Category Archives: society

US-style ‘Dating’, or the Opposite of what Relationships are supposed to be…


We were watching what was supposed to be a romantic Hollywood comedy movie last night,  and then it became more of an anthropological analysis of a world that was not only completely alien and terrifying, but also not completely comprehensible.

Thinking more about I wrote a FB post with some thought on the subject of that is called ‘dating’ in modern US-influenced popular culture earlier today, that I also posted in several groups, and which which mostly got agreements and some additions with more nuance from people. The original post read something like (it was posted in several versions and is slightly edited again here):

Yesterday I was having a bit of a cultural disconnect moment while watching a Hollywood movie with my wife (‘He’s not that into you’ or something like that, with Jennifer Aniston and other well-known people that I didn’t recognize myself). She was annoyed with how the women were portrayed as stupid creatures (Well, the men really weren’t much better I’d say) and we couldn’t really figure out what the age of the characters was supposed to be. (For behaviour somewhere early twenties, although they were more than teenagers in a way, but other signs said thirties already, especially for the Jennifer Aniston character).

Now the biggest question was about the whole idea of ‘dating relationships’. I’ve always been rather confused by the way dating functions in US fiction and stuff influenced by it (I have no access to the real world over the ocean except through FB friends and the like though) and the way dates seem to function as liminal moments in which a romantic relationship (including intimacy and sometimes sex) is temporarily present, which is over when the date is over and then becomes something very vague that leads to a lot of stress, insecurity and mostly a lot of pursuit of unhappiness.

The contrast is big with the approach to relationships that I saw when I was young here in Belgium: the most childish way of taking about relationships was ‘het aanmaken’, or ‘het is aan’. When ‘it’ was ‘on’, you had a relationship, when the relationship was over it was ‘off’. So you were in a relationship or you weren’t, even in a stage of hand-holding teenagers, and there really wasn’t that much confusion about that. You are in a relationship or not. Dates could occur in the relationship evidently, but they did in no way define anything. If you’re ‘together’ you need to see each other and do stuff together, not?

I’ve also noted that the word ‘verkering’ (a word usually for teenagers, for a steady and commited but casual relationship, a stage of relationship in between the first kiss or ‘het is aan’ until getting engaged) doesn’t exist in English. Translator services translate it with ‘courtship’ (which sounds extremely formal to me, or reminds me of creepy American purity culture) or with ‘dating’ (see all of this).

It seems to me that the whole dating game that I see in movies (with its strange and contradicting rules that only make it more hell) doesn’t have any way of providing that stability of ‘it’s on’ in child language. Relationships seem quite uncertain until people are engaged or so, and people seem to be dating several people at the same time (rather intimately) without any commitment.

Also, the whole idea of having romantically intimate (or even sexual) dates before you really know each other just creeps me out. Without knowing someone enough as a friend already I would never want to be romantic with anyone, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster actually. How can one start a meaningful relationship without a friendship in which it is possible to talk about important things? Shouldn’t relationships that are supposed to become a family together develop from friendship – ‘verkering’ -engagement – marriage?

So while I certainly am a fan of both dating inside a relationship and hanging around to get to know each other (as friends, without any pressure, and certainly without games and nonsense rules), the whole thing called dating, at least in movies, sounds toxic and and stupid to me, and potentially more a vaccination against good relationships than something that leads to healthy couples.

But maybe my analysis is completely off? What do you think? (crossposted in several very different groups and no-one said my analysis was off yet)

What I didn’t get was reactions that my analysis was completely off. Some people warned me that Hollywood isn’t exactly reality. Luckily that is true, but on the other hand US Americans shouldn’t forget that Hollywood provides a picture of reality that is seen a ‘this is America’ by non-Americans. And it seems that (at least for some Americans) dating culture is a hell even worse than what the movies show.

A main point for a lot of people seems to be that ‘the dating world’, especially in the US it seems, is confusing as hell, and that all people who are married or in a relationship who are happy to not have to participate in it, and that some even are single because of it.

After thinking more about the whole thing there are some points that I think are worth stating.

  1. I strongly believe that the best way to handle romantic relationships that are meant to become a family and a partnership for life (I can’t say much about other relationships, and they don’t really interest me either) is to start from a friendship in which open communication about stuff like for example being anxious about this whole dating world and its mad rules among other things. Without that it’s mad to start something with anyone.
    From that I would go through a stage of ‘verkering’/’going steady’, or a growing romantic and committed relationship, followed by engagement and marriage when the time is ripe. (Not too soon, not too late). I also believe it is very important to be clear on where you are, always.
  2. A lot of other non-Americans seem to find the US situation incomprehensible too. I’m rather glad about that for the rest of the planet, but I offer my condolences to any Americans that are screwed by this culture.
  3. The confusion about not knowing where you are in a relationship (that even was a sexual relationship on the last date) sounds like hell. How can anyone live with that? See what I wrote about a friendship with open communication in point 1. I wouldn’t even have a first kiss with someone that I can’t talk about what kind of relationship we’d be in.
    The strange thing is that it seems that people are really intentional about not defining their relationships (or DTR, there even seems to be an acronym) for reasons that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. There even seems to be an active peer pressure even to not define relationships or even call them relationships because that would put pressure on them or something like that.
    I have no idea what that would even mean but it sounds like a very bad idea and an absolute recipe for disaster. And I’m glad that all of this sounds very alien to me. (My condolences again to those stuck with this kind of screwed-upness)
  4. It seems that both weird forms of evangelical ‘purity culture’ (‘don’t ever be alone with someone of the opposite sex’ madness) and the strange and contradictory rules of ‘the dating game’ try to actively keep people from said friendships in which can be communicated like that. Which is keeping people away from a basic requirement without which relationships will always be unstable. Instead of looking for signs and trying to find out what the other might have meant people should just say that they need to say.
  5. There seems to be an element of consumerism too on ‘the dating market’. When you reduce people to products to consume you’ll never be able to have healthy relationships with them. Aforementioned friendship would already be impossible, or make this approach to human beings impossible… (There are more ways in which consumer capitalism is deadly to relationships, but I’m not the one to go to deep in that rabbit hole and that would divert from the topic of this post)
  6. This is probably the place too to give my opinion on ‘hook-up culture’ and one-night stands, which is not based on religion here but merely on the relational wisdom outlined elsewhere: if you’re not in a relationship with someone that enables you to understand each other very well when talking about sex and intimacy it’s just a very stupid and potentially very destructive idea to have sex with them.
    Let’s add to that that hook-up culture very easily becomes rape culture with just the tiniest hint of either sexual entitlement or peer pressure, both of which seem to be more present too in the US than here by the way.
  7. The idea that men and women cannot be friends is not only nonsense, but also very very very problematic, as you should have gathered from everything else I wrote here. See also: The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)
  8. Speaking of vaccinations against relationships: porn in modern society is probably one of the things that destroy relationships in very different ways. But that’s another topic.
  9. It seems that the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’ are used almost as synonyms sometimes, while they certainly aren’t. There is a lot of intimacy outside of sex and sexual relationships, and a lot of sex isn’t really that intimate at all. Hook-up sex, and whatever porn describes, (as well as the ‘men need sex as a physical release, wife give it to him’ of certain US evangelical marriage books) can be completely devoid of intimacy and even the opposite of it.
  10. Marriage itself when it turns into an obsession more important than your partner themselves can become an idol that is destructive to your relationship. Same with wedding days when they become more important than your partner and your relationship.
  11. If this is what is called ‘Dating’ in the US I understand now that Josh Harris kissed it goodbye. It’s just that not much of the things he proposes instead seems to be a better alternative…
  12. I can understand how this mess turns men into Incels and MGTOW and the like. Which is also a destructive and a rather effective vaccination against healthy relationships.
  13. Saying ‘I love you’ seems very hard for a lot of people even in romantic relationships (also something I don’t really get. I’d think it’s a requirement very early on). But I think it’s important to be able to say those words and mean them.

So, to summarize, my own relationship advice: be honest, be yourself, be open, form a strong frelovelutionriendship before you even think of ‘intimacy’ (which is a lie anyway without a relationship, you can’t communicate love that isn’t there), talk about everything, and look for someone with whom you can run away from all the dating game nonsense.

The best way to have a healthy relationship is to just short-circuit all the nonsense, and go your own way together. So anyway, before you ‘date’ or whatever you call it with someone, it’s probably good to form a friendship deep enough to talk about how to evade, subvert and completely ignore the whole nonsense of dating, and then face the madness world together.

That sounds like a very good bonding experience by the way…

What do you people think?

Peace

Bram

Other posts:
Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity

Anthropological field notes#256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon


Anthropological field notes on exotic cultures and their religion #256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon

The (at least in some very select cirles) legendary American Christian very oldschool heavy metal band Stryper has announced a new album for later this year named ‘God damn evil’, and revealed the album cover, as well as the song list. Here’s the album cover, which will probably look better in LP format than CD format: (link here)

Notes:
The title and some local taboo words:
Some people in the US seem to be genuinely offended by that title, seemingly because of a local taboo word used in it. For me as a European it’s always a surprise which words are seen as ‘bad’ words by conservative Americans. I would think that God damning evil and evil being damned by God is something a lot of religions agree upon anyway.

The artwork: Babylon and the evil of money
The artwork is very interesting although controversial. One wouldn’t expect otherwise from anything related to the metal scene. And as much metal artwork, once you’re used to the style it’s rather corny.
I don’t really recognise anything resembling God in a Christian sense, but there’s an interesting blue Zeus-like anthropomorphic giant deity destroying a (presumedly) US American city with very prominent banks and money, backed by fireballs and winged angelic figures in the background.

Does that mean that US American cities and banks are evil and damned by God? Interesting thought, and rather refreshing also for a mainstream American band in times of Republicanist Trumpism. US Christianity seems to be rather lacking in recognising how evil money can be at the moment, and it will rather worship the market and the rich than follow Jesus words about the poor. So having American mainstream artists acknowledging this is probably a good thing.

Typological remark: Cities as archetypal motif are common in the bible, with usually the good city ([New] Jerusalem) against the bad city (Babylon). This clearly is Babylon, which is connected to merchants and money in revelation 18.

The artwork: blue grumpy Zeus the destroyer
From a Christian small o orthodox perspective the deity figure shown is more problematic. Whatever that grumpy Blue Zeus thingy is is, it certainly is not God in a Christian or even Abrahamic monotheist sense, and assuming that God (outside of Christ in the resurrection or things like the orthodox trinity icon of Abrahams visitors) can be portrayed in such an anthropomorphic way is completely against the ten commandments and rather bad theology.
Even Michelangelo’s ‘creation of Adam’ is probably more problematic than we think, and it gives us completely wrong ideas if we really believe God looks like that. God is not a man, God doesn’t look like a man. Especially not a bearded European dude. The violent scene itself is also rather problematic.

For the music we’ll have to wait. I don’t expect any Earth-shattering sounds to be honest.

 

on the elven glamour of human politicians


In some fantasy stories elves and fairies (I’ll take both as roughly synonyms in this essay) are nice and friendly and very positive being, but this is not the case in a lot of actual traditional fairy stories. They often are rather sinister and sometimes even dark deceptive beings that you don’t want to meet in older European traditions, as anyone knows who has read old stories about actual elves and fairies from the UK for example. Some very interesting elves of this type appear in in Terry Pratchetts discworld series, for example in ‘Lords and Ladies’, but also in ‘the wee free men’ and the posthumously published ‘the shepherds crown’. In the latter 2 books Tiffany Aching is the heroine who needs to fight against the queen of elves, coming from another and very deceptive world in another dimension and having a lot of mind-altering trick including their so-called ‘glamour’.

This elven glamour is something like the sphere of influence where it projects a fake reality. In the case of the elves of discworld it shows for example the elven queen -called Nightshade in the last book- as creature of incredible beauty, with at moments a whole false world projected around her. She also uses her glamour to destroy the picture people have of themselves, to annihilate their confidence and self-worth filling their heads with very destructive images. At times the glamour is so strong it replaces all reality for those under its influence. Let’s not that this idea surely isn’t an invention of Sir Terry Pratchett, but a part of the fairy folklore of the British Islands:

The magic of the faeries, sometimes called ‘glamour’, is seen to be the art of illusions,movement, shape changing and enchantments. While it mostly used in the legends that told of the’noble’ faeries, some of the household faeries and wild faeries were said to possess it and to be ableto perform some minor tricks with it. A good example of this is a tale in which a mischievous pookamakes a woman lose her way in a forest by making a path disappear from her sight. According to different tales, the use of glamour is not restricted to simple illusions or tricks: inmany tales whole castles are built and with glamour. More commonly faeries use glamour to create their magnificent clothes and jewels or to make themselves more beautiful. (source)

There also are other examples of the same trick in a lot of mythologies, where for example sirenes and other monsters give themselves the appearance of beautiful women who lure in men to devour them. Only when they come too close and it’s too late the glamour fades, and the monster eats his prey…
I’ve always found this a fascinating and terrifying idea, this description a deceptive field of influence that makes and evil being more beautiful and creates a whole false reality around it, until you completely lose grip of any actual reality…

The reason why it fascinates me is are creepy parallels with our own world here (as is the case with a lot of motifs in legends and fantasy stories): Powerful and influential people often operate in the same way as queen nightshade and her minions with their charisma and charm. A powerful politician for example can weave a whole fictional world in the common thoughtfield of his people, and shut out the rest of reality outside of his own interpretation of the world. Look at the speeches of Adolf Hitler for a clear example which got extremely out of hand, but the same thing is done by all charismatic leaders to a lesser degree. Note also that this is not always done deliberately. While it’s certainly true that some of these illusion-masters knowingly weave a fictional story, there’s also others who believe in their own lies and illusions, creating their own wonderland for both themselves and the people.

Even in this world the way ‘charismatic’ people operate seems to be bordering on magic sometimes, at least in the way of being connected to group-hypnosis and NLP-like manipulation techniques and the weird art of bending of group-thoughtfields. Let’s also not forget that wilful paradigm-shifting in combination with ‘belief as a tool’ for one person already is one the basics of chaos magic and other magical traditions, and there is something very dark in manipulating a whole group of people to do so without them even realising it.

But even the strongest magic has limits. No matter how influential mass hypnosis can be, it’ll never be all encompassing. As Bob Marley sang’ ‘you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’. Even if a glamour field might be nation-wide (only resisted by those who consciously know what they’re doing, and are actively resisting as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the time of Hitler) it will never encompass the whole world.

A lot of things have changed though in our times of media, where news can go further than it could ever go and reach more people than ever. Combine that with the post-truth (non-)ethics of today and you have a recipe for disaster and a potential for great deceptions of whole masses. But even magic has to follow rules and invisible ‘laws of nature’, and there are certain requirement for this glamour to work, one of them being the need of an anchor. The glamour often works by appealing to a common core myth of the group is manipulates. When those anchors are not found the glamour will miss it’s effectiveness in part, or completely.

And in some cases most of the rest of the world, missing the common ground and thus resistant to the glamour, clearly sees that the emperor is naked. And quite ugly actually, it’s not a pretty sight. It wouldn’t be able to see the fine clothes made of elaborate illusions even if tried…

(Yes, I am indeed thinking of the current US president here, but he’s just one extreme example, and this technique can be used anywhere on the political spectrum, and by other types of leaders too than just politicians, as well as artists and musicians, religious leaders of any religion, and other influential persons.)

So to conclude, what are the things you keep to keep in mind to resist this elven glamour of charismatic people?

(Assuming that we’re not up against actual elves with a strong magical glamour but humans.)

The first weapon we have is just plain reason. Keep your eyes open. Try to see what is there and not what you want to be there or have been taught should be there. This is a very hard mindfulness exercise but it’s a very important ability in this world. Second thoughts and first sight are something we should all strive to cultivate, and they will help us bring the more simple forms of deception and manipulation to the light.

Another thing we should remember is to never buy into a whole package that cannot be questioned and of which every aspect has to be glorified no matter what. Every human system or human leader will have points that need to be criticised. President Obama might have been a good president, his executions of civilians with drones around the world were something that should be called out for example.
Note here also that almost nothing is more dangerous than glorifying the lesser of two evils as good. It might be true that in some cases a tactical choice has to be made where one evil is chosen against the other, but that still means that evil has to be named. There never is any obligation to uncritically accept everything from the person you’ve voted for, except when you’re actually in you’re living in a dystopian dictatorship… It’s okay to name the few good points of the lesser evil, but if that means you accept all of the evil you’ve just sold your soul. Don’t let any person or party lure you into their elven glamour because their evil is lesser than the other side. If you have to choose between Scylla and Charybdis and Scylla eats some of your friends but your ship gets out alive you still should mourn your death and curse the serpent, not praise it.

Shane Claiborne once said that the relationship Christians should have with politicians should be something like ‘advice everyone, endorse no-one’ and I think he’s really onto something there. Yes, even the biblical heroes were people who did terrible things, but that is no reason to condone sin that destroys people or nature. We should always keep them accountable, and while I certainly believe in a second chance a person has to repent first and change his ways exhibit signs of transformation before they can be given a second chance in some cases. As we say here in Flanders, you always have to call a cow a cow… (so don’t let anyone fool you that their cow is a magical unicorn farting rainbows…)

(It’s a good idea in general to only trust people who have a certain degree of humbleness anyway. People who need to brag are often just trying to affirm theirselves and build their own world, or just lying…)

And don’t forget to keep your eyes not just on loyalty to a person, but always to Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice, and so on. Don’t ever lose your values to party loyalty. From the moment a certain leader or group or party strays from their values they should be called out for it. And all of us even the most ‘enlightened’ leader are capable of falling.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

On the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking


Hmm, I’m probably  back, moFoto0067re or less… This is a post that has been waiting to get finished for moths anyway, and it’s one  in which I try to pin down a problem that I see in this world without having a proper term to describe it (as far as I’m aware) so I can use my self-coined term later and link to this post. It’s a thought-error that I will call the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking by lack of a better name.

We like in a world ruled by semantics, and yet sometimes for most people nameless things are more important than the named things that we see with every 3 mouseclicks. So I write this because I have the idea that it’s very important for all of us to be able recognise and be conscious of this thought error which is also a potent tool for manipulation, lest we be lured into potentially dangerous ideologies because they have just one thing in common with us and with Truth or general common sense. The fact that there doesn’t even seem to be a commonly used term to describe what I’m writing about here today is beyond worrying actually. (I do actually hope that someone proves me wrong and gives me a term and tells me it’s a widely recognised problem. Please do!!!)

So what do I mean with the ‘logical fallacy of package-deal thinking’? I would suppose the name is quite clear but I’ll take some examples here to explain it further. Let’s use American culture as a source of examples today because it’s so pervasive in and beyond the English-speaking internet, and because a lot of my readers seem to be Americans for some reason.
So again, correct me if I’m wrong and inaccurately describe American culture, but as I perceive it a lot of people in the US seem to think for example that as a Christian one is ‘republican’, and thus naturally for unrestricted gun ownership, and for whatever goes under the name of capitalism today. The same goes with the idea that ‘pro-life’ (being against abortion) is related to being for the death penalty and pro whatever war America is waging overseas at the moment.

I do hope that I’m just rehashing faulty stereotypes here as an ignorant European who doesn’t understand American culture, because making these bundles of concepts is actually completely nonsense. There actually is a lot more reason to be anti-war and death penalty if one is ‘pro-life’ (especially if one wants that term to have any meaning beyond the Orwellian redefinitions of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ in the US abortion debates) .

The only connection is a historical context.

Or take the idea of ‘republicanism’. In Belgium a republican would be someone who is against the monarchy and in favour of a republic (like someone yelling ‘vive la republique’ at the coronation ceremony of the king  ). This is Jesus_gun-210x210not connected to anything else the ballast that the American Republican party has accumulated in the last decades, which would baffle an oldschool American republican too. So the thought-package connected to ‘republicanism’ (mostly the same things as go together with American ‘conservative’ ideology) is a very arbitrary box of unrelated stuff jumbled together by history and local culture.
In Northern Ireland a republican might be someone who is for the ‘Catholics’ (Irish nationalists) and against the Protestants and England.
So what’s the problem? It’s is very simple: Certain concepts that are actually unrelated are in peoples mind intrinsically tied to each other into packages, often under some umbrella term (which also changes meaning contextually, language isn’t fixed either and can be quiet fluid…) But except for that quite arbitrary thought-package in a certain context, there actually is no connection between the different things tied together at all.

Christianity has nothing to do with favouring ‘republicanism’ over a monarchy or even a direct democracy. Favouring a republic has nothing to do with capitalism or with Christianity at all, etc etc…

Most of these package deals are very contextual and have a very random historical origin of how they got lumped together.

But there’s more…
Most stereotypes are based on the same thing, and in these cases it’s often just generalisations that might be true for a majority of the group described. Assuming that I like cars, watching sports, enjoy violent films and have no respect for women just because I am a man would be a good example. (None of these applies to me btw. Sorry Mark Driscoll…)

To use more hip lingo, these idea-packages are somehow a subspecies of the in certain circles currently very popular ‘social constructs’. In fact they are are accidental (or in some cases manufactured) constructs of our culture, which are, like all constructs  actually very contextually defined, and often rather fluid and in most cases variable over time and space. But still in a given context they seem quite solid and it’s often very hard to go against them.

It also makes intercultural communication problematic. In the US something ‘conservative’ that is supposed to be connected to Christianity is obsessed with free market capitalism. In Belgium it’s the liberal party that has a similar ideology and is quite anti-religious…(well, no surprise, no matter what Americans call it is still neo-liberalism…) So our packages are completely incompatible. It’s liberalism and socialism that are on opposite sides over here…

And still we need the complete deconstruction of those packages if we want to do justice to reality and the people we encounter. Which is not always simple, and it can take a lot of energy to have to go against a certain ingrained package-deal that is taken for granted time after time after time. It can get very tiring, and needs understanding from the other side too (which won’t always come!).

And undeconstructed packages can actually make all meaningful conversation impossible…

It’s very hard to see through those package deals, and to not get tangled up in the guilt-by-association tactics that often flow from it. But it’s on everyones interest that we learn to see and avoid this logical fallacy.

Anyone with me?

peace

Bram

Red cups, liquid social media egregores and time to take more internal distance from the internet…


So, if I understand the matter well, apparently some days ago someone thought that red coffee cups instead of cups with snowflakes and Christmas trees and snowmen were an insult to Christianity. He wrote a blogpost about it, it got shared (probably in the first place by people mocking it) and then the social media exploded… If you don’t know what I’m talking about, be glad. I’m not going to link to any of it…

I’m still a bit shocked by how those internet phenomena are operating, and also I know I need to take measures now for my own sanity.

The whole thing soundedihydrogend too unrealistically stupid to be true for me from the beginning. I would have found it a case of underresearched misrepresentation and itself an insult of Christianity if someone would write a scene like this in a fiction context. But our real world is actually dumber and more surreal in a not-so-interesting-way than most fiction nowadays, and it might even get worse by the day. Some people seem to even be afraid of dihydrogen monoxide in our food.
So for some reason people actually made a thing out of it, as if people, Christians and non-Christians, just accept the idea that snowflakes and snowmen ARE a Christian symbol. Religious illiteracy at best, and don’t even ask me what the hell at worst… So as most of you know, a lot of people reacted with the typical fabricated social network outrage that is so common these days. As if some idiot on a blog spouting nonsense does have to represent anything at all expect for his own nonsense, I even found it in the Flemish free ‘metro’ newspaper as ‘Christians objecting to new Starbucks cups for religious reasons’ or something like that. Yes, let that sink in, this nonsense even reached tabloid in Flanders, Belgium…

And no matter how stupid something is, there still is Poe’s law… In the end some supposed ‘Christians’ seem to have indeed boycotted Starbucks (and from what I4ve seen shared on facebook, insulted people at their local Starbucks) for those red cups. So I suppose that lot of people unfamiliar with Christianity -a growing group in this world- might now have the mistaken idea that snowflakes and Foto0067Christmas trees are actually religious symbols for Christians that should not be messed with if you don’t want the ‘conservative’ masses to be angered. Or maybe those conservative masses have nothing to do with Christianity at all. Which might be why the Trump guy seems to joined in and proposed to boycott Starbucks. Some things you can’t make up.

What sick excuse for a reality are we living in?

Let’s be frank here. The problem is not that some idiot wrote this, people write the most weird things all the time, most of it ignored as it should be, but that it got picked up. (So those who made fun of it were equally guilty of this fiasco when sharing it…) and the fact that anyone at all takes this nonsense seriously proves, to me at least  that it might be a good idea to ignore the internet and whatever seems to be important on it much more.
The weird outrages on both the left and right are not better in their futility and irrelevance and adventures in missing the point, and whatever energy I put in even reading articles about them is time and energy forever lost. Any reaction on the idea that removing snowflakes from a red cup would in any way an insult to Christianity is one too much. It doesn’t deserve any reaction. Some things are so stupid that even reading about them, let alone reacting to them; is a waste of time and energy. And our time and energy in this life are so finite, while we are already drowning in irrelevance and bubbles of distraction.

Plus there’s something dangerous about those internet mobs that I just want to stay as far away from as is possible. The role of ‘memes’ (in the original Dawkinsian way) or evolving ideas that float in a culture has changed drastically with the internet, and the internet has made their potential impact giganormous. Mobs and masses are always dangerous, but worldwide communities in connection and their ever evolving, forming and reforming group spirits (liquid egregores as I called them in the title with a more esoteric word) are an unseen force that we haven’t seen the full potential of yet, both when it comes to good as to evil and destruction… And I choose to use my right to opt out, especially in the case of pure futility filling all the airwaves and people treating it like something substantial.

So I need to disconnect more, even though it’s mostly an internal decision. To plug out. disconnect myself from these shady fluid egregores of the social networks that feed on bubbles of irrelevance. It’s not worth it and it will cost me the substance of my soul if I’s get sucked in. The complicating thing is that it’s not the best idea for me personally to completely disconnected. I do get input and updates on a range of important stuff (from spirituality to ecology and from music to archaeology) through social networks. But I need to find a way to learn to ignore mindless hypes. To completely cut myself loose from the mass spirits and instant egregores that come to life with every new outrage and hype, and the things they feed on.

I’m not a hermit. But in my online presence I do need a better filter or even shield. It’s not just online American Christianity, it’s part of the make-up of the internet and it seems to be getting worse..

And I do need to be rooted first and foremost, grounded in the real world (material and spiritual) and in God.

So God help me,

Bram

The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…


Today we will explore the following potentially controversial one-liner:

Hate and violence are an infection that often spreads in new ways through their victims.

So what does that mean? It’s just another way of describing the cycle of violence, that so often works as a vicious circle….

From the beginning of our human history, certain forms of evil have always been furthering themselves in the form a spiral of violence. This spiral of violence works a bit like a zombie apocalypse: if the zombie bites you, you get infected with ‘zombieism’ and thus become one yourself, and you will most probably bite others too.
Surely my comparison isn’t perfect: The big difference here is that zombies generally work together against uninfected humans, while the evil aroused in us by violence and hate done to us is mostly directed to those who infected us with it. But hate and violence do work like an infection passed on to their victims nonetheless.

The principle is very simple: other people filled with hate and violence towards us do evil to us, and that damages us (or even kills us or people around us) and part the reaction to that evil is that it creates similar hate and violence growing inside of us.
It is probably one of the least-recognised effects of evil done to us, although one of the most destructive too. Evil done to us often grows more evil in us and thus generates a  new host from which it can operate. It’s often very simple: the people attacked in a barbaric war will fight back with equal barbarism. The oppressed become the oppressed. The hurt will become the hurting one. Thanimalfarme bullied becomes the bully…
The violated go on violating the violator and those who are in his camp, and so on…  The spiral of violence is sad and often very predictable, and will never bring us forward. The only thing that come from such a reaction is new variations on the well-known ‘animal farm revolution’: the animals who have killed the farmer will in the end become worse than the farmer ever was. Like a friend of mine says in one of his songs:

History does not repeat itself, it just escalates

I repeat this: one of the most dangerous effects evil done to us can have is to take us as it’s new host to continue its life cycle like a virus that goes from host to host, mutating freely to adapt and maybe even get more vicious.  And it’s hard to stop this cycle. Our human sense of justice demands that we are righted, and that the evil is repaid.
We often forget here, blinded by the logic of this virus, that revenge does never make anything right or does not bring anything or anyone gone back, it only devours our soul from the inside and dissolves our own humanity!

Real justice is restorative! Evil must be stopped, and its influence limited, not just on us, but also in us!

Now, what I’m telling here is not very new at all. It’s something known to a lot of tradition, from the words of Jesus to some sayings from the Buddha or the Tao Te Ching. Take for example the next saying:

He who holds on to hate is like one who drinks poison and expects the other to die. (ascribed to the Buddha)

Deep down inside we should know this. Hate will only destroy us from the inside, and evil will never work drive out evil, violence is not the best way to stop violence (except in the case that the other side is completely exterminated). It will not make the world better. We need to stop this virus, this endless cycle.

If we want to live, we need to erase the cycle of violence. This means that we need to answer evil with good. Even in our heart. Especially in our heart.

Let’s contemplate the words of Jesus in Luke 6 in this regard:

27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Yes, it’s the radical Christ-stuff of loving enemies and repaying evil with good. It’s also quite important if we indeed believe that loving God and loving our fellow human is what matters most in this life.

If we don’t get a revolution in which everyone gets rid of this evil, including both those who are victims as those who are lead by it; it will be completely ineffective. The only revolution that makes sense in the long run is the revolution that restores the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, and rids both of the evil that keeps them from recognising each others shared humanity!

This does not mean that we should give in to evil, we should confront it everywhere we meet, but we should never give it the chance to make us dehumanise the person on the other side. Even though there are times that for our own safety we can’t be in the same room as someone who has done us evil, we should not hate them. We might need to cut all their influence from our lives, and we need to realise the nature of what has been done to us and not minimise or conceal it.

But we should not allow hate to root in our hearts. We should not allow dehumanisation of our enemy. If the terror has won our hearts and has found a new host, it doesn’t even matter whether we or the terrorists win.

And even in the case that pacifism doesn’t work and violence has used, we should mourn for every fellow human on the other side that dies. Killing a human being made in Gods image is always a terrible thing, no matter how messed up they were. Our real enemies are never flesh and blood, but the systems, lies, etc that make us enemies.

Note also that what I’m saying here is inspired not just by Jesus and the Buddha, but has been lived out by people like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, or for example closer to myself Pat Patfoort whom I once saw in a seminar on nonviolent conflict-solving. She developed her ideas when she was in Africa, and works with very traumatised people in war zones (Rwanda, Chechnya and so) , as well as giving relationship counselling since it works on all scales.
Western pacifists can be a bit naive and otherworldly sometimes, and if they have only been staying in their couch reading blogs instead of going to the country their own government is bombarding at the moment (like Shane Claiborne did) it can  be not very convincing. (That said, we’ve tried to use violence for much longer and it didn’t work either… I mostly only escalates unless one of the sides goes extinct.) But If people can reconcile the traumatised after a genocide like Pat Patfoort does, you do get my attention….

I do think also here of how Corrie Ten Boom as a WWI concentration camp survivor of WWII said after the war that it was the victims of the Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were the ones who were best able to rebuild their lives. Which makes a lot of sense in the light of what we’ve said.

Our soul is way too important to let it be filled with hate, and to let us dehumanise others, no matter what they’ve done.

Love is the only law, and the only thing that will remain

love and peace

Bram

 

No, the ‘Islamic State’ isn’t medieval.. (it’s even worse: it’s modern!)


Someone on facebook linkkromzwaarded to an article from the Guardian about the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (formerly known as ISIS, and still called that in the article), the Islam-based terror organisation that reigns over parts of Iraq and Syria and has committed atrocities against humanity. If found it very interesting in making some connections that are easily missed, giving some historical background on modern Jihadism and deconstructing some of lazy assumptions that are often parroted in the media.

The Islamic State is one of the things dominating the news nowadays, even though they seemed to come ‘out of nothing’. They are a threat to our modern way of thinking and living, and tend to be quite absolutist  in their enforcement of what they consider an ‘Islamic state’ to be, in such a way that those who are not considered part of their particular type of Islam do better run away as fast as they can when the IS comes near…
And that category does not just include Christians (the Orthodox Churches of Mesopotamia are (were) among the oldest Christian communities on the planet), Yezidi and ‘heretic’ Shiites and more mystically inclined Islamic followers of Sufism but also anyone who doesn’t agree with them, even if they are as much of a Sunni Muslim as they are.

Some people like to call the things the IS does not only barbaric but also ‘medieval’. Which totally ignores that the worst things that are generally seen as ‘medieval’ are actually from the renaissance (like the European religion wars, the extreme witch hunts, …) But since most of us do are not very historically-minded and believe the englightenment-myths that the medievals believed in a flat Earth (almost everything believed in the Ptolemaic round-earth geocentric model) or that medievals had no place for reason. (Anyone who has read the scholastics will know that a lot of medieval thinkers were closer to excess rationalism than to shunning reason.)

But there actually is not much that can be called medieval (in an Arabic or European sense) about the IS. They are much more (post)modern with a lot of modern Western influence, and the IS  actually could never do what they do without the modern mass media for example. Without the internet and our  sharing of videos they couldn’t have had the effect on the rest of the world that they do now. For anyone who knows even a little bit about history it’s very clear that the IS is not really going back in time to reclaim something very old, (they wish though)  but something new and unique that can only exist in this day and age…

We also should watch out about being too categoric the link between IS and Islam. Yes, IS claims to be Islamic, but so do a lot of the people killed by them. Saying that the IS or any violent group is ‘the real Islam’ and that Islam is nonsense and dismisses all those Muslims who do not agree with IS at all as bad Muslims. (It only affirms the validity of IS anyway…)
On the other hand, saying that IS has nothing at all to do with Islam is also nonsense. They do claim to represent Islam and at least base themselves on a faulty image of Islam. even if they would be excluded as heretics by all other muslims, then it’s still nonsense to say they have ‘nothing to do with Islam’.
The Jehovah witnesses might not be considered as inside of Christianity, but to say that they have nothing to do with Christianity is just nonsense…

But there is another source for the IS, and modern Jihadism as a whole, that we might not like to see. Note the second word in the name ‘Islamic State’. The idea of the absolutist modern nation-state is as central to the IS as Islam is.  The earlier mentioned  article from the Guardian that inspired this post has the very interesting title “Isis jihadis aren’t medieval – they are shaped by modern western philosophy” and as sub-title “We should look to revolutionary France if we want to understand the source of Islamic State’s ideology and violence.”

For those with a short memory, the French revolution is not that long ago, and brought us the guillotine for those who disagreed, and brought on the modern absolute state which differed enormous from the way politics were done before that time.  Those were violent and barbaric times, in the name of progress, science, the enlightenment, and all that yadda-yadda… (Yes, the guillotine was seen as progress too, a new and modern way to execute people with superior technology…. Beheading might be barbaric, but it’s in no way incompatible with modernity!)

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture.

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.

Maududi’s Islamic state is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts. He takes a belief shared between Islam and other religious traditions, namely that God alone is the ultimate judge of a person, and transforms this – reframing God’s possession of judgment into possession of, and ultimately monopoly of, “sovereignty”. Maududi also draws upon understandings of the natural world governed by laws that are expressions of the power of God – ideas at the heart of the 17th-century scientific revolution. He combines these in a vision of the sovereignty of God, then goes on to define this sovereignty in political terms, affirming that “God alone is the sovereign” (The Islamic Way of Life). The state and the divine thus fuse together, so that as God becomes political, and politics becomes sacred.

Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.

The absolute power of the state (here mixed-up with the sovereignity of God) is indeed completely foreign to the medievals, who had different spheres of authority that were often competing. The middle ages in Europe did have a constant battle for power against the Pope and the kings and emperors, because they both wanted power, and every lower feudal lord did have their own sovereignty in their little part of the world. Nothing like the absolute modern state or the even scarier theocratic version of IS was conceivable to them.

Which is the reason that the French revolution tried to erase all religion, because it could not tolerate another source of authority apart from the State like the Pope. Or even God.. The proclamation that ‘Jesus is Lord’ if understood properly is problematic in the modern absolutism, but since most people spiritualise that it’s not such an issue right now. The communist regimes of the 20th centuries did the same thing and tried to ban all religions, sometimes with a lot of violence.

When we mix this modern absolutism of the State with an Islamic theocracy, we get something like the IS:

In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why today French government agencies are still prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.

This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam”. Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.

Don’t look to the Qur’an to understand this – look to the French revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today: it is the source of what it means to be a refugee.

It’s probably because we don’t understand the middle ages very much (how can we, every Hollywood movie about that time is filled with contemporary modern though projected back upon the past) that we associate this stuff with the middle ages. But it’s much closer to us, closer than we like.

Also note that the use of violence by the IS is not medieval, but very modern, postmodern even, since it is used as a means of worldwide propaganda through the postmodern means of the internet.

I will close here with the conclusion of the Guardian article, which is very important. The IS wants to be seen as a continuation of older forms of Islam, but we should not validate those claims. Their ‘caliphate’ (as well as that of Boko Haram in Africa) is no return to the caliphate of the earlier days of Islam, it’s something completely new that they try to validate by using that name.

Central to Isis’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage – witness al-Baghdadi’s dress. Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence. In no way can it be understood as a return to the origins of Islam. This is a core thesis of its supporters, one that should not be given any credence at all.