OUTSIDE BUG, the westside of "The Blue Banana" [ click photo for next . . . ]
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—On the road in the Northwest.
WE ARE ALL CREATED EQUAL.
The tolerance of intolerance is
the end tolerance—
one of FREEDOM & DEMOCRACY'S
most essential principles
CONCLUSIONS & QUESTIONS
ON ARROGANCE, HUMILITY & INTOLERANCE:
The Amish, Mormons & the LGBT
communities . . .
"Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one,
take this as a sign that you have neither understood
the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve."
Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge:
An Evolutionary Approach (1972)
"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you
cannot approach it by any path whatsoever,
by any religion, by any sect."
The Dissolution of the Order of the Star (1929)
Recently, I reviewed a film, THE AMISH: A People of Preservation (1975), for my open source progressive documentary project, THEATER OF THE NEW. I don't wish to go into this fine film in any detail here, but it did make quite an impression on me. When asked about the Amish in the past—after all I did grow up in Ohio, close to Amish country—I've always kicked off my reply with a standard header, "Oh yes, the Amish, the people who do all the right things for the wrong reasons." I think that's true, because fundamentalism of any kind—whether religious, political, or scientific—always means, as far as I'm concerned, the complete and total death of the spiritual life of the individual, or an entire culture or sect. You can hardly be a fundamentalist without rabid hatred of some kind. But one can be a card-carrying fundamentalist hater of—the object of hatred makes little or no difference, say x, where x is African or Native Americans, or "liberals," or "gays," or whatever—and still be a great horseman or trainer of mules. The second surprise in the film is that I would fit right in, linguistically. I speak the same dialect of Swiss German the Amish speak.
And that brings me to my point. One of the central, rigidly dogmatic "teachings" they call the "Ordnung" (in English, roughly, order, or 'code of moral laws') is the beautifully symmetrical German contrary of "Hochmut" and "Demut," which translated into English loses the sonorous relational prefix, and becomes something like "arrogance," or "pride" in contrast to "humility." This phrase is repeated in the film over and over again, as warning, as admonition, as praise. He is too "Hochmutig." (Here, without cumbersome umlaut, hochmütig) Or she is so "Demutig." First, let me say that I think they've picked their virtue wisely, by giving emphasis to the selflessness of humility, but they plug what they see as polar opposites into an authoritarian matrix, one which can't be anything but crippling inwardly. Why? Because it tries to force behavior into a doctrinaire mold like a stern, unfeeling aunt might force a child's feet into boots two sizes too small. So they might indeed walk outwardly a straight and narrow line, but with intense inward, lifelong psychological pain.
So much for the Amish. Bless them for their collective, family spirit. And for keeping their philosophical backwardness, just like the Jehovah's Witnesses do, out of politics. Neither cult—and that is what they are, in my view, is required to 'drink the cool-aid,' whether it be tainted with Jesus or Karl Marx or Mohammed, it makes no difference, call it y—neither cult is allowed to vote. They thereby excommunicate themselves from Democratic discourse, becoming rather like orphaned dependents, leaving it to others to defend the freedom which guarantees their right not to be bothered, and 'go off and do their thing.' How different are the Mormons, who, without wishing to offend, seem to have opted—witness Romney et al—for the Hochmut-arrogant end of the spectrum. I find this personally particularly offensive in their bigoted political activism, surely unbecoming from the Amish perspective, as well as my own. And I find this especially so after reviewing another documentary for THEATER OF THE NEW (theater in the Greek sense, with the same root as theory, or 'way of seeing), 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION (2010). In my mind's eye, I see Tom Jefferson, Alex Hamilton and Jimmy Madison watching this film. I'm sure the Founding Fathers would be outraged at the Mormon Church using the so hard-won protections of the Constitution as a blatant cover to channel millions of dollars into California in order to assert their appalling intolerance. I'm sure the Amish and the JW's hate homosexuals, too, but at least they have the self-respect and Demut-humility to do so in their own little hidden dark closet. I'm also pretty sure that your average "Mormon in the street," again without wishing to offend any of my many Mormon friends, knows little or nothing about this 'brownshirt-style' near-fascist abuse of liberty. But it's there, none the less. So in my view, with all due respect, their church is guilty of behaving simply like an advocacy group, not much different than, say, the NRA or Greenpeace, except their agenda is evidently a very dark one, indeed.
(Before people get red faces and reach for the nearest rifle to chase me out of town, let me just say here what I always say and have never once found an American who would disagree with me, for it's the very bedrock of freedom of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution, and attributed to Voltaire, "I may disagree with what you say, but shall defend to the death your right to say it.")
Now, Hochmut-arrogance has, in my view, just like an excess of body fat, since the leaner years of the Great Depression and WWII, become a signature feature of American culture. Let's call it, for the sake of discussion, and not wanting to be here too precise or formal, "Piss and Puff" (P2 for short) culture. First you, forgive me ladies, "piss" on what you dislike, and then "puff out" in self-evident superiority. (Yes, unlike the internet and Facebook, real life in America, a very contrarian culture if ever there was one, is very much not so much about hitting the "like" button, but much more about asserting in a steady, non-stop stream, one's disdain if not outright contempt for things.) "Piss and puff" is utterly predictable in terms of object. In the Northwest, here's a short list of objects worthy of P2 derision, in descending order: Wolves, Al Gore , Obama, ecologists, The New York Times, liberals, vegetarians, migrants, and the Forest Service. That's about it. I've never heard anyone in the Northwest P2 about Arabs or Jews. Or Chinese and Communists. Or even Democrats, for that matter. Al Gore is hated for his being the embodiment of Climate Change itself, or a threat to the complacent 'business as usual' that we all so desperately and understandably want to hold on to. And Obama—forgive my political incorrectness here—is hated as the dark-devil Black Man who now occupies the White House.
The object of Piss and Puff is not my primary concern here. Call it n. We all have things, Facebook notwithstanding, that we dislike, and perhaps go on to hate. But the open society, the America I was privileged to grow up in, where a modicum of civility reigned, and where, yes, there was much more Demut-humility around, as a real cultural value, I'm afraid I don't see much of that great America around me anymore.
That's too bad, I think. The Amish really are right, even if for the wrong reasons. Demut-humility is an essential virtue. It's putting the good of common wealth before sectarian private interest. It's seeing that whatever you do to the least among you, you do unto yourself. It's saying that injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere. It's the spirit so abundantly in evidence in Ben Franklin's admonishment, at the age of 81, to his much younger colleagues to accept the draft version of the Constitution in 1778 because they were, like himself, after all, mere mortals. And it's certainly not the Hyper-Hochmut-arrogance projected by the Ayn Rands and Atlas Shruggeds of the world, and worshiped by Neo-Conservatives everywhere as a self-evident hidden license to take and have and keep whatever and whomever you like or want.
Ideas are important. Ideas demonstrated, are even more important. Thoreau, Gandhi and King come instantly to mind. How could this be otherwise, for nonviolence lies prostrate upon the Earth—humility derives from humus, to be 'of or close to the soil'—and allows itself to be trod upon as a mirror of the other's violence. The whole world is watching now. Violence and arrogant use of force by now characterises almost every single aspect of Western life, almost everything we do, from resource wars, to our relationships with each other and the Earth itself.
The one philosopher who in my view thoroughly both understood and demonstrated this necessity of nonviolent, militant, humility, was the Indian sage, Jiddu Krishnamurti. His insight is so simple, that it's hard to see clearly its implications. He would say that one can know nothing about humility. Nothing. And if there is real humility, as in, say, the selfless love of a mother for her child, one is by definition never aware of it. Krishnamurti would say that all we can know, all we can give attention to as a form of meditation, is the fact that we are dominated by greed, by fear, or by Hochmut-arrogance. So we begin to observe why? Why am I afraid of people who don't look like me, of people who don't talk like me, of people who say things I don't like, or threaten me. Why? The 'why" always comes back to nonviolence, or the possibility of living a life without violence, without conflict.
I think we all can agree, whatever our points of view may be, that living lives not held captive by conflict might indeed be a very precious, nay, a sacred, thing.
So, in closing, let me praise the Amish here, even if only in a very conditional way, for making this abundantly clear to me. Bless them.
XI.3.2012 Eagle Valley.
not far from the Oregon Trail...
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