Friday, December 23, 2005

Heaven is Dangerous

The following is based on an email I sent to my father earlier today, the "you" addressed is my dad. I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately and figured I'd reproduce parts of the letter so that I could get a post written to start the ball rolling.

I did read the article on assisted suicide and I also got a hold of the Harper's magazine (December 2005, “Jesus Without the Miracles” by Erik Reece). The preoccupation with Christ's second coming and the apparent judgment it will inflict on humanity is a dangerous foundation for an ideological system. As the writer in Harper's points out very well: if millions of human beings have a value system that takes for granted that this world is a flawed, forsaken place incomparable to the riches of heaven, then what is their incentive to take care of it? Christians are often criticized for not emulating the compassion and wisdom of their founder, but when you think about it, they really don't have to. The compassion of Christ, if Christ is semi- or mostly-divine, is beyond our ability to achieve in the first place, and is only properly understood as a principle to be worshipped precisely because it is beyond our ability reproduce.

Also, if the reward of "allegiance to Christ" (not, you will notice, any other words or deeds however generous or compassionate) is an eternity of salvation and peace, granted by the judgment of Christ, in a place other than this one, then one's treatment of others and the world in general is unimportant.

Anyway, you read all this in the magazine, so I don't need to paraphrase it. But I agree, and what is truly revolutionary about Reece’s line of thinking is that one can easily hypothesize that a central reason why many human beings are so careless with each other and their world is that their spiritual and religious ideology actively encourages them to believe that this world is a fallen, corrupted place from which they can be delivered; no less important is the central belief that every individual is a corrupted, fallen being who must “work” endlessly an yet never achieve the grace of Christ. Christianity & Islam both ascribe to a theology of sin and the reward of an afterlife, and so do, therefore, billions of very powerful populations across the globe.

There is a very interesting article in a recent Vanity Fair (December 2005, “American Rapture” by Craig Unger) about writers who write fiction about the coming Rapture: who will be taken and who will be left behind. I believe that the thesis of this article (I haven’t read the whole article yet!) is that millions of evangelical Christians are very keen to see the rapture occur in their lifetimes, and that this desire is not at all necessarily absent from the hearts of those evangelicals in positions of economic and political power. Tom Robbins wrote a novel called Skinny Legs and All about how powerful fundamentalists are hoping to cause Armageddon due to their belief in their destiny of salvation.

In this respect the creation of the state of Israel could be very dangerous: many already believe that Israel's creation is part of God's plan, even if that creation was a political act. Also, it gives the USA a powerful ally (read: “foothold”) in the holy land. With the more recent "acquisitions" of Kuwait and Iraq, one must wonder what is going to happen when the US manages to accumulate the whole Holy Land? And might it not just be about oil, but rather, the end of the world?

The problem with the liberal, secular world is that most people who identify themselves as such don't put much credence in religiosity; since they don't believe in the end of the world and virgin births and the devil, they very easily forget that many people actually do, and if these people end up in power, their decisions are going to be influenced by their religious beliefs, which may include a profound desire to rid the world of its filth. The religious agenda of the US and other powerful groups and nations needs to become a seriously debated topic, the secular world needs to realize that there is a danger of being destroyed by the wrath of ancient gods whose followers have the means to do so.

In other words, no matter how “wacky” fundamentalist religious beliefs might seem to a lot of people, they must be taken seriously, at least insofar as they form a foundation of ideology that in the hands of great power have consequences for us all.

Unger writes in his article about how the secular world still sees fundamentalist Christians as a minority, a group of hopeless wingnuts on the fringes of North American society. What he argues instead is that not only do fundamentalist Christians make a sizable portion of the population in the US, “there are as many as 70 million evangelicals in the U.S.—about 25 percent of the population—attending more than 200,000 churches” (206), but that they also have people in and around the White House. It is dangerous to believe that fundamentalism does not steer the boat in the U.S., and that it won’t in Canada (c.f. Stephen Harper).

I guess what I’m suggesting is that religion and the values that stem from it must become a topic for debate in our political world. Not to persecute those who hold them, but rather to make plain to the entire population the point of origin of a candidate’s or a party’s platform.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

No Privacy? I wonder...

In response to Jonathan Ball's comments to my post “Blogging as Real Disguise”, I'd like to say that what really pumps my nads is the dimensions of what we can privacy, and whether or not blogging is a response to a lack of privacy or a desire for visibility?

Now, I'm not boned up on my McLuhan, but what JB says makes a lot of sense: in a technologically mediated culture the division between private and public blurs and changes. However, I've often thought about the strange irony of the city, and how it seems to create less visibility for the individual, more isolation rather than more connectivity. If the city is a suitable metaphor for the Global Village, the "panoptic" age, if not the proper environment for its dissemination, then in fact the individual loses visible and metaphysical currency as it is rendered invisible by the sheer number of others that share space. In the Global Village, the dominant avenues of exposure are controlled by media companies (TV, radio, movies), such that we are still seduced by the bland offerings of the corporate culture to partake in their offerings en masse and must really work to find the smaller, more individual offerings of others.

So, the individual gets drowned out, and perhaps gets depressed, anxious, isolated, etc. Please see the entire corpus of Radiohead and the Weakerthans for more illustration.

Perhaps the blog is not the evolution of the diary at all, but another beast entirely. If you can imagine the diary form evolving over time within the context of smaller human groupings: families, both immediate and extended; neighbourhoods; villages; towns; social groupings; etc; then it becomes easy to see that, in the past, before the Global Village, the individual was more visible, more obvious, and needed to create a space of privacy. Also, as I suggested in the previous post, the diary is a document that one creates out of a sublimated desire to have it discovered by particular individuals, to blend the private with the public, to simultaneously keep secrets and make available those parts of oneself that one had to keep secret due to the extra-visibility that one enjoys in the smaller tribe with its confining social and cultural expectations and rules. You keep a diary, ironically, because you are aware that others want to know what is written inside it, that for some others your private thoughts and secrets are a desirable commodity. Both in service of this knowledge and as a resistance to it the diary is generated to create a private space.

The prevailing condition for the individual in the Global Village is not a collapse of privacy but rather an excess of privacy. In the city the individual disappears like a white cowboy hat at Stampede. Rather than feeling the gaze of many eyes and the weight of others’ expectations the Global Citizen is gripped by feelings of anonymity, isolation and a personal impotence. Even the panopticon does not bestow notice; the cold eye of technology records all that passes in front of it and does not reserve particular notice for any individuals. One does not give any credence to the idea that a particular security or traffic camera will pick oneself out from the many thousands that pass if front of it every day. Why keep a diary when personal details shouted through a megaphone on a street corner will not necessarily draw a crowd, hungry for more?

The popularity of blogs and other “self-publishing” media is that, paradoxically, they re-establish privacy for the individual. As soon as a blog has a reader, just one, the blog author is recognized by an other who might wonder, “what else has this person not told me? Is he/she really as represented by the blog? Is this person a he or she?” Etc. Like any text, like any utterance in language, a blog testifies strongly to all that is absent in its content and narrative voice. Once a blog is recognized by an other, privacy is created automatically and the idea of a personal and public space for the blogger is reified. To have a private life one must also enjoy a public life.

Secrets make us individuals. You can't keep secrets unless others know you exist.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to commit these or similar thoughts to writing. If any of you readers (anyone? I’ll tell you the colour of my underwear?) can direct me to other writings on this subject I’d appreciate it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Angry Young Men

Jon Paul Fiorentino has an article in the new Word magazine addressing a trend of criticism that seems to be coming from a thirty-something writer's clique that have nothing nice to say about poetry written by their contemporaries that don't pay a kind of homage to the canonized tradition. It's a good article and funny, and makes a very good point about how a writer's own desire for prestige can lead to uniformed and selfish criticism.

I was talking to some of the contributors of the recently released and stunning collection Shift and Switch about a review that I suspect is one of the many in JPF's sights. This particular review was dismissed for the same reasons: the criticism seemed resentful with respect to a "type" of writing that the reviewer felt was being represented by the collection and also, due to its lack of real engagement with the Shift and Switch poetry, implied that the reviewer did not actually crack the spine of the book.

I believe that resorts to established, canonized forms have a lot to do with power and a feeling of "correctness". Sheltering in the vast shadow of Ezra Pound, to grab a name out of the air, lends one an illusion of respectability: Pound is considered a great poet so if my work is like Pound's then I'm a great poet and I can shit on anyone who dares try anything new. People are generally afraid of things they don't understand, and the particularly insecure become doubly afraid and resentful of those who would dare to experiment without the comforting shelter of conformity. The issue for the insecure lies in their own fear of the unknown, and a corresponding resentment of those who are not similarly afraid. Let's not forget that one of the great attractions of belonging to an "artistic" or "intellectual" community is the illusion of exclusivity, discerning judgement, and sensitivity to mystery that such membership appears to offer.

I've been very grateful that, for the most part, my contemporaries in the Calgary scene don't seem to be voraciously hungry for fame and prestige. But still, cliques exist in the Calgary writing world, and they don't always get along. JPF's article is a good reminder to anyone who finds themselves with an audience about the damage that can be wrought in the name of one's own insecurity. We don't need the kind of bitter resentment and jealously that have poisoned other cities' writing communities.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Blogging as a Real Disguise

A few folks have already touched on the interesting facet of blogging that seems to encourage people to publicly post what they might have kept private in hand-written diary or journal form.

If you consider that the people who would most likely read your diary are people who not only know you well, but have a vested interest in learning your "secrets", the importance of written-journal privacy makes more sense that blog privacy. In other words, with the exception of a number of friends that you KNOW will access your blog, the "public" has no previous vested interest in your "deep thoughts" and is already inclined to read your narrativization of yourself as sincere.

Ok, I need to untangle this.

1. I don't actually believe that people are more inclined to put their most "private" thoughts, feelings and events from their life onto blogs. There are some things that I've written in journals that I'd still never post to a blog.

2. Nobody can "steal" your blog to read the stuff that you don't want them to see, so like it or not, the blogger still posts info that they WANT other people to see and read and absorb, etc.

3. The beauty of blogging is that you create a virtual self, and the dimensions of that self are entirely up to you.
consciously or unconsciously, you author a character who is assumed to represent you "faithfully", but really, what the hell does that mean, because performance is all we've got.

4. Help! Help! The self is fragmented!

5. So, what I am REALLY interested in knowing is how the medium of the blog encourages the construction of certainly types of "characters" and discourages other types. The blog identity is safer than the journal identity, because, especially with respect to people you don't know, there is never any real danger of "outing" the wizard behind the curtain.

6. Since bloggers often DO have personal, extra-webular knowledge of their most interested audience, do they craft their blogger id's around what they assume others already know and expect about their "wizard" character? In other words, what constraints and what intent do I apply to my postings and blog design when I expect most of my readers to be friends for whom I have already performed a "real world" identity?

PS-Maybe the reason all the REALLY dirty, vicious, sensitive, shocking and beautiful stuff goes into the private diary is because we secretly WANT it to be stolen?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hi Bloggers!

At much prodding from Jill, I've created this blog to see if I am similarly captivated by the activity.

I don't mean this to sound cynical, I'm genuinely stoked to give this a shot. So hello out there to those of you who stop by! I'll try and use this forum to write and muse whenever I think of it.