Thursday, October 28, 2004

On Madness and the Devil

While I was out at the Monastery in the Desert, I re-read Thoughts in Solitude by Merton and Grammars of Creation by George Steiner. The resonance between those two books was simply astounding. Combined with the daily liturgy, primarily the Gregorian chanting of the Psalms, and the violent beauty of the Chama river canyon, the overall effect upon me can only be described as having my bones slipped out of my skin and burned in the unbearable laughter of God's absolute presence.

I started out with Merton, so it makes sense to return with him also. From Thoughts in Solitude:

The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert therefore is the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself - that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his creator.

This is, at least, the theory. But there is another factor that enters in. First, the desert is the country of madness. Second, it is the refuge of the devil, thrown out into the "wilderness of upper Egypt" to "wander in dry places." Thirst drives men mad, and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence - lost because he had immured himself in it and closed out everything else.

So the man who wanders into the desert to be himself must take care that he does not go mad and become the servant of the one who dwells there in a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage.

And while I may have raged, there was nothing sterile or paradisical or empty about the desert I wandered though. Nevertheless, the devil attended to me also. He loves those violent Psalms.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Wisdom of the Desert

For those who have asked "Why?" Here is Thomas Merton from The Wisdom of the Desert:

"The flight of these men to the desert was neither purely negative nor purely individualistic. They were not rebels against society. True, they were in a certain sense "anarchists," and it will do no harm to think of them in that light. They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state, and who believed that there was a way of getting along with slavish dependence on accepted, conventional values. But they did not intend to place themselves above society. They did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men. On the contrary, one of the reasons why they fled from the world of men was that in the world men were divided into those who were successful, and imposed their will upon others, and those who had to give in and be imposed upon. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over others themselves."

And from an article specifically about Christ in the Desert:

"The desert setting of the Chama Canyon is the site of a new monastic foundation. The place was chosen with careful deliberation, and it is admirable. Thirteen miles by dirt road from the nearest highway, the monastery rises at a point where the canyon narrows and the road vanishes into rock and brush. The monastic church, designed by the Japanese architect, George Nakashima, fits perfectly into its setting. Stark, lonely, stately in its simplicity, it gazes out over the sparse fields into the widening valley. The tower is like a watchman looking for something or someone of whom it does not speak. One of the important "works of mercy" which a monastery can contribute to the world of our time is precisely to share with thoughtful people an opportunity for silence, reflection, and quiet discussion of important issues. A monastery is not a place were a few men retire to deepen their own experiences of the meaning of life; it is also a center where others can come to re-adjust their perspective. While not blindly rejecting and negating the modern world, the monastery nevertheless retains a certain critical distance and perspective which are absolutely necessary as mass society becomes at once more totally organized and more mindlessly violent. In its firm assertion of the basic human values as well as of God's message of salvation, the monastery bears witness to the most fundamental and most permanent truths of life. It remains a sanctuary where both monks and retreatants, Christians, believers in other faiths and those with no religious belief at all may experience something of that "peace which the world cannot give." But even if no one else knew of the existence of such a place, the monastery would still fulfill the purpose of its existence by singing the praise of God in the wilderness."

For more, goto:

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Wired Nation: 1980

Came across this under the heading "6 Outrageous Plans That Didn't Happen" in The Book of Lists #2 by Irving Wallace et. al.. Pretty amusing:

In his book The Shadow Presidents, author Michael Medved related the extreme disappointment of H.R. Haldeman over his failure to implement his plan to link up all the homes in America by coaxial cable. In Haldeman's words, "There would be two-way communication. Through computer, you could use your television set to order up whatever you wanted. The morning paper, entertainment services, shopping services, coverage of sporting events and public events.... Just as Eisenhower linked up the nation's cities by highways so that you could get there, the Nixon legacy would have linked them by cable communications so that you wouldn't have to go there." One can almost see the dreamy eyes of Nixon and Haldeman as they sat around discussing a plan that would eliminate the need for newspapers, seemingly oblivious to its Big Brother aspects. Fortunately, the Watergate scandal intervened, and Nixon was forced to resign before "the Wired Nation" could be hooked up."

Phew. Sure am glad that "Outrageous Plan" never happened.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Wolcott on Fire

Damn, James Wolcott is on fire these days. Writing like a Hendrix guitar solo that stretches a sweet smile across the skull. Rave on, James, rave on.

On Bush: "His lies and failures have fed thousands of graves, and filled thousands more hospital beds with bodies and psyches that will never be whole again."

On the Pundits: "Here we have multimillionaire pundits who pride themselves on being knowledgable, articulate, capable of taking issues and personalities apart and examining them from different angles and reassembling them--and they swoon over someone who is none of these things, like intellectual jocksniffers in a locker room listening to some athlete grunt platitudes. They use words for a living, but distrust any politician who treats words with care, or even acts as if words might have meanings. Bush throws words as if they were rocks picked up in a playground, and they treat him like Roger Clemons."

On Bush's supposed earpiece: "When he turns his head to the right, he hears the voice of Karen Hughes telling his tie gives him secret powers. When he cocks his head to the left, he hears the voice of God telling him that Democrats are a race of devil-men. And when rotates his head semi clockwise and pauses, he hears the ruby-lipped, husky-FM-radio voice of Sister Cocaine telling him she knows her baby would like a taste of her sweet white goodness, yes he would, you know you want it, baby, Sister Cocaine make you feel so fine...and so on, as he begins to sway on his feet and a strange smile strays across his face."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Don't Think of an Elephant

There is an interesting PDF download of an excerpt from George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate at

"Framing is the conservatives' most important weapon. Framing is critical because a frame, once established in the mind of the reader (or listener, viewer, etc.) leads that person almost inevitably to the conclusion desired by the framer, and it blocks consideration of other possible facts and interpretations."

"Remember, don't just negate the other person's claims; reframe. The facts unframed will not set you free. You cannot win just be stating the true facts and showing that they contradict your opponent's claims. Frames trump facts. His frames will stay and the facts will bounce off. Always reframe.

If you remember nothing else about framing, remember this: Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that's what common sense is: reasoning within a commonplace, accepted frame.

Never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view. Always reframe the question to fit your values and your frames. This may make you uncomfortable, since normal discourse styles require you to directly answer questions posed. That is trap. Practice changing frames."

Sounds like an application of General Semantics ( me. There is a good bit in Korzybski's The Effect on Perceptual Processes of the Language System:

"Perhaps a story from the European underground under Hitler would be a good illustration. In a railroad compartment an American grandmother with her young and attractive granddaughter, a Romanian officer, and a Nazi officer were the only occupants. The train was passing through a dark tunnel, and all that was heard was a loud kiss and a vigorous slap. After the train emerged from the tunnel, nobody spoke, but the grandmother was saying to herself, “What a fine girl I have raised. She will take care of herself. I am proud of her.” The granddaughter was saying to herself, “Well, grandmother is old enough not to mind a little kiss. Besides, the fellows are nice. I am surprised what a hard wallop grandmother has.” The Nazi officer was meditating, “How clever those Romanians are! They steal a kiss and have the other fellow slapped.” The Romanian officer was chuckling to himself, “How smart I am! I kissed my own hand and slapped the Nazi.”

Obviously it was a problem of limited “perception,” where mainly “hearing” was involved, with different interpretations."