In the SPRINGTIME when the frost has fled,
The ground becomes a feasting place for life
And fertile seeds in secret spring awake,
Bursting slowly from their hidden tombs
While being somehow nourished, blessed, and fed
By springtime’s cornucopia of grace.
Life is lush and green with hope and growth.
The ground itself turns green and skies are blue
When spring brings on the salad-time of life.
In the SUMMER’S liquid heat the seeds
Are magically transformed as suns enrich
And rains enhance what life’s prospective dares.
Lanky green and springing tall and strong
The plants transform the landscape with their strength
And turn to jungle what was desert waste.
Life itself these grasslands renovate
To change the very space in which life thrives,
Through strength, and growth, and bold maturity.
In the FALL the seeds have borne more seeds
When sun, and rain, and drought have dried the stalks
And death must seem to linger nearer still.
Age has changed the leaves to brittle fronds.
The hardy stalks have lifted up their grain,
A sacrifice, as nature needs, to life.
Golden, bleached with age, the harvest comes.
A scythe cuts down the ripened staff of life
And brings an end to storm, and fear, and strife.
In the WINTER life has lost its grip,
It seems, and once again the ground is bare
And even seeds seem dead, encased in hulls.
Strength is sapped from life and only storms
Are strong where ice is queen and darkness king.
And so, the seeds must seem to die each year.
In the wintertime of life, there’s life
Remaining, hidden for a season’s span
Until the seeds have spent their time at rest.
MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois will be closing down after 174 years. The news came today (as I write this on March 28, 2020). It had been anticipated. The board of the college cited declining enrollment, lack of rising competitive costs, and lack of sufficient endowment as the causes for there being “no viable financial path forward.” This semester, ending in May, will be the last. The 400+ students and 100+ faculty and staff will have to find other places to study and work.
MacMurray was founded by the Methodist Church as a college for women. It accepted men in 1955, and became fully co-ed in 1969. Its prominent programs were education, music, and a wide range of liberal arts and sciences. At one point Mac was thriving, with 1700 students. Its American Colonial architecture was excellently rendered. The center of the campus was its administration building for a hundred years, and then the Annie Merner Chapel with its grand Aeolian Skinner pipe organ became the college’s icon and gathering place for important services and concerts.
It is tempting to become nostalgic. MacMurray has an important place in our family’s history as my mother’s and cousin’s alma-mater, as the place I typed my doctoral thesis in Jacksonville’s first computer lab, and the place our 1958 high school graduating class had its Junior and Senior prom, and baccalaureate service. I was on stage in the music hall at the age of 5 and doing a piano recital or two ten years later.
Yes, well, everyone in town has memories of Mac.
Jacksonville was known as the Athens of the West for a few decades because it was (among other credits) the place where there were 2 colleges, 2 academies, the state’s first public high school, a school for the blind, a school for the deaf, and at least 2 commercial colleges. No town in Illinois, I contend, matched Jacksonville’s educational record until the big cities and state universities began to evolve. MacMurray was a major contributor to the town’s high regard.
Now MacMurray joins the growing list of degree-granting institutions of higher education going out of business in the USA at the rate of more than 100 a year. In addition to the reasons for closing that the Mac board mentioned in its public announcement is the fact that the type of education small liberal arts colleges provide is going out of fashion. That, rather than costs, is what I’d like to discuss now.
Liberal arts education was developed over 150 years to educate community leaders. Bachelor’s degrees were thought to be foundational, preparing graduates for professional education to follow. Only a few courses, mostly added in the middle half of the twentieth century, were to prepare graduates for jobs. But college life was also very much about leadership training. With a college education followed by a professional education, a physician or lawyer, for example, was also a valuable community leader ready to augment those who rose due to their family influence or in public esteem to offices such as sheriff, mayor, fire chief, or president of the bank.
Leadership nurture is a tedious, labor-intensive undertaking. It’s easier when the trainee has leadership talent and intuition to begin with. But even for those so endowed the process of discovering one’s most effective style of leadership can be difficult. That is why college life for a small liberal-arts college can be both challenging and rewarding. Being small, college functions can involve about everybody as a leader somewhere along the way. There’s no better leadership education than experience. In colleges, students are on their own to run student organizations such as campus newspapers, intra-mural teams, sororities and fraternities, and sometimes even choirs and dramas.
Leadership skills are acquired both inside and outside of classrooms. They include arts of persuasion, political organization, project management, social infrastructure, and personality discernment. Big institutions give a few students chances at leadership, but small campuses pull just about every willing volunteer into a quick learning curve. What’s more, big institutions expect high results which involve narrow focus. If you’re a football player in a big university even academic work takes second place. On a small campus, in one year, a student can be on a sport’s team, foreign language club, religious organization, and also have a campus job.
I lament the passing of each and every small college. I’m sorry for the community traditions that will be displaced, for the level of esteem that a college brings to a town, and for the students who tend to bring a town to life. Most of all I am sorry for the shifts in educational focus away from character development.
We can see the debilitating effect of having people promoted into positions of power who do not have character to match.
So, on this unhappy occasion, let’s give thanks to the United Methodist Church for giving us MacMurray College for 174 years, with 170 graduating classes of women and men who can ride horses as well as sing and preside at council meetings, who know how to calculate equations and enunciate quotes of Euripides, who have read widely and critically, and who have made the world a better place.
THAT WE DON’T ALL HAVE THE “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER” SPIRIT
“Party On!” A TV network interviewed party goers in Florida a few days ago. They swore they were not going to pay any attention to social distancing or abstaining from going to all the parties they want to. One fellow was enraged at the idea that Coronavirus was a threat. There were many agreeing on the Facebook comment thread that contained this video clip.
Hmmm. Reminds me of 1984.
On the other hand, numerous sources urge us to exercise social responsibility to help flatten the curve on the spread of this still unpreventable disease.
“All Aboard!” Social media reported today (as I type this) that 5 members of a Thai elite military guard who have tested positive for COVID 2019 boarded a commercial airliner in Munich bound for Bangkok, in contravention of posted airline and government rules.
Some people are “exceptions” to laws and regulations even in times of a pandemic.
On the other hand, royals of many countries are using their high-profile status to set examples of responsible behavior and social concern.
“Ammo Panic!” A nephew in the USA reported that even before their guns and ammunition store opened there were customers lined up around the parking lot. “It’s getting weird.” Another friend said ammo was being limited to two boxes per customer.
Since this is the end of the hunting season, I wonder what the ammo is for. Target practice, yes.
On the other hand, the number of mass shootings in the USA for Jan-Feb is lower than the past few years. A little girl, reported today to have exclaimed joyfully about her school closing, “We don’t have to worry about getting shot at school for three whole weeks!”
“Cheers!” Here’s a news quote from yesterday: “The Governor of Phitsanuloak chaired a meeting of local businesses. They concluded that to be on the safe side, all establishments in the province e.g. hotel, resort, concert, temple, boxing and other sport gathering etc., must be closed to prevent further spreading of the disease … except pubs and bars.”
Well, uh, outbreaks in Thailand have been traced directly to gatherings in bars.
On the other hand, it seems that other governors and municipalities are taking a more aggressive approach. Pubs and bars are included in closings ordered today in 5 provinces surrounding Bangkok, as they have been in the city. Patrons, however, are scarce across the country. The Chiang Mai government ordered everything but essential businesses and food and medicine suppliers to be closed from Monday, March 23 until April 13 at least. Airport Plaza, the busiest mall closed already. [The picture above is of Chiang Mai’s busiest intersection right in front of the Tapae Gate during what is normally the busiest time of the evening.]
“Hell, no!” Thai social media went wild with a video clip taken by a security camera inside an elevator. A young adult male, alone in the lift, went around licking his fingers and swiping the control buttons and walls. Then he swiped his hand inside his pants and made a second round. Media assumed he was either making a statement (saying what, no one was sure except “f*** you”, or he was spreading THE VIRUS.
This follows two other passive-aggressive attacks by persons who knew they were infected with COVID 2019 who deliberately breathed, coughed, or spit on persons nearby.
Rage is contagious.
“Masks on!” The Thai Minister of Health was recently widely reported to have twice ranted that farangs [white foreigners] should be deported for refusing to wear face masks (and smelling bad). I took an unofficial poll at the immigration check-in station here in Chiang Mai on Friday, and the number of presumed foreigners wearing masks was about 50%, which was equal to the number of immigration officials wearing masks.
Actually, the masks available to the public are not helpful to prevent becoming infected, but can help those who are infected from spreading the disease. The World Health Organization does not insist on mask wearing.
On the other hand, masks are never entirely about sanitation. They are, especially here in Asia, normally about social responsibility and compliance with community expectations. A mask says something about the wearer. “I am not as dangerous as you may think. I am concerned about your concerns. I’m on your side.” Things like that.
The “We’re All in This Together” spirit is not to be taken for granted. It is clearly the responsible thing to maintain a safe distance between oneself and others during times like these when a dangerous disease is being transmitted. It is prudent and compassionate to limit large crowds and tight confinement. But we will usually wait until some edict requires us to comply.
Until governors begin to announce closings most of us might suspect “no need to panic,” and a few will insist, “It’s a conspiracy [by some agent we already detest].” Then, when the crisis becomes undeniable, we will begin to hear still more livid rumors, “They are going to institute martial law.” These are excuses to resist, to defy, and to refuse to be part of the community.
But community is not actually optional. None of us can entirely opt out of community life. (Hermits and sociopaths are special cases.) For just about everybody community-living is not only standard, we accept the fact that actions of individuals affect the whole community. Nevertheless, shifting from “this isn’t about me,” to “I need to think about others now,” takes effort, particularly for a me-generation.
Transitional times, like the one we are going through, are fraught with irony.
This week the Oberammergau Passion Play, presented once a decade to celebrate the deliverance of the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria from the Black Plague of 1633, was postponed for two years because of the COVID plague in 2020. How ironic. It is part of the larger irony that it is precisely during this time of enforced separation and “sheltering in place” that we begin to think of such socially responsible things as informing our heirs where to find our important documents, figuring out how to get invalid relatives cared for, and what to do to help the suddenly unemployed survive.
Good will come from this. We can see good breaking out just as the daffodils are pushing the dirt aside, paying little attention to late snow. [Thanks to Krisana for the picture she posted between snow falls.] Here are examples to give us perspective:
Schools are closing. What are working parents to do? Suddenly children are home without supervision or care. We’ve heard of people helping out by taking in a couple of kids, turning their family room into a play-classroom. Some take turns being hosts. This sort of neighborly cooperation has almost disappeared, but now a whole new generation is rediscovering it.
Restaurants and bars are closing. (In Illinois it’s to be statewide. In San Francisco the whole city is on “lock down” with only people performing essential services allowed out of their houses). What are food service workers to do? What about hungry people, for that matter? They have to adapt. Some restaurants are providing curb service, although not quite in the manner we got from A&W Root Beer stands or Stake and Shake. I don’t think bars can do that. Cloth-napkin restaurants may have to scale down. We are just beginning to see a return to food distribution as it used to be. Some of us may actually learn to cook a thing or two.
Universities are closing. Very large Bangkok University today announced two weeks suspension of classes after a student was found to possibly have COVID 2019. Assumption and Mahidol universities are also partially closed. Officials have hinted that all schools and colleges in the country might be closed as early as next week. What now? The immediate response we’ve heard about is to re-design instruction to be provided on-line at a distance. This is nudging traditional colleges to “get modern” and for regulatory agencies to reform. There are many ways of providing high quality education. This crisis will get some of those ways unstuck.
Travel options are shut down. This is going to upset lots of plans, but what are people away from their home countries going to do? What about international students? I can imagine students who would otherwise have slipped into their institutions, into their enclaves inside, and into their degrees and trips back home, without ever having really seen American family life. Now, behold, they might be invited into guest rooms and family experiences they never expected. Those families might discover their first international “family members.” It’s about time.
My point is opportunities for good are emerging. Every hour brings new accounts of this cooperation and adaptation taking place as a result of good-will confronting sheer necessity. Whole new categories of good things are being suggested, explored, and undertaken. Some of those avenues might lead to breakthroughs into alternative political, economic, and environmental constructs. It sometimes takes a crisis right in our face to crack us open to tough change.
If Chiang Mai were to be put on a San Francisco type of lock-down, I can’t imagine how we’d get through two or three weeks, but we’d be better off than hundreds confined to condominiums. We live in a village. Small communities are hothouses for cultivating creative care and kindness.
Northern Thai Buddhism (along with every other authentic religious system) contains a paradox. In this case it has to do with the accommodation of two antithetical principles.
In principle Buddhism’s central premise is that suffering comes from ignorance which can be overcome by a cognitive breakthrough to enlightenment leading to the end of cycles of karmic-driven reincarnation. It is essential that this search for enlightenment be undertaken by each person individually. It is agreed that only monks can accomplish this, so those who wish to follow this quest for enlightened extinguishing of the flame of existence need to separate themselves from society through ordination. Then they live in a disciplined environment where the interference of society can be limited. They practice disciplines that shut out social noise and distractions, and hopefully discover the liberating truth of non-existence. The ideal environment for this is in a forest in solitude.
On the other hand, society exists through the participation and contribution of everyone. This unity is essential. Disruption of it is unfortunate. Social continuity and events that potentially enhance society (e.g. marriages, births, promotions) are celebrated.
At the same time, there are two social disruptions that must be ritually and thoroughly handled: deaths and ordinations. In both of these events society is being deprived of a valuable member – which is a threat to social welfare. In principle, as the logical conclusion, a death as well as an ordination portends the extinction of society.
Yet, ordination in Thai Buddhism is understood as having surpassing value. In fact, ordination is so meritorious that not only the individual acquires merit to offset demeritorious karma, but the community does as well. Basically, becoming a monk is not only a doorway to self-improvement and the remote possibility of enlightenment (which helps the monk more than anyone), a monk also signifies and expounds the Dharma (in Thai Tham or thamma) which helps the community toward understanding. It is a social benefit. So the community of monks residing in a village temple helps the village by providing essential education, often in the form of sermons and ritual enactments, and also assisting the people of the village by giving them opportunities to make merit by supporting the temple and its monks.
The people in a village who benefit most from the ordination of one of its boys or men would be the family of the ordinand. They make a significant sacrifice when they relinquish the social support those males would otherwise provide. As if to compensate for this loss, there is a ritual transfer of merit incorporated in the ordination ceremony by which the person being ordained reassigns the merit he is acquiring to his parents, especially his mother who is prevented by her sex from being ordained. [This misogynistic concept may be breaking down as women, too, are being ordained.] As the whole village, in a way, participates in the ordination, the whole village makes merit.
Making merit is a good thing. It is easy to accumulate demerit through daily living. It behooves one to make as much merit as possible. The economy of merit is a vague and suspicious subject, but some actions are clear. Killing is frightfully demeritorious. Becoming a monk is supremely meritorious. To avoid a disadvantageous rebirth, and a probably transition through hell beforehand, it is important to acquire merit.
However, acquiring merit for oneself presumably ends with death. Death is the other common disruption of salubrious life functions. As paradoxical as it appears, there is universal acceptance throughout North Thailand (and elsewhere) that merit can be transferred not only to the living (such as to mothers) but to the dead (including ancestors). A funeral service is basically a complex merit-making and merit-transferral ceremony. In fact, there is probably no frequent opportunity in a village for more people to make more merit in more ways than at a funeral.
In a funeral that I attended a couple of days ago merit was made and transferred in a score of ways, including especially: (1) sponsors/patrons who provided funds for aspects of the 3 days of funeral ceremonies, (2) the family members who provided the catafalque (meru) to hold the coffin, (3) the village housewives association who cooked half a dozen large meals, (4) the men and women who put up and took down awnings and tables, (5) the monks who came to chant and preach, (6) the 5 boys who were ordained for a day to make merit for their grandmother, (7) all of us who bought sets of robes to be ceremoniously presented to the monks on the cremation grounds, (8) those who attended the chanting services and then poured libations of water to transfer the merit to the deceased.
To return to the matter of the paradox inherent in all this, there are three ways of handling the matter. The paradox can be resolved, embraced or ignored. Every religion tries to resolve or embrace the paradox of suffering in the context of human existence, but usually fails in the short run.
If the religion supposes the existence of a creative divinity the question must be handled about why the divinity created beings with the need to experience suffering and loss. Either the divinity is imperfect in its creative capacity or it is malign and creation is a malicious farce. No major religion, however, draws this conclusion.
Some insist the fault is not with the creator but with us who transgress and introduce chaos into pristine creation. We need to be sorted out if creation is to be fixed.
Other religions agree that we are flawed, but it has to do with our perceptions and understanding. (A) We just think we are suffering. We are actually fabricating these thoughts because we are confused. Given the right perspective we would agree that this suffering is illusionary. (B) Our suffering is real enough, but it is beneficial. We are being improved by this experience and we will emerge from it far better persons. We should delight in our suffering. Given the right perspective we should agree that the paradox is illusionary.
On the whole, as with village Thai Buddhism, the paradox is ignored. Certainly, the objective is to acquire the insight necessary to transform our perception of the world and our condition in it. This is a quest that potentially removes us, and everyone else, from society. We would cease being either cause or effect. Suffering would be resolved by having no one left to suffer. Nevertheless, meanwhile, society is a practical necessity, and a serene, well-functioning society is to be desired. We would like to have our monks helpful and not far removed from home. They serve to keep our social circumstances centered and tending toward practical elimination of suffering as far as can be done. We can ignore the philosophical issue of how to resolve such things as the nature of society when the wisest among us quest for non-existence, or how to mitigate the post-mortem suffering of our ancestors or how to join them in paradise. Merit making and merit transfer may be inconsistent with one aspect of the quest, but concern about that inconsistency dissolves in the satisfaction of going on with getting along.
[Thanks to Charles F. Keyes for his explication of this complex and controversial issue in “Merit Transference in the Kammic Theory of Popular Theravada Buddhism” published in Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry, ed. by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)]
They start out as aggravations, these disruptions that come from anticipating the virus.
Within the first 3 days of March the disruptions that have come to my attention are increasing here in Chiang Mai:
· Metro Technical College postponed its commencement exercises indefinitely, so our celebration of nephew Wave’s graduation with an Associate’s Degree in Automotive Mechanics won’t happen on Saturday. Across town much larger Mae Jo University also postponed their commencement. A score of announcements appeared about events being cancelled “until the end of March.”
· A private grade school in town suspended classes for two weeks. A whole lot of schools are expected to rush the end of the school year which would normally be in a week or two anyway.
· Most hospitals are complaining about shortages of face masks. But more ominously they are also beginning to worry about shortages of pharmaceuticals, many of which are from China, even those with American and British brand names.
· Women at the bank told me that they are disappointed they will not be able to go to Japan “to see the snow” as was planned by the bank. Flights around this part of Asia are hugely disrupted. There has been a 42% drop in passengers through CNX (Chiang Mai International Airport) compared to last year. All flights to and from China by several airlines have been cancelled, with only a handful remaining from next door Kunming, but incoming passengers are quarantined to some extent. Flights to South Korea and Japan are on a day to day basis.
· An “expo” was cancelled. A promotional fair might as well have been since the only people who wandered through the aisles of food were other exhibitors and sales personnel.
· Supply chains are beginning to be disrupted. That includes fruit which we have ready to send to China that will now probably rot instead.
The next phase of disruptions will be upon us when cases of the coronavirus 2019 begin to show up unexpectedly and randomly. It will no longer be cases of “better safe than sorry” and will begin to be handled as “preparing for the emergency.” As a matter of fact, the Thai public health system, which has made remarkable progress over the past 20 years, is not able to get ready for an epidemic of highly communicable flu-like cases. There simply are not facilities or equipment to handle more than a case or two entering primary care facilities or the transportation infrastructure needed to get cases to major medical centers. Those 29 centers (almost half of which are in Bangkok) would be overwhelmed if the number of cases were to climb to 100. COVID 2019 cases cannot be stacked in hallways. Medical supplies for these kinds of cases will run out.
We are pretty fortunate here in Chiang Mai. The atmospheric conditions are the worst in the world for the third day in a row with particulates into high danger zones. That exacerbates any respiratory conditions. It’d put anyone exposed to COVID 2019 into the very high risk group. But we don’t have crowded refugee camps here or people in massive numbers fleeing from war, so we can hang onto our confidence that the danger won’t wipe us out. We have space between us that we can try to maintain, and options if needed.
But how will we handle escalating disruptions of our way of life? What happens if the disruptions expand beyond simple inconvenience?
Yesterday I attended a community funeral. It was typical of village funerals. I looked around and reminisced on the myriad ways we were breaking all … ALL … the safety rules. Food was being prepared under trees in the orchard out back, with equipment washed from hoses. Nobody wore face masks that actually did any good. One woman had an expensive mask which she wore under her chin. Hundreds were half-listening to chanting while chatting leaning close together. They were drinking from shared glasses as always. We ate sticky rice with our fingers from bowls shared by 3 or 4 people. At least we didn’t shake hands. (Of course, around here nobody ever shakes hands, except sometimes with me.) The closest family members were packed into the front room of the house of the deceased woman. The room was small and the family was big. And what did she die from? A respiratory disease. COVID 2019? Probably not. Nobody did tests. She’d been sick with it for months.
In fact, we could not have a village funeral without a large community meal and chanting. Many things might be postponed or skipped, but what about funerals? The consequences of skipping or skimping on a funeral are unthinkable.
[The picture above is from the funeral mentioned. The son of the deceased is presenting a set of robes to the village monks.]
Coronavirus 2019, COVID-2019, known on the Internet by many names, originated in Wuhan Province, the People's Republic of China (PRC) about 3 months ago. The first efforts in Wuhan were to contain the virus while also containing news about the virus, because every new flu-type virus has effects on both health and economies. If the economic impact is serious enough it can also have a political impact.
As of today (as I write this) there have been 2,700 Coronavirus deaths in China and 41 outside of China. The worldwide death-rate of those getting the disease is 2.3%, compared to 0.1% death-rate for those who get other types of flu. Furthermore, how the disease spreads is still uncertain, so how to protect one’s self is a question. We are warned to wear masks, wash hands, and avoid crowds. Antiseptic, surgical protection is impractical.
For the first two months the main emphasis has been on containment. Wuhan was put in quarantine, the entire province and anyone coming or going from there. The PRC government acted aggressively to build a large hospital in 10 days, to shut down businesses and travel, and to identify and isolate cases. On the one hand this strategy has worked to bring about a sharp dip in new cases in Wuhan. On the other hand the virus was not contained.
It has spread to several other countries. Thailand was the first country outside China to see confirmed cases, but South Korea is now in the lead. The news these last couple of days is about the virus spreading in Italy, from Milan, and clearly into Europe.
Apparently, epidemiologists are expecting the Coronavirus to spread around the world. They are working frantically to identify its origin, and they have not yet done so. Bats, again (poor beasts, never get a break), were thought to be at fault. That was just a rumor – maybe. But the medical strategy is first to decide how to deal with the inevitable spread, that is, how to protect people from getting the disease and how to treat them if they seem to have gotten it, and also to develop effective immunization programs, which will take years to perfect.
Meanwhile, the virus is just about the only news worth talking about. It absorbs attention to such an extent that other things matter less than they would otherwise. It is the top news story even in the USA where the Democrats are struggling to come to terms with Bernie Sanders’s ascendency as the candidate to enter the ring against Trump. But the virus’s impact on world economies, particularly in travel industries, caused the stock market in the USA alone, to lose 1.7 trillion dollars yesterday. That’s a stunning blow that simply means 2020 will NOT be a year of economic improvement. Economy always impacts politics.
Here in Chiang Mai, hotels are struggling to stay open, sites that rely on tourist traffic are empty and employees are beginning to panic, and even markets and malls are seeing 30% less business with the percentages rising. This comes on top of an already sluggish local economy due to depressed tourism caused by other things, including terrible air pollution and stiffer competition from other tourist destinations. Tourism is a fickle industry.
Our university cancelled a work camp yesterday, scheduled to bring a score of students from Japan as it has for 30 years. A hundred Chinese students are unable to come to begin work next week, and we don’t know when they will be able to come. This is a big disruption for them and for our university.
Nationwide, the virus is “one more thing,” but it is a big thing on top of everything else. Thailand’s economic picture is not as rosy as had been hoped. Several major companies are leaving. Chevrolet announced a couple of days ago that they are closing operations here in Thailand. The Prime Minister is dealing with a no-confidence motion this week, which he will probably survive, but his popularity, never very great, is declining over revelations that leak out about shocking financial deals, and now the dissolution of the third largest political party in Thailand. This has resulted in student protests on university campuses all over the country. Those protests may simply “blow off steam” since they are not spreading beyond university campuses. Exams are coming very soon. Student protests will end before they bring any change to the way the government operates. In fact, the virus affects even these things. If a large rally were to be held, say in the center of Bangkok, attendance would be smaller than otherwise because of the virus. Crowds are to be avoided.
Even here in our village, in a spur on the valley, back behind the mountain, everyone knows about the Coronavirus. They are thinking about it all the time. They are keeping track of where “cases” (confirmed, unconfirmed, suspected, and rumored) are being talked about. The news sources are public and social media. The virus is viral.
Witch-izards and Wiz-itches Join LGTBIQAK-SOGI-WZ PRIDE 2020
“Gender diversity now includes half the population, alphabetically speaking,” the Wizitch Sunshine commented proudly. “We don’t mind bringing along the last few letters. It’s important for us to be included. We have been discriminated against for centuries, and that has to end.”
There is no denying the suffering imposed on witches of all genders and cultures throughout history. Once in a while exceptional individuals worked their way into the office of Grand Vizier or Vestal Priestess, but all too often it was “to the stake with them” and a fiery end.
“We thought about having a Pride Parade of our own” Sunshine (a nom-de-broom) admitted. “It’s the thing to do, these days. I was inspired by the Islamic Pride Parade reported this week. If there has ever been a persecuted gay community it’s them.”
The fall-out from this report is that some non-Muslim gay protesters wanted to know why the Islamic Pride group couldn’t just join the rest of the LGBT+ people in big Pride Parades being planned. It would show we’re united.”
Sunshine told our reporter, “Obviously those protesters don’t understand what Pride is all about. Those who are threatened and driven into hiding have their sense of self-worth eroded. It takes courage to march. Marching restores pride as well as community. Identifying with a specific persecuted group enhances pride that may be diluted by joining a massive march.”
“Have you been persecuted?” our reporter asked.
“Not me, personally, as such. Witches where hunted nearly to extinction as recently as 150 years ago right around here in Chiang Mai, but this gender transition part is what our generation is dealing with.”
“We, and by that, so far, I mean ‘I’, I decided not to have a separate Witch-izard-Wiz-itch Pride Parade here in Chiang Mai , however,” Sunshine sighed and then brightened.
“What do you indicate by calling yourself a Wiz-itch?”
Sunshine glowed, “These days we affirm our diversity by being precise about our identity. That’s how we establish our unity in the realm of sexual exceptions.”
When our reporter didn’t quite understand this, Sunshine explained, “I’m neither 100% Wizard nor Witch. Society would like to force me into one or the other box, but I’m trying to help non-binary, intermediate and transitional terms gain traction. I’m a Wizitch, a Wizard who is tentatively moving toward the Witch side of the spectrum.”
“How many transgender Witch-to-Wiz and Wiz-to-Witch individuals do you estimate there to be in Chiang Mai?” Sunshine was asked.
“So far there’s just me that I know of (and I’m often nor sure about me), but after this Saturday there may be others who come out onto their brooms in the daylight. I’m what you could call the Wizitch vanguard.”
[NOTE: Chiang Mai Pride 2020 really is taking place on Saturday 22/02/2020. A march through the city is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. To find details search the Internet for Chiang Mai Pride 2020 or check the Chiang Mai Pride Facebook page.]
Spiritual corruption begins with an unremitting terror that sinks so completely into one’s being that it can transmogrify. That terror gradually becomes the opposite. There it festers and insinuates itself into other areas of one’s existence like a cancer.
When it reemerges it is in such a dissipated spiritual state that it will either take what seems to be desperate measures to survive or heroic measures to achieve some magnificent illusion.
One way to assess the nature of a manifestation of spiritual corruption is to consider its two basic myths.
First, there is a formative or POSITIVE MYTH about what is or what may be. To function as a powerful positive myth it must have three basic aspects:
1. It must be ATTRACTIVE. It must express what is passionately desired.
2. It must be RICH. It must be endowed with heritage, nobility, and essence.
3. It must be WORTHY. It must describe a state that is valuable and worth effort, even though it requires a term of sacrifice. In fact, it is likely to be in the achievement of the goals of this transition to glory that the dynamics are set into motion which brings about the end.
But this mythical destiny is essentially the opposite of what it proposes to be.
Second, there is a NEGATIVE MYTH about an enemy that stands in the way. This enemy is thought of as the real danger, the essential problem, and the basic obstacle. The enemy is traditional, always there throughout conscious history, but now this old enemy is radicalized, magnified, and utilized to rally excessive protective and proactive defensive measures. However, when the enemy in this myth is analyzed it can be seen:
1. The enemy is essentially imaginary, not a viable, actual threat
2. The enemy is actually a personification of one’s own dysfunctionality.
But, ironically, this presumed enemy, now considered mythically, has really been one of the contributors to the authentic destiny that could have been realized for the individual, society or nation that has now vilified it.
Corrupt spirituality is either a deadly cancer or a ticking time bomb. It will kill sooner rather than later, one way or another.
One scenario is for the spiritual corruption to “mature,” its corruption spreading to ever- widening areas of spirituality, increasingly consuming all one’s spiritual energy until the deterioration and decay expire into doom and extinction, sometimes with a final spectacular eruption, but sometimes not.
The other scenario is for outside forces to undertake AN INVASION. (There are countless forms of invasive action – surgical, military, reformative, and other interventions – initiated and carried out by entities acting without the cooperation and sometimes against the will of the afflicted individual.) This intervention will be either to eradicate the expanding threat or to redeem the elemental aspects of the corrupt entity in order to create a new order, society, or national entity.
The dynamics that will most often tend to coalesce the external forces that lead to the invasion and consequent decimation of the old entity, society, or nation are:
1. A reaction to some great aggression that was undertaken to advance the positive myth.
2. A reaction to some great abomination that was motivated by the negative myth.
3. A reaction to both.
German National Socialism from 1925-1945
Their foundational story was that Teutonic-Germanic people were the descendants of the Aryan supermen of Atlantis; the survivors from an Atlantis-like island named Thule immigrated to Tibet; and then migrated back to Germany holding onto certain key encoded truths. These German-Aryans were the race of founders of civilization. The Nazi myth was that the genetic heritage of the Aryans was retained in the Nordic-Aryan race, and the Aryan wisdom and knowledge was available through esoteric and occult means to those with special abilities. The Aryan race would again attain their leadership of the world when their time came and the messianic leader appeared. Their long-expected Leader was not a mere mortal, but the incarnation of the perfection that the Aryan heritage had preserved, and he and a caste of special highly-select pure-blood Aryans would carry forward the reestablishment of the Aryan race. The Nazis’ “positive myth” provided the rationale the Nazis used to inspire their initiates to take over other lands, particularly those to the east.
This foundational myth was about physicality (blood and land), but it was expressed in meta-cultural terms, with the Aryans as heroes. A hero is brave in the service of others. This was corrupted in Nazism. The heroic class of Nazis, as they celebrated their heroes with songs and festivals, was dedicated, not to the service of others, but to the Fuhrer, one of their own, and to the Volk, their own people, and the Vaterland, their homeland. Patriotism very often constricts and contorts heroism in this self-serving, egocentric way. It is politically expedient and often popular, but it is a spiritual corruption.
The anti-heroes of the negative myth the Nazis propounded were the “destroyers” of civilization; they were the dark races and Semites led by the Jews. The Jews had insinuated themselves into the most critical points of society where they held key roles in banking, industry, science and intellectual enterprises. What’s more, they played sinister roles in much else, such as religion, medicine and geo-politics. It was Hitler’s plan from the beginning to eradicate the Jews from the German Fatherland. It was to be his legacy that the Jews were removed from Europe. But, by the latter stages of the Second World War, Hitler dreamed of trying to eradicate the memory that the Jews had ever existed in Europe.
The myth of the adversary was the opposite of the foundational myth of the Nazis. It posited that the Jews were demonic (the reverse of heroes), rather than being holders of key service roles in every level of society, which was a more apt description of their role in nineteenth and twentieth century Germany and middle Europe. The Nazis imagined a great conspiracy afoot, with the Jews in league with satanic forces behind it all. Since the roots of the danger could not be discerned, and the extent of the danger could not be exaggerated, any effort to thwart the enemy was justified, and needed to be carried out at every level: the Jewish genetic pool had to be eradicated; the Jewish intellectual heritage had to be expunged, and so forth. The Nazis’ “negative myth” justified wiping out the Jews. It is equally chilling to consider how ridding society of the Jews was largely acceptable to such a large percentage of the Germans as well as the Nazis.
It is characteristic of corrupted spirituality that the individual (person, society or nation) cannot heal itself, largely because healing involves initiatives that appear to be insidious. To heal would involve the unthinkable removal of both the positive and the negative myths, and therefore the destruction of the reason for being. Yielding would lead to an unimaginable outcome and back into terror. The very opposite kind of courage and leadership than the heroic sort being celebrated would be called for. Left to its own devices, if actions being undertaken are allowed to reach their final conclusion, corrupted spirituality expires in a final Ragnarok sort of Gotterdammerung, or simply becomes too much to sustain and then withers and putrefies.
However, in the face of the Nazi aggression against the nations of Europe, and their being in league with other aggressors, more decisive action was decided upon. An alliance of nations was formed to not only oppose Nazi military moves, but to reverse them and then to obliterate the threat of them re-emerging. The first motive for invading Nazi-held lands was to oppose Nazi aggression. Meanwhile, Nazi atrocities not only (nor primarily) against military targets, but against civilian populations, gnawed at the consciences of the Allied nations. Even though many people in those Allied nations agreed with some of the stereotype stories about Jews, the treatment of Jews through mass murder and the gradual truth about the concentration and death camps, further motivated the invasion. In the end, it was not just the elimination of the ability of the Nazis to wage war that purged Germany of its toxic spiritual corruption, but the exposure of the rottenness of its enabling myths. That effect was greatly speeded up, of course, by conclusive military action.
Finally, it would be unrealistic to think that all the seeds of those myths have been completely and utterly obliterated. Friends in Austria and Germany report that there are neo-Nazi factions alive and growing again with variations of those same empowering myths. Other friends in the Americas and England, as well as elsewhere scattered around the world, tell of nationalistic groups (sometimes actually employing Nazi titles and regalia) who have revised the myths and gain energy from them to undertake action plans.
There are also movements and groups who deny any affinity with the Nazis and the content of their myths, who have other corrupted narratives of an endangered society or nation beset by people bent on disempowering and destroying their entitlements, who are rallying around an inward-looking charismatic leader.
The time comes when vigilance is not enough.
[Note on the picture above: The Dadaist artist John Heartfield was a fearless critic of Hitler and his movement. His montages showed the spiritual corruption inherent in militant nationalism.]
In the two countries most important to me personally, Thailand and the USA, one of the most enigmatic controversies is about disappearing monuments. And in both cases the underlying issue is, “What is our significant history, really?” To be sure, monuments disappear all the time, sometimes long after whatever they were celebrating has been forgotten. This fact, and the hubris that led to the erection of the monument in the first place, was the subject of one of Shelly’s most famous poems, the most memorable stanza of which brags, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” All that was left of those works was a shattered statue.
We will return to the more recent disappearing statues shortly. First, a bit about monuments.
There are various reasons for erecting monumental statuary. Some of the main reasons are: (1) to serve as a venue and stage for a great celebration. The Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Arch of Titus in Rome are examples. Conquering heroes need suitable backdrops for their victory celebrations and they build those sites impressively because they expect praise of their conquests to be lasting. (2) An even larger number are erected to memorialize persons who are significant to the cultural heritage of a people. At the present time that is what is supposedly being memorialized in the world’s largest bas relief statuary on Stone Mountain, Georgia (USA), and the tallest free-standing one, the Statue of Unity in India. Using heroes as metaphors was also the purpose of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota (which is likely to be the last trace of human habitation on earth when the human race becomes extinct, according to a pundit whose speculation I read on-line, so it must be true). (3) A third category is of people whom later descendants or beneficiaries do not want to be forgotten. Soldier and Sailor memorials and statuary of former kings or celebrities do this.
The Statue of Unity is an immense likeness of Vallabhbhai Patel, a leader of the independence movement of India. The statue is 597 feet high, higher than any other statue, even religious ones. Patel remarkably united the hundreds of principalities in India into the united nation of India. The statue is 2 years old. It is so young that controversy about it is just getting started.
On the other hand controversy is main feature of the huge Stone Mountain bas relief sculpture honoring Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. It is immense and it has more visitors than any other site in Georgia. Controversy is due to what the sculpture stands for. Defenders of the monument say it is a marker of the historical fact that at one time those three men lived, served heroically, and were appreciated by people of the South. Opponents say that, as with all public monuments lauding leaders of the Confederacy during the War Between the States, Stone Mountain Park ignores the basic facts that those men and the war they led were to sustain slavery, and to energize movements to retain racial divisions. It cannot be a mere coincidence that the official opening of the park was delayed several years so it could be held on the very day of the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The park and the sculpture were constructed as the US Civil Rights Movement was beginning to succeed. Stone Mountain was in defiance of that movement. [For more about this aspect of the removal of Confederate statues see an earlier blog essay entitled “Confederate Statues”: www.kendobson.asia/blog/confederate-statues ]
Reasons for removing monuments are as varied as the ones for erecting them. Some are removed to better preserve them, or to make way for something more important (such as an expressway or condominium) as the monument has lost importance, or to dull collective memory about why there used to be these heroes. Since there can be conflicting opinions about just how important those memories are, arguments can arise about why the monuments are being removed. To get at the bottom of that, it is necessary to be clear about why the monuments were put up and who wants them taken down.
Removing or simply moving monuments to heroes of the Confederacy is contentious in this regard. They are historic, say the preservationists. They were put up to validate the fiction that “the Confederacy was a grand idea and the subjection of inferior races was just fine,” say the ones offended by the monuments.
Here in Thailand monument removal is going on right now.
Khaosot-english newspaper carried the latest of several articles by senior staff writer Pravit Rojanaphruk on January 27, 2020 reporting on the removal of two statues of heroes being demoted.
Background: in 1932 a revolution in Siam replaced the absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy and elected parliament, called a democracy. The two main leaders of the revolution were Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram and his colleague Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena. In the years following, various monuments to this revolution and to its leaders were erected, including the largest, the Democracy Monument, in the middle of the royal boulevard connecting several royal palaces. Democracy Monument has been the rallying point for several political movements including deadly ones in 1973 and 1976.
What happened late last month is that a statue of Field Marshal Pibul who founded the National Defense College was removed from its place of honor on the college campus. It was first reported gone on January 20. Then on the 27th both Field Marshal Pibul’s and Phraya Phahol’s statues were removed from an army camp in Lopburi and the camp was renamed, stripping any mention of the revolutionary leaders. This followed the removal on December 28, 2018 of a monument commemorating the government’s victory over a pro-royalist counter-revolution attempt in 1933.
The first democracy monument to be bulldozed was in Buriram Province on 7 November 2014 right after the military coup removed the last fully-elected parliament and installed an ultra-royalist military government. They said the monument was removed to make way for a highway.
The most controversial removal was also the smallest. In April 2017 a small brass marker disappeared in the night after having been imbedded in the pavement of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok for 80 years marking the spot where the Democracy Revolution began. It was replaced with one praising the monarchy, just after the new King ascended the throne.
Meanwhile, phrases from the official swearing-in ceremony for government officials have been removed that mentioned their duty to the constitution rather than the monarch. Control of royal funds of several kinds has been moved from government to palace officials. A new parliament has been installed with entire blocks simply appointed by the military, and important branches of the military have been put back under the King’s command.
This week the government scurried to deny a rumor spreading on social media that the next to go would be the Democracy Monument itself. A major expansion and improvement of the boulevard “will not touch the Democracy Monument” which sits in the middle of the street, the government spokesperson insisted.
The model of the democratic constitution still resides prominently on its three layers of ceremonial basin atop the Democracy Monument, although the actual constitution has been replaced at least 19 times.
It takes a special kind of blindness not to see how the idea of constitutional democracy is being removed one monument and one step at a time. But there are other ways to dilute the rule of law and hand it over to rulers. Refusing to let courts of justice function impartially is one of them. Fixing it so that elections no longer put the people in office that the majority of citizens want to be their representatives is another.
History is harder to manipulate, but people’s memories are easier to deceive when historical reminders are removed. Start with the oncoming generation. Remove the statues, then shorten mentions of inconvenient events in text books, and pretty soon history is all fixed.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.