Fore them neidfaerae   naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnottura   than him tharf sie,
to ymbhycggannae,   aer his hiniongae,
huaet his gastae   godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege   doemid uueorthae.

15thC (?) Depiction of Death; the struggle for the dying man’s soul

Before that needful-journey no-one becomes
wiser than it is necessary for him
to consider, before his going-hence,
what his soul by way of good or evil
may be deemed, after the death-day.

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I have been having a lot of conversation, doing a lot of reading, about modern politics and economics. Anarchists and Marxists are among my friends nowadays, and the root causes for a lot of modern oppression is a fun thing to debate about. I like debate! But so much of the conversation is ahistorical. As a student of the early medieval period, I am perhaps more aware than some that class structures are not the same thing as ‘capitalism’, however that is defined. ‘Pre-capitalist’ societies were also predicated on some folk coming under other folk- for all that there is no wealthy middle class in Anglo-Saxon England, or that the pursuit of profit was all-consuming, one still has kings and clerics, abbotts and peasants.

So today, when I came across David Korten’s article “The End of Empire” at Yes! Magazine, I had only one response: Citation Needed.

As the institutions of Empire took root, humans turned from a reverence for the generative power of life to a reverence for hierarchy and the power of the sword. The wisdom of the elder and the priestess gave way to the arbitrary rule of often ruthless kings. Social pathology became the norm and society’s creative energy focused on perfecting the instruments of war and domination. Priority in the use of available resources went to military, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage.

Citation needed.

Seriously. ‘Turned from a reverence for the generative power of life’? What? I don’t even know what that means. Is he trying to say that pre-monarchical societies revered life? The human sacrifice of captured enemies practiced by pre-Christian Germanic peoples puts paid to that particular lie. What makes the so-called ‘wisdom’ of a priestess or an ‘elder’ any less arbitrary or ruthless than that of a king or emperor? For that matter, the Roman Republic is one of the clearest examples of the kind of dominating ‘Empire’ that Korten is blithering about, and that wasn’t ruled by anything resembling a King! It was expressely founded to avoid kingship, and yet had no problems at all with dominating neighbouring cultures and civilisations.

I, too, have many issues with the modern world and its emphasis on greed and destruction of the Other to further itself. I readily agree that many of our modern concepts of fair play and ‘freedom’ (.i. freedom for those on top, and fair play for those who rule) were forged in the corrupting and sadistic smithies of ancient empires. Any student of any period of history can see these things play out.

Yet human history covers a period some five thousand years long, and our species has experiemented with many types of governance and systems of rulership- some fairer than others. If one wishes to discuss the historicity of modern imperialism, then get the fucking history right.

Take a university course! Read some books! Understand what the hell you are talking of before you seek to condemn it. Because every time I see a fellow member of the so-called ‘Left’ blithering about history in such ignorance, I cover my face in my hands and start to gently weep.

I am willing to be your ally. I want to stand alongside you against government corruption, against hierarchical hatred, be for the people. While you continue to be wrong, I will not. I cannot, in good academic conscience, be willing to nod my head alongside people who are wrong. When people in the atheist movement get a matter of religion wrong, I call them on it. When feminist activists get scientific matters wrong, Jen McCreight calls them on it. If one can get basic facts simply wrong, or one overextends a generalisation, it calls the entire movement into disrepute.

So. Citation fucking needed. Bring me your evidence, and then I will call you my ally again. But until you know, shut up.

I have this memory, from a few years ago, of sitting around in a friend’s apartment and listening to random music and eating great food. (Said friend was Danish, you see, and dang but do Scandinavians know how to cook.) At some point the soundtrack for Jesus Christ Superstar came on. Specifically, ‘Everything’s Alright’, the scene where Mary Magdalene goes to bathe Jesus’ feet and was his hair with her expensive oils. The song is quite moving, I suppose, but I suddenly realised I loathed it.

In the song, Judas Iscariot rises and condemns Magdalene and Jesus for using the ‘fine ointment / brand new and expensive’ instead. Instead he advocates selling the stuff and using the ‘three hundred… or more’ pieces of silver they could have acquired to assistant the poor and starving in Roman-occupied Judea. Jesus’ condescending response is that there will always be poor folk, ‘pathetically struggling’ and that it’s better to appreciate the ‘fine things’ that one already has. Meanwhile in the background, Magdalene and the chorus (the wives of the apostles) chant:

APOSTLES’ WIVES

Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes.

MARY MAGDALENE

Close your eyes, close your eyes, and relax

What a hideous piece of music.  Of course Jesus advocates that one should appreciate what one has. He is the one getting his feet massaged with oils! He is the leader of the motley crew, with all the power and authority. And, of course, he is the all-powerful Son of God, one third of the Trinity, with the power to overturn all the earth and make it into a paradise. His sneering contempt for the helpless poverty of the people he was sent to save sends paroxysms of anger and hatred down my spine.

Helpless only because he refuses to help them! There will always be poor of the world because the Almighty refuses to do anything to stop it. When one of his closest companions offers to help relieve some of the poor of their cruel lot, he refuses- why help anyone at all, when there are others? Why indeed, especially when one can spent such exorbitant wealth on oneself. Gah.

This is without even addressing the myopic bleating of the chorus lines. Close your eyes and relax! Pay no heed to those who are desperately trying to wake you up from your heartless selfishness. Everything’s all right. Just relax.

It perfectly encapsulates my issues with religious thinking.

Of course, Superstar isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of the New Testament. Yet even a straightforward reading of the texts of Jesus reveals him to be anything other than a powerful figure for social change. Rather than advocating the freedom of his people from Roman rule, he said to render unto Caesar what was his. Rather than compelling his followers to improve their lives and those of their neighbours in the here and now, he declared that he was a sword to set brother against brother.

What a lovely chap. I much prefer Judas.

Gosh. How did no-one tell me of HistoryTeachers, the best channel on the whole of the YouTubes? Dozens of tubes, covering topics ranging from prehistoric anthropology through the classical and medieval worlds up to the modern period. The formula might be simple (take pop song, make historical, profit) but damn if this isn’t relevant to my interests.

Okay, so the formula means that a few of the more interesting tidbits get sliced away to cram things into three-to-five minutes. She mispronounces scop (hint: it’s like ‘ship’) in the Beowulf video. The Crusades falls into traps about the Children’s Crusade and old-fashioned claims that it was about land-grabbing economics. These are the sorts of things that annoy me.

On the other hand, they acknowledgin’ the tradin’ inherent to goin’ a-vikin’.

The project is a great way to break folks into history-learnin’, and that is the point. You can open up the discussions about historical nuances and the more obscure facts after you get bored high-schoolers with their facetwitters and tumbooks to actually pay attention. Which these do. They are so much damn FUN, guys. SO MUCH. I wound up singing along to Charlemagne the first time I listened to it.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mrs. B, the star of the videos, is gorgeous.

Catullus XVI

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
nam castum esse decet pium poetam
ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est;
qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem
si sunt molliculi ac parum pudici
et quod pruriat incitare possunt,
non dico pueris sed his pilosis
qui duras nequeunt movere lumbos.
vos, quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

-Gaius Valerius Catullus

Catullus 16

I will sodomise and face-fuck you,
cocksucking Aurelius and poofter Fucius,
because you thought me, because of my little verses,
which are a bit sissy, indecent.
For a proper poet should be pure,
himself, but his poems don’t need to be;
indeed, they have salt and wit
if they’re sissified and indecent,
and only when they can arose an itch,
not, I say, in boys, but those hairy men
who cannot move their rough cocks.
Because you’ve read of my thousands of kisses,
you suppose I’m a soft man?
I will sodomise and then skull-fuck you.

-Catullus

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