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Archive for the ‘Power and Morality’ Category

(the charming smirk of Count Cagliostro–Freemason, con man, alchemist, pimp, and saver of souls)

I’ve begun reading the book entitled The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason. It’s a pretty good book. I just got to the part where the Count, who’s really just a regular-ish fellow named Giuseppe Balsamo, got initiated into the secret world of Strict Observance Freemasonry this evening. The author, Ian McCalman described his entry into the society thusly:

After he’d intoned his oath of absolute secrecy and obedience, several officials dressed in caps and aprons, blindfolded his eyes, tied a rope around his waist, and hauled him on creaking pulleys to the ceiling. Suddenly the rope gave way and he crashed to the floor. His complaints of a damaged hand did nothing to mitigate the ceremony’s next phase. Colonel Cagliostro watched uneasily while a pistol was loaded with powder and ball. His eyes were once again covered. He was handed the pistol and brusquely ordered to comply with the oath of obedience by blowing out his brains all over the tavern. He hesitated; he heard yells–coward, get on with it–and pulled the trigger. There was a detonation, he felt a blow on the side of his head and smelled acrid gunsmoke. By some miracle he was still alive; and as his panic gave way to clarity, he realized it had been a ruse: the lodge officials had given him an unloaded pistol and simulated the discharge (pg 40).

This passage reminded me of another book, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall. Hall describes the tests a candidate had to survive in order to learn the Druidic Mysteries, to be “born again.” These folks had to get buried in a coffin and ride out to sea in an open boat. He also mentions the “strange machinery” found under a Greco-Egyptian temple of Serapis:

These machines indicate the severe tests of moral and physical courage undergone by the candidates. After passing through these torturous ways, the neophytes who survived the ordeals were ushered into the presence of Serapis, a noble and awe-inspiring figure illumined by unseen lights (pg. 25 and 27).

So. According to Manly P. Hall and other sources, there were two stories that Mystery School teachers came up with. One was simple, a moral code meant for Joe Everyman, which instructed him on the correct way to conduct himself in the world. The second story was deeper and secret, a story that had been passed down through the ages and only told to a very select few. These select were born into certain families and had passed the sorts of severe tests mentioned above. They starved themselves, broke bones jumping off cliffs, had limbs twisted into strange positions for long periods of time, etc., etc., in order to prove that they had overcome earthly limitations and were worthy of the truth (or perhaps to prove that they were willing to die in order to be included in the elite knowers of truth…)

There’s a lot of energy right now around these types of groupings, the elite v. Joe Everyman. A friend gave me a pin that says “99%” and I’ve been wearing it on my lapel. But, there’s something that’s been bugging me. What does being a part of the 99% mean, exactly? I wasn’t born into a fancy family. I have done a fast or two, but even just this morning in the shower I was vowing to never do one again. I hate being hungry. Am I a slave to my hedonistic nature? To be truthful, most of the work I’ve been doing with my counselor has been to help me feel ok with actually being who I am. Not trying to live up to some “moral code” written by some other dude who wore a wig and probably stole alms from the poor.

What does being a part of the 1% mean? Can the 1% be compared to the initiates of the past? What tests do they have to pass in order to get in? I can go to the library and read loads of words that tell me exactly what the different secrets of the ages were. It’s actually downright overwhelming all the secrets I’m privy to, and I didn’t even have to wander naked into the woods without any food or water. Does that make me a part of the 1%, now that I know the secret handshake? But then I remember that 2500 years ago Plato was splurging “secret” meeting minutes all over town after he was initiated into the elite.  Even then the secrets were available to anyone who was even slightly curious.

Do you think that God would put you on the earth without the tools possible for you to understand the secrets to sublime happiness? Are some people truly here without recourse from a life of misery, bound to the “simple moral code” of behave-now-and-you’ll-be-rewarded-later, forever doomed to 80 hours a week of assembling iPhones? Do the 1% still know some secret handshake that the 99% don’t? Is it possible that reading a book on a secret understanding won’t clue me in to the actual energy behind the words without the experience of pain and suffering that precede initiation? Why am I so lucky to be happy, when other people are suffering?  Is it because of what I’m doing? Or is it just because I’m lucky? To boil it all down, are there really secrets that you have to be born in the exact right time and place to understand? Or are these all figments, illusions, distractions?

More to come on this illustrious topic…Feel free to answer any of the above questions.

(Mystical Seven–a secret society at Wesleyan University of Connecticut)

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Oxford English Dictionary defines Machiavellianism as “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct.” In social psychology, a Machiavellian person is one who has a high tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain. In middle school Mr. Snarey told us that to be called Machiavellian means that you are cynical, immoral and mean.

This guy seems like a real jerk. (Machiavelli, not Mr. Snarey). I’ve been researching important stuff for an evil antagonist in a new fiction novel and Machiavelli kept bubbling to the surface of my mind. I went to the library to find out a little more about him. It was there that discovered (after a whole bunch of other people discovered it and wrote books about it) that poor Machiavelli has been undeservedly demonized. Well, sort of undeservedly, at least. I think. Maybe.

It is true that Niccoló Machiavelli encouraged the odd broken promise. Point in case: In the early 1500’s Cesare Borgia supported Julius II for papal election in return for appointment of the head of the papal armies. Once elected Julius II reneged on his promise because he didn’t like Borgia’s dad, Pope Alexander VI. Machiavelli, then the secretary to the committee in charge of foreign policy and military of Florence, commended Julius’s decision and denounced Borgia for being too cocky, relying on “good fortune” for success rather than good strategy. Borgia never regained power.

This is a good story to start with in an attempt to understand Machiavelli’s point of view. Born into a Florentine middle class family in 1468, Machiavelli would never be invited to rule any land. His role would forever be as an advisor and as a go-to guy, much to his bitter disappointment:

It is the duty of a good man to point out to others what is well done, even though the malignity of the times or of fortune has not permitted you to do it for yourself, so that of the many who have the capacity, some one, more beloved of heaven, may be able to do it.

And so he studied history. Machiavelli loved to pore over accounts of past military exploits and political maneuvers. He made note of what worked and of what didn’t, and painstakingly compiled them into various how-to books both for leaders and hopeful leaders–The Art of War and The Prince–as well as a book for citizens working toward a liberty filled free state–The Discourses on the First Decade of Titius Livius.

There are many quotes that one might take from Machiavelli’s work that, out of context, sound horrible:

–If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

 

–A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.

 

–It is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.

 

–Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions. (all quotes found here)

But, what is important to remember is that Machiavelli always stated what he believed to be the truth, not what he believed would be popular.

Many writers have dreamed up ideal countries, but the gulf between them and reality is so great that to neglect what is actually done for what should be done is simply to invite self destruction.

Furthermore, Machiavelli was ultimately interested in creating a peaceful and power balanced republic. He had this to say about his work The Discourses:

First, I never urged immorality for it’s own sake, but only as necessary in the pursuit of a strong, united state. Second, the ideal form of such a state is a republic.

According to Patrick Curry in Introducing Machiavelli, Machiavelli was a “classical pagan.” He longed for the days when humanity worshipped gods and goddesses who were imbued with “vigour, prowess, bravery, pride, courage, and strength.” He called these abilities “virtú” which stand in direct opposition to Christian virtues:

If our religion [Christianity] demands that you be strong, what it asks for is strength to suffer, rather than strength to do bold things…Christianity turns people away from this world, away from the collective responsibilities of citizenship, towards individual salvation. That is the effect of its “truth.”

Machiavelli never argued that Christianity is untrue or wrong. His concern was with the effects of religion on civic spirit, the desire to work together to create a smoothly running collective body rather than an actual moral code. To him, religion was simply a good inspiration in keeping men good and shaming the wicked. To him, the public had a responsibility toward keeping those in power checked, and those in power had a responsibility to protecting and caring for their people.

Maurizio Viroli writes in Niccoló’s Smile, that late in his life Machiavelli had a dream:

In his dream, he had seen a band of poorly dressed men, ragged and miserable in appearance. He asked them who they were. They replied, “We are the saintly and the blessed; we are on our way to Heaven.” Then he saw a crowd of solemnly attired men, noble and grave in appearance, speaking seriously of important political matters. In their midst he recognized the great philosophers and historians of antiquity who had written fundamental works on politics and the state, such as Plato, Plutarch and Tacitus. Again he asked them who they were and where they were going. “We are the damed of Hell” was their answer. AFter telling his friends of his dream, Machiavelli remarked that he would be far happier in Hell, where he could discuss politics with the great men of the ancient world, than in Heaven, where he would languish in boredom among the blessed and saintly.

I’m still a little up in the air about how I feel about Machiavelli, I suppose. Was he misunderstood pragmatist telling it like it is? Or was he a manipulative mastermind, paving the way for Hilter, Mussolini, Thatcher, Saddam, Osama bin Laden, Gaddafi…the list goes on and on…

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Cucerbite (squash)-Nature: cold and humid in the second degree. Optimum: those that are fresh and green. Usefulness: they quench the thirst. Dangers: they constitute a swift laxative. Neutralization of dangers: with salt water and mustard. Effects: a moderate and cold nourishment. Good for choleric temperaments. (circa 1390)

The Greek word chole means bile. Bile comes from the Latin word bilis, fluid secreted by the liver…aka one of the famous humors of the Middle Ages medical world. Bilious people are fiery, red, passionate, bull headed, magnanimous, constant, energetic, blah, blah…google choleric temperament and all sorts of things come up. Choleric people are the ones who get things done. They crack the whips, sign the checks, and make the rules.

Really though…and I’m talking real world here now…choleric people can be sort of…well, assholish. Of all the temperaments, choleric people are the ones most likely to be violent. And that’s no fun, is it?

In the book A new Earth, Eckhart Tolle says that every person has something he calls a “pain body.” He says that over time people collect pain–grievances, regrets, guilt, anger, sadness–that accumulates in our energy field. From the time we are little babies until this present moment, when we experience something painful but choose, for whatever reason, to not deal with it in the moment, we then collect it up and use it later on to make ourselves and other people miserable.

So. I was at my Brahma Kumaris meditation class last night and we were talking about karma. I was thinking about my microseries on violence and about how people who do mean/bad/violent things (i.e. living in their past experiences) continue to create more and more vikarma (negative karma) for themselves. Those naughty violent people, I thought. Then, one of the teachers said that we can create negative karma just by rolling our eyes.

Hey! said my affronted ego, That’s not fair! What are we supposed to be? Jesus? I voiced the question aloud: Does that mean we’re supposed to not feel irritated with other annoying people?

Answer: No, we can’t help feeling irritated with other people when they bother us. (I’ve been reading a great book called Why Good People Do Bad Things by James Hollis which talks about repression as being a very unhelpful thing…more on that later). What we can do (instead of repressing our feelings) is to practice non-attached observance of our irritation. “Wow! That person who crossed the street in front of my oncoming car really got me feeling upset! I wonder what lesson there is in this for me?” That type of thing. That way, you don’t have to react to their irritatingness. You can just feel it, let it go, and BURN UP SOME VIKARMA!

When you act calm and peaceful, people begin to think that you are calm and peaceful. That has a three-fold benefit: 1. They think you’re cool, and 2. They might see how calm and peaceful you are and try to learn the detached observation too, and 3. You might actually start to become calm and peaceful someday.

If that doesn’t work, just eat some cucumbers.

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If a tree falls in the woods, but there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? When I was younger and I heard this riddle, I thought it was a pile of crap. Of course it makes a sound! You don’t have to be there to hear it!

Then I taught a fifth grade block on acoustics. I had never really thought about the fact that our ears and their innards are devices contrived to catch vibrations that wiggle through the air after some disturbance has occurred. These vibrations are translated by the other soggy tool that many humans have: the brain.

If a tree falls in the woods, it makes vibrations that wiggle through the air. But vibrations in and of themselves, are not sound. They are vibrations that have the potential to be sound.

What’s the point? Following my therablog posting on violence and the apparent disconnect between two highly touted ways of being in the world (thinking positively will bring joy to you v. being aware/conscious of dangerous situations will keep you safe as described in Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear), I attended a Rosicrucian conference in San Jose, CA. The speakers talked all about the connections between our thoughts and our material world (health, wealth, joie de vivre) and how we create our world anew every moment, through our thoughts about it.

About a month or so ago I bookstore-perused a book entitled Five Steps to a Quantum Life: How to Use the Astounding Secrets of Quantum Physics to Create the Life You Want. The author, Natalie Reid, spoke about a phenomenon that you may be familiar with: once you buy a red car, you see red cars everywhere. She raises the question–were you not seeing them before because you didn’t notice them, or were you not seeing them there before because they actually weren’t there until you became conscious of them?

That sounds stupid, until you think about the above tree fall riddle, and mix it up with the utterly astounding complexities that scientists from every part of the globe are presently testing: string theory (the theory that elementary particles are long strings of light vibrating at different modes like guitar strings), multiverses (parallel universes or alternate realities, in which another you might exist, which are created with every choice that you make) and brane theory (that alternate Universe in which you might live could actually exist upon the skin of one of those vibrating strings mentioned earlier). Who do you think you are? When you make a choice, if another you is whisked away into another Universe, having made a different choice, are you her too? Or is she somebody else now?

Your choices on how you perceive the world (what you are conscious of) create your reality by collapsing the waves of possibility provided by subatomic particles swooshing all around you. (Read more about this here.)

Further questioning, does evil (or violence) exist if you choose not to see it–i.e. choose to not believe in it? Can we choose what we want to perceive in the world? I certainly know that I have experience folks with high abilities to choose what they hear–selective hearing.

One commenter mentioned on my last posting that thinking positively doesn’t preclude the necessity to be aware of potential dangers. But, is it possible that just by acknowledging the fact that someone or something could be harmful to us, we bring violence into our reality when it wasn’t there before?

If you reject negative particles bouncing toward you as non-existent, like the red cars that you don’t see…would they then simply move on and bother someone else who does believe in them, someone who will collapse that experience out of the sea of possibilities?

Rejecting the possibility of danger is a tall order, I know…and one that to test you’d kind of have to be willing to be murdered. I’m not sure what I think about it.

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(human blood cells)

I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard the end of a report on some military exploit involving death and shooting. I thought to myself how great it would be if leaders of different countries could trust each other enough to know that the other guy wouldn’t hurt him or try to do anything bad to him on purpose. That way everyone could stop the cycle of eye-for-an-eyeing.

But then I remembered that half the time I can’t even get along with my friends and family–people who I know would never wish failure on me.  I hold grievances, protect my assets, make false accusations (sometimes knowingly!), point fingers, and generally act like a tyrant waging war on my fellow humans.

How can I expect world leaders to act any different toward actual enemies when I choose and wage battles with people I know and love?

I am the dictator of Suesylvania.

Yesterday I went to see Swami Beyondananada at the Oregon Country Fair. During the talk he said that he thought men had nipples as decoys in order to attract other nipples. “It seems to be working,” he said, beaming beneath his purple turban.

While that was a very funny bit,  my favorite part of the talk was when he mentioned our human bodies. “We have a system of 50 trillion cells working here. There’s no unemployment. All the organs are working together…you don’t ever hear that the liver has invaded the pancreas now do you? If we could only remember the intelligence of a single cell, we could get along fine!”

Microcosm and macrocosm. If I find myself complaining about the national budget, I’ll think do I have my finances in order? If I find myself angrily muttering about BP polluting the ocean, I’ll think am I making good choices for my own body? If I find myself wondering when our world leaders will get it together and stop ordering the deaths of so many soldiers, I’ll think have I learned to live without fear of attack?

Because until I can do it on my small level, I’m not doing my part to help humanity evolve to the next level. That which is above is the same as that which is below…

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(Socrates and his wife Xanthippe, who is emptying a chamber pot on his head)

So, most people who read the previous post, in which I make the point that if-God- hadn’t-wanted-us-to-talk-about-people-why-would-ze-make-it-so-fun? point, agreed that Jesus was probably a funny guy, and that they, too, like funny things. I’ve pondered and pondered over the last 48 hours and the story that comes to my mind in (partial) answer to the above question is one that my mom emailed to me many weeks ago. Please be warned, it is not for sensitive eyes:

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about It.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him even though you’re not certain it’s true?”

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. “You may still pass though, because there is a third test – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. It also explains why he never found out that Plato was banging his wife.

Well, there it is. A parable worthy of the new testament. Funny, instructional, with an ironic twist. I’ll leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln to hammer it home:

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.

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(Ascension of Christ by Garofalo)
I know a person who is annoying. I had a conversation with this person today. (Let’s call the person “A” so that I don’t have to keep saying “person.” What an annoying word.) Now, as those of you who have read my blog in the past might know, I’ve been working on not talking about people behind their backs. It seems to be going pretty well, except with one (or maybe two) exceptions. “A” is such an annoying person to me that I can’t seem to help myself from recounting all of the incredibly irritating and “A”-aphobia inducing things to anyone who knows (and also dislikes) “A.” Also, the things are so annoying that they are hilarious. Like Saturday Night Live hilarious. Who can walk away from that sort of thing? (I’m holding back right now from telling you the most hilarious story about “A.” You would die of laughter. Ok, maybe you wouldn’t, but I would have a really fun time writing about it.)

So, I’m sitting in the hot car outside Trader Joe’s (not right now–this is a sort of flashback scene–right now I’m at home typing), waiting for my family, thinking about Jesus. I’m trying to picture Jesus hangin’ in the lounge, cracking jokes with me about “A.” Just doesn’t work. In my image I crack one, then Jesus smiles wanly at me, as if to say “You just haven’t gotten here yet, have you Young Child?” Then in my head I’m like, “No! Jesus doesn’t judge!” The picture changes to Jesus laughing a little, because funny jokes are funny even when they are mean, and then changing the subject to levitation or taxation without representation.

Then I start thinking that God wouldn’t want us to have boring lives. Stand up comedy is all about making fun of other people! But then I remember that I love Ellen, and she is rarely mean. She’s just anomolously funny. But seriously, how boring would it be to not be able to crack a joke about somebody who is making my life hell by being irritating and manipulative?

All of this sounds like justification.  I am fully aware that I have made a pact with Jesus to try to not talk negatively about anyone, including “A.” I even know that when I talk about “A,” I’m actually revealing my own weaknesses toward manipulation and irritating behavior…but it’s like I can’t help myself. The desire to make someone laugh (at another’s expense) or to make myself feel better (at another’s expense) is too great and I spill the beans, so to speak.

Something’s gotta give. And so beginneth my next blogapy (new term coined by me meaning blog therapy…hm. It doesn’t work that great. Sounds like a painful invasive surgery. How about therablogging? Hm. Better, but still not quite right. I’ll think on it.) on the topic of how to quit being an arrogant prat.

Sigh.

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