

This oneness Christ desires for us is not something we create or try to make happen. This oneness is a gift, a reality we receive from God. It’s a fact. We are one. Paul reminds us of this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV).

A wise friend taught me years ago to notice that this is not an aspirational statement. It doesn’t say, “You should try really hard to be one body.” It doesn’t say, “If you all get your acts together and do what I’ve told you, you will be a body.” It doesn’t say, “If you love me, this is what you should be working toward.” It says, “You are the body of Christ.” One body. Christ’s body. (Italics mine.)

At adult class this morning I said something related, that sometimes we might be doing the right thing - in my case posting on a blog, perhaps - but doing it wrongly, without charity. I have said many times over the years that it may be that what we accomplish in this world matters little, but how we accomplish it, with love and service, may be everything.

I have said it so often that one might think I could begin to learn it.

Hyperstitious Slur Cascade

The phrase was a new one on me, though I picked pretty quickly what Alexander was talking about when I started reading.  I doubt I'll be using the word hyperstitious much, though I like the feel of that "slur cascade" phrase. Scott Alexander over at Astral Codex Ten discusses how words become slurs, and whether there is any sense in fighting such trends. Apparently Whoopi Goldberg just got suspended for using the word "gypped," because people who know precisely no Roma people and have never inquired whether any are offended (or even recognise that is where the English word comes from), have complained about the egregiousness of the offense.

In discussing words becoming slurs, he notes early on

Nobody ever uses the word “Jap” unless they are either extremely ignorant, or they are deliberately setting out to offend Japanese people.

This is a very stable situation. The original reason for concern - World War II - is long since over. Japanese people are well-represented in all areas of life. Perhaps if there were a Language Czar, he could declare that the reasons for forbidding the word “Jap” are long since over, and we can go back to having convenient short forms of things. But there is no such Czar. What actually happens is that three or four unrepentant racists still deliberately use the word “Jap” in their quest to offend people, and if anyone else uses it, everyone else takes it as a signal that they are an unrepentant racist. Any Japanese person who heard you say it would correctly feel unsafe. So nobody will say it, and they are correct not to do so. Like I said, a stable situation.

But what about when a word is not a slur, but a few people are trying to get everyone to start treating it like one? We see a fair bit of that these days.  Use of pronouns is an area where I am wondering how much energy I am willing to spend on a pointless rearguard action. If history is any indicator here, I will spend too much energy on pointless actions and not be especially repentant about it. Though sometimes I have seen the point and switched immediately. 

Yet we also accept that some phrases that used to be used commonly are in fact offensive, and others have become offensive by sheer weight of popular demand, and would never use them now.  Alexander discusses where along that line do you get off one train, how long do you just stand around on the platform waiting to see where the population is going, and when do you get on the train headed back in the opposite direction?

If you are an early adopter of taking offense, everyone starts to roll their eyes (or clench their buttocks) whenever you come in the room, but if you are one of the last holdouts, you really are intentionally offending people in order to make your point that no one should ever have been offended five (or twenty-five? or a hundred?) years ago and you are going to insist on purity of language. 

He gives an estimate that is not based on measurable data, but is probably still better than most people's estimate and decides that's where you will be happiest.  As always, it is fun to watch his reasoning and wonder if you agree.  I imagine he is right if we want to live at piece with all mankind, but it does seem to be giving in too easily sometimes.