The Price of Olives & Holy Peace; A Parable

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High on the stern Aeneas his stand,

And held a branch of olive in his hand,

While thus he spoke: “The Phrygians’ arms you see,

Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy

By Latian foes, with war unjustly made;

At first affianced, and at last betrayed.

This message bear: The Trojans and their chief

Bring holy peace, and beg the king’s relief.”

So did Virgil poetically write of long sought-after holy peace in the  Æneid. In both the literature and spirituality of the mediterranean world is a constant thematic image repeated in timeless tales and classical mythologies of man’s reconciliation with man, and with God. So constant is it that we might, through haste and familiarity, pass over its significance as a deeply rich measure of tranquil accord. Since the graceful return of Noah’s dove bearing a sign of God’s amity in her beak, the olive branch has become the most beautiful allegory for that which humanity most desires – life, love, and holy peace.

When the lands of Greece were still fraught with territorial wars of gods, the great lord of the sea, whose fearsome wrath caused earthquakes and violent sea storms, sought control of what would become Athens. In the divine competition against Athena for possession of this prize, Poseidon thrust his trident into the Acropolis, producing a well-spring of floods. With this gift, made by force and might, a confident Poseidon claimed the territory for himself. Undaunted, Athena, goddess of wisdom, civilization, and justice; of arts and skill, strength and strategy, claimed possession through a subtler means. She planted, beside the gushing well of Poseidon, the first olive tree. Thus did the court of the gods award the disputed land to Athena as she had given the better gift.

Athena’s fruitful claim continued to shape cultural traditions throughout the ancient world as Greek brides adorned themselves with bouquets of olive garlands and such wreaths were awarded to victors of the Olympian games. Roman inheritors of the Greco civilization minted olive branches on imperial coins as symbols of peace, and parley seekers ceremoniously sent them to generals. It was in the olive garden, the place of the oil press, where Christ’s passion for the sake of humanity’s return to the peace of God, was begun. The olive branch remains a symbol of life affirming peace in Arab cultures, and western societies keep it still; a lasting symbol of inheritance from a Greco-Roman foundation. From classical antiquity to the present, the branch of the olive tree is the most universally recognized symbol of peace.

In Christian tradition, the olive continues its allegorical imagery beyond the harmonious branch. The entire tree is symbolic of spiritual roots and richness, tradition and virtue; sanctification and life, martyrdom and triumph. Suffering is poignantly expressed as being put through the press (the presses of both wine and oil), and references Christ’s passion sanctuary at Gethsemane. In Islamic tradition, the olive is “the blessed tree.” The precious oil of the olive has been, and is, used in rituals even beyond the Mediterranean world; from Judaism to alchemy, Christianity to the occult, this fruit is uniquely reserved for such purpose. And it all began with a dove, a branch and a peace.

There is, notably, one people of the mediterranean world, though they share the sacred identity of the oil, for whom the olive branch has no such meaning. The Jewish tradition alone lacks this representative symbol of peace. In the rabbinical exegesis, the dove’s return to Noah with an olive leaf in her beak is not an image of peace or of God’s amity, but of divine right; of Jewish settlement. The olive branch, in Judaism, is interpreted as a symbol of “the young shoots of the land of Israel.”

I find myself mesmerized by that subtle, yet explosive difference that may, in itself, be an allegory for Palestinian struggles in an occupied land of encroaching settlements. It becomes more poignant when viewed against a landscape dotted with olive trees yet rooted in violence inflicted upon a population which escalates during the autumn months; the season of the harvest. For here is when and where the people are most fragile, most intertwined with the shattering of peace that is juxtaposed against crushed olives in the press. It is in their beloved groves, the cherished sanctuaries of their existence and the source of a meager sustenance, they are most likely to die at the hands of illegal settlers who ruthlessly call such assaults “the price tag”. Such a price for olives. Such a price for peace.

The Parable of the Olive Tree

There was in the land of milk and honey and dates and oranges, a peasant who cultivated a beautiful olive grove. The grove had passed from generation to generation for longer than any could say, and long enough that the trees were tenderly cared for as if they were his family. Each year, from this grove, the fruits of such love were abundant and sweet.

There came a stranger to the village. Having no roots and no home, the peasant took in the stranger, sharing all he had. Even the olive trees he shared, teaching him to tend and press the fruits into the richest, sweetest oil. “The most important thing,” said the peasant, “is that you love these trees like your children.”

In time, news came of a king wishing to reward whoever produced the sweetest oil, for the king believed such oil to be worth more than gold, and knew this village produced the best. When the stranger heard this he plotted to take the grove for himself and this he did, even calling from afar his brothers to join him. The peasant begged and wept for his beloved trees, but the stranger was not moved. He built a stone wall around the grove, leaving only a small twisted tree outside it. “This is now your grove,” said he. With sorrow and a broken heart, the peasant nurtured the little tree every day and loved it fully. But the stranger did not tend with love. He was impatient and neglectful, as were his brothers.

Harvest time came and, so too, did the king. He visited the groves of the village and marveled at the beauty of those that once belonged to the peasant. The stranger was confident his trees, which had for so long produced the finest oils, would win the reward. After the olives were harvested they were brought to the press. “Here,” said the king, “we will judge the tree by its fruit.” The stranger boasted of his great yield produced with such little labor, but the peasant said nothing, for he had come with his tiny harvest seeking only the fruit of his labor – only the oil.

Grove by grove, the olives were pressed and the oils sampled. When it came the stranger’s turn he was horrified to find nothing but an odorous trickle weeping from the press. The king was aghast. He tasted a tiny drop, declaring it to be the most wretched bitter thing he’d ever known. But the peasant’s tiny yield from his tiny tree produced an unstoppable flow of the sweetest oil. “Did you not know the olive tree is like a child and its fruit will bring forth either the bitter weeping of tears or the sweetness of love?” With that, the king awarded each according to his fruit, the reward of justice. And thus did the peasant reunite with his olive grove; his children.

©RCiuffo 2012

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The Right of Being: Palestine & Birthrights

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When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred.” Genesis

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry … ” Khalil Gibran

It is a curious thing that a scandalous crisis, for such is the Palestinian state, can remain suspended in crisis for over 60 years without resolution or authentic effort to resolve it. It’s especially curious when two points are considered. The first is the visibility of the crisis; the second is the scale of it. By definition a crisis is a situation of uncertainty, pain, and hardship so critical that action must be taken to resolve it in order to prevent complete disaster. It is a turning point that must move forward decisively to determine the future. The very thing that causes people to say of other crises, ‘It will work itself out.’

With Palestine, the visibility is as transparent as the world’s ability to see all things. Yet, with such a tragedy before such an audience the drama of the crisis remains stagnant and fatally critical; suspended at that turning point that never turns or moves in any forward direction. There is never Act II. Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air. As if bewitched, we seem stuck. Hovering in that desert of foggy, foul air we may not even care that we are stuck, or if the performance is staged. But Palestine is not a play; it’s the scene of heartbreaking drama which we watch play out miserably again and again, never moving forward, as if a sequence of events leading to the final act is of little consequence. How can such a devastation remain in constant replay before the eyes of a hyper-interventionist world that stages massive protests with the flickr of a tweet, and launches democracies-in-a-rocket quicker than a falling dictator can actually fall? And the scale of the crisis, in human terms alone, should cause us to shudder with fear at the barbarity of inhumanity chillingly unbridled. Once we did shudder. Once, when faced with human misery spawned by cruelty and injustice, our collective response was to be horrified. No longer is this true. Why? Why are we not horrified by human suffering and, instead, are horrified by the suggestion we ought to be horrified?

We can debate claims and territories, and we can engage in propaganda this way or that, but that’s not the point. Put aside opinions and positions and fanciful impressions. Suspend the indifference that dismisses the crisis as complicated.  Instead, consider this question. Has the world lost a sense of its own humanity while pursuing super rights?

We are not, I think, who we say we are. Conventional wisdom portrays a world  sophisticated, enlightened, tolerant, and sensible. We would never do the things they did. If this self-portrait is true why do we do the very things they did but mask it behind causes, justify it by necessity, and exalt it with legalities? Are we not seeing in a mirror dimly – intentionally? Why are we not awed in the presence of other human beings, and why do we not weep rivers at their suffering? This is the fallout of losing our ground; abandoning core recognition of humanity and replacing it with, in some ways, hysterical specialized human rights. Attempting to force equity we may have destroyed the principle foundations from whence equality is measured. At times, we are innocently misguided – trying to right every wrong by mandate. Other times, we are just sinister. Either way, it’s the right of being, the right of personhood that has been sold for a cause. There is something dishonest afoot when we insist on hyphenated rights while trampling upon mere human ones.

It is true, the world has always known cruelty. It is not true that the world had failed to recognize it as such. This failure, selective and irrational, is a lately embraced phenomenon. Barbarian hordes terrorized through cruelty because it was effective, not because they had no sense of it. When the ancients conquered, it wasn’t because the vanquished were perceived as subhuman; they conquered because they were human. Rome did not seek destruction of Carthage because it was an abyss of humanity; she sought to annihilate because it was shockingly dehumanizing, deeply offensive to Roman virtue. And it was not warmongering that excited Cato to end every speech with Carthago delenda est!” It was Carthaginian human sacrifice.

One might argue that slavery betrays this idea the world was once more cognizant of humanity. On the contrary, though the concept of slavery is dehumanizing insofar as it views people as property, and post-enlightenment slave holders (especially in Britain and America) did dehumanize their slaves, the practice itself in the ancient world was not. It did not deny the right of personhood; it denied the right of freedom to persons. Its practice was universal and not at all controversial. Though it’s hard to fathom human bondage with present sensibilities it should be discerned that such bondage was degrading, not dehumanizing. Slavery was the cost of building civilizations and the vanquished and captives paid the price. It was understood, expected. It was the way it was.  Absent any charters decreeing human liberty, world societies practiced subjugation as a means of economic prosperity rather routinely. And very openly. Slaves of Greece and Rome could purchase their freedom, a possibility clearly acknowledging personhood. Personhood was never in doubt.

So it was that Spanish Queen Isabella issued the decree on Indian labor, dismissed Columbus of his governorship for mistreatment of the Indian population, and initially declared the people “free and not subject to slavery.”  So it was, also, that Friar Antonio de Montesinos denounced the “Spanish cruelties” and threatened to withhold the sacraments from the ruling class. Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas passionately campaigned for the rights and dignity of the Indians which led to possibly the earliest secular human rights declaration. Further, we have Pope Paul III issuing a papal bull, Sublimis Deus, establishing the rights of Indian peoples to liberty, property, and dominium as Church Law: “(The Indians) … are not to be deprived of their liberty or the right to their property. They are to have, to hold, to enjoy both liberty and dominion, freely, lawfully. They must not be enslaved. Should anything different be done, it is void, invalid, of no force, no worth.” But things were done differently. And are done differently still in Palestine.

A world that viewed slavery as a normal and necessary piece of fabric in the weaving of civilization, conquests, and empires did not hold a concept of nonpersons. Legal rights were restricted or even denied, but personhood was not. How is it then that supposedly backward societies never lost recognition of humanity, but contemporary progressive societies have? Who is being so positively medieval?

In this great age of social justice, there remain three distinct peoples presently suffering and dying under the indefensible denial of personhood. Palestinians, Dalits of India and preborn children. For Dalits the struggle for dignity as persons is rooted in Hinduism and, though officially there is no such discrimination, in reality, a Dalit is subject to every degree of hatred, abuse, poverty, hopelessness, and murder with impunity. They are viewed as ‘less’ – cast out from societal life. They’ve no human value in the eyes of others because their personhood is not recognized. Likewise, infants who are living,  but not yet born, have been stripped of the fundamental right to go on living by denial of personhood status. Science, if not ethics, has debunked any primitive notion that such infants are not human. Everyone knows it is so. And still, it doesn’t matter. Their individual rights to life have been sacrificed for a higher concept called “privacy.” Such denials allow us to ignore the obvious (right of being) so we may permit a more favored group to hold super rights (right to deny life) over the very existence of the defined non-persons. This trumping of one supposed right over another’s life is triumphantly catalogued in the chapter we call human rights. This brings us back to Palestine.

For decades Israeli propaganda has by design dehumanized those they oppress. History has been rewritten. Villages have been renamed. Centuries old olive groves burned to make room for further illegal occupation by settlers, who then plant new groves and claim they’ve always done so. Mega-media campaigns are unceasingly launched claiming there are no historic Palestinians; there were no ancient peoples on the land renamed Israel. And this effrontery to the personhood of Palestinians is shamefully echoed in American presidential campaigns. “They are an invented people.” An astonishingly callous, dehumanizing cruel assertion. It further victimizes already shattered victims of atrocities in a highly visible public forum. It is no different from standing in a sex crimes unit to declare rape victims are really imported mannequins, therefore, pay them no mind. It is propaganda of the most hideous sort. The sort that is meant not to incite, but to produce apathy. And so it has. And so remains the still present crisis of the Palestinian state; the state of non being.

How has this war against hearts and minds worked? How has it marred our ability to properly react, as humans should, to horrific suffering before our eyes? Why are we not rightfully horrified by images of bulldozed homes, apartheid encampments, and dead children with bullet holes, blown-off heads, and phosphorous burned flesh?

If you are a super rights people (by way of past victimization) you protect that special status most effectively by claiming your victimhood to be unique and eternal and, therefore, demand another’s land and world assistance ever ready for your defense. Never mind you are armed to the teeth and the evicted are not. Never mind you receive billions in military and economic aid from a superpower, but the refugees must beg for water. Just reassert the obligation of others to ‘have your back’ no matter what you’ve done, or what you’ll do. You accuse any who question your occupation as anti-semitic, preying upon irrational guilt over a historic injustice against you, knowing this will provoke a defensive disengagement (ignore, shall we, that crimes against Palestinians, children of Abraham, are anti-semitic). To further your entrenchment you deny the history, the presence, the suffering, the oppression of the people whose land you took and, instead, manipulate all pretense of discourse to portray your victims as soulless terrorists who will surely, if liberated from their imprisonment, plunder your gardens and kill your children. You, with mercenaries of other nations, insist every conversation begin with an assertion of your right to exist and to defend yourself against stone throwing children. To cement your fallacies in such stone, you provoke wars as proof of your vulnerability and boldly remind other nations of your special friendship (which means allegiance to you, not to the nations themselves).

This entire scheme is built upon a mountain of deception, super rights mentality and the denial of personhood; the denial of right of being to Palestinians. It has worked for decades. But it will not always be so. People will grow weary of this tale and weary of the injustice. They will grow tired of the dog-wagging wars. They will one day wake up and recognize their own complicity when they begin to recognize anew their own humanity. Eventually, the Palestinian crisis will turn, and it will be resolved. For it is their birthright. Should anything different be done, it is void, invalid, of no force, no worth.

Meanwhile, keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry and the philosophy that does not bow before children.

©RCiuffo 2012

The Politics of Partisanship: A Surrendered Confession

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I am … not sure how to put this – a liberated apolitical. I offer this openly not to fan the flames of rhetoric, nor incite bipartisan hysteria, but to inform. In the current climate of global hot air and misty rainbows; of chicken soup in a book and inspirationally chiding guides to a more tolerant you, I think it’s time for each of us to step back, gain some perspective – tear down that ticket fence. Let’s put away the demagoguery and paulistphobic hate speech. We must come together in this experimental great nation of ours and raise our voices in unity to proclaim; “Libertarians are people, too!”

I hope this doesn’t change anything. I’m the same person I always was; just more disoriented than my straight ticket friends. And like many brave freedom fighters before me who blazed trails through hostile camps booby-trapped with explosive world views and vitriolic partyism, I didn’t realize what I was or who I was until I was forcibly pressed by talking-point to freely exercise my right to choose-or-get-out. But I chose to stay; to fight this rampant institutionalized unconstitutional constitution called party affiliation of the lesser evil. I believe there are others out there who are struggling with this issue. Trying to find themselves. Wondering why this happened, why they don’t feel anything. I was there. I feel that pain more than sax players. I come forward now to give representation without vexation. This is my story. I dedicate it to all the apoliticals out there who are asking, “Am I alone?” I’m here to tell you – No, you are not! And you don’t have to be partisan anymore!

Confessions Of a Closet Politically Apathetic Apartisan:

I wasted much of my life trying to fit in prestamped boxes; wearing sticky notes that pinched. They never suited me. I had a habit of falling out or losing tags so I’d tape tighter. But the more ticket tape I wrapped, the more tightly split I wound up. Nobody likes a split ticket so it clearly wasn’t working for me. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. (This was before political science pre-approved the hypothesis of genetically determined party disengagement so there were no support groups or half-way houses.)  I started reading all the right books, changing positions to the left. Still I was dissatisfied. This may sound radical but I even dabbled in bipartisanship for a brief time (silly youth, silly college houses). Empty. So wrong. Something was seriously misaligned in my political essence but I couldn’t grasp what it was. I felt queasy around balloons and hats and elephants and jackasses, yet instead of taking a different course; just saying ‘no’- I threw myself in deep.

Looking back, I should’ve abstained but I didn’t believe I had referendum options. There was a lot of fear pressure. Everyone was doing it, only one way or the other. I drank the kool-aid knowing it was poison, and became a junkie. I got buzzed on the political buzz. I attended parties unable to walk the platforms in a straight line; hyperventilated when someone raised the “issues.” It was bad. I even got hooked on slogans, slapping bumper stickers on anything I could get my hands on. It was all cover. I needed to survive and bumper stickers kept me going. I felt safe, knowing I’d get a thumbs up and a free ticket for expressing myself without ever having to engage. Engagements terrified me. So many issues and I already had enough of my own. There were frequent close calls. I remember feeling people were on to me. They just knew I wasn’t playing straight. Sometimes I was even approached. “Hey, are you register …” I’d look away, quickly cut them off; breathing heavy, sweaty palms. “Yeah. I’m affiliated. You want a button, man?” I lived like this until I could live it no more. The final straw was the gallup.

Like many others, I eventually got into hard polls. Sometimes they were real uppers. Other times downers. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows with shady pundits in shadowy lobbies ready to pump you with the cause in your darkest hour; the most vulnerable moments when you might be thinking the unthinkable – ‘No opinion.’  After awhile, though, I started paying attention to what I was really signing off on. This wasn’t me. This can not be who I am. I lapsed into a slump. I had the shakes, even refusing to get the vote out. I fell off the bandwagon. I just didn’t want to party anymore.  That’s when I first met Dr. Ron. He came upon me independently, while I was on the sidelines watching the parade go by. “Are you floored, lonely, politically unattached?” At that moment, I knew I was no longer a partisan. I was a far-out outcast worth my weight in gold. Yes I am!

Many of you never heard of Dr. Ron. It’s not your fault. He has poor wealth coverage which leaves him, like many Americans, out in the cold unable to buy basic airtime or receive needed media attention. Without this fundamental right to control his own production, Dr. Ron has had to bear these burdens out of pocket, in unconventional ways. For this, they’ve attacked his metal standards and refuse to invite him to parties. We’ll be taking a closer look at Dr. Ron in future posts.

[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the author. And if you or your loved ones have been injured or hurt by taking too many sound bites, it’s your own fault.]

©RCiuffo 2012

Occupy vs Tea Parties: Who is right and who is even left?

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Tea parties. God love ’em. They’ve been all the rage in draconian democracies for centuries. An institutional practice of impeccable charm which sweeps away the chasm separating the haves and the have-nots more readily than honey glazed reforms. In a world steeped in lazy fare economics and gold colored fiats speeding about with no reserves, it may very well be the grand ole tea party that saves a sinking democratic ship. The parties themselves are extraordinarily colorful. So many shapes, so many themes. Some are intimate; others a public affair. A few are raucous; others caucus. And there’s always details to attend to. Devil or no, there must be details. There’s venue, platforms, silver, and china to consider. Tariffs and taxes. Free trade or fair trade. Black tea, green tea, biscuits or scones? Late tea, brunch tea, afternoon high tea. They’re all swell but it’s this high tea that proves most interesting in the revolutionary occupation brew-haha.

In the civilized tradition of breaking down other civilizations, there is a little something on the side kind of tea party. It’s not spoken of in polite society but it’s not for nothing it’s known as high tea. The great Anglo-American who found the fathers, Esq. John Adams, wrote of it in his diary.

This day learned that the Caucas Clubb [sick!] meets at certain Times in the Garret [name omitted: right to privacy case pending], the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment [google it]. He has a large House [class warfare in play], and he has a moveable Partition [secret society] in his Garrett, which he takes down and the whole Clubb [sick!] meets in one Room. There they smoke tobacco [Psssh. Right.] till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other. There they drink Phlip [mixed drinks of unknown substances] I suppose …”

According to Adams (who’d never lie – he was a president), these high powered man-about-town teas were secret caucus clubs which met certainly (at tea time) in dark, smokey rooms of very wealthy homes to phlip, drink, plot, and smoke opium. (Those smug men of Versailles pulled this little move, too.) Adams, known for his passionate proclivity toward exposés of immorality and debauchery (per his dislike of the French), and his risky, though principled, defense of outcast reds occupying public squares (per the Boston massacre hysteria), is waving a flag for those keen enough to read between the lines. It is a warning; beware the opium fueled super pacts of secretive tea parties. Adams – the family values poster boy of 18th century America who resisted French seduction as robustly as he resisted British taxation (unless districts were redrawn) – would not attend such happy teas. He was clearly an Occupy Boston sort of guy.

There are no revolutions left to be had. The spaces have all been taken.

What then should we make of the gypsy occupation of occupying what is left of the empire? Evicted from the tea parties they’ve taken to the streets, the parks, the commons. Clearly they are a collectivist band of nomadic opium consumers. They wander aimlessly from place to place with strange incantations, peddling wares (in the statist gypsy tradition – probably stolen), reading tea leaves, and begging for change. They are inconvenient, unpredictable, messy, and a serious bummer to civilization. Are they revolutionaries of great consequence? Probably not. They mask their identities and ask for so little. Not even a pound of flesh do they demand. They only want 1%.

©RCiuffo 2012

Revolutions, Occupations, and Tea

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“You can not make a revolution with silk gloves.” That’s how Josef Stalin put it and, by Georges, he ought to know. Revolution is a messy affair. Unpredictable. Inconvenient. An all around dirty business. Taking off the silk gloves, however, we find Stalin hinting at something more egregious with that little gloved zinger. He put it gingerly but I’ll say it plainly. There is no greater spoil to a tea party than a revolution. Why would Stalin, brazen revolutionary of the most insidious kind, mince his words while also mincing the peasantry? The answer lies in the tea leaves. More to the point, Queen Victoria’s tea leaves.

Stalin was politically correct, astutely diplomatic when he called comrades to arms by way of silk gloves rather than the British pasttime of passing time by way of tea. Had he said, “You can not make a revolution in a tea room,” there would have been such violent uproar as had not been heard in England since a bastard became queen (back in the day). Anybody who was anybody in the latter 19th/early 20th century knew not to vex Victoria. If Victoria was vexed there’d be no imperial peace, not for all the tea in China. The Russians knew it, what with the Crimean War and all, so PC Stalin tread lightly. Just like the angels. He knew which Straits not to cross. You could assassinate the Russian royals (her majesty’s kin), you could massacre the people, you could terrorize hipster bohemians and batter the bourgeois – but you ought not profane the British tea party by inferring it was unsuited for revolution.

Victoria has a point. When you consider the pivotal role tea has played on the stage of world revolutions you’ll find one heck of a brew. From patriots to rebels, tea seems always to be on the menu. The tempest is in the teapot. The only certainties in life; tea and taxes. Crackpots serve tea to awol girls turning the world upside down ( cracked teapot, naturally). Colonial rebels tossed the king’s tea into Boston Harbor fully aware this was an act of war. So, what is it about tea parties that revolutionize otherwise silent majorities (latest statistics suggest 99%, but who’s polling the pollsters)? I may have an answer. Gypsies.

You are thinking, ‘Here we go blaming the gypsies again.’ Do hear me out. I am not recklessly blaming gypsies. I have great empathy for them (yes, some of my best friends are gypsies but we’ll not talk about that). They’ve taken a bad rap. Hated for who they are and what they stand for. Accused of every criminal act from illicit child theft (for licit think Madison Ave and public schools) to hocking stolen wares (we used to call them ‘hot’ – now we say ‘pirated’- but I digress), the gypsy underclass has bore an undeserved share of complicity in all things distasteful to the tea drinking, mud slinging civilized world. If a milk cow goes missing, blame the gypsies. When a lover no longer loves, it’s a gypsy spell. Should an economy collapse it’s the fault of nomadic gypsies who prefer begging to gainful employment and occupying to actually inhabiting. It’s unfortunate. By persistently slandering this noble people who are naturally peaceful, athletic, and musically gifted (it’s a bohemian thing – either you have it or you don’t), we are tossing out the baby with the bath water. Yes we are.

What we miss by such haughty bias against gypsy mores (do we speak of their fashion statement as chic like we say of the French, or shabby chic?) is the organic seed that has sprouted revolutions ever since gypsies wandered and the masses refused stale bread. (Eden had its apples but that’s another story.) Had this seed been eradicated, wiped from the face of a fertile and hostile earth before it became a weed in cultivated gardens the history of the world would have been oh so very different. I am sure of it. The seed I refer to is Camellia assamica. On the Arab street and cobblestone alleys it’s just called tea. Don’t let it trip you up. A tea by any other name is still a tea. Chinese, Japanese, Ceylon – all Asian. The same geo-political hotbed that gave the world gypsies also gave it tea. It was tea leaves reading gypsies who spread this vine of revolution across the mead drinking, wine tasting world and nothing would ever be the same. Not even gypsy occupations.

©RCiuffo 2012

Christopher Hitchens: Myth or Man

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Hitch is dead. The perfect eulogy for the warrior who waged war against eternity. Draped across the latent battlefield of ideology vs philosophy these three words sufficiently express a plentitude of either hallowed or hollowed envisages. There’s a lot of punch packed in a mortal blow, so it’d be enough to say Hitch is dead and say no more.  But if these three words were all that were to be said on the matter of Christopher Hitchens, the matter itself would not be put to rest. A sophistic struggle would  follow; an intellectual firestorm ignited by the absolutism of these three words and the nihilism of the final chapter. Is Hitchens truly dead? If Hitchens is truly dead, did he never live?  Did his death bring an end also to the hitchensian movement, or is this movement more alive in the mythical tale of Hitchens than it ever was in Hitchen’s tales of myths? Was he a martyr to the cause of nothingness, or did nothingness cause his martyrdom? How many angels could actually dance in Hitchens’s head? Leaving these strawmen to other strawmen, let’s instead ask the everydayman sort of question: Was Christopher Hitchens myth or man?

The shock-and-awe quips and writings of Christopher Hitchens have been delightful inspiration for many a grateful soul (and many a soulless scoundrel).  At times the inspiration was in the message; more often, the delivery. He was inspirational not by design, but by the mesmerizing force of fiery conviction which thundered forth with gravitas; not unlike a fire-and-brimstone preacher raising Hades amidst his enraptured captive congregation. Hitch was clever in a way most are not. He possessed impeccable Chesterton wit – the sort of wit God has reserved exclusively for the British born. A timeless legend in his own time; brilliant with a brilliance radiating through every essay penned, every tug-of-wit outwitted, every enemy combatant defeated by the hitchensian sword of intellect. On the high seas of rhetoric Hitch was master and commander sailing his warship against piracy, dishonesty, and the gravest sin of all –  unreasonableness.

Defender of scientific supremacy above all things, he calculated known things and banished to the realms of irrelevance those things unproven – or unknown to him. He forged alliances with an oft mutinous crew of lesser men, kindred spirits nonetheless. Crusaders dedicated to the eradication of fides et ratio wherever it was harbored, especially in the City of God. Thus did the crème de la crème of contemporary intellectuals, sailing under the banner ratio contra fides, take up the cause as mercenary extraordinaire and abandon the Chestertonian brotherhood of jovial charity in the face of opposition. Chesterton sparred by gentlemen’s rules. Ever mindful of good manners and light-hearted humor, he tickled his adversaries’ egos with charmingly sincere admiration whilst dicing up fallacies with the skill of a sushi chef. Foes weren’t mortally wounded but they were vanquished from the high road of reason.  Not so with Hitchens. He viewed every opponent as a nascent nemesis that must be crushed under the weight of almighty reason and caustic reproach. He drew blood and gave no quarter. He’d have his victory, by Jove, and it’d be upon a sharpened skewer of roasted barbs and fiery wit. And we loved him for it. We delighted in the spectacle of the cerebral gladiator delivering thunderous blows against a hapless wit. In a world of bland mediocrity this was great theatre. A to the death fighting spirit we secretly envied but didn’t dare attempt at home.

So it is. Or was.  As an admirer of Hitchens’s wit I offer a spirited defense. Not a defense of positions; Hitchens is in no need of rear guard polemics. My ‘hear! hear!’ is more elemental. There is evident in his writings a perception -my perception of his perception, at any rate- of honesty. His critique of the world’s ills, the politics of this or that, the cut-to-the-chase observations, his devilish style of outmaneuvering those sighted in his ideological crosshairs. It was straightforward and conviction driven. Absolute. I believe he believed whatever it was he was confessing to believe. Even a mercenary might believe in the cause for which he gains profit. And what was the profit for which Hitchens would devotedly lend his pen and his mind? Not monetary.  That’s soup au jour le jour for a capable writer. His ‘gain the world but lose thy soul’ price was pride. Nothing extraordinary. Just everyday pride. He wanted to be right. He needed to be right. He desired to be perceived as right. Overwhelmed, perhaps, by a perilous strain of honesty which dangled dangerously close to excessive scruples, he’d gone off course. His virtue had turned against him. Having steadfastly stood his conviction against God, he could not stand to be convicted by God. For Christopher Hitchens this was the good fight. It was to be Hitch against God and only one could win. For godsake it had to be Hitchens! He staked his word, his very life upon it. ‘Tis a grave conundrum for an intellectually honest atheist. No room for middle ground, he left himself no room at all.

A dying Hitchens sensed peril in dying. He feared not death, but conversion toward life – the eternal sort of life he’d sworn off throughout. With suspicious eyes cast upon his own potential apostasy, he penned a mortal retraction of deathbed declarations that might be uttered by a “half-imbecile” witless Hitch  “humiliating” himself before the final curtain. They were, he declared, de facto unfactual. Prophetically, the man of no prophesy prophesied against himself; a preemptive dagger against scurrilous future claims regarding his having any future at all. Should he fail to keep his sensible wits about him in the pending Hitchens vs Hitchens dispute, he offered up a disclaimer before his anointed time. Rumors of my conversion will be greatly exaggerated. Believe me now that you can not believe me later.

It is this subtle deficiency in an otherwise robustly honest character that at times caused Hitch to fall off his high horse while striking madly at windmills. More zealous a crusader against religion than zealous crusaders for it, he’d remain fervently opposed to the end and beyond. Thus did Hitchens nurture his fellowship with academia’s angels; rub shoulders with the wit and infamous crowd, collaborate with like-minded men whose minds were not at all like his. They were his disciples. They will never be his match. He didn’t need them in life, he needed them in death. They must take up their task, bearing torches as they spread the good hitchensian news; “Hitch is dead and so is God!”

And so, I am left with my own conundrum; to believe or not to believe in Christopher Hitchens. Myth or man? I’ve contemplated his tales. His divine command of the written word is universally recognized. He left behind a devoted cult dedicated to evangelizing the world, spreading his godforsaken message. Do I believe? What I know is this: To believe Christopher Hitchens I can not believe in God. To believe God I can believe in Christopher Hitchens. With Hitchens nothing is possible. With God everything is possible – even Hitchens.  That is the good news. The extraordinary, supernatural brilliance of Christopher Hitchens is itself a matter of gravitas weighing heavily in favor of God’s existence. And to be honest,  I’ve never seen Hitch.

©RCiuffo 2012