Archive for August 10th, 2009

As A City Upon A Hill

Builders of states, architects of revolution: these are usually idealists, who believe that what they create shall be different, better, other, more, than all that came before.

If wishes were horses . . . .

CD2-01John Winthrop, Puritan prelate of the Massachusetts Bay Company, promised to plant on the shores of North America a beacon for all the world: “the eyes of all people are upon us,” he said, and “we shall be as a city upon a hill.” Yet before his people could even properly feed themselves, they were busy hanging one another for adultery.

Nearly 400 years later, the animatronic Ronald Reagan proclaimed that Winthrop’s fabled American city had taken on a glow—we were now “a shining city on a hill.” To which William Burroughs was heard to grumble: “America may well be the hope of the world. It is also the source of such emotional plagues as drug hysteria, racism, Bible belt morality, Protestant capitalistic ethic, muscular Christianity, that have spread everywhere, transforming this planet into an annex of Hell.” My own observation, expressed at the time, was that the only American city I could see with much of a shine, there during Reagan’s time, was Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then all aglow from the near-meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility.

In a 1972 interview with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir confessed her deep disappointment with the reality of the Jewish state.

You’ll think me foolish, naive, but I thought that in a Jewish state there wouldn’t be the evils that afflict other societies. Theft, murder, prostitution. I thought so because we had started out so well. Fifteen years ago in Israel there were almost no thefts, and there were no murders, there was no prostitution. Now instead we have everything, everything. And it’s something that breaks your heart[.]

So too, Iran. 



I Summoned Am To Tourney

It has been said that no one can understand the mind of the medieval knight, and the implication is that his blend of arrogance, quick temper, risk-taking and irrationality is a thing of the past.

Curiously enough, the automobile has created its own species of knights. Lulled into a false sense of security by the armour around him, flattered by the speed which he controls with the touch of the foot, arrogant towards those with inferior mounts or with no mounts at all, the modern motorist will display chivalry towards an attractive woman, Road ragepay grudging deference to the owner of a vehicle which is clearly superior, but otherwise behave with stupid over-competitive hostility to every other road-user. The clearest conviction of the modern motorist is that every other driver is in the wrong; he is driving too fast, too slowly, too timidly or too aggressively. Even the carnage of the multiple accident leaves him relatively unmoved; the massacre of a few peasants had much the same effect on a feudal baron’s emotions.

Like the medieval predecessor, the knight of the road goes into the lists and challenges all comers. This is the melee where he can work off his repressions and the ill-temper which everyday life engenders. Some drivers are worse than others but few of us have a completely unblotted escutcheon. Perhaps we are not so remote in thought from our distant ancestors as we like to believe.
                                                                       —Philip Warner, The Medieval Castle

When I Worked

August 2009
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