Halloween is how “All Hallows Eve” is now pronounced. And, as with the term, the meaning and narrative for the day (and especially the night) have evolved. October 31 began to be Halloween in Europe when the Church imposed All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) on pagan days that were concerned with annual migrations of ghosts and demons, about which Europe was fixated. The Middle Ages specialized in fantasy narratives that coalesced their fear of death. Defeating the Devil and his evil minions was a theme in a wide variety of religious rituals and less-religious popular arts and entertainments. Major Christian festivals are preceded with a day or a season of preparation, hence, the evening before All Hallows (Saints). But the people could not be prevented from remembering what it had all once been about: witches and worse flying to cavort with Satan and his henchmen.
Halloween has now been domesticated for the most part. The Church did not come out right away to actively suppress the lighting of bonfires to divert the evil migration or the other attempts to placate the ghosts of largely anonymous ancestors. That came later. But it was a combination of the Enlightenment and natural psychological forces that transformed the year’s most frightful night into one of the most playful. People usually do away with that which terrifies them by laughing it away, as soon as they can. [I posted a more thorough blog about this in 2014: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/ghosts ]
In Alton, Illinois (the last town in the USA in which I resided (1987-94) before returning to Thailand) the Halloween Parade was one of the town’s largest community events. It was all about dressing up, showing off, being proud, having fun, collecting memories, and all the things that community parades do. It was big. This year will be the 104th Halloween Parade in Alton, although the excitement is fading anyway as the town slowly declines. We’ll see what happens as America pretends COVID is over.
Ironically, it was another epidemic, the Black Plague that energized All Hallows Eve. Something had to be behind those repeated waves of death. They had to be personified in order to be handled. The persons who were targeted were witches and wizards. They were rounded up and killed by the thousands. The attempt was to wipe them out. It was ethnic cleansing, except that it lacked clear definitions of terms and was hysterically indiscriminate.
The difference between those times and now is obvious. COVID is no longer blamed on witches, but there is a prolonged effort to blame somebody. It depends on which conspiracy theory you buy. Witches, of course, are off the hook, for the most part. Witches are now in a safe section of our cultural literature, safe even for children, safe for theme parks. Witches are safe for Halloween trick-or-treating except you need to plan and regulate that now because, well, there are still “bad people out there”.
What did he say?!
“Soldiers [i.e. the military] cannot be under the control of a civilian government that has been elected by the people because we are soldiers of the King [of Thailand].” This quote was attributed to General Apirach Kojsompong during a special presentation entitled “Our Lucky Country during an Era of Security.”
What we are missing is a date for this comment, his audience (and therefore the context for his argument), and his duties at the time.
Taken at face value, however, the implications are that the General is rejecting any line of authority for the military that derives from an elected government rather than the hereditary monarch. No matter what the Thai Constitution says, the three branches of tahan (Army, Navy, Air Force, and probably the Police, which is also “military” in Thailand but tamruat rather than tahan) will not take orders from Parliament or …. Or even the Ministry of Defense? That would render the action of 1932 meaningless when a revolution led by the military replaced the Absolute Monarchy with a Constitutional Monarchy. It would limit the authority of the courts and the government, it would set the military over-against the people, and make the palace and military accountable to no one.
The General’s comments, however, were abbreviated in the meme that appeared a couple of days ago. It is agreed, in fact, that “according to the constitution, the king is head of the armed forces.” [source: Wikipedia, “Government of Thailand”] The model for this is the Westminster [UK] system. In that system the monarch is the titular head of everything, the authority to run the government rests with elected representatives with an advisory upper house of government and with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers carrying out the government’s policy decisions.
The late King Bumibol Adulyadej repeatedly asserted that the monarch is “under the law” and “reigns at the will of the people.” His son, the present King, has succeeded in reasserting several royal controls. It appears that General Apirach takes the position that things have changed.
There are lots of possible ways to interpret the General’s statement. What is most obvious is that the General is saying that the military is a force for stability that helps offset the instability that comes to Thailand every time the armed forces back off from being in control.
Historically and presently, no matter what the General intended, the military has clung to power not only to defend the country but also to run the country. No matter who manages to slide into public view as the face of the government, the military is never far away. At this time Thailand has no foreign threats. Even the Islamic ongoing “insurrection” in the three southern provinces is a domestic matter. There is no need for a large standing army equipped with the most advanced and expensive airplanes and submarines. The armed forces are on hand to protect the elite from the people. But these purchases must serve another purpose. Protecting that unmentionable purpose is what the military is concerned about.
What if we just refuse to debate our gender on scientific terms? What if we just quit arguing about whether boys are boys and girls are girls? What if we say, “That is not the point. It’s irrelevant.”
In almost every other ordinary area of life we say, “You can be what you want to be.”
You want to be a senator or MP? Go for it.
You want to be an Australian? Emigrate and apply.
You want to be a humanitarian? Good for you!
So why are one’s gender presentation, sexual expression, and self-identity not a matter of choice if the technology is available and the need is sufficient? As to “need,” why does anything matter more than a person’s own self-understanding and integrity, if no one else is harmed, disadvantaged, or impacted in any real way? Integrity, by the way, is best defined as “consistency between feeling and action,” which is (thanks to Shakespeare) “a consummation devoutly to be sought.”
Think about it for a moment. All it would take for this whole nasty debate and this aspect of the culture war to go away is for us all to agree that you get to decide what clothes you wear, what cosmetics you use, what friends you love, and what surgery to undertake.
Oh, wait! You are already free to make those choices! (Unless you defy your assigned gender in doing so.)
Why is gender an issue? Is it important for the survival of the human species to have boys and men perform their biological function and girls and women to do likewise?
Congratulations! That has worked so well that population is booming. The fact that some have opted out and others have been prevented from contributing to species survival seems not to be one of the factors currently threatening humankind.
So if the human race is not at stake, the threat must be about something else … the social order.
That is surely closer to the heart of the matter about why boys must be boys and girls, girls. The idea is to make it clear who is what so that roles are not confused. We need protectors and nurturers or society is threatened. The trouble is that we have not ever, in all of human history, actually confined those two functions to specific specific sexes. We have undertaken them jointly. Sometimes, as it happens, we have inflated the roles. We have thought of protectors as military, and military as men (certain Amazon exceptions notwithstanding). Actually, that has gotten humanity into trouble when we over-extended, as when we moved from protection to aggression. As for nurturers, they are not only mothers, teachers and nurses. It is ludicrous to limit the nurturing role to women and to humiliate men who also nurture.
In no way is the stability of society threatened by people changing their function. Soldiers change back into civilians; it is built into the system. Civic magnates not only change the course of nations they sometimes change diapers when the need arises. Anybody can cook if they know how.
Almost never does gender actually matter to social stability.
The social ORDER, as it turns out, is more fragile.
Social order and how it is interpreted is a social construct. In order to be orderly, the idea is to keep things as they are. This serves those who benefit from the existing order. Ironically, it is impossible. Social order is an illusion, sustained because social change is gradual, most of the time. It is a description, at best, of a consensus that the way things are is fine. (Here’s where the irony shines most clearly) – Any effort to impose social order accelerates the move toward increasingly inflexible hierarchy which then becomes unsustainable and crumbles. Radical conservatism is self-contradictory.
There is a cycle between anarchy and tyranny, with prosperity being both the aspiration as well as the undoing of social order, which happens as prosperity gravitates into the control of fewer and fewer tyrants. Then the many revolt against the tyrants and the cycle passes through extreme disorder on the way back through a time of happy order on to tyranny.
The problem with gender fluidity is that it confronts those who have a vested interest in keeping things frozen as they are. They come face to face with the reality that nothing can be static that way. Reality is evolving.
The percentage of people in any generation who discover their transgender identities is small, far less than 10%. They do not threaten the social order, but they undermine the IDEA that the social order is impervious to change. Queer people disprove the idea that the social order is synonymous with the natural order. That is a notion that those at the social pinnacle do not want to admit.
Those whose elite social status and privileges are threatened by constant social change are also small in number, far less than 10%. Unlike the marginalized people on whom they actually depend, however, the elite are protected in their elevated bastions. They are not being victimized, as they claim. Being challenged and being victimized are not the same thing. The right of people to choose their private behavior and public appearance does not impact the elite in any conceivable way. Their adamant defense of binary sexuality is scapegoating a vulnerable social minority group. It is fallacious.
We can refuse to play their game if we want to.
It would be better to quit looking for some logical, scientific way to explain how we are gay in order to refute the argument that we cannot legitimately be so. We can make more progress by advocating our freedom to dress and think as we choose. We have the right to make the same sartorial, cosmetic, and surgical choices as others have. We want to have the same legal rights as others have, too. We can call efforts to stop us what they are: harassment, usurpation of our human rights, bullying, and disrespect – to begin with.
Learning to Live with It
It seems to me, from my armchair in this nook in the valley, that “we are learning to live with it.” “It” being states of affairs and being that we never hoped for. Here are a few of them that we are learning to live with:
· The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be defeated back to zero infections.
· Violent nationalism shows no signs of disappearing.
· China’s intrusions into the South China Sea will continue.
· Battles against gender diversity in Eastern Europe will ratchet up.
· Facebook (and others) will never relinquish profits over people.
· Post-modern ego-centeredness will ultimately take a revolution to eliminate.
· Carbon poisoning of the atmosphere cannot be stopped “in time.”
· International conglomerates are beyond control by anyone.
· Artificial Intelligence will achieve the ability to innovate.
· Our present extinction event is now irreversible.
Each of those states is a sub-topic. For example, we could substitute the word “viruses” for “COVID-19 pandemic” as we become aware of our impotence against the threat of them. Viruses are more adaptable than we are. With regard to the environmental crisis, we are becoming aware that it is within the power of nature to continue beyond the extinction of any or almost all of the larger species, and nature is working toward eliminating the threat we humans pose. It may take time but nature will eradicate us.
On the personal level, each of us is learning to live with our individual configurations of circumstances we never hoped for. COVID has confronted us with requirements to which we need to adjust. Information technology has changed the way we think, whether we think so or not. Products we need to sustain life are all dependent on outside sources. We are enslaved to a survival-system from which death is our only escape.
But we have one set of choices left.
Our attitude is still moderately free. We can pick and choose what to worry about, and what to do about some of our circumstances. We can plan for tomorrow.
There are limits to that freedom, of course. Our health, for instance, may now include allergies that did not exist before bio-chemical pollution was imposed on world agriculture. Some emotional conditions (clinical depression, for one) are not matters of free choice and may not be completely cured medically. Being born feminine in a misogynistic culture puts one at an incredible disadvantage. Discovering one’s self to be gay is no “picnic” and may even be tragic.
But we can choose to sink into despair or to move on. Sometimes that to which we are able to move might be as utterly trivial as deciding to move from one chair to another. A thousand times that move would amount to almost nothing, but once in a thousand times it might give one a glimpse at something that “makes all the difference.” Almost none of the junctures that changed our life direction were anticipated or even realized as important at the moment.
Moving on takes willpower, but only a little at first.
First we do something “first”. We make a phone call, or go out for pizza, or take a nap. But that leads to a new thing to be done. After a while we realize that in some tiny way we are on the way toward moving things around (within our corner of the world) to make something better. Movement toward hope then takes on increasing scale.
If we are a national leader we might announce, at the end of a longish string of movement, “It’s no longer feasible to strive for zero infections now that the Delta-strain of COVID has changed the conditions.” As the leader in New Zealand has decided a day or so ago, it’s time to do something differently.
Here where I am, vaccinations are again normal, the opposition has resigned, and we have moved on to wonder how many shots and what vaccines; that’s our purview. So we go for the jab. We’re out of our chair and moving on. But we do not know what the results are going to be.
Moving on is never into certainty.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.