Apr 29, 2015

April 29, 2015: Epitaph, Medieval Portal, In The Hands of Fools

"The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams."

    ----King Crimson "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King"

The lessons taught were most assuredly wrong.(2) The American Madrasa, the Christian version of same as practiced here in the United States, teaches a select history. The Crusades, for instance, were venerated as is, for some unknown reason, the works of the historian Gibbon. Reading Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" I discovered that not only does Gibbon NOT say that the empire collapsed because the people had strayed from their newly established Christianity; but it was in part because of the adoption of the new religion and the resulting loss of the martial spirit that the empire declined. Moreover, his account of the later Crusades were a marked contrast from the version presented to us by our intrepid schoolmasters. Indeed the Crusades were an act of remarkable barbarity; not on the part of the Muslims, (Saracens as they were then known) but on the part of the Christians themselves.

Gibbon had this to say about the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. "In the pillage of public and private wealth, the adventurers had agreed to respect the exclusive property of the first occupant; and the great mosque, seventy lamps and massy vases of gold and silver, rewarded the diligence, and displayed the generosity of Tancred. A bloody sacrifice was offered by his mistaken votaries to the God of the Christians; resistance might provoke, but neither age nor sex could mollify, their implacable rage; they indulged themselves three days in a promiscuous massacre; and the infection of the dead bodies produced an epidemic disease. After seventy thousand Moslems had been put to the sword, and the harmless Jews had been burnt in their synagogue, they could still reserve a multitude of captives whom interest or lassitude persuaded them to spare. Of these savage heroes of the cross, Tancred alone betrayed some sentiments of compassion; yet we may praise the more selfish lenity of Raymond, who granted a capitulation and safe-conduct to the garrison of the Citadel." (3)

This is but a sample of the atrocities committed during the course of the seven crusades yet we are led to believe that these ‘savage heroes of the cross’ who were guilty of everything from pogroms against the Jews as they made their way East toward Palestine, to roasting and eating young children, to wholesale slaughter, were champions of righteousness. Clearly the man at the head of the class had not read his Gibbon nor, for that matter, much else. When my headmasters moved on to ‘higher’ callings lessons were hardly learned. The name given to our sports teams went from the ‘Royals’ to, I was later to discover, the ‘Crusaders’.

"And you don’t count the dead
when God’s on your side"
-----Bob Dylan "With God on our Side"
Every education is an abbreviation of sorts of the long collective memory. Part of this is by necessity for one cannot, for instance, review every book ever written. But some of it is by design, intentional, and every institution does it. From omitting inconvenient truth to downright falsification a version of history emerges that at some point reaches a certain common denominator defined as our "collective misunderstandings" or, as Voltaire so succinctly put it "the lie commonly agreed upon". And if your instructor hasn’t done his homework, hasn’t brought a measure of curiosity to his profession and is, in effect, an intellectual slacker you won’t get exposed to much more than the standard fare. 

The public schools hew pretty much to the standard fare, especially teachers of History and Social Studies for they tend to be the coaches of the sports teams and that is their true interest in life. Accordingly they work to stay the proverbial one chapter ahead of the student. The parochial schools, however, present us with an entirely different beast.

At base, religious doctrine teaches that man in inherently flawed and evil. It follows from this that nothing human can be trusted, particularly that attribute that best separates him from the beast in the field: reason. By this ‘logic’ it follows that faith always trumps reason, and because this is so reason and its handmaiden science are approached with the utmost suspicion. Accordingly any scientific ‘theory’ this side of gravity itself is viewed as a mere intellectual curiosity at best, or at worst a downright assault on the revealed word of god. Increasingly confronted by inconvenient truth, the parochial retrenches finally presenting Darwin and Einstein to the class between clenched teeth explaining that we need to know these things only because we will be expected to know them when we go on to later public instruction. So badly do the parochial schools function as transmitters of science and natural history that the Grand Rapids, Michigan, public schools at one time were providing the area parochial schools with math and science teachers; a practice later ended by a Supreme Court ruling that such a practice violated the separation of church and state. The experiment was, however, an albeit brief admission of the incapacity of these institutions to provide instruction in these fields. In my particular case, nearly a third of the day was consumed in Bible instruction, memorization, and recitation. Math instruction, such as it was, lagged far behind. Science consisted mostly in the study of birds, and then relegated to only a couple of hours a week. So bad was it that when instructed to present a science ‘experiment’ to the class, we were at a loss, we had no idea where to turn, where to begin. One poor soul, presented the class with a standard highway road map. The inference is quite clear, one is led to the emerging technological and informational age through a medieval portal; as the ‘Generation of Swine’ emerged into the dawn of adulthood through the doors of a "New Frontier".

"Between the iron gates of fate
The seeds of time were sown
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known.
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools."

Knowledge, like technology and indeed government is fundamentally amoral. It can be used for moral or immoral purposes. It can save lives or it can kill millions. It can save our environment or it can lay waste the planet. It is what we make of it. There is a condition in every society that sociologists call ‘cultural lag’; a condition whereby the society in question lags behind technological and cultural evolution. How far the society lags behind depends upon how well-versed and prepared it is to apprehend and, it is hoped, direct the advances of knowledge and technology. We are a nation and a society that functions under an 18th century political constitution, increasingly heeds the siren call of 19th century economics, and has yet to learn the awful lessons of the great wars of the last century. To wrap our arms about the complexities of the issues, to meet the environmental, economic, political and technological challenges before us, simply cannot be done by a people lost in space and in time. As long as we elect to put these people at the head of the class our fate is in the hands of fools.

I have left Act I for involution and, Act II, mired in complexity....

"Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,"

As I speak the old pubic elementary school that was closed two years ago is being re-opened by something called the "Covenant Academy". Public dollars turned to vouchers transforming a public facility into another American Madrasa. Some of the billion or so dollars that the state is now investing in these institutions.

"Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying".... (1)


1. King Crimson, "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King" http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kingcrimson/epitaph.html

2. See posting dated September 20, 2014 for another account on the shortcomings of parochial education.

3. See Gibbon, Edward. "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Vol. VI, methuen & Co. LTD, London 1912. AMS Press, New York. Pages 323-324.

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