Thanksgiving ’01

/ Kleptocracy /
@ K. Nov 2001

Thanksgiving: a Holy Day for Kleptocracy

Thanksgiving, today, the third Thursday of 2001, this first instance of this particular secular holiday of the new millennium.

Going way back, the church assumed the right to tell us what we should feel about God. This is done to us long before we are of an age to think about whether or not to protest. The Roman Catholic Church used to have all the instruments of terror to make sure that if we didn’t like it, that we would not be likely to not like it out loud. That was in the bad old days.

Traditions ExNihilo

These days the state carries its nuclear arms, its jails, its police, its court houses, its Manifest Destiny and its right to build roads across your front yard on its sleeve. Just up its sleeve are rumors of “our own” research into weird gases and biological warfare. Memories of “our own” concentration camps, ones long since the invention of “Indian Reservations,” still stick from the sleeve.

Still. When did the state come to believe that it has the right to tell us how we should feel in areas long regarded to belong to the church? Could “Thanksgiving” be a good vantage point from which to watch the current battles in the ancient war between those rival brothers the church and the state?

I remember my childhood, sitting in school, dutifully concocting lists of things I should be thankful for.

My first day of school I questioned the state’s right to coerce that particular separation from my family. The day I was called in for my military induction’s physical examination I questioned the state’s right to coerce me, a would-be Christian, a conscientious objector, into military service. [See AnaChrin.] But as an eight, ten, or twelve year old sitting in the school, I questioned neither the teacher’s right nor wisdom in prompting me to work hard at being grateful on cue.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for gratitude: where it’s voluntary: the more so where it’s appropriate. I would be appalled by a state which punished expressions of gratitude among its citizens. I bet that feelings of gratitude are natural to a sentient social species. It wouldn’t surprise me if porpoises had some cetacean analog for thanks that they indulged in. Evolutionary biologists ought to be able to reverse engineer plausible social evolutionary “explanations” for it.

Just in case the reader has fallen into this particular module at before picking up any of the pk shticks prevalent here, let me catch you up. I’ve lost my trust of my species in all the kleptocratic forms its taken for the last ten thousand years. Now I’m not sure we weren’t flawed before we invented civilization: factitious hierarchical authority, coercion without apology. This particular high-breeding sentient social predator, master of disguises, prince of lies, prince above all of self-deception … had already stressed it’s environment, was already on its way out, and invented civilization as a way to dig its nails in, resist the slide, appropriate, natural, overdue, to oblivion.

What I’m not sure of is whether social pressure is intrinsically blind, a mere expression of homeostasis, or whether pre-kleptocratic social glue can ever have been sane. Could there ever possibly be a society that wouldn’t listen to Chicken Little but would listen to Jesus? to Galileo? to Freud? to Jared Diamond? In other words: is it possible for a social sentience to be intelligently intelligent? or merely aware that it exists as it goes down the tube: unaware that it’s going down the tube? 2016 02 21 I just had a memory from childhood: My friend Rudy, older, sadistic, and I would bicycle to a neighboring swamp to try to catch frogs. I’ll never forget seeing one frog already caught by a snake. It stretched the snake’s gullet, getting muscled down the tube backwards, looking out, wide eyed at the world about to disappear. It didn’t look terrified, it looked stoic. I couldn’t help feel its descent in human-sentient terms.

I think questions such as the origin of holidays is germane to the larger question. I think questions of what’s naturally social and what’s factitiously induced for the society are crucial. If the species is now genetically disposed to suicidal self-imitation, then however satisfying my thinking and writing is to me personally, it’s no different than masturbating or eating a handful of M&Ms in terms of its effect on the universe: a conscious individual can’t affect the universe: not in any way he has any control over. The President in Washington or the pilot of the Enola Gay can tip us further into suicide: but not by any conscious act: if Jesus or Galileo or Freud saves us, it’s purely coincidence: an accident. Well, I don’t know the answer, but I think and write, at least I tell myself that I think and write, because just maybe, whatever the odds against it, I can make a difference. I could save us. Jesus didn’t. Galileo didn’t. Freud didn’t. But maybe pk could. Or maybe Jesus will save us: but only if aided by Galileo, Freud, Diamond, and me!

Not all human societies have been religious. Are there any non-religious left? The religious have swallowed the non-religious. Before the swallowing is complete, shouldn’t we seek an objective viewpoint of the situation? before a possibly fatal species becomes definitely dead? (The reverse is always simultaneously true. Whatever we think is killing us could actually be the one thing saving us; whatever we think is saving us could actually be the one thing killing us.) The majority being religious is in itself no justification: we have to have a sense of the species’ past, present, and possible future. Durkheim said that the difference between the religious and the non-religious (the basic information, pk adds, of religion) is that the religious insist that there is such a thing as the sacred and that they can distinguish it from the non-sacred.

The fundamental question of civilization, as any American courtroom can show you, is that civilized men know the difference between right and wrong. Only those in the majority on this issue have any rights. If Charles Manson doesn’t know that his helter-skelter was wrong, then we can’t electrocute him. We can still kill him, lock him up, eat him for dinner, but not in the person of the court. If Charles Manson insists that his helter-skelter was right, or Boothe his shooting of Lincoln, then the law can’t execute him as a man, only incarcerate him (or extinguish him) as an animal.

There! Same difference. Only civilized man can tell with certainty the difference between a man and an animal. Only civilized man is certain that there is such a difference. Funny: ain’t no difference to me. But then I specifically deny that I’m still civilized. I used to be civilized.

Excuse me. This is a first draft. In a tenth draft my writing may suffer from digression, from lack of focus, from unfortunate logical choices … (Oh. and the rest of you do so much better! Ha!) That’s tough. I (I in my old age) have got to blurt first and revise later. Whether revisions improve or worsen is moot. (I myself argue that my revisions mostly improve, sometimes dilute.) 2016 02 21 My own distinctions have more and more “senior” moments. Fifteen years have passed since launching this. 77. The other night I went to introduce Judy to Jerry and Karen at the dance and suddenly couldn’t remember anybody’s name, not even my own.

The society claims infallibility in its judgment of right and wrong, of good and evil, of sacred and profane. Now we’re also supposed to distinguish between church and state. (It’s all the same beast to me. For all I know God dressed in white is the same actor in different make-up as the Devil dressed in red.)

Let me try to juggle still another ball at the same time. I want to distinguish natural man from civilized man. I want to distinguish natural man from religious man. I want to distinguish natural man from kleptocratic man. I want to distinguish between one way roads and roads we could back up on. I want to distinguish between sane tendencies we should reinforce and pathological tendencies we should resist if not correct. The ball to add? I want to distinguish between deep, old patterns (like humans wearing clothes) and recent fashions (like waving a flag to show the terrorists where we are).

There’s a difference between being an ancient Greek, a descendant of Indo-European ancestors who displaced the previous inhabitants of the Peloponnesus long ago, and a mayor of Sacramento, whose forebears stole the valley from Sutter only a century and a half ago. (There are other differences: simply exquisite. The Greeks had little culture in common with the displaced culture; the forty-niners had adopted the same English that Sutter had: they were all conspicuously “Christian,” “European,” “white” … The displaced “Greeks” had no deeds to the land honored by the invading “Greeks”; Sutter had treaties with Russia, Mexico, the United States … (If Sutter had realized that there was gold near his valley of rich soil and ideal climate, he should have known to keep looking until he found lesser farm land without gold.) (If the present United States suddenly found oil under the Champs Élysées, France might suddenly find itself without any right to ancient Gaul.

I want to distinguish between the ancient sacred (like Christmas, Easter, Halloween …) and the recent (the Super Bowl, the Washington Mall, Thanksgiving …) Christmas and Easter almost anyone knows these days are far older than Christianity. So’s Halloween, but Halloween doesn’t pretend to be Christian. We don’t know enough history to know how old they are. History is a field in diapers compared to the antiquity of those patterns in cosmology and superstition. (Jared Diamond has just shown us better than anybody ever that history’s diapers need to be changed.)

History’s diapers need to be changed.

Thanksgiving is a manufactured holiday. It’s a secular holy day. New priests (congress) gave it to us. Imposed it on us. Demand that we don the costume. I want to ask if the new priests have any ulterior motive for concocting this secular holy day. Why should the secular powers care whether or not we’re grateful, appropriately or otherwise? Isn’t that a spiritual concern? Or is Thanksgiving one not-too-well concealed attempt by the state to become the church as well as the state? to tell us what’s sacred and profane in all areas: not just in this life but in the afterlife as well. Should it surprise anyone if the state, once it achieved status sufficient to stand in opposition to the Church (Luther), wanted to tread on the face of the church, to be both its ghastly, fell self and the church?

I don’t think that’s too bad for a start. On the other hand I see that I haven’t yet made it near clear enough that it might be possible to question what right any group has to supervise how you feel. For myself I’ll defend the parent’s right to coerce longest; church and state’s right not at all. (Minor question there whether those latter possession punctuations should have been plural rather than singular.)

2015 19 26 Just got around to resurrecting this one. I’ve modified style, spelling, but basically thus far I just pass it on.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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