Swimming Against the Stream

Christian History

Notes Toward a Definition of Evil

Warsaw Poland January_1945

Warsaw in January 1945 after 80% of the city was vindictively destroyed by the Nazis.

Back in the fall of 2011 I was asked by a friend to try to provide a definition of evil. It was something I often talked about. What follows here is my rather sketchy attempt, notes merely, to delineate what is in truth an extraordinarily complex subject. To do justice, even to my own thoughts, on this subject would require much more time.

Furthermore I am going only going to discuss human evil and leave aside troubling questions about the incidental evils of earthquakes, mosquitoes and viruses. These natural evils do ultimately have to fit into a comprehensive answer to the question of evil, but I believe the real question here relates to that which we find in humanity. The capacity to choose to do evil things.

I have met a few people who actually don’t believe in evil. One woman, an established New York Times bestselling writer, told me that she felt that most things that were considered evils were really just extreme misunderstandings. In other words if people had just had more knowledge evil wouldn’t occur. My response to her… She lives in an incredibly sheltered world.

Let me enlarge that world a teeny bit with a couple of examples of what can only be described as evil.

Warsaw after Uprising

Another image of a flattened Warsaw, but it could have been Kiev, Manila, Tokyo, or Dresden.

The first comes from World War Two. In Poland, in late summer of 1944, the Russians were chasing the Nazis as they arrived at the banks of the Vistula River, which runs along the eastern edge of Warsaw. The Poles sensing that the Soviet Army was close rose up to overthrow their oppressors on August 1st. The Nazis were given such a bad time that they actually began to leave… That is until they realized that the Russians were not going to across the river. The Nazis then turned around. Then the city was leveled and more than 200,000 people died before the Poles capitulated near the end of September. The Soviet Army did not help, because they wanted to control Poland after the war. The atrocities got so bad inside Warsaw that troops under the German command even raided a cancer ward of Polish female patients. They were raped in their beds, burned alive and shot if they tried to escape. Illustrations of evil during wartime are endless some much worse than this.

Milgram

Milgram’s test subjects who would have inflicted torture and death to complete their task had the electric shocks been real. And they were convinced that they were.

A second illustration comes from the world of science. Stanley Milgram, a Yale psychologist, conducted a series of experiments that showed that average people would administer what they were told were lethal electric shocks to unseen strangers at the behest of an authority figure. So focused were they on completing their tasks that they would violate their own consciences to order to perform their instructions. These tests have been replicated in various countries around the world with fairly consistent results.

Finally something from my own life. In the mid-Seventies I worked in a mental institution in California. It was a locked facility. When I first started working there I would come across one inmate named Bryan. I couldn’t tell if he was forty or sixty. He’d always greet me in the same manner. “Hi” he’d say in a high whiny voice. “Hi” I’d reply. “What’s your sign?” he’d ask. I told him I didn’t really follow astrology. “Oh…” he would sound dejected for an instant.“Is my mother coming today?” he’d finally ask. After a few days of this repetitious behavior I thought I’d respond a little differently. “Do you want me to find out whether your mother’s coming Bryan?” He beamed. “Could you?” “Yeah I’ll look into it for you.” “Thanks.” He smiled. I walked over to the nurses station and asked one of the other orderlies if Bryan’s mother was coming soon. He looked at me with a smirk. “Oh you don’t know…” “What?” I said. “Look in the patients record book.” He pointed to a stainless steel folder. I flipped it back, scanned down the page and read the following: “Bryan’s mother had him castrated at the age of six.” And the evil here is not only in the mother’s choice, but also in the ironic smirk of the orderly.

Pol Pot Victim

The victim of the desire for a perfect world. One of the million of Pol Pot’s dead in Cambodia.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about evil ever since then… And I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  • First of all evil is connected to choice. It is not merely an ignorance of crucial bits of moral knowledge, but there is something actively added to the mix.

  • Secondly evil is a relationship. Or rather evil is a breaking of relationships. With Our family, our loves, our children, our friends, our animals, and land, our country, ourselves, and ultimately God. The lie is evil because it severs a relationship, even if only one side of the equation knows it. Likewise stealing, envy, prejudice, etc. are all breakers of relationships. Sex seems to be a zone that breeds strange forms of evil. It is not sex that is evil, rather it is the breaking of that bond of trust which is the real problem, especially when it is inevitable. And there is too much in our age that encourages a narcissistic selfishness with regard to fulfilling one’s “needs”.

  • One evil often breeds another. To damage a child is to create a crucible of dark possibilities. The abused child doesn’t necessarily become sympathetic with other abused souls. Au contraire, some do go on to abuse their own children.

    WWII Germany Heinrich Himmler

    There are too many faces of the evil men who have raped the world. Rather than choose the obvious German symbol, I decided to show you a truly evil soul appearing to be a loving father to his daughter. And maybe he was! Heinrich Himmler the architect to the Holocaust, the vehemently anti-Christian occultist, who in another age might have been a back to the land new age hippie.

  • Evil is often done when we are protecting ourselves. In other words our own pain is the justification for committing acts against others. I’m convinced that no evil is done in the name of being an evil badass. Everyone has a good excuse. Everyone is right in their own eyes. The distance between being a victim and a victimizer is narrow indeed.

  • The distance between great evil (war atrocities, rape, etc) and everyday evil (drunkenness, gossip, etc) is not very far at all. It could be argued that the smallest act of evil could unleash incredibly dark scenarios. A stupid fumbling advance at a house party sends a girl home on icy roads with too much alcohol in her veins. She crashes and dies on black ice. The boy later kills himself. The community is angrily divided about what to do about the town’s drinking problem. (This is a story I witnessed.)

  • Evil also tries to eliminate the effects of time. Evil wants it now. The most evil person would be the one who had the will and the means to get whatever was desired as near to the moment desired as possible.

  • Or look at it this way. You are walking down a busy city street. What can you do that will effect someone for the rest of their life in terms of evil? The options are nearly limitless. You can trip them, punch them, shoot them, push them into the path of an oncoming car, spit at them, yell at them, make derogatory remarks about their body, threaten them, even just laugh at them. And whatever you do will be remembered.

  • If you reverse this thought experiment and ask what can you do that is truly good to any person on that same street, the options are few. Because any action you do might be misunderstood, or inflame problems that you know nothing about, even a smile at the wrong moment could be construed as cruel. If you gave money to a homeless person, you don’t know if they’ll just go out and buy drugs or booze with it. The only positive thing I can think of would be to save the person from a car accident or a mugging. In other words to stop an active evil. To do real good takes time. You have to know a person’s needs. Good rarely happens instantly, unequivocally.

    FIESTA SNIPER WICK

    A face that has haunted me ever since I saw it in the 1970s. A woman crouches in absolute terror as a sniper shoots random people at a parade in San Antonio Texas.

  • And so ultimately all questions about evil come back to ourselves, to our own desires, to what we are willing to do to get what we want. If life is only about having fun, feeling good, staying safe, then evil is already at our door. It will manifest itself in hundreds of small but insidious ways. And then the question is what to do about it?

That brings up the question of redemption… but that’s another much longer discussion. Maybe someday I’ll get to it here.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

December 8th 2019

(This one was for Vanessa.)

I am currently in Tbilisi, Georgia. Far from everything I have known, living the Anadromous Life on the edge.  And hey! You can support our work here and for The Anadromist channels by through in some coin at PayPal. Click THIS LINK HERE! And if you give $!0 per month or more than $50 you’ll get audio lectures. Thanks!

 


Timely Issues

Astrological Clock
The Great Astrological Clock in the Old Town Square of Prague. A great example of late medieval public clock making, complete with bells, calendar, automata figures that move on the hour, horns, and especially the figure of Death as a skeleton with an hourglass draining the sands of time away. All the while tourists gawk like sheep while missing the message of the value of our time on earth.

Well I have been busy on my new YouTube channel The Anadromist with a lot of ideas that I just didn’t have time for here. Especially my thoughts on Time and how to live in it instead of against it. We live in a culture that positively reeks in its hatred of the effects of Time. We want everything to happen now. Instantly without waiting. And the more I have thought about our defective relationship to Time the more central a role I have seen it play it the insane dysfunctions of the 21st Century: the politics, the propaganda, the efficiency of technology, the environment, the waste, the virtual worlds we choose to inhabit, the surrender of our imaginations to the grinding gears of commerce, the imitation worlds we create for tourism, the sense of entitlement, the dullness of work. Not that these things have a simple one answer fits all panacea, rather they are all issues exacerbated by the desire have the convenient instant life, or in other words to live as though Time were an enemy that must be vanquished at all costs.

I started to see our faulty relationship to Time as a problem in the early 90s. I gave a lecture on the subject at Swiss L’Abri in 1993. I have been mulling it over ever since. In many ways this is connected to many of my other ideas about Texture, Beauty, Images and many other subjects. But these thoughts about Time are at the center of my view of the dilemma of life as it is now lived. Feel free to disagree. After you’ve spent time listening to what I have to say.

Now after delaying long enough I’ve decided to get my ideas about Time out there in some form that might be of use to someone else. I have tried to the best of my ability to live by these ideas since I formulated them back in 1993. If you do the math that’s over 25 years of practical outworking. And the one thing I have seen clearly, when you add the effects of Time to life it gets much deeper and richer.

I am not saying that we are allowed to do this at all points. Au contraire. Just in transportation alone it is nearly impossible to live within a human sense of the meaning of time. We are required to move too fast to stay sane. Still one can, for instance, still apply these principles to the planning stages of a journey. To stay longer in places, rather than just passing through. That’s a simple way of incorporating Time into the hustle of the tourism industry. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway there are four video discussions now. And if you are thinking that ideas about Time are probably going to be dreadfully boring, then these talks really are for You. So you can start at the beginning or jump around. The argument builds, but necessarily in a straightforward direction.

(And I’ll keep adding the videos here until the series is finished.)

Well I need to get back to my life in Tbilisi Georgia. Oh and by the way there will soon be a channel on my Georgian life so stick around.

Keep swimming against the stream

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

29/8/2019

……

Oh yeah…

Hey! People who are contributing to my sites are getting extra content not available online. They are also keeping me alive in Georgia. I must honestly say without the gifts given to me thus far this experiment would have collapsed a while ago. No much keeps me going for a while. So give through PayPal. $10 a month or a one time gift of the equivalent of $50 US. Gets you another 15 hours worth of lectures.

Here’s the Link CLICK ME!!! NOW. Please…


Announcing The Anadromist

      Greetings from Tbilisi Georgia! I would like to announce that I have just started a YouTube channel directly related to the content on this site. This is my response to the polarization and turmoil of the times. I want to do through speaking what I have attempted to do here through writing, to encourage considerate and serious thinking about the times we inhabit rather than than travel down the obvious roads of discourse which have become so scabrous. And so I have launched what is in fact my second YouTube channel called The Anadromist, someone who swims against the stream.

A week ago I uploaded this short invitation, which is a good place to start.. It’s only three minutes long. Give it a watch…

Then once you’ve done that you can go on to the introduction, which is about 15 minutes long. And if you like the concept please do subscribe. I’ve decided to make The Anadromous Life in its different versions a going concern. In my new life in Tbilisi Georgia I find I need to stay connected with the rest of the world. And I also need to see if this will provide some extra resources to keep me afloat down the road. So subscribing to the Anadromist channel is important to me. I have a notion that all of the ideas I’ve been sitting on for years might have some purpose out there in the world. We’ll see. And if you are already following me here it can’t hurt to follow me there as well.

Here’s the introduction where I describe my reasons for starting this venture. I’m not sure how long I can keep it going. But I’m enthused to make these videos and to engage in a conversation with others through YouTube. I have several more episodes already in the can. There shouldn’t be any shortage of topics.

I’ve enjoyed myself coming up with ways to make my ‘talking head’ more interesting. And I have taken my editing skills and put them to work inventing new imagery. Now the big question is how much material can I borrow before I start getting copyright notices?

And don’t worry I will continue writing here and at Gravity From Above. I have several essays that should find their way to the page very soon. Also I will continue using my current channel The Anadromous Life for documenting puppetry, music, dance and other events. So if you want you can join up there too. Watch this one if you haven’t discovered my first channel. This is an extremely short little title piece I made for the site. But click on the channel and explore my content. I don’t do anything to go out of style.

Thanks for being part of this experiment that I’ve been running since 2010. Over 200,000 views have been accumulated over 80,000 individuals have passed through the site. Not bad considering I hardly advertise at all.

If you want to support this work there is PayPal. Or you can just pass the essays along and the videos.

Meanwhile I need to get some sleep here in Tbilisi.

Stay tuned much more is coming.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

12/5/2019

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #3

Untamed Voices

A man rides his horse through flames during the

In my last 21st Century Propaganda essay I mentioned several contemporary figures whom I felt I could trust, whether I completely agreed with them or not. Today we live in times where, to paraphrase Yeats, the center does not hold. There is no public square, as Os Guinness has been espousing. And so while the political and cultural edges eat themselves in Ouroboros fashion I thought I would give you bonafide examples of the kinds of conversations that are happening in what might be a developing public square. And for me (and I’m sure I’m not alone) without this dialogue we will slide into new civil wars, and possibly a New Dark Age. These speakers have very definite positions. I’m sure that Camille Paglia’s praise of drag queens would not find a complimentary echo in Paul Vanderklay’s Christian beliefs. But here is the point, the people featured below show evidence of being people willing to discuss ideas openly and even admit faults in an honest way. I am absolutely sure that Vanderklay and Paglia could have a great discussion, even with their differences. And better this rather outcast assemblage of contradictory voices than lockstep ideologies of the indentitarian right or left. So I present to you a few words to challenge your thinking and fuel your own integrity.

Again I have not tried to make sure I represented every position or ethnicity because I believe that kind of thinking leads us into an authoritarian stalemate. These are just people that I have in some way or another learned to trust, even when we disagree. My suggestion: Find people whom you trust, who are open to dialogue. (Better yet go back and read this whole series.  Or if that’s too much read the last couple of essays.)

You will also notice that several of these videos are over a hour long. And maybe you find that to be a long slog. But consider this, look at the view counts on each lecture. Some are in the hundreds of thousands. And more than one person has commented on the fact that while the mainstream media still hands out sound bites in the belief in the stupidity of the viewer. Evidently there is a hunger for much more. Welcome to the world of solid food. An escape from the fast food sound bites of the legacy media. Save these for later, and trust me, look at how much time you waste, you have time. Especially since most of these don’t really require your visual participation.

The Living

Challenging Thinkers

These are teachers, professors, thinkers who’s work has been, in different ways, grappling this present moment and often directly challenging the assumptions of the monolithic media and educational systems.

Jonathan Haidt is a American social psychologist and professor at New York University. He is author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Coddling of the American Mind co-written with Greg Lukianoff. This video is from the Think Forum.

Christina Hoff Sommers is an American author and philosopher. Her books include: Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. Dave Rubin is a political commentator and talk show host of YouTube’s The Rubin Report. The following video is from the Rubin Report and is entitled Christina Hoff Sommers: Feminism, Free Speech, Gamergate.

Roger Scruton is an English philosopher and writer specializing in art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. Notable books include: The Aesthetics of Music, Sexual Desire, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, Beauty, Where We Are. The lecture below is called The True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Camille Paglia is an American academic, social critic, renegade feminist and professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her books include: Sexual Personae, The Birds, and Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. In the following video Camille Paglia discusses her most recent book, Free Women, Free Men Sex, Gender, Feminism.

Os Guinness is an English author, social critic whose history included time at L’Abri in Switzerland and a PhD at Oxford. Now residing in America he is a dedicated observer of the times. Books include: The Dust of Death, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future and Fool’s Talk. John Anderson is a former Australian Deputy Prime Minister of Australia among other posts. This video was recorded in Australia from Conversations with John Anderson.

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He is also the author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and the bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He is an improbably controversial figure and probably as close as anyone to the core of the crisis of the present moment. Samuel Harris is an American neuroscientist, philosopher, author, atheist critic of religion and podcast host. His books include: The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Although Peterson and Harris take radically different views on the nature of God and belief, both have been called members of the Intellectual Dark Web. This is one of several extremely popular debates they have had on the existence of God. It took place in Vancouver.

 …..

Historians

History is crucial in facing the meaning of this present age. And it is a subject most postmodern folk are entirely deficient in. These are a few prominent historians with valuable insights.

Timothy Garton Ash is British historian, author and commentator. Professor at both Oxford and Stanford Universities. He was present in a special way during the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. His books include: Facts are Subversive, History of the Present, The Magic Lantern, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–82 and most recently Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. This video is related to his book on Free Speech.

Sir Simon Schama is an English historian specializing in art history, Dutch history, Jewish history and French history. He is also a television presenter and now professor at Columbia University in New York City. Schama certainly has is own unique view of history and it is always worth a listen. In this lecture Simon Schama discusses History Lessons.

Ken Burns is an American documentary filmmaker focusing on American history. His documentary series include: The Civil War , Baseball, Jazz, The War, and The Vietnam War. The following video is called An Evening with Ken Burns.

Suzannah Lipscomb is a British historian, academic and television presenter. She specializes in the Tudor period. Her books include: 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII, The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, Witchcraft, The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc. This video is from The Conference 2013.

Niall Ferguson is a British historian and television presenter. He specializes in economic and financial history. His books include: The House of Rothschild, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power. This is video from Conversations with John Anderson.

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Mostly Millennial YouTubers

Thoughty2 (Arran Lomas) Thoughty2 should be pronounced in a northern English accent so that it sounds like 42, which is reference to Douglas Adams answer to the question of the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arran is an affable, whimsical and sincere commentator on the world as he sees it. This episode is called Why Is Everyone Getting So Offended

Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) The English Sargon is frankly a controversial figure. He was prominent in Gamergate, and has never been adverse to saying exactly what he is thinking. But Carl will also acknowledge his missteps with alacrity and will challenge all comers to give the reasons for why they say what they say. He rides the line between satire and genuine political philosophy. Scabrously opinionated and fair in equal doses. You’ve been warned. In this video he asks, How do we Parley with Silicon Valley?

Tim Pool (Timcast & Subverse) Tim Pool is an American journalist of Korean and European descent who came into prominence by reporting fairly on Occupy Wall Street, which meant he also showed the failings of the movement. Later he was found interviewing the Alt-Right or off in Ukraine during the time of their upheaval. He tries to be scrupulously fair and has spent much of his time critiquing the rather biased mainstream media. He is like a millennial version of Edward R. Murrow (if Murrow played video games). This is from his recent piece entitled: We Are At The Gates Of Civil War… And Nothing Can Stop It

Brave The World (Julia Turansky) Julia was a hardcore atheist anarchist with a heart. She made provocative videos seeking to expose the problems of the state. But after the birth of her child she began to ask deeper questions, eventually becoming a Christian. In this video she explains after 20 Years an Atheist: Why I Turned.

Paul Vanderklay is most assuredly not a millennial. He is a Dutch Reformed pastor living in Sacramento California who has spent quite some time trying to figure out what this moment means for Christians and others. He found YouTube a few years ago and began to ponder online along with others whom he began to interview who also have also been arrested by the crisis of meaning in today’s world. This is one of his shorter videos on Jordan Peterson, Owen Barfield and John Vervaeke.

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And The Dead

Some writers and thinkers could see where we would be before we got there. They emphasized different aspects of the age we have slipped into. Some of them have passed away in the last couple of years.

Tom Wolfe was an insightful essayist and novelist who focused his scrutiny upon the nature and foibles of contemporary life. Whether is analyzing the US space program or Ken Kesey’s cosmic space program he was a sharp critic and well worth listening to, even while ensconced in his trademark luxurious white suits year round. This interview is from CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Nat Hentoff was known as both serious jazz critic and as left wing political commentator. As time passed he adopted views that became harder to classify, linking abortion and euthanasia with the slippery slope down to Nazi ideology. And willing to show the authoritarian leanings of those who claimed to be fighting for various indentitarian factions. He spent many decades writing for the Village Voice, yet was eventually pushed aside for being politically incorrect. The following is a short biographical and political piece on free speech and jazz.

Jacques Ellul is perhaps the most underrated and heretical French thinker of the 20th Century. Former Marxist and a Protestant convert he was a sociologist with a rigorous understanding of the issues presented by technology and propaganda. His writing were almost ignored in France, yet through his books The Technological Society and Propaganda he found his way into a subterranean stream of American thinking. My own debt to Ellul is matched only by C.S. Lewis, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Hans Rookmaaker. The following Dutch film is the only full documentary interview on his thinking made during his lifetime. It is called The Betrayal by Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul.

Paul Virilio, who only recently passed away, is another French thinker who contradicts the postmodern worldview with his questions about the nature of speed, art and architecture. Of all the people represented here Virilio was seeing furthest into the future. His ideas if seriously engaged will challenge much that you know. In many ways he was the successor to Jacques Ellul. This is advanced level thinking about the issues of today and tomorrow. The following presentation is called Perspective and the Obligation of Seeing and is part of the European Graduate School Video Lectures

Hans Rookmaaker was a Dutch Reformed Art Historian who fought to restore meaning in art and a deeper understanding of reality. He clearly saw the end result of the meaninglessness of modern materialism. My debt to his thinking is immeasurable. The following audio lecture was one of his last before his untimely death in 1977. It is called What Is Reality? More Rookmaaker can be found at the L’Abri Ideas Library.

Hans_Rookmaaker

Hans Rookmaaker

Well this was supposed to be an easy essay to write… But it ended up being much longer than I thought it would. But you know what? These things are important. And I wanted to leave this 21st Century Propaganda series with a few practical solutions. They can be found by listening to these people. By listening. Disagreeing. Wondering. And getting busy. Time for reality. Time to swim against stream in the Anadromous style.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

16/4/2019

……

A personal note:

The Anadromous Life has been running a YouTube channel for several years now. It has accrued some interest, with a few videos receiving many thousands of views. We would like to take this moment to say that we will be starting two more channels in the very near near future. One is entitled The Anadromist and this one will be closest in content to this site. I’ve felt I needed a place to ramble on about the many kinds of topics that I won’t have time for here. The other will be dedicated to my new life in Tbilisi Georgia.
And yes indeed I am now happily living in Tbilisi Georgia. It has been quite the time. I am learning Georgian (Kartuli) and I work for Union of Tbilisi Museums. I have made good friends. Yet things are not quite as I expected, and that includes financially. My Gravity From Above documentary has stalled again. And I am wondering how I will be able to ship my full container to Georgia within the next year. If you wish to help us out with Gravity From Above you can do so through PayPal. You can choose between a a one time gift or you if you wish you can contribute an amount every month for a year. PayPal is probably the most cost efficient way of helping us with Gravity From Above and moving to Georgia. Thanks for helping me stay afloat with this dream. I couldn’t do it without you.

DONATE HERE.

Thanks

Byrne


21st Century Propaganda #9: Can You Trust Anyone?

Damned Kids
Whom can we trust?      (Image The Village of the Damned.)

So here we are. Propaganda has taken over most of our communications. An atrocious incident in New Zealand suddenly escalates the psychic war. The Left shrieks that this is the fault of everyone not aligned with them. The Right digs in pugnaciously. And no doubt there will be more events of a similar kind from different factions in the not too distant future. Interestingly the old school media have completely overlooked the many Christians thus far killed in early 2019 by Muslims in Africa, the Philippines and other locales in their own drumbeats of suppression. Because clearly Africans (280 in Nigeria) and Filipinos are not on the list of people anybody actually cares about. They don’t figure in our propaganda wars. And yes real life massacres and violence are certainly part of this largely mental battleground.

austin_zombies

The Signs Are Everywhere.

There was a January attack on a church in the Philippines by Muslims that killed 20 and injured 80 people. Suddenly that becomes worthy of news because the media largely ignored it. In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre rightish media suddenly brings this incident out to say ‘Why do you spin things only one way?’ But then the numbers get inflated by angry propagandized right wingers. The dates change from a month or so ago to yesterday. And thus the massive propaganda trash fire continues to burn. Then someone in the leftish media says your numbers and dates are wrong. So therefore you are completely false. We saw a similar back and forth about Charlottesville. But truthfully everything is an info shuttlecock in this savage game of propaganda badminton. And this reminds me of what Joseph Goebbels said. “The truth is always stronger than the lie.” essentially all propaganda must be based on facts. Which is how the National Socialists took the assassination of a German by a Polish-Jew in Paris France and blew it up into Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when the cruel violence of the Nazis against the Jews was fully unleashed. Remember this when you are convulsed by an isolated event and want immediate political action. That is exactly how propagandists ratchet up the tension. An event sparks reaction before the event is even known or understood.

North Carolina SNow 2014

The Current Mediascape.

And so in this moment of heated tension the question then remains where can one go to get information that is at least less tainted by the all consuming maw of Propaganda. This is a much trickier question than it at first seems. One thing that is clear is that all of the mainstream sources are fairly difficult to trust now. One is completely immersed in Propaganda in the guise of news as one listens to CNN, the Washington Post, even respected sources like the BBC, NPR and New York Times all in their turns have fallen ill to varying degrees of this contemporary sickness. Gone are the Walter Cronkites and the Edward R. Murrows who while not being purely objective bystanders did their level best to give a middle-of-the-road perspective on the news of the day. Interestingly both worked for CBS News. And while CBS is not what it used to be it still seems to be fairly reliable when contrasted to the disinformation sideshows that the Washington Post and CNN have become.

3_BEYOND-THE-BLACK-RAINBOW-_-52212

What to Believe?     (Image from Beyond the Black Rainbow)

And other sources? The New Yorker, MSNBC, Vice, the Huffington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Daily Beast and on and on. Pretty much it’s a pox on all of their houses when it comes to really trying to serve all of the public. I mean Russia Today and Al Jazeera seem to be in the same league as they are. The biases drain out from under them like contaminated water from a defrosting refrigerator. For instance, when a writer compares Trump to Hitler you know you are in the presence of seriously distorted Propaganda, with no concern for history or truth. And when these same media pretend that there is only one point of view? Welcome to the Propaganda wars. And you may notice that all of these sources are slanted, in some cases heavily, to the Left. That’s not an accident.

Is the Right any better. I’m certainly not shilling for Fox News, yet there are times when due to their obvious biases they are less affected by certain forms of hysteria infecting the other media. Having said that I also would not trust them any farther than I could spit. Even more so with Breitbart News. Or the New York Post. And the Wall Street Journal must always stay in the realm of economic propaganda. While occasionally doing bizarre things like accusing Youtuber Pewdiepie of being a neo-Nazi. Only to eventually have to retract it much later. And curiously the right wing sources are much less name brand recognizable than those tilting left. And thus those on the obvious Right sling their propaganda mud with alacrity.

A Rope tied to the Left Hand

And if the Center Does Not Hold?

But the center is not holding. The Left has drifted continually into extreme territory until they are casually redefining the nature of male and female, what makes a country, and the meaning of democracy. What a few years ago would have been taken as obvious by most folks, that men and women are different biologically, that a country has borders, that a legal vote reflects the will of the populace, have all been dragged severely in the last few years to the synth drumbeats of so much propaganda. People have even forgotten what they used to believe. And I mean five years ago. And the vanguard of these new ideas, media figures and university students, will often act with complete shock and hurt that anybody still believes such shameful hateful ideas as biological sex, the nation state or elections, such as the Brexit Referendum or Trump’s victory, that go against the will of some of the people. And so these areas have, like a California wildfire, become a burnt over zone. All that’s left it seems is rage.

Man on Roof Wild Fire

California on Fire.

Meanwhile the illusion in the antique media is that the rather minuscule Alt-Right, whom, without fact checking, they conflate with Neo-Nazis and the KKK, are taking over. And so they take a figure like Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and vilify him as some sort of ‘far Right’ extremist because he is saying things which used to be considered liberal leftish opinions not too long ago. The truth is he is center Left. Yet he knows how to speak across the spectrum as many public intellectuals used to do. And when the Left media pundits try to trap him they, like the BBC’s Kathy Newman did last year, blunder into a dialogue they can’t win, because they are only feeding on the surface level frenzy of issues while Peterson actually has a grounding in the much wider and deeper cultural arena of history and science. Now I say this not agreeing with everything Peterson says, yet having a lot more respect for him than I do the majority of opinion makers that decorate the dying mainstream and digital media.

And that is the point. We have to get out of our slanted boxes and listen to people with differing ideas from our own. However I must immediately remind myself of a serious dilemma posed by Jacques Ellul. It is not enough to simply start listening to the ‘enemies propaganda’. In any set of ideas there are honest commentators, historians, journalists, thinkers and then there a multitudes of propagandists, who are usually getting the most ‘Likes’. Ellul points out that caught between two conflicting propagandas one doesn’t come to know the truth. Rather like being caught between two prizefighters one ends up getting slugged senseless. Or worse, simply converting from one form of propagandized belief to another. Which is why I’ve been aghast to see young people who begin to question the intersectional beliefs of third wave feminism then start moving towards a white genocide belief. As though there was nowhere in between. It’s like saying all that there is are Communists and Fascists. So avoid the propagandists!!!

Cannibal Women

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

The good news is that through people like Jonathan Haidt, Jordan Peterson, Tim Pool, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Paul Vanderklay, Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers and many others an alternative network (the Intellectual Dark Web or IDW) that does allow real open discussion and disagreement has started to form. One of the best aspects of the insanity of the present moment is that there are some people truly talking again, not only on YouTube, but in lecture halls and seminars. It’s strangely refreshing to here atheist Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) defend Christianity. Or to know that atheist Sam Harris and Jordan B. Peterson, who is some sort of Christian, had a series of epic discussions on the existence of God, where the audience didn’t even want to stop for questions so fascinated were they by the conversions. Gay and straight folks are having the kinds of dialogues they should had for the last 30 years, which allows all questions and challenges on the table. Journalist Tim Pool is attempting to start an alternative news source called Subverse practically alone. And this sort of thing is being completely ignored by what YouTube commentator and occultist Styxhexenhammer666 calls the ‘lame stream media’. And these discussions and videos go on for hours. Where is the soundbite mentality? Well it’s still there on CNN, the BBC, on clickbait Buzzfeed posts. But I do believe people are hungry for the intellectual nutrition that our global commercial networks have denied them to the point of malnourishment.

Hitchhiker

Be Careful of Who You Pick Up.

How then to detect a person with ideas worth taking seriously from any stripe? First of all, do they acknowledge the messiness of every interpretation including their own? Can they see why a person would believe something other than what they believe? Do they respect opinions radically different from their own? Do they have a real sense of history? Do they point out when they get their facts wrong? Are they humble about their knowledge? Do they believe in truth? Of any kind? Do they know that others outside of their belief structure can also understand truth? Do they agonize over the state of humanity with compassion and not accusation? These kinds of questions to me all point to the kind of person you can learn from no matter what their belief. Nobody can be perfect in these things. But do they have these as some sort of goal? If so the you are in the presence of someone who lives in this world, and not a fictional propaganda echo chamber. If you are arguing with them when you read, listen or watch them you are at least arguing with someone living in the same world that you live in. And while you might see things differently and have come to different conclusions they are different conclusions about the same reality.

Deep Thoughts

Time for Reflection Not Reaction.

Now I can’t tell you whom you should trust. But I can tell you some of the people I have been listening to myself. They come from various perspectives. Some of them I radically disagree with. But they are honest in their opinions and worth wrestling with if you are a thinking human being. In other words this is not a list for the immature, whether they be 12 years old or 75.

So take this for what it’s worth. In a future addendum to this series I will add clips of YouTube vlogs, speeches and interviews. As of this writing all of these people are living and still contributing to the discussion. There are many more I could add, but this will be a good starting place. And YouTube searches would be the best introduction. I have not tried to represent every possible ethnicity or viewpoint, because my feeling is that that sort of empty gesture is part of the problem not the cure. This is what I found helpful for myself. You will certainly find others.

Besides the living, the dead having even far more to say to us. But I have rambled on too long for now.

bosch hell

Bosch Understood What Happens When You Move With Entropy, Not Against It.

And so this will be the official end of this series of essays. If you been following my main thrust you’ll see that my view is that the primary issue confronting humanity in this time of chaos does not come from any specific political issue or ideology. Rather it can be seen this way; while fewer people have died in wars in the 21st Century as died in the last century by this same point, most folks today are far more fearful of and confused by where we are now than they were then. Why? Propaganda. We live in it as it invades our consciousness from every orifice of technology. And yet there is hope if we can start to enter the conversation with real creativity and with real people.

I will give the late Canadian media critic Marshall McLuhan the last word.

“Jacques Ellul observes in Propaganda: ‘When dialogue begins, propaganda ends.’ His theme, that propaganda is not this or that ideology but rather the action and coexistence of all media at once, explains why propaganda is environmental and invisible. The total life of any culture tends to be ‘propaganda’, for this reason. It blankets perception and suppresses awareness, making the counter environments created by the artist indispensable to survival and freedom.”

Foggy Woods

Finding Our Way in the Fog

And finally just a few names of living people that I trust in different ways. These folks have ideas worth hearing even if you or I disagree with them.

Camille Paglia – American Art Historian, Lesbian, First Wave Feminist, Atheist (Center Left maybe)

Christina Hoff Sommers – American Historian, Philosopher, ‘Factual’ Feminist, Author, YouTuber (Center Left)

David Thomson – British Film Critic, Author of many books and essays (Center Left)

Jonathan Haidt – American University Professor, Social Psychologist, Author (Center Left)

Jonathan Pie – Scabrous British Satirist, Socialist (real name Tom Walker) YouTuber (Left)

Jordan B. Peterson – Canadian University Professor, Clinical Psychologist, Jungian, Author (Centrist)

Julia Turansky – Canadian Anarcho-Christian, YouTuber (Channel Brave The World) , Mother

Ken Burns – American Documentarian, Author, TV Producer (Center Left)

Ken Myers – American Radio and Podcast host Mars Hill Audio (Center Right)

Niall Ferguson – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center Right)

Os Guinness – British Author, Christian, Lecturer (Center Right)

Paul Vanderklay – American Dutch Reformed Pastor, YouTuber (Center)

Robert D. Kaplan – American Historian and Journalist, Machiavellian, Author (Centrist)

Roger Scruton – British Philosopher, Television Presenter, Conservative Commentator, Art Historian (Center Right)

Simon Schama – British American Historian, University Professor, Television Presenter (Center Left)

Slavoj Zizek – Slovenian Marxist Postmodern Philosopher, Author, Television Host (Left)

Stanley Crouch – American Jazz Historian, African American Social Commentator, Novelist (Center)

Suzannah Lipscomb – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center)

Tim Pool – American Journalist, YouTuber Trying to Create an Honest News Source (Center Left)

Timothy Garton Ash – British University Professor, Historian, Journalist and Author (Center Left)

Timothy Keller – American Presbyterian Pastor, Author (Center Right)

…..

The addendum will come very soon.

Thanks for reading this and pondering these things with me.

….

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

24/3/2019

….

Hey I really could use some help with what I am doing here in Tbilisi. My Gravity From Above project has stalled and my resources have become limited. Anything you choose to contribute can be done through PayPal. Click this.

And if this essay was of value pass it along.

 

21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1


21st Century Propaganda #8: Infection and Diagnosis

Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.

Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Pontypool

An Infection of Words spread through the Media in the Canadian ‘zombie’ film  Pontypool.

So then Propaganda surrounds us. (The series starts here.) What can we do to at least find a reasonable way of weighing the details of life surrounding us in this virtual bubble? There are two answers lodged in one question here. First: What practical steps can we take to make sure we are as little effected by the all consuming maw of illusory communications as is humanly possible? Second: Are there any ways of identifying voices we can trust from the various perspectives of this fictional panorama? No easy task. We shall deal with this in our concluding essay next time. Let’s tackle the practical issue first.

The main principle is this. We are all infected by today’s Propaganda. As Jacques Ellul points out intelligence is no defense. The very people who think themselves most up to date are often the most heavily propagandized. So the question then is not how to avoid propaganda, but how to recognize the depths of our own infection. In a way our situation is quite similar to the only Canadian postapocalyptic film I have ever seen: Pontypool. Which has the end of the world coming through an infection of words. And this is brilliant for being a direct correlation to propaganda and for it taking place in Canada one of the most politically correct hot spots on earth, complete with legislation to back it up. In Pontypool the radio station at the core of the film is also a source of this lethal infection. All communications media spread the infection. Conversations also spread it. And this verbal virus effects people by driving them completely murderous. It’s a excellent analogy, if a bit too extreme to help us to understand our own level of propaganda infection.

Knee Jerk test

Allow me to suggest a better indicator: The Knee Jerk Reaction.

Obviously the concept of the Knee Jerk Reaction is related to the reflex test where a physician taps a specific spot on your knee to see if your leg moves involuntarily. But there is a big difference between this physical test and our propaganda test. When your knee jerks that’s a very good thing. It means your reflexes are working correctly. But emotionally the knee jerk reaction means something exactly the opposite. It means when you hear certain words, concepts and names you react instantly, and usually it’s not very pleasant. That’s the Knee Jerk Reaction. And that’s a serious problem.

Now we all have them, Knee Jerk Reactions. Someone is talking about something and as soon as a word or possible thought passes through the air you are immediately disturbed. So you hear words like Trump, or abortion, or gay, or taxes, or war, or trans, or Clinton, or Macron, or Merkel, or Putin, or Obama, or Thatcher, or Reagan, or Republican, or Democrat, or feminism, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheist, or God, or witchcraft, or Satan, or Marvel, or DC, or Star Wars, or Harvard, or Yale, or Texas, or Russia, or China, or Africa, or blackface, or liberal, or equality, or free speech, or nationalist, or socialist, or vegan, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks, or T-Series or anything else that instantly changes your mood and there, my friends, lies your propagandized soul exposed for the world to see. And to the degree you find yourself at a loss of control in your anger, hatred, disgust, or fear that is the degree to which you can reckon yourself fully propagandized by something. And we all have these Knee Jerk Reactions. Don’t bother to deny it. Because that too will be a sign of the same.

Let’s Look For Your Jerking Knees. (Click to Expand)

 

 

Did You Figure Out What Causes You To Lose Your Mind?

Now I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for reactions. Oh there are… Except, once said, we have to then come straight to this point: How can we trust the sources of our news and information. When I first started to understand the depth of our envelopment in Propaganda we weren’t yet living in THIS world. Yes each news outlet had its viewpoint, but we hadn’t been bogged down in endless conspiracy theories yet. There was no Internet to spread the immediate reactions. If a pastor in Florida burned copies of the Koran in Florida no one even knew about it, let alone died in Palestine. And so I would say to folks then when I read Time Magazine or watch CBS News I know that something has happened, but I don’t necessarily trust that media’s interpretation of the facts. I came to understand this early because I was in a primary Jesus People group when I was young. Reporters from national news services occasionally wrote stories on us and I was always impressed by how little they really understood of what they had seen. Their stories were usually skewed by the reporters bias. Good reporters I learned sought to be fair, acknowledging their own biases, and working to put them aside. Not only are very few reporters today that good, but the idea of putting aside your biases today is nearly a lost art. (I say nearly, but fortunately not totally.) But today’s reporters proudly display their political biases and completely skew their news accordingly. Then again in these late postmodern times truth is seen as a relic of dead Western Civilization. Resulting in a new phenomenon, not merely changing the narrative, in which the word ‘narrative’ equals the word ‘spin’, but removing the veracity of the event at all. Fake News

Now when I see news I wonder if the event even happened? Is it Fake News? And even that phrase ‘Fake News’ is a hotly contested neologism. The Left claims that all Fake News is Right slanted. The Right claims the same about the Left. But I think its use points out the exact reality we find ourselves in. Not only is it the interpretation that is at stake but now the actual reality is in question. So what to do? How do we avoid being dragged into these propaganda wars within our own minds? And across the fiction of news as it has devolved in this hysterical age? We will talk about sources in our last essay. But for now let’s work on developing our powers of observation.

So a sudden story erupts. It’s not a hurricane in Florida, an Earthquake in Chile, but rather it’s one of those many events that have gripped us one after another for years now. There is a photo. A short video. A protest somewhere. A march. Suddenly it’s politically hot. Everyone’s talking about it. People pass stories, interpretations, memes on social media. You are meant to feel stupid if you don’t agree with the dominant and instant media interpretation. It’s ‘trans bathrooms’, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy.’ Charlottesville, Jefferson, Portland, Berkeley, it’s the MAGA hat kid with his ‘smirk’, it’s Jussie Smollett and his ‘noose’, it’s comments at the Academy Awards, or by a rising political star. What do you do?

How an Online Propaganda Mob Forms

First of all, Back the hell up! Do not form a opinion on the first day or three. Because, as we have seen, what actually happened isn’t even known yet. When the Covington Catholic boys incident was at last known everyone had to apologize. Because full videos from the day, uploaded on the day, were completely ignored by folks who interpret these events for us on television. And the event that supposedly got everyone so worked up… never happened! And yet there are still folks who will swear they ‘know what they saw’ without ever having watched the full video. And that, my friends, is the most egregious effect of Propaganda upon us. It can change the reality of what we see into what we wish to see.

Edinburgh Bookstore

These are called Books. They slow you down. Allow you to think before you react. Read them.

So back off! Have courage. Don’t share your opinions, your conclusions, your accusations, your anything! about these things on social media. Don’t pass on articles proving ‘the point’. Don’t assume you know. Because you know what? You probably know nothing. And how can you? The event is still unfolding. There are those who still don’t understand what the presence of Antifa meant at Charlottesville. Why? The mainstream media omitted them from their narrative. Yes it was absolutely frightening to see the presence of this new White Nationalist movement. But it was just as blood curdling to see honest to God Communists there as well. And the authorities let them come together. So what actually did happen? And will you over react to what I just written? And yes, I fully realize these things are molten hot.

ChanaSue Lang

Learn to talk, even to disagree.

So my advice: STOP. Stop passing on your pet Propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. That doesn’t mean stop thinking. Au contraire! It means start thinking and stop that jerking knee. Reacting is what the goal of all Propaganda is. Stop with the pointed jokes against (fill in the blank). Stop spreading pro/anti gun, PETA, Christian, LGBTQ+, Atheist, Trans, etc. Propaganda. Dehumanization and real hatred are the only things spread that way. Stop with commentary on things that happened this morning that quite literally you can’t know anything about yet. Stop getting newsfeed alerts on your phone. Stand back from it all and get your breath and mind working again. Stop fantasizing about doomsday and revenge scenarios. Learn to read again, not merely to skim. Read books. Make no phone zones. Try to understand history in order to understand the current hysteria. Find trustworthy sources. Don’t listen to movie stars, sports stars, television stars about politics. What they say about the craft of acting is valuable. What they think about current politics is usually just Knee Jerk Propaganda.

Matilda Lost

Get Together with Real Humans in Real Time. Play Physical Games.

And finally get back to reality. Have people over for dinner. (I’m extremely serious about this.) Remember all those people you hate so much, who believe that tripe that you would never swallow, they are humans too. And if you sat down to dinner with them you would find that out. Unless you are so propagandized that all you can see is the shallow symbols of opposition. Very few conservative folk are actually that dreaded Far Right ogre you imagine. Most Left leaning souls are not the mindless SJW’s. But you may indeed meet those with whom you disagree. Then talk. Have a real conversation. Perhaps the most salient quote from Jacques Ellul is this Discussion ends Propaganda.” Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Even with the most polarized people you encounter, if you can, if you dare. For it is only by learning to do so that we can avert the true disaster of a new American Civil War.

Fortunately there a few signs of hope.

In our conclusion we’ll examine the possibility of trustworthy sources. And examine the hope embedded in this moment.

Come back soon.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

9/3/2019

Finally you can support us out here on the edge. And it will truly be appreciated. Use this PayPal link. I can access it from anywhere. Even here in Tbilisi Georgia.

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Oh and if you haven’t read the rest of this series you can start here.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/21st-century-propaganda-1/

And for more practical advice on finding reality again try this essay.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/salvaging-reality/

 


21st Century Propaganda #7: Christian Propaganda

Her+name+is+chrischan+pronounced+christian+really+shes+the+personification+

I’m sold. SOLD being the operative word here. This imitation anime/manga style message completely eviscerates the gospel message.

So let me put this card on the table. I am a Christian. And then let me put this one down. Nothing disturbs me more than Christian propaganda. What do I mean? As Jacques Ellul points out in the quote below, Christianity, which claims to be truth, after being put through mass media propaganda, ends up merely as an ideology. And as such “It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax.” And it is this hoax that many believe to be the truth. And it is this hoax that those who have rejected Christianity tend to believe defines it. But I am not here to defend the message of Christianity.

It is ironic that Christians invented the term propaganda, through the Roman Catholic Curia, to define the means of spreading the gospel. Something more like missionary work. Originally it meant something much closer to propagation. And propagation is the natural spreading or multiplication of an idea. Propaganda is definitely not natural. Now I can hear some people saying ‘Well missionary work certainly isn’t natural.’ But I would disagree. When Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark (chapter16 verse 15) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” He certainly doesn’t mean doing so by impersonal and all surrounding means. He isn’t imagining mass evangelistic rallies in 80,000 seat sports colosseums, “Christian” Movies, pop music, comic books, video games, television channels, websites, social media, etc.

christian-posters-18

A Truth made stupid and sentimental.

(And if you are wondering why I’m lumping all of these mass media together and calling it propaganda I suspect you haven’t read the entirety of this series which started several years back, where, following Jacques Ellul’s definition of Propaganda, we pointed out that much being disseminated by mass means is by default already propaganda. Go ahead. Stop. Go back. Catch up. Then come back when you can. I’ll wait. Click this to begin.)

A brief outline of Christianity and the developing system of Propaganda might go something like this. At the dawn of Christianity Jesus and his disciples had no access to propaganda techniques. Jesus emphasized personal human communication and consciously rejected the means of power. Christianity was seen as a powerless sect of Judaism by the Roman Empire. Yet the message spread as the absolute counterpoint to Roman propaganda, which was developed through the minting of money with Caesar’s image, the gladiatorial games and most of all through the unconquerable power of the legions. There were periods of violent persecution. And this persecution not only didn’t stamp out the sect, it caused the sect to grow. But there came a day when the Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity, even converting to it himself and eventually in it’s closing days Christianity was made the official religion of the Empire. And this is the moment when things began to change. The Roman government turned the Christian faith on its head by using persecution and censorship created forms of propaganda to convert the decadent Empire in its waning days. Christianity survived, but Rome was already too far gone it fell. But the damage was done. Christianity was aligned with power now, which perverted the message of Jesus in many ways, though as long as the scriptures were there it couldn’t completely distort the humbler message contained in the Bible.

Caravaggio SupperatEmmaus

Caravaggio’s Supper At Emmaus. Baroque Era paintings were specifically commissioned as Catholic Propaganda.  But they never stinted on the quality of the art nor the depth of the message.

But distortion did occur whether through Crusades (a Christian imitation of Islamic Jihads), the selling of indulgences (which provoked Martin Luther and helped spawn the Reformation) or worst of all the Inquisition (in which power was grafted so deeply onto the Christian vine that it nearly killed it). All of these were also accompanied by successive waves of propaganda. But this propaganda, though fierce at times was much less total than propaganda had become by the mid-20th Century. After two world wars and the rise of totalitarianism and the propagandas used to combat the fascist and communist the world of the 1950s and 1960s saw Christian propaganda grow stagnant and completely ineffective. It is at this point that Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda was published. Ellul too was a Christian. But he certainly didn’t spare his fellow believers. He knew what was coming. Allow me to quote at length from his book on the subject.

Jesus-at-the-United-Nations

No Comment. Late 1960’s.

Obviously, church members are caught in the net of propaganda and react pretty much like everyone else….

Because Christians are flooded with various propagandas, they absolutely cannot see what they might do that would be effective and at the same time be an expression of their Christianity. Therefore, with different motivations and often with scruples, they limit themselves to one or another course presented to them by propaganda. They too take the panorama of the various propagandas for living political reality, and do not see where they can insert their Christianity in that fictitious panorama….

At the same time, because of its psychological effects, propaganda makes the propagation of Christianity increasingly difficult. The psychological structures built by propaganda are not propitious to Christian beliefs. This also applies on the social plane. For propaganda faces the church with the following dilemma:

Either not to make propaganda — but then, while the churches slowly and carefully win a man to Christianity, the mass media quickly mobilizes the masses, and churchmen gain the impression of being ‘out of step’, on the fringes of history, without the power to change a thing.

Or to make propaganda — this dilemma is surely one of the most cruel with which the churches are faced at present. For it seems that people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities, less and less suited for the autonomy of a Christian life….

I already have stressed the total character of propaganda. Christians often claim they can separate material devices from propaganda techniques — i.e., break the system. For example, they think they can use press and radio without using the psychological principles or techniques that these media demand. Or that they can use these media without having to appeal to conditioned reflexes, myths, and so on. Or that they can use them from time to time, with care and discretion.

The only answer one can give to these timid souls is that such restraint would lead to a total lack of effectiveness. If a church wants to use propaganda in order to be effective, just as all the others, it must use the entire system with all its resources; it cannot pick what it likes, for such distinctions would destroy the very effectiveness for which the church would make propaganda in the first place. Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies and secular religions.

“Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there are innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.”

And obviously Ellul’s words can be applied across the religious and political spectrum, which is the point of his book Propaganda.

Jesus Knocks

The White-bread Jesus is still knocking.

Now I as a Christian first read these words around 1982. I had been deeply troubled by developments in culture at that time. These developments included the rise of a Christian music industry (known as CCM – Contemporary Christian Music, though I felt it really stood for Commercial Christian Music) a rising Christian movie and television industry, and most troubling of all a kind of conservative political movement that equated Christianity with then current right wing political issues. And I’m not saying there isn’t an overlap, but it’s also clear that at that time there was also overlap with the liberal spectrum as well, which was why many Christians voted for Jimmy Carter for president in 1976. Since that time the lines have been drawn much sharper. And that is a direct result of rising propagandas from that time. Today’s polarizations are the direct ancestors of the propagandas of the 80s, both left and right.

TheLateGreatPlanetEarth

A Christian Propaganda ‘Classic’.

If one was to be transported back to America in 1970 one would find confused weak churches unable to really understand what was going on the steaming hothouse of the Sixties. Conservatives and fundamentalists not only had little voice propagandistically, they didn’t crave that kind of voice. They were reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and digging in for the coming Antichrist. They just assumed it was all over. But the Jesus People, a now forgotten movement, sometimes erroneously called Jesus Freaks, were beginning to reap a bounty of new but less conventional converts from the cultural debris of the Hippie Movement in California. And they made underground Christian newspapers, Christian T-Shirts with slogans like ‘Christ, He’s the Real Thing’ complete with imitation Coca-Cola logo, bumperstickers, and most importantly Jesus Music.

 

 

Now there was about five years when this new Christian music had a fresh feeling to it. But by the end of the Seventies the music had been contained by the very newly dominant CCM industry. That combined with the new political consciousness, a product of a wing of the Charismatic Movement, created the new Christian propaganda which haunts us to this day.

 

 

And so whether in the highly repetitious music of 21st Century Hillsong churches, the more sophisticated pop music of so many imitative Christian bands, manipulative movies like God’s Not Dead, the theatrical megachurches, prosperity teachings, the dumbing down of so many Christians in favor of a feel good message.

 

 

Also there was a justifiably nervous attitude towards the developments in the secular world. And so many Christians backed away from engagement with that world, with the full support of the powers that be. And so a separate propaganda sphere was created. Christian girls could read Christian romance novels usually stuck somewhere between old school Harlequin novels and Little House On The Prairie. Although by the early 21st Century it was just as likely they would be encouraged to read Young Adult sub-Tolkien or CS Lewis Christian Fantasy novels that, while slowly growing in quality since the 70s, encouraged the newer generations to avoid reality and maturity in favor of a Christian version of the current regnant era of delayed adolescence. (By the way I think Lewis and Tolkien are both turning in the graves over this development.)

Christian Fantasy 101

Christian young adult fantasy novels, another cottage industry, tending towards the juvenilization of the faith.

Christian boys could what? Listen to Christian commercial white-boy pop rap? Buy guns? Or more likely simply join the ranks of forgotten men everywhere. But one thing everyone could do was to express themselves with Xtian slogans on T-shirts, posters, tattoos.

CCM Encyclopedia

This massive tome contains over 1000 pages of CCM entries. One could easily whittle these imitative musical entries down to 200 pages and still gag on the excess.

Meanwhile Christian cable channels, YouTubery, radio stations and above all websites allowed the faithful to be completely surrounded in a sweet propaganda bubble. People sang and swayed in megachurches and little dying denominational churches. The cutesy imagery from Vacation Bible School classes for the youth only reinforced the cuddly Christian message. And as I’ve pointed out before the gospel of Christ became the gospel of Fun. Meanwhile the overall positivity was giving way to Christian accommodations with ‘tolerance’ in its new totalizing definition in several quarters. And those who didn’t understand the shift were left in confusion supping on the tepid remains of late 20th Century Christian propaganda.

gods-not-dead-3

Is this light? Sadly I think NOT.

God Quotes Poster Half White

It’s interesting how somewhere in the early 21st Century Christians stopped talking about Christ so much.

Now I know not all Christianity is like this. I know this better than many of you. And there have been those who have questioned these developments through the years. A few are only just now beginning to question these things. They are questioning the hoax that sadly too often the faith has become. But that’s not my subject here. What I have wanted to point out is simply that those who in some measure believe as I do are no more immune to the scourge of propaganda than anyone else.

But it does lead me to a serious question: What can any of us do to live in a time like ours when the locusts of propaganda infest our deepest hopes and dreams. Well there must be more to say.

Come back soon for some possible partial answers.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

2/9/2019

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Georgian Lessons #10: Georgia Without Blinders

Old Lady in Pain with legs

An older woman waiting for a few lari.

As you can tell I like Georgia. I find nourishment in my interactions with the country and its people. Having got to know them better that only increases that strange sense of connection I feel to them. So much so that when I was offered a chance to work and live there I jumped at the chance. (See this story.) But I don’t want to be confused with a tourist who sees the country through a romantic haze of brave mountain men and fairytale women. No I see the reality quite well. I see the damage done to the country by the years of Soviet occupation. I feel the sense of frustration of a people perennially caught between forces much greater than they can possibly be. I feel the layers of impossibility and sense the deals made under tables. I am not blind. Like falling in love, one does not merely take the first impression. As seductive as it might seem from the outside. I have seen the poverty. I have felt the impassivity when confronted by seemingly endless trials. An impassivity bequeathed to all of the victims and collaborators of the Soviet Union. I have felt the same thing in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. And no doubt it exists in Russia as well. And so this little essay will be a look at some of the features of the country that are certainly problematic. I will try to avoid politcial topics, because I know better than to speak about things I don’t really understand yet. But if I wander into sensitive zones I do ask my Georgian friends to forgive me. I am only thinking out loud about the country I will be living in. And I promise the next essay will be just the opposite.

Lenin and Stalin

The two men responsible for destroying public pride behind the Iron Curtain.

The first and most obvious problem in Georgia is poverty. I think anyone landing in Georgia from North America, Western and Central Europe, Australia, New Zealand, certain Asian countries, plus other places that enjoy a fairly high standard of living are going to be smacked in the face when they come across their first older woman begging with a little plastic bucket on the street. In America you only rarely ever will see such a site. Or when you see people standing on a street corner trying to sell a dozen eggs that they brought in from their house that morning. That dozen eggs would hardly bring in a dollar in US currency. This is serious poverty, not fat American poverty, but it is also not starvation poverty. Now there are things you don’t see in this picture. The effects of the failure of the old Soviet system is one of them. But also the fact that Georgian families most often live together – children, parents, grandparents. And so what you are seeing might Just be someone adding a tiny portion to the family income. Also a dollar of American money in Georgia will go a lot farther than it does in the West. I once figured that if my money ran too low I could eat for two dollars a day and still feel fairly full. Nevertheless the poverty is real. And quite sad at times.

Plastic Bag Hell

Plastic bags in field while Soviet Era apartments rise from Nutsubize Plateau like dark castles.

The next thing to hit you if you start traveling anywhere are the plastic bags floating around. It’s truly sad to see trees and fences catching the blowing debris. And then comes the following question: Why does no one do anything about it? And here we come to the effects of seventy years of communism. The Soviet system ended up by creating two main spheres: the public and the private. Georgians tend to live in the private space. Pre-Soviet Georgia had a rich public space. You can see in the beauty of the older buildings built before the Soviet takeover in 1921. But because of the nature of egalitarian communism the public space was everyone’s responsibility, which meant practically that everything was done by bureaucratic fiat. And if the proper committees and departments did nothing then nothing happened. And if you complained then you got noticed. And getting noticed was NOT something you wanted to happen unless it was for awards. Therefore no one showed initiative in the public space. And while this is beginning to change, there are a few no smoking laws now for instance, the bags are still floating around. But ironically the bags are not an old Soviet problem they are actually a result of modernization. Whenever you shop, everything gets bagged over and over. In other words they are making the transitions from old stern bad service communism to new customer satisfaction capitalism. Now WE, in the West, are doing badly with our plastic bags. But at least there is more of a consensus that you don’t need everything bagged or that you can bring your bags. (Though none of this seems to effect our huge supermarket chains.) But the Georgians are still at the point where they almost insist you take another bag. And thus the nightmare grows.

Soviet Apartments

This is what the Soviets left behind.

And along with this is everything related to recycling. Glass, plastic bottles, paper, it all gets throw into the same garbage dumpsters. I’m told there is a tiny bit of recycling in Tbilisi. But the waste? Staggering. And people genuinely don’t know what to do about it. There are some grassroots efforts but they are a long way off still. Which then brings us to the most obvious and dangerous two problems in Tbilisi.

Night Traffic

A few cars late at night in Tbilisi.

Pollution and traffic, which are inextricably linked. While the pollution is not near Beijing levels, it isn’t good. One friend with a child told me she worried what the effect would be on her daughter. Part of the problem goes back to the poverty issue. Georgians can’t afford expensive new cars. So most of the cars are shipped in from other countries like Germany and Japan, countries who don’t like to drive old used cars, or even have laws against doing so. I’ve never seen so many Mercedes in one place outside of Germany. And these are all used diesel chugging beasts, often dark exhaust streaming out of the tailpipes. And then there are the Japanese cars. And did you realize that, like the British, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. Which means you have Georgians driving in the right lanes in left hand vehicles, misjudging the distances. I saw one car turn a corner hit a trash dumpster hard and keep on driving. Of course his steering wheel was on the wrong side. And traffic is another serious problem. I am not looking forward to driving in Georgia. I probably will someday. Fortunately I do understand the metro and bus systems. While the marshrutkas remain completely confusing to me. I will eventually graduate to taxis. (I rode in one that was a Japanese car. Unnerving.) Fortunately there does seem to be some political will to deal with some of the pollution and the Japanese cars are supposed to stop coming in… though there are still too many of them.

Tbilisi with Postmodernism

Which buildings don’t fit with traditional cityscape?

Another more truly modern problem is the new architecture. And that is connected with the desire to catch up with with the times. Always a bad idea. I’m told that had certain powers had their way that much of charming Old Tbilisi would have been torn down and replaced by bad postmodern architecture. You can see some of this on display already. People complained loudly. And much was saved. Or at least granted a stay of execution. And yet if one looks at monstrosities like the Biltmore Hotel (the large ugly spike in the middle of the city), which at least was talked into saving their Rustaveli Avenue facade, or the new Tbilisi Galleria Mall, one can imagine the pseudo Singapore or Dubai that was envisioned. The Georgians, who are quite proud of their country, need to realize that they should restore the unique glory of their country, their traditional modes of architecture are quite stunning, worthy of emulation. And worthy of updating. They don’t need another postmodern building shaped like a dog bone. They need to work on eliminating the worst aspects of their Soviet heritage and live with pride in a cleaner country. With work and effort I could see Georgia looking more like Switzerland a few decades down the road. (Not as clean obviously but who can be as clean as the Swiss?)

Ghost in the Mall

The temptations of hyper-modernity.

I’m told that one man in another city was so tired of the litter that ended up in his yard that, after cleaning his yard over and over and yet always finding more trash, he finally put a Georgian cross up in his lawn, effectively saying this is holy ground. Georgians still respect Christian things even when they aren’t Christians. The litter stopped over night. A creative solution.

As far as the architectural pollution goes that’s a much more elaborate problem. Georgians don’t need to copy other cultures bad taste. Postmodern architecture has done very little for anyone. Georgians are a vastly creative people. They can find unique answers to their own problems.

Exchange

Questions remain.

And when visitors come then they will feel even more of what I feel when I come to this special and unusual place.

And what makes it such a meaningful place to me? It’s the people I meet and conversations I have with them. But I’ll have to discuss that next time. Come back.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

6/22/2018


Georgian Lessons #9: Georgia and Music

Underground Music

Street Musicians in an Underground Passage

The main reason I became attracted to Georgian culture was because of the music and dance that leaks out whenever step into their world. Yes I have visited Georgia to explore puppetry. That was my justification at least for going as part of my nearly finished Gravity From Above documentary film project exploring the meaning of puppets through Europe. And I found so much great puppetry there. Truthfully though, it was the music and dance that called to me from half a world away. I have already introduced this subject in another essay. But as I am writing this Georgian Lessons series there is no deeper lesson that I could pass on than that found in Georgian music and dance. (I would recommend going back to my introductory words first, though it isn’t necessary.) My perspective on Georgian music and dance has deepened considerably since that earlier essay in 2012. And I hear much more in the music now than I did then.

So where to start?

It has to start with voices. If you have a trio of polyphonic Georgian voices you pretty much have everything. Add to that the handclaps and you have the rhythmic structures that underline the dancing. All of the other developments arise from those basic elements.

Erisioni Singers

Singers at Erisioni practicing a traditional song.

To look a little more closely, the voices almost always have a central voice, a bass, and high voicing. The central voice will often contain the melody, the other voices can provide a simple harmony, but more often it will immediately get much more complicated than that. The bass, particularly in Eastern Georgia, will usually be a drone. Sometimes the drone will shift pitches to offset the melody. The high voicings may spiral into orbit or in the case Gurian music will shift into a rhythmic yodel. The melodies themselves will often be bittersweet, sounding somewhere between the minor keys of Eastern Europe and the astringent modalities of the Middle East. But where the Arabic Middle East is positively allergic to harmonies, Georgia revels in them. Not only harmonies, but multiple melodies. And the harmonic structures will then do something unique in the world. They will dip into extreme dissonances as well. Not in a Modernist sense. This isn’t Schoenberg’s 12 tone row. Somehow, and here is the mystery, they resolve the most abstract of dissonances easily and often back into the bass drones.

A Gurian Song Performed by the Singers of Erisioni in Tbilisi, Georgia

Stepping into a Georgian Orthodox Church one evening I was overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the antiphonal polyphony. Somehow the tension between dissonance and harmony conveyed ineffable symbolic resonances of the unutterable sufferings and inexplicable meanings of life. And it made me realize how impoverished the vast majority of contemporary Western Christian church music has become in America. But then again this deep music was not congregational singing. It takes trained voices to sing in such a way as to convey the holiness of God in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

When in Georgian folk traditions, not the church music, you add the handclaps you suddenly have something deeply expressive of real joy. In many of the local Georgian regions Svaneti or Guria, for instance, the voices are already setting a beat. The clapping adds layers of motoric syncopation that practically propel the body into the dance. If this sounds a bit like African music there are aspects of Georgian dance music that indeed strike me as closer to African than most other standard forms of European traditional dance music. Not that it comes from any actual African influence. Georgian music in turn can also sound Greek, Middle Eastern, Persian, Armenian, Russian, even like Western Europe. And these areas have all had some influence upon the basic Georgian polyphony, which is stretches back into antiquity.

Add to the voices and basic rhythms the more traditional instruments, the panduri and chonguri, which are both in the guitar family; the doli, which is a handheld drum; the duduk a reedy droning flute, originally from Armenia; the garmoni, the Georgian accordion which has a unique tuning, and several others. And you start to have a powerful arsenal of musical tools to create an endless variety of sounds. Over time pianos, organs, guitars, electric instruments and electronic instruments have all been added to the stew. And curiously Georgia is now seen as one of the European centers of electronica. In talking with DJ Giorgi Kancheli he demonstrated the same respect for music that I encountered from so many other Georgians. He didn’t see his music as any sort of rejection of his musical culture.

And this was one of the aspects of Georgian culture that struck me forcefully. I was impressed not only by the Georgian music I was hearing, but also by the musical curiosity and knowledge that many Georgians displayed. One friend, a surgeon studying to be a neuroscientist, asked me if I knew the music of American composer Moondog. I was completely impressed. I did know of the blind street performer Moondog who used to dress like a viking of the sidewalks of New York City who made several recordings of his naïve symphonic music. Now how many Americans per 10,000 people would know of his work? A handful? Maybe. Maybe not. Have you ever heard of Moondog? And yet here was this young Georgian woman who was conversant with his oeuvre.

Moondog Columbia Album

Have you ever heard of Moondog?

And I often found that Georgians knew these strange details from musical history. I pondered why. Why did this culture seem to have such a connection to musics from various corners of the world? And here is what came to me. Georgian folk music traditions are so complex that it makes it easy to absorb music from most other cultures with real appreciation. If there is some truth that the exposure to basic classical music is good for a child’s development then the Georgians are ahead of that game, since their folk music tends to skip Mozart and go straight to Stravinsky.

And that does raise the following specter. How shall future Americans learn to appreciate music beyond their own time and place given the diet of hollow commercial pop music that has been increasingly foisted upon us?

Now I don’t want Georgia to seem like some musical paradise. Stepping into the new mall on Rustaveli Avenue one hears that exact same hideous, predominantly American, shiny overproduced pop music playing to the masses globally. And people are simply absorbing it unquestioningly. This will have an effect. Likewise the success of the EDM rave and club culture is going to have an effect upon the musical traditions as well. What kind of effect? I can’t say. And since they are largely influenced by German electronica, a culture that mostly disdains its own Germanic heritage, which is understandable considering its 20th Century history, there are already serious tensions in this zone. But Georgia, despite the presence of some ultra nationalists who hate the club culture, is not Germany.

If you wander through the United States, choose a high school or university at random, and ask a collection of students to sing you a folk or traditional song very few if any will be able to do it. (I was recently informed how poorly even university level music students are with such things.) If you go to Georgia today, even with the omnipresence of the big commercial culture descending like an all consuming vulture, even in the presence of more postmodern forms of musical exploration, most Georgian youth would immediately be able to sing you a folk song.

The question then remains “For how long?’

The good news is that the vultures only consume a dead carcass. And Georgia as Georgia is not dead.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

5/15/2018


Georgian Lessons #8: Art In Georgia

MArani in the Forest

Pirosmani’s Marani in the Forest

As I have been spending time searching for puppets, listening to music and watching dancers in Tbilisi it has been hard to keep from coming across Georgian art. And this art has a very specific essence that I have not run into in any other country. Georgian art is largely unknown outside of Georgia, except perhaps among the art cognoscenti and those familiar with the deceptively charming work of Pirosmani. And so this seems like a good time to introduce my readers to this small yet rich world.

Mary Jeweled

A flat icon of Mary in a bed covered in jewels.

Georgian art actually is as old as this very ancient culture, whether in goldsmithing through a process called granulation, or in delicate Colchian jewelry. The real impetus to create artistic images burst forth after Georgia’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th Century. Eventually Georgian churches were adorned with Orthodox icons of Christ, Mary and the Saints. And they remain so today. A stop at any Georgian Orthodox Church will open up this world of distinctive icons, as well as those with a Greek Byzantine or Russian flavor. These icons represent the flowering of Georgian art down through the ages.

Georgia does not have the deep traditions of, say, Italy, with its vast ocean of painting and especially sculpture. Sculpture was in fact not allowed within the Orthodox church and only flat or raised images were allowed. This goes back to the debates over iconclasm. Statues were seen as being potentially too pagan. But bas-relief was allowed.

Now I’m not a Georgian art scholar and I’m sure that there are artists I am not aware of, but the first secular artist to be noticed was Niko Pirosmanashvili (1862 – 1918), known simply as Pirosmani. While a contemporary of European styled academic painter Gigo Gabashvili (1862 – 1936), Pirosmani, a self taught naïve painter, worked as a herdsman, a sign painter, a house painter, a railroad conductor, and a commercial artist. And yet in his work there is something very much a part of the Georgian character today. His work depicts many daily aspects of Georgian life. His ‘Still Life” of foodstuffs on a black background, painting almost expressionistically, demonstrates a Georgian iconic approach. He paints animals lovingly yet with no particular biological faithfulness. He shows scenes of men toasting at a supra, the special ritual Georgian meal. He shows the marani, the clay wine fermentation barrel, in almost surreal places. Symbolists, Expressionists and Surrealists have all found much to admire in his work. He is a master of what the French call Art Brut, or Outsider Art.

niko-pirosmani (1)

Niko Pirosmani (Photo by Edward Klar)

His life was poor, simple and tragic. At one point he fell in love with a visiting French actress and dancer. One of his paintings simply says “Actress Margarita” on it. The legend goes that he took all of his money and bought flowers for her to impress her. A contemporary writer wrote of this event like this: “The carts were full of flowers up till edges, with drops of water, seemed like the early-dew sprinkled them with billions of rainbow drops. The carts stopped at Margarita’s house. Carters talked awhile with each other in low voices, and then started to unload the carts and throw flowers on the ground in front of gates, covering stones in pavement and road. Yes, these were thousands of flowers that Niko got for his beloved woman.” Eventually she realized that he was just a poor painter and she returned to Paris. It says something about the Georgian character that even the great writer Rustaveli would have admired, the exquisite and hopeless gesture of love.

Niko eventually died anonymously in a tiny shabby apartment near the train station, the place now a sad museum in Tbilisi. His grave is unmarked. Yet he is the most important artist to come from Georgia. His reputation only starting to grow shortly before his death. Only 200 of his possibly 2000 paintings survive. In a conversation shortly before his death he said “I am poor… My clients are not educated.” When I visited in 2016 I found this strange little museum then but it was closed. A weary older man, who could been Pirosmani, told me to come back the next day. When I did I entered the doleful tribute to a man whose work celebrated the joy in life that he probably rarely fully experienced.

Next comes Lado Gudiashvili (1896 – 1980) a very different sort of character. Gudiashvili was dapper and cultivated to Pirosmani’s untrained earthiness. And yet Gudiashvili was clearly influenced by Pirosmani. He was also influenced by Symbolism from his early 20th Century journey to Paris. Not only that Gudiashvili was a expert in Georgian iconography and frescoes. And so his work shows all of these influences. Where Pirosmani is the classic Outsider artist, Gudiashvili is the consummate insider, the respected artist with a pedigree. Where Pirosmani is hope, Gudiashvili is darkness and anger, beauty and seduction. Pirosmani lived during an age when the old Georgia still thrived. Gudiashvili lived through the darkest days of the Soviet Union.

Gudiashvili Self Portrait

Gudiashvili Self Portrait

He returned to Georgia in the late 1920s and found that the best way to survive in the Communist milieu was to work with and be inspired by theatre, ballet, opera. But in private his art turned savage as the insanity of life and war impinged upon him. During the 1940s he created a body of sketch work that rivaled Goya’s for human darkness and horror. A recent book details the work. After the war he was commissioned to paint a large set of frescoes for the Kashueti Church on Rustaveli Avenue. The work has a distinctive oriental style, reflecting the older Georgian traditions. For working with Christian themes he then received a letter barring him from the Soviet painter’s union and stripping him of his insurance and other benefits. It was too religious for the atheist state. Many years later he was reinstated. And he died as a legendary artist.

Elene Akhvlediani (1898-1975) was a contemporary of Lado Gudiashvili and also made the pilgrimage to Paris. Her work isn’t nearly as complex as Gudiashvili’s. She tends to focus on landscapes, more specifically cityscapes, and much more pointedly, Tbilisi Georgia. Her view of the city with its twisting, lanes and dilapidated balconies, lush with overgrown vegetation, crowded with laundry hanging out over the streets, has given rise to people speaking of “Akhvlediani’s Tbilisi”. And this Tbilisi can still be seen in many quarters, though the recent craze for new buildings is taking its toll. When you visit the Gudiashvili Museum it’s like visiting an art gallery, but when you visit the Akhvlediani Museum one steps back into old Tbilisi since the museum is also her old home as well. It is filled with souvenirs of her past, paintings jostle each other on the walls, like they would have in the old galleries, along with old furniture, and ornate interior balconies. It is a favorite museum in Tbilisi for the thoughtful few who seek it out.

When I first tried to find the Akhvlediani Museum I arrived at a neglected looking building. The entrance was dark. I ascended old squeaking stairs. I couldn’t see any sign in the hall that definitely said museum. I actually climbed one story too high. I went back to a door rang a bell. Two policeman came to the door. Does it take two men to guard this place? They didn’t speak any English but told me the place was closed. I felt like I had crossed into a crime scene. Three weeks later I returned. By this time I realized that all Georgian House Museums and such had two police stationed at the door. So I was less concerned. Eventually they let me in. And that is when I discovered this wonderful little place.

 

Along with Pirosmani and Gudiashvili, the Georgian National Museum – D. Shevardnadze National Gallery contained paintings by Davit Kakabadze (1889 – 1952) and sculptor Iakob Nikoladze (1876 – 1951). Kakabadze being a bit younger than Gudiashvili, yet also a Parisian pilgrim, experimented more with abstract shapes, influences from Cézanne, Cubism, even Dadaism, as well as Georgian motifs, hints of Pirosmani can be found. And later, like Gudiashvili, he worked for the Georgian theatre. His post-Paris work often has a pastoral quality and is dedicated to his Imeretian roots. (Imereti is a region in Georgia.) Iakob Nikoladze also sojourned in Paris to study under Rodin to become a late period Symbolist and maker of national Georgian symbols. Nikoladze was the first serious professional sculptor in Georgia, breaking the Orthodox mode of flat surfaces.

There is much else I could say about the art in Georgia, primitive paintings, street art, modern art, monumental sculpture, etc. But this should serve as a fair introduction to Georgian art upon which the rest is built. I might in the future do a second part of this or cover the distinctive architecture. I have also visited other museums and written about them elsewhere. (Click this.) I highly recommend the strange little museums that dot the core of Tbilisi as well a the national institutions, which are mostly on Rustaveli Avenue. So when, not if, you go to Georgia prepare to find artistic and cultural treasures in many expected and unexpected places.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

2 / 3 / 2018

 

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Georgian Lessons #7: The Red Stain

Hammer Sickle Door

Behind the Red Door.

I have returned to Tbilisi Georgia nearly two years after my 2016 visit. And I am gaining a larger perspective than I had before. I’ve nearly finished learning the alphabet and I’ve met many friends, old and new, as I wander the streets observing the world around me. My observations directly connected to my chief aims of puppetry, music and dance will be covered on my Gravity From Above site, but here I am going to continue dealing with the other aspects of Georgian culture that call to me. And today nothing called out as loud as the legacy of Communism in the old Soviet Union, which Georgia was buried deeply within, as I visited the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing House Museum.

Sly Pair of Smiles

A couple of friendly looking guys with a twinkle in their eyes.

But before we enter that world a bit of background. A quick look at the wars of Georgia, both outside invasion and civil strife, produces well over a staggering 150 conflicts before the year 1800 from Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Mongols and the Ottomans among many, many others. And around the year 1800 the Russian Empire muscled its way into the area and presented a deal the Georgians couldn’t turn down, eventually swallowing them into greater Russia. To this day it is a common misconception that the Georgians speak Russian and write in the Cyrillic alphabet. Then after a very brief season of Georgian independence during the Russian Revolution Georgia declared itself as a state and from 1918 until 1921 they were free and the blossoms of liberty began to grow everywhere. Until they were harvested by the new Soviet Union and were ‘allowed’ to spend another 70 years under Russian/Soviet yoke.

Georgian Soviet

The Georgian Soviet emblem.

Since the 1991 declaration of independence Georgia has remained free, though not without periods of strife. And so it is inevitable that the marks of both Russia and the Soviet Union (not the same thing at all) are still quite heavy on the land. To be fair some of these marks are not bad. Under the Soviet system education was encouraged as was theatre, ballet, puppets (!) and other cultural products… though always at the whim of the state censors. But other effects were much more troubling. Churches were banned under the atheist system. And many church buildings were destroyed or put to non-religious uses. I stepped into the Lado Gudiashvili Museum to look at work by that painter who had been part of that brief moment of freedom in the early 20th Century and who had continued on under the Soviet Union. He mostly stayed with a sort of surrealistic portraiture heavily influenced by his wide knowledge of Medieval Georgian frescos. And in 1947 he was asked to paint the altar of the Kashueti Orthodox Church on Rustaveli Avenue. He did it, then was barred for a while from the painters union. He often made scabrous sketches reflecting his cynicism of the Soviet system. But his fresco still stands.

Lado's Annunciation

The Annunciation: A Small section of Lado Gudiashvili’s Altarpiece.

Another area where the Soviet Union is still deeply felt is in the endless blocks of concrete apartment buildings circling the town. And they are often indeed gray and eerie as they house thousands upon thousands. And so while there is much new building going on these days it is hotels and not as often affordable replacements for these gloomy structures.

Gray Soviet

One of the gray Soviet sectors of Tbilisi.

One question I sometimes wonder is where would Georgia be today if it could have stayed free in 1921. It’s a dream I know. Nevertheless the Georgian people have a lot of natural creativity and drive. Yet one gets the feeling that they are still digging out painfully from the basic burdens left by communism. And part of that burden is a kind of fatalism that I have encountered in other former Eastern Bloc countries. In Romania, in the Czech Republic, to a lesser degree in Poland, you often hear some equivalent to the statement “What can you do?” Here in Georgia it attaches itself to issues like traffic congestion, air pollution, recycling, etc. But not only that, these very creative people will sometimes hit a roadblock in their lives. And then you can see a cloud of fatalism passing over them. Which is odd because I’m convinced that this fatalism is a foreign import, it is not native to Georgia. Yet even I being one of the least optimistic Americans you will ever meet, always feel that there must be more options. The world may be dark, but I don’t have that fatalism that clouds future action.

True Believer

Zhuli, a True Believer in the Soviet World.

The most interesting thing that happened to me with regard to Georgia’s communist past occurred today. I went to find a strange little museum that I’d heard about. One not covered in guide books. You probably already guessed that I mean the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing House Museum. Now if that sounds strange to you trust me on this, the title of the museum wasn’t nearly as weird as the museum itself. I took the metro to a stop I’d never been to before – 300 Aragveli*. (I don’t know what that refers to, it’s not an address.) After a rambling walk I arrived at a door that could be no other than the house museum. It featured hammer and sickle designs in Soviet red. And what was odd is that it didn’t look like commentary or in any manner ironic. And lo and behold it wasn’t. (See above.)

Soviet Museum

An Almost David Lynchian Mood as you Enter the Museum.

For those who don’t know history as well as you should, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was not Russian, he was in fact the most famous (or infamous) Georgian who ever lived. His Georgian name was Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili (იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი). He was born in the Georgian city of Gori, where a controversial museum dedicated to him exists to this day. Stalin is of course responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler and yet there are those, even in Georgia, who wax nostalgic for the old days. And I had indeed walked into such a place.

 

 

 

 

The museum was like a frozen tableau of the Soviet Union without any upkeep whatsoever. Entering the dark corroding building was like entering into a time warp of the days before 1991, no really before 1953, it was the grayest dingiest thing I’d ever come across, from exactly the kinds of minds that thought that people wanted big ugly apartments. I was brought into a room festooned with red flags and pictures of Lenin and Stalin and an old comrade, a true believer in Soviet style Communism, named Zhuli was speaking Russian like a native. A young Russian teenager and his mother were there too. And that was fortunate because the boy became my interpreter for the deeply felt tour Zhuli was just starting. I mentioned that I was from America, which produced a puzzled look from Zhuli, who then recovered quickly with the only question one could ask at such an occasion: Are you a communist? The answer was a simple ‘No’. I wanted to understand what was going on here much too much to say that I was anything but! Yet from then on he took it as his mission to convert me. To tell me of the heroism of comrade Stalin and the way things had been.

Zhuli

Zhuli with the Workers’ Heroes

Zhuli told us that back in the heyday of the Soviet Union, during the summers, over 500 hundred people a day would come to this museum. And this place was the house that hid Comrade Jugashvili, where they printed revolutionary pamphlets and papers in Georgian, Armenian and Russian. He show us fading imitation copies, decaying on the walls. (“They don’t give us much money for this museum.’) They had built a loud printing press under the nearby house (a reconstruction since it had been torn down by the Georgians after it had been discovered) and had an elaborate escape hatch through a deep well. And that was fascinating in itself. The well was still there. And another printing press, same German make and model, probably used somewhere else for propaganda, was rusting under the house because the chamber would flood regularly. Zhuli showed us diagrams and models of the house plans. He showed us photocopy clippings of atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War 2. He showed us a large map with little lights that glowed where revolutionary cells had been. We walked by socialist realist paintings of Stalin, Lenin, Molotov and others. He told us of Stalin’s heroic escapes in times of danger. Not a word was whispered about purges, famines, gulags, murders, the millions.

 

 

I was just in awe that such a man still existed. Zhuli was a man who still lived for the party. He was a man in his 80’s with a cult-like devotion to communism. And he knew it was going to come back. And when I thought about recent far left appropriations of the hammer and sickle image, whether by Antifa or by Jeremy Corbyn supporters in the UK, I wondered if he might not have a point. Because this was a man entirely possessed by his ideology of total egalitarianism, and that idea had come back with a vengeance, though applied with different terms for oppression, among people in the West who know nothing about the Gulag and the millions of victims of communist totalitarianism from Russia to China and far beyond.

 

 

As I left I looked at a funny work of graffiti on the wall outside, and I thought of this earnest man inside for whom such a thing would be incomprehensible. Bourgeois hooliganism would be the only category he would have for such a thing. He called the independence of Georgia a blow for the ‘counterrevolutionaries’. But you knew he thought it was only temporary. As I walked back towards the Avlabari metro station I walked passed a massive new Sheraton Hotel going up not far from the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing House Museum. Here’s the new ideology Zhuli. Yes indeed there will be one world, it’s just not the one you were imagining.

 

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

30/1/2018

 

*Discovered later: 300 Aragveli  –  The Three Hundred Aragvians are a detachment of the highlanders from the Aragvi valley, near Tbilisi, who fought to the last man against the invading Qajar (Persian) army in 1795 at the battle of Krtsanisi, .

21st Century Propaganda #6: The Synth Drumbeats of War

Propaganda proceeds by psychological manipulations, character modifications, by creation of stereotypes useful when the time comes – The two great routes that this sub-propaganda takes are the conditioned reflex and the myth.                             Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Anon

The eerie Guy Fawkes mask, Propaganda symbol of hacker vigilantes Anonymous, were an early sign of this new world we have moved into with such ferocity.

Back in the early 90’s, before most people were converted to anything called the Internet, just after the Soviet Union finally collapsed, I noticed that a very high percentage of Americans hardly even noticed the end of the Cold War. And except for new European tourist possibilities the reality of an end to this monumental ideological struggle barely impinged upon the waking consciousness of the majority of US citizens. There were no bells ringing. People did not dance in the streets. In 1989 we did watch on television as Berliners danced on the Wall, but after the 1991 coup in Soviet Russia, which spelled the end of the very real Cold War epoch, people generally hunkered down and went about their business. Why? (And what about China, Cuba and North Korea?)

 

I quickly came to realize that most folks in North America had already found a new enemy and a new war to fight: What we now call the Culture Wars. Interestingly enough, at the time, the mainstream pundits in newspapers and on television even disparaged the term as Conservative Propaganda. I seriously doubt many folks do anymore. If the last election proves anything, it certainly reveals the radically divergent viewpoints that have festered since then.

Aids Harring

One of the early Act Up Propaganda Posters by Keith Haring that would help foster the Culture Wars. A Pro-Life Poster would have had the same effect.

Back in the early 1990’s a thought came to me as I walked through Soho in New York City one afternoon. I realized that we had entered a new troubling realm. That, as we had increasingly come under the influence of Propaganda as our window to the world, we had become more divided than ever. More ominously it was inevitable that, following Jacques Ellul’s logic, in the future PROPAGANDA, in a very real sense, WOULD BE THE WAR. In other words that war would be take place in and for our minds first and foremost. This warfare might lead eventually to real war, but long before that there would be mental and emotional battles causing deep psychic damage amongst vast swathes of the populace. Sadly that is exactly where we are today. We are in the midst of the Propaganda War. And it is vicious, ugly and irrational on all sides. It is chaotic, noisy, infesting the mind with arguments and hatreds, with deprecations and scorn, with fear and neurosis. The chaos of the mosaic wall of cultural noise has become deafening and is transforming itself into something lethal. And we are all wrapped up in it.

Zero Tolerance

And whatever happened to the classic definition of Tolerance?

And apart from all of the obvious clutter, and in even more insidious ways, it has become far too commonplace for each of us to give into the fire hydrant flow of Propaganda blasting from today’s polarized ‘news’ sites straight into the open mouth of social media. It is a gusher so intense that people simply react without even a pretense of concern for something as obvious as facts, fairness or logic. And I do mean all of us (no one is excluded here). I feel it within myself. Folks are hysterical about politics these days. It reminds me of nothing less than Weimar Germany. The dark fluctuations between extreme Left and Right. People jump straightway from event to demonization without a second’s notice. The filters for deliberation seem to have vanished altogether. The time it takes to process anything seems to take as long as it takes to type this sentence down and make a snarky comment.

Fake news

And so is this… In this time of accusation.

But here is the truth. All of these people we demonize are still human beings: Trump is a human being, though he often acts as a caricature. Neo-Nazis are still human beings, repugnant as their ideologies are. Social Justice Warriors are still human beings, though they seem to have gone out of their way to insist that any traditional notion of humanity is obsolete. Black Lives Matter are human beings even though the perpetually play the victim role while snarling at those who don’t understand. Muslim terrorists are still human beings no matter how many lives fall under their rage. Antifa are human beings though they openly evoke a serious variation on Communist ideology and perpetrate hatred on those who they say are haters. (And what does the word hate mean anymore? When if you merely dislike a Marvel movie you can be considered a Marvel ‘hater’.) Everyone you disagree with and find to be useless and vile are still human beings, and deserve to be treated with humanity and compassion no matter who they are and what they believe. But as Jacques Ellul said in his book Propaganda: ‘Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.’

 

I have been monitoring these things much more seriously in the last year and the words Civil War have started to appear more and more on both Left and Right wing sources. Wait a minute let me stop and say that again. Civil War… Do you have any idea what that means? Can you see the piles of corpses and smoking ruins? Do you realize what the body count was from the last Civil War? Does your political correctness or mockery demand we feed Moloch with our children? Or adults? Our future? In order to create the world you imagine?

Anonymous Rebels

What is the distance between protest and war?

And the Middle which held things together has become scarce indeed. As the generations of World War 2 remembering souls shuffle off the stage forever, that is folks who dealt with actual Fascists and Communists, we have replaced them with American citizens with no real grasp of history. Even the most educated among us are quite thin in historical understanding. To call Trump a Fascist is to have no understanding of what Fascism truly is. This is not to praise Trump. Populism and Fascism are two very different things. This is obviously a low point in American history. There are indeed elements on the extreme Right that are metastasizing. Does it need to be repeated over and over that not everyone who is right wing or voted for Trump can be tarred with the vitriol spewing from the Left and their general lock on the media. There is bile enough on both sides to go around. And most of it is spread by means of social media in one form or another. I don’t even trust my good friends when they give in to the heat of this Propaganda moment.

 

One of the scariest experiences I had in the last year occurred when I watch one of the presidential debates through YouTube. Now all of the media live-streaming this ‘event’ had comment columns, which whizzed by insanely, making the notion of commentary a ersatz farce merely due to the blinding speed of it before one could actually attempt to read the messages scrawled on what essentially has become the bathroom walls of our culture. That same speed-induced vertigo is evidenced when an author or YouTuber conducts a LIVE Feed. You see the well meaning host trying valiantly to catch up even to reading the hundreds or thousands of comments. Comment is reduced to hand waving or Sharpie scrawls.

 

But the dire nature of the problem smashes you in the face with a sledge hammer when you take a moment to read the comments on a political forum. It’s strange we live in times where the mantra has for far too long been ‘Be positive!’ And it is my observation that this childish slogan has produced its exact contrary opposite. It has created a violent beast. And that is America 2017. A frightened ill-informed populace of citizens who no longer have the character to weigh issues, to delay judgement until the facts are in, to measure events against history. And I mean the leaders as well as the voters. It’s as if the Cold War, World War 2, the Civil War, and American Revolution had never occurred. One sees people carrying torches in emulation of Triumph of the Will, or another group insanely chanting ‘Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!’ rather than allow a centrist speaker to talk, one sees lesbians castigated for refusing to consider romance with trans ‘women’, light skinned black folk sidelined for the color of their skin by darker hued more politically charged comrades, and that word (!) ‘Comrade’ is coming back into Left wing fashion, as if the bodies of 100 million people hadn’t already been slaughtered to the cause of perfect identical equality. And I mentioned earlier the rise of antisemitism on both the Right and the Left. All in all we are seeing the forces dehumanization everywhere… and that is should freeze the blood of anyone truly conversant in history or actual politics. (But how can you see people as human beings if most of your contacts are made online?)

Expand this to full page. Then watch the comment scroll here if you dare.

And the comments? They scrolled by like the droolings of hell. From Alt-Right Kekistani mockery to Left wing crybullies. To read them as an outsider, as someone who lives in the real world, was to peek into the pathological heart of America and our 21st Century heart of darkness. There was no entrance of human language into this maelstrom of political psychosis. To write anything was to indulge in the fantasy of that the Internet has allowed one’s words to speak meaningfully into this chaos of visual and aural noise. The only thing one could say is to paraphrase Jeremiah, later quoted in the book of Revelation, where we are instructed concerning the nightmare city of Babylon to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.” Come out of cyberspace! Retain your humanity. Stop living in this virtual lie. Flee the political Propaganda boiling on all sides and shared by your ‘friends’. Remember your human neighbors, left and right. Use the computer with great skepticism, but live offline. Because if we don’t then the vitriol of minds poisoned in this Propaganda War will spill, as it already has, onto the streets. If you stare into your palms long enough you will see this. And it will rivet you to the spot. And you will have no answer but more Propaganda. Come! Live out here with those of us that strive to retain the physical world. Those who attempt the difficult task of caring for humanity, even those we completely disagree with.

Red Pill

A Right wing ‘Meme’ against the SJW’s and Normies.

(But wait Byrne! I hear a possible Christian friend saying. I know you’re a Christian. Doesn’t Christ have the answer? Oh yeah. I forgot. Much as I hate to say it, we Christians, likewise, have simply colluded in this whole process just like anyone else. Don’t believe me? Come back next time… Well on second thought… maybe you shouldn’t. It’s not going to be pretty.)

(Now I have to get off line again. I’ve already spent too much time typing away in the virtual dark.)

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
9/19/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1

Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda: A Lecture

Socail Media Propaganda

A little Social Media Propaganda for you.

Following on from the last 21st Century Propaganda essay, ‘Propaganda and Social Media’, I wanted to add a lecture that I gave at L’Abri Fellowship in Huémoz, Switzerland, back in February of 2016: Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda. This is a video version of a lecture that did NOT have visuals with it. But included in this video is a full array of propaganda posters.

If you live online I hope this raises questions for you. It’s about an hour and a half. So maybe download it and listen to it later. And do please let me know what you think.

 

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/7/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda #5: Propaganda and Social Media

Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world. – Jacques Ellul

Prop as prop

In the spirit of Anti-Propaganda Propaganda, a sarcastic ‘meme’ featuring the late Gene Wilder from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory having essentially the same effect as a bumper sticker saying ‘Bumper stickers are stupid.’

People have often reacted in a utopian manner as new technologies burst onto the scene. The automobile promised the endless joys of travel, and without having to feed a horse! We now know that the car and the highway are not anything resembling unmixed blessings. Traffic, commuting nightmares, highway fatalities, pollution, the entire social fabric of many communities being completely enveloped by the spaces created for the automobile. It would be easy to argue (and to win) that the car is one the greatest devil’s bargains of history. As Paul Virilio has pointed out: When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.

And thus the utopian hopes of the internet as being a mode of open communication and knowledge, have now given way to the realities of commercial control, spam, invasion of privacy, trolling, endless payments, and most sinisterly, the constant monitoring of our activity below the horizon of our intended purposes. Visit a clothing website and then see an ad for the same product you just searched for on your Facebook page. Pay for an item in another country and have your bank shut down your card through their fraud detection services. (Both of these things have happened to me.)

social-media-should-not-be-censored

Again more Propaganda disguised as Educational choice. Make a ‘Choice’.

Not many years ago people were naïvely and insanely lauding the glories of social media as though there could be no problems attached with same. I’m imagining the reader will already be aware many instances of issues related to cyberbullying, texting nightmares, even Facebook depression, when you see your friends supposedly wonderful lives of headlines and captions and realize that your own life isn’t like that. Recently I have been made more aware of the neurotic result of connecting one’s Facebook notifications to your smartphone, as it has negatively impacted at least one friendship. But I’d like to discuss the growing dilemma of social media as perhaps the best platform for spreading Propaganda that has ever existed.

social-media-should-be-censored1

And if you Vote for this what does it say about you? Perhaps that you are a lab rat pressing a lever to obtain the food of imaginary Choice.

A word before I proceed: Jacques Ellul discusses two directions of Propaganda, the Vertical, what is often top down messaging, and the Horizontal, what we pass along to each other. Vertical Propaganda is what we are more familiar with; government statements, corporate slogans, public health warnings, political campaigns, etc. But I would say in these times Horizontal Propaganda is what has the biggest effect upon us. Horizontal Propaganda effects us much like the old illustration of crabs in a bucket. No one crab is allowed to crawl out because the other crabs hold the individual down when it tries to escape. Likewise how easy it is to live within the walls of one’s favored ideology without being allowed to raise serious questions about those same ideological presuppositions.

Smartphone

Do these Branded Icons make you free?

Now you may not notice this issue much if all of your ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are in the same air bubble you are. That is you don’t see the ‘meme wars’, because to you all of those snide jokey little images with words imbedded in them are just humorous little moments crushing the opposition. Just press ‘Like’ and LOL along with the flow of friends all the while feeling superior to the idiots out there who voted for ‘them’, or ‘him’, or ‘her’. Or maybe suddenly you’ve discovered a cause? Here are a few causes that suddenly seemed to overshadow the humanity of various friends of mine: PETA, Gun Rights, Gun Control, Pro-Life, Gay Marriage, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Personally I’ve got to tell you this: If anything starts to infest my Facebook page I immediately ‘unfollow’ you. I keep you around as distant background noise, but until I see evidence of genuine human sharing I don’t need the clever little film with the ironic music tearing down yet one more political figure. And I feel exactly the same way about online game invitations, quizzes and surveys (really these are just clickbait sites for monitoring your cookies), product recommendations, jokey sites (often more clickbait with motives other than spreading humor) etc. and again I repeat ad nauseum.

christian-posters-23

If this verse from the Bible is true, then what shall the creator of this poorly made, badly conceived, out of context ‘meme’ reap from God?

These ‘shares’ eats into our human time as we swat away the technological flies. And then there is that most egregious symbol, the changing of your profile avatar image to coincide with some recent political event. Suddenly your photo is rainbow tinted or painted with the French flag or an anti-abortion campaign. And here’s what I know… These people usually have little direct connection to these things, they are merely ‘virtue signaling’. In the French case I’m pretty sure I had far, far more direct connections to Paris or France than 99.9% of all of the folks that posted French flags after the terrorist bombings. And does anyone even think about France anymore? (I do). Or are we now just thinking about Trump and Charlottesville, Virgina? Or have we moved on to hurricane victims? Or maybe Muslims in Myanmar? Or wherever we are when you finally read this?

Awesome Muslims

Above or below. Choose your narrative. (Read Slant.)

muslim woman

These two images give us a good idea of what the ‘meme wars’ have been like. You pick your image based on temperament rather than research and verification.

In the wake of the Charlottesville fracas I’ve been astounded at how quickly people have simply reacted. And immediate unfiltered thoughtless reaction is the key to this new ‘public’ life of ours. The idea of trying to understand the event seems to be an impossibility. For too many people there can only be one version of the event. And yet I’m pretty sure that if we sat down together as human beings I could show anyone enough raw feeds, without interpretation of the event, to convince you that this was not a simple narrative. And yet the frightening thing is that to ask any questions at all about the dominant interpretation of the event is to instantly invite a witch hunt of, again, immediate reaction without the benefit of research or meditation. We create precisely what we fear because we push those with differing opinions away into extremes. I am convinced that many folks today are considering white nationalists ideas who would never have done so if the extreme left hadn’t been allowed to dominate the interpretation with their own version of identity politics.

Think Different

Just make sure you stay connected technologically. It’s fantastic how many untruths can be contained in one slogan.

The sad thing is this: I had a friend, not too close, but with whom I once had meaningful real world conversations years back. This person mentioned something in a post that seemed to invite reflection and comment. I commented in a mildly questioning manner of the dominant ideology. I was ‘unfriended’ instantly. Since then I have learned that it is not important to post political topics at the expense of human friendship. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I do. I most certainly do. I can also guarantee that they do not tick off neatly on the right or left side of the page. I have tried to be thoughtful. (And sometimes I am so tempted to reply to some ill considered idea posted somewhere and add to the Propaganda morass, but my convictions won’t let me.) It could be argued that my friend was not a good friend and, well, good riddance. Or it could be said that she was in the grip of ideological Propaganda as many others are in these days. Should I reject them out of hand? Or should I attempt to show them in some insignificant way what it means to be human. I choose the latter. But I am under no illusion about these folks. They are under the spell of something intractable, fearsome and unforgiving. Yet I still believe in compassion, courage and forgiveness.

So where are we now? That will be the subject of my next essay. Come back again. You probably won’t want to know what I need to say. Nevertheless, like a car crash on the side of the highway, you will have to look and ponder.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/12/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda #4: Us Versus Them

Antifa

Classic Us vs. Them Propaganda.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? –
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Besides being the all-encircling communication finding us alone in the mass and giving us essentially what we want, nay need, to hear, while moving us into its own direction, Propaganda must always contain an Us vs. Them. This is a salient feature. That is there must always be an enemy of some sort to define ourselves against. So if you are a vegan it is the meat industry. If you are an anarchist you have the state. If you are a feminist you have the patriarchy. If you are a right wing Christian you have the liberal government. Etc. Etc. Now the complexities here go far beyond one Us versus one Them. At any given point America can be suspicious of Russia, China or the Islamic Jihadists. And calling someone else a Nazi or a Fascist is always useful in dehumanizing the opposition. It’s always been interesting to me that the insult Communist doesn’t have the same transgressive weight, though it should. The Communist death toll of the Soviet Union and China alone is perhaps upwards much higher than 50 million, not including war deaths. Yet again that strangely silent condemnation too is a result of the Us and Them of Propaganda.

fightwithenemy

Soviet Russian Propaganda encouraging citizens to Fight the Enemy.

It is commonplace now to admit that we have arrived at a time of extreme polarities. And likewise it is commonplace to blame Them for doing this to Us, when we ourselves, whomever we are, have a big stake in the proceedings. And the new 21st Century forces of Propaganda have upped the ante through the internet and social media. The new Propaganda infests our thinking in a way Orwell couldn’t have imagined. People live lives peaceably for the most part. Then a news event from thousands of miles away will suddenly call out to us, will rattle the organs of comment, or dissent. Within a couple of hours the spin will be at tornado strength. Memes and articles will be shared, wrong word, ‘share’ sounds far too friendly, disseminated, yes much better, disseminated on a multitude of social media accounts. And yet most of this, except for those few people actually touched by the event physically, is just pixels on a screen. They come and go everyday. We get little rest. Our nerves are frayed. And yet we know without a doubt who the enemy is. It is one of those clusters of digital information. Because in daily life we don’t actually see the other as the demon we encounter online. But Propaganda creates the force behind the paranoia of Us and Them.

 

PropagandaNaziStabsBible

Curiously this Nazi Propaganda is used by a Christian site to drum up fear against today’s secular enemies. Propaganda is often turned back on the propagandist.

Now obviously if you go back into history a Them have always existed for an Us. It’s hard to avoid. It’s not just the other race, it used to be the people in the next valley who made terrible cheese. The Romans had the Barbarians and the Christians. The Medieval Church had the Moslems and the Heretics. Islam had the Infidels. Enlightenment Progressives had the Superstitious and the Ignorant. The Communist had the Bourgeois Capitalists. The Nazis had the Jews. The Americans had the Soviets. The Chinese had the Americans, then the Russians. The Jews have the Arabs. The Fundamentalists have the Secular Government. The New Atheists have the Religious. The Alt-Right has the SJWs. Antifa has the Alt-Right. And it goes on forever. And the situation is completely inflamed. Though fewer people are dying in wars and diseases than at any point in recent history. The level of complete fear in the early 21st Century is off the charts.

GoT Propaganda is Coming

Is it a warning about Propaganda or is it cynical Propaganda itself?

How did we get here?

It was during the prelude to World War 2 that the propaganda machines revved up with an excruciating din. Nazi Germany set the bar high with a total encirclement of the German people. But Soviet Russia was not too far behind in the winner take all sweepstakes. America was still fairly provincial at this point. Purposely living behind its oceanic moat. There was however a fair amount of New Deal FDR propaganda during this era. Then the war came. And not only did the countries of the world have to get on the ground to fight but with the technologies of radio, newspapers, even comic books, the propaganda war had to be engaged as well. Even cigarettes were rebranded and sent into war. Ever heard of Lucky Strike Green? And so war propaganda encircled the people of many countries, especially the United States.

Lucky Strike Green

Cigarettes as War Propaganda.

When the war was over you’d think the propaganda war would have ended too. But the war, as in all wars, did not end neatly. And so began the Cold War, which was first and foremost a propaganda war. It was as though someone lost the key that had accelerated the Propaganda Machine. Whether it be the Gulags or the McCarthy anti-communist hearings, propaganda remained at fever pitch, dividing Us from Them. The space race, the nuclear arms race, proxy wars, continued the east/west war. In America the fearful conservative forces were so strong that for many years no one would dare openly identify as left leaning. But the tactics had been too ham handed, too transparent. And then everything changed.

I Married a Communist

Even the movies in the 50’s had to be against Communism during what is now being called ‘The Red Scare’.Yet even that phrase ‘The Red Scare’ is left wing propaganda in opposition to the right wing propaganda of the times.

By the late Sixties a generation of youth no longer afraid of the American propaganda arose. And they rebelled. Now on the left this was seen as a glorious moment of liberation. Finally people could say and do whatever they wanted. By the time of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation there was a sense of leftish superiority that spread throughout the media. New ideologies came to overturn not only the enforced Americanism but soon it would call into question much of the bedrock of Western Civilization. It is almost impossible to imagine something like Lord Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization being produced on PBS or the BBC today. Second wave Feminism, Queer Theory, Deconstruction, Identity Politics would eventually call into question the very soul of all that had been a part of European and Western history. And the new propaganda would prove to be just as encircling as any other. Unless you happened to be a member of one of those institutions still connected with the historic past, and especially if you were a conservative Protestant Christian.

And so by the late 1970’s the Evangelical Christians, too, had joined the ranks of the propagandized. Not that they lobbied for anything resembling traditional Christianity. With their Christian music, movies and television they again appeared by the mid-80’s to be one more bizarre propaganda bloc. Eventually the left and right in America would be heavily influenced by the Sixties Era radicalism and the 80’s Era conservatism. And so insanely loud did these culture wars become that by the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union, not many Americans actually noticed. They’d actually found a new enemy… each other. I remember walking through New York City with a Russian friend, Sergei, during the 1991 coup that ended the Communist Era. We had many intense discussions about what it meant. Most of the New Yorkers I bumped into during that moment hardly even knew what was going on. The Cold War was already so over. But the roots of today’s polarization were coming along quite fine: Thank you very much.

antiantifa

One cruel turn deserves another?

In the 90’s conspiracy theories became the order of the day. Some unseen force was always responsible for our problems. The Oppressors, the Patriarchy, the Fundamentalists, the Liberals, the Gays, and eventually more and more cryptic names began to appear: the Freemasons, the Bilderberg Group, the Neo-Nazis, and of course the Illuminati. Interestingly enough in a book called The Fifty Greatest Conspiracies of All Time: History’s Biggest Mysteries, Coverups, and Cabals, the authors take great pains to explain in the forward to the book that they wouldn’t give credence to Jewish conspiracy notions, since for some odd reason they felt that somehow they weren’t legitimate, unlike, say, Illuminati or David Ickes reptilian theories. By now those folks have had to eat steaming casseroles of baked crow. Antisemitic notions and conspiracies have since returned with a vengeance infiltrating both the left and the right.

nazi-propaganda-poster Jews

Anyone who thought that antisemitism died after the Holocaust is severely mistaken.

And in the 21st Century Propaganda continued to spew forth as terrorism grew to unbelievable proportions requiring much more propaganda just to manage the chaos. And into this reality void stepped social media…

Come back next time if you dare. I’m bringing this down to your digital doorstep.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
7/9/2017

 

21st Century Propaganda #5: Propaganda and Social Media


21st Century Propaganda #3: Alone In The Mass

Alone in the Mass

The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass. It is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. Jacques Ellul

And that is exactly where we all are now. As you read this on some device, right now, you are alone. Alone in the mass of others reading websites, scanning pages and files. You are alone as you watch television, play video games, watch DVDs, listen to music through your ear buds, create content for YouTube to be passively digested, alone with your email, Kindle, sitting in dark movie theatres, listening to radio while driving your car. With very few of these devices are you actually doing something with anyone else.

And don’t let the term social media confuse you. There is not, nor ever has been, a true internet community. Six people playing an online game together are alone in the mass. People typing at each other through a message system are isolated from each other. Even the telephone, which used to sell itself as a way to reach out and touch someone, is a way of retaining the alienation inherent in the technology while using the language of touch and the senses. The notion of interactivity through computers is a phantasm, a pure illusion. True community, social interaction, and touching only take place in the flesh. And one could argue quite convincingly that one of the more recent aspects of inviolable 21st Century Propaganda, is in fact the substitution of real presence for the highly mediated world we now find ourselves inhabiting. Who ‘Likes’ what on Facebook has far more significance than it in any way deserves. And yet we are completely immersed in these virtual signs and symbols. And we accept it all as real because we are alone in the mass. As prescient media theorist Marshall McLuhan said “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage.” And yes he meant massage, not message. Tenderizing us to receive the Propaganda we addictively need to feel a sense of purpose in this fictional landscape.

Jacques Ellul, in his book Propaganda, points out that It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. In other words that world of technology that we often celebrate has also opened the door to the total Propaganda that we now find ourselves drowning in.

Revolutions Paris
The stately old propaganda of the Revolution is plastered over by the Revolutionary propaganda of the moment, ca. April 2016 Paris. My question is this: In what way do the teddy bears and plush toys have to do with this epoch in history? And they most certainly do. There is no more innocence in cuteness.

On some level wherever there is a large power structure there must be a kind of propaganda to connect us to it. The Romans had coins with the image of Caesar, bread and circuses, and the fearsome legions among their propaganda arsenal. The Renaissance Catholic church had stained glass windows, fine arts, and when all else failed, and in complete corruption of their faith, the Inquisition. America has always had its education, its mighty industries, its armed forces and later its television and its senatorial committees. But all of these institutions now seem quite obvious to us. If you tell many of its citizens that “America is the greatest country on earth” they will see through the old school propaganda instantly and roll their eyes back in ironic superiority. And yet these people are swimming in a morass of contemporary Propaganda.

Poison Girl
We have reached such a moment in time that Truth in Advertising can now be used as propaganda against us since we will ironically feel superior and smirk in knowing way.

So then it might seem logical to become the most informed person you can be to ward off the effects of this all encompassing Propaganda. Au contraire. For one thing, there is the problem of being caught between propagandas which I mentioned earlier. But more to the point… Being intelligent, an intellectual, keeping up with issues etc. often has exactly the opposite consequence of making us even more susceptible to propaganda. Ellul writes about the problem this way:

It is only normal that the most educated people (intellectuals) are the first to be reached by such propaganda… All this runs counter to pat notions that only the public swallows propaganda. Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his great weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver.

One sees this problem endlessly. I referred to it when I mentioned Noam Chomsky earlier. It’s astounding how many musicians, writers, artists, broadcasters, other media figures, are essentially propagandists for their worldview rather than honest communicators. And they speak in such a way as to be mockingly aghast that anyone could possibly have another opinion. And they convey their messages to the masses. One can see whole careers that suddenly turn into campaigns for an ideology, and this is especially sad when it is someone who starts off as an honest artist. Consider Bruce Springsteen’s trajectory from songwriter and artist, capable of such pieces of art as his whole Darkness At The Edge of Town album, which shills for no causes whatsoever, to his becoming a global superstar during his Born In The USA era, the endless remixes of songs give a sense of some loss in authenticity, to his becoming a mouthpiece for various causes as a kind of surrogate for a middle America he no longer represented, to finally cancelling shows in North Carolina as part of a massive skirmish between competing propagandas. I do not discuss the issues (nor will I print comments on these issues since they are not the subject of this essay). I am pointing at the process which turns a singer, artist or any figure from honest communicator into a cog in the propaganda of the moment. It doesn’t matter which issue. (And have no fear I plan on taking a scythe to trim the heads of my fellow Christian propagandists not too far down the road here.)

denirobrucebarack
No comment. The notion of wearing colored ribbons and other signifiers of causes and beliefs is exactly the kind of encirclement that Propaganda specializes in. It doesn’t matter the cause.

The point is this: the rich, the talented, the beautiful (or at least those who have gone under the knife to appear that way) and the famous are mass figures enlisted to provide a propaganda push to every cause. They are the authorities used to convince us to submit. So we line up our celebrities, the Christian football player, Madonna against Trump, this television star, that YouTuber, we want to know that what we believe is better than what they believe. Recently some wag released a series of photos of women on the Right and the Left. By the purely visual standards of beauty alone the Left is deep trouble, at least by the lights of this compiler. Of course they left off practically every film or music star imaginable which would have evened the playing field considerably. But certainly in recent times the Right has stolen some of the Left’s caché in the requisite categories needed to show strength in this appearance obsessed society.

Right Wing vs Left Wing Women
If image has anything to do with it the Right Wing is winning at the moment.

Meanwhile as this propaganda battle continues the rest of us are alone in the mass looking to emulate someone to help give words to our frustration. And it is in this state that we are slugged, worked over, beat up, harangued, pressured, and especially these days, shamed into believing the only thing we should believe in. And here is where it gets nightmarish. It is no longer coming from the top down. It is no longer Orwell’s Big Brother that is the primary source of the propaganda. Nor is it our larger than life media siblings who invade our thoughts most deeply and effectively. Rather it is our ‘friends’ and ‘neighbors’ who now keep us in line through a little system we call ‘social media’.

We’ll look into this soon, but first let’s examine another salient feature of Propaganda: Us versus Them.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

6/1/2017

 

21st Century Propaganda #4: Us Versus Them


Georgian Lessons Addendum #3: Music, Dance, Puppets and Culture

Panduri

Jege from Chveneburebi

This will be the last Georgian Lessons Addendum! At least until I travel there again. And this time we’re playing it easy. This will be a compendium of the videos I’ve taken while I was there. So if you think about visiting Tbilisi yourself consider this a few breadcrumbs. There is music, dancing, puppets, wandering around the Tbilisi and spending time at the incredible bazaar/flea market at the Dry Bridge. To watch all of this would take a while. (The first two videos are also a half hour each come back to them after you’ve watched the shorter ones.) But nevertheless you know where they all are. It’s hard to believe that a year has nearly passed since I was there. There are lots of jewels buried in these videos.

Enjoy!

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

3/27/2017


Georgian Lessons Addendum #2: Architecture in Tbilisi

Architectural Gem

Just a building on an unremarkable street in Tbilisi, Georgia

Another visual addendum to our Georgian Lesson series and then I think I’m done… or maybe not. One of the most fascinating aspects of visiting Tbilisi last year was the architecture. It had a style all it’s own built up literally through millennia. I was absolutely taken by the curving lines, which seemed of a piece with the alphabet, of the buildings and streets. So allow me to share them with you. Tbilisi is a great great place to get lost. And you never know when you turn some corner on a humble street when a unique structure will present itself to you. Not only that I loved the sense of age and decay. This may not last, since city planners are doing more to revitalize various parts of the city. Though it does seem rather random. But go now before things get too ‘nice’.

Old and New

Narikala Fortress above the city, originally made in the 4th Century AD.

Soviet Building 1

Walking down a street you look over and see a building that seems to be occupied, until you notice the broken windows, then realize that except for the ground floor it is deserted and…

Soviet Building

It is an old Stalinist Gothic.

Doorway to ?

A door beckons, unpainted for decades, ornate, rusting.

Aging Architecture

A closer look reveals further mysteries.

Grill & Lace

Baroque grills and patterns weave above you while walking down a nameless street. But does anyone besides this wandering traveler notice?

Angel Portal

Unseen gargoyle faces peer out from above black windows.

Entrance And Pipes

Mysteries seem to be lurking beneath the surfaces of daily life.

Caged Balcony

Balconies dot the cityscape.

Antique Nouveau

This is a curious direction for some of the rust and decay.

Old Street Hill

A street in Tbilisi: balconies, wires, church.

Statuary

This wouldn’t be out of place in Prague.

Secret Symbols

Even industrial doorways beckon with secret symbols.I will eventually get back to Tbilisi to explore more corners of this most fascinating of capitals.

Thanks for traveling with me to Tbilisi, Georgia. I think I’ll do one more addendum featuring videos taken along the way. But for now enjoy the architecture.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

3/24/2017


Georgian Lessons #5: The Temptations Of Hypermodernity

the-new-horrors

An old Lamp, a Postmodern Monstrosity and a Radisson Blu, built in an Old Reburbished Soviet Intourist Hotel.

I have been writing mostly about what I saw in Tbilisi Georgia in March and April 2016. And in these observations I have been mostly noting what challenged my perceptions. These ‘Georgian Lessons’ have been primarily about what I learned. But now I’m going to flip the rules inside out and write a little something about what the Georgians might be able to learn from an outsider, a representative of a world that they both aspire to and wonder about. These will not be sweet little tidbits of practical knowledge. And some of these observations will be sharp. Again I am not romantic about the country. Since much of what I say deals with Georgia moving into the future it might be tempting to treat the country as a quaint land of happy peasants with their folk dances and songs with a desire to keep them as folksy as possible. But you’d be wrong. I want them to face the future squarely, but also to realize the many tragic errors that have already been made in the name of hypermodernity. I do not set myself as an expert on geopolitics, economics, legal reform et cetera. These are predominately cultural observations from one who has spent a good healthy chunk of his life weighing the nature of the cultural changes of our times. And mostly it friendly concern, for what I still find in the uniqueness of Georgian culture far outweighs its problems. Consider it advice that can be applied if it is found useful.

fun-future

The Name of this Temptation is the God of Fun. At an American Style Amusement Park for Georgians and for the Russian Tourists..

First a speck of history, Georgia as a country was buried in Russia, then the Soviet Union, for nearly two centuries. Many Western Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and the like, still consider it a Russian speaking country. Georgia for them is more obscure than Barbados, Vietnam or Fiji. Georgia was only released from its Russian servitude in 1991, which was then followed in quick succession by a corrupt government, a civil war or two, a revolution and finally, in 2008, a five day war with Russia. And most of that is also as unknown to outsiders as the 20th Century conflicts in Laos or Angola. But the main point is this. Georgia didn’t really opened up to the non-Russian world until very recently. And this is reflected in two main areas: First in the Georgians’, particularly the younger Georgians’, desire to be like other Europeans and Americans culturally. And secondly in the looming discovery of Georgia by the outside world, which will result in the descending vulture of tourism, with its truck-fulls of tempting hard cash.

women-of-the-future

The Alienated, even Alien, Women of the Future in Tbilisi Today.

My meeting with younger Georgians revealed a kind of wide-eyed fascination with the results of pop culture and technology. And this is only to be expected. The Soviet system certainly brought in certain kinds of modernity. Georgia is a very educated country as far as scholarly standards go. What is not realized though is just what this postmodern tide will bring along with it. Take the Smartphone, nearly ubiquitous in Tbilisi. The Smartphone may connect you all the time and everywhere. Yet it completely changes the habits of its users. Riding the Metro one did not see much in the way of reading anymore. But one did see the usual scrying into the palms, the games being played, the neurotic gazing at email and Facebook, the endless selfies. In other words though the Georgians have some cultural features, more conversation, even musicians playing for friends on the train, that help to fight against this particular curse, they still aren’t that strong. Because no one is. The Smartphone is stronger than those that use it, without exceptional choice.

smartphone-georgians

In Only a Very Few Years the Smartphone has Conquered the World and Changed its Mode of Living Completely. Tbilisi Bookstall Near the Metro Entrance.

Likewise when it comes to one of the prime features of Georgian culture, its music and dance, that hasn’t really stopped the arrival of the dance club. A short British documentary on the subject celebrates the electronica being produced in Georgia as a step towards cultural liberation. Which I find about as honest a thought as recommending cages to tigers. As a former sixteen year resident of New York City I think I can safely say that the dark deafening pulsing womb of club life has never led to freedom, unless your idea of freedom is to shake off the past and bath only in a perpetual now. Yes indeed the discos, raves, parties and clubs will make you more like the Europeans. But is that a worthy goal? The night life produces alienation first and foremost. Yes you can experiment sexually. You can add various chemicals to the mix. You can flee from the philosophies of the Orthodox Church. But where will you end up? It ends with people having atomized relations all round. They no longer sing together except as a joke. They live alone. There is no meaning to anything. Along the way there is a lot of laughter and fun. As well as a lot of hurt and emptiness. No matter what it seems like now, the club life, which late rising Georgians are quite tempted by, will end in a void. I am reminded of a song from Italy in the 1980s and a big American hit for Laura Branigan in 1984: Self Control. The chorus went like this. “I, I live among the creatures of the night, I haven’t got the will to try and fight, Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just believe it, That tomorrow never comes.” And that sums up that world perfectly. 1984. That’s how long we have understood the problem. The electronica and DJs may seem new and cool, underground, rebellious. But it is a well-paved overused  road. It doesn’t have a gram of the integrity of real Georgian music and dance. But I understand. I really do.

rebuilding-tbilisi

Quickly Ripping Up the Old to Make Way for the New.

There are many other ways in which Georgians are encouraged to seek parity with their Western cousins. Most damaging of all are postmodern cultural and philosophical choices and institutions, which if taken straight would drain the soul from the rich fountain of Georgian traditions. And one of the most threatening of those institutions is Tourism. And the eye of tourism is slowly turning its gaze upon this most unusual of countries. Georgia is still quite underdeveloped for tourism. I would say as of 2016 they still haven’t developed a real structure to support the kind of industrial tourism that feeds many corners of the world now. And I’m not against people coming to Georgia to visit. Not at all. Right now Georgia is getting many thoughtful tourists, the people who are more adventurous. (I don’t know if this assessment applies to the Russians who have been visiting for centuries and are still the most common tourists.)

tourism-lite

A Young Amateur Tourist Industry Growing in Tbilisi, while the Big Fish Circle the Bait.

But here is the problem: As the Germans, English, Australians, even a few Americans go home they spread the word to others. So far so good. And so more folks come, as they have been in the last six years. Then more hotels are built. Fancier hotels. (I hear Radisson Red is on its way, after the success of the Radisson Blu.) More infrastructure changes. A massive chunk of Tbilisi was being polished and renovated as I visited, at the expense of the people who used to live on that street.) That’s where Georgia is now. They are still a bit out of the loop. (Try mailing a postcard home? Nearly impossible.) Transportation is still quite a pain. And these are the kinds of things that keep foreigners happy when they come. But here is what the Georgians may not understand yet. When tourism as a postmodern entity finally arrives in full. Great pieces of Georgian culture will become imitations of what they once were. Everywhere that industrial postmodern tourism shows up it turns whatever remains of traditional culture into simulacra of what they once were. People want to see Georgian dancing and hear Georgian singing. And so shows will be set up just for them. (This has happened in Alaska with Native American culture and the Russian culture of the past.) This effect is nearly universal. And when you combine that with the youth exodus towards postmodern pop dance culture. The past becomes a bad museum. And the present is trapped in the sensations of this eternal moment The Big Wow.

singing-for-your-supper

Musicians Playing for me Alone at a Restaurant in the Small Tourist Section of Tbilsi. The Georgians are Mercifully Still Unable to Truly Fake Their Culture.

Now I don’t think that it will happen that way in Georgia for a variety of reasons. But I give you my friendly concern as one who has the watched the process replicate itself over and over. At the moment Tbilisi is where Prague was in 1991. Tourists are coming. But the infrastructure still won’t hold them efficiently. TripAdvisor just recommended Tbilisi for hot new destinations for 2017. My dear Georgian friends do you know what that means? Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

statue-climbing

Children Climb Unselfconsciously on a Statue Portraying Traditional Georgians at the Outdoor Folk Architecture Park.

Next time, to wrap things up, I will be returning to the lessons that I learned from the Georgians I met on my travels. And why I really have to get back again.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
12/26/2016


Twelve True Christmas Albums

nativity-rembrandt

A Rembrandt sketch of the Nativity of Christ

Yes I know, it’s audacious of me to proclaim that I know ‘True Christmas Albums’. And yet when I scan for ‘Christmas Albums’ through the usual digital means 99% of the time what is found are anything but actual music about Christmas. Most of what is considered to be the top, the best, the greatest Christmas songs and albums of ‘all time’, the lists made by magazines, and YouTubers and the clickbaiters, even the ‘Christ-centered’ pablum, is predominantly just commercial holiday music. There is almost a conspiracy to keep anyone searching for real Christmas music from ever finding it. And rarely has a genre been so loaded with pure unadulterated crap as what is called ‘Christmas Music’. And so much continues to made year after year that it gags the gullet as if someone had jammed a fat red and white candy cane down your overstuffed larynx and then asked ‘What do you think of Christmas now?’ In fact so much cheesy, tawdry, over produced sentimental holiday (Is it really a holy day when you play this aural dung?) music has been made since the mid-point of the 20th Century that anti-Christmas music now exists as a separate micro-genre within this holiday fetish as a reaction against the infestation. And yet what does that accomplish? It’s really just the same thing for nihilists and cynics. And what good does it do to add cynicism to the commercial terror?

War on Christmas? Talk about coming late to the party? Christmas as a public festival was over by the time Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was accepted as a holiday ditty having anything to do with the event called Christmas. Christmas as Christmas was through when it was seen a fun children’s day complete with  ‘Baby Jesus’ and cute little elves as Santa’s helpers helping to prepare for the balancing of the books of would eventually become a murderous Black Friday. Christmas now is a time to watch fantasy movies. Yes Christmas means Willie Wonka and Disney flicks. When it was discovered back in the 90’s that several Asian countries had mixed up the Christian imagery with the fantastic, as in Mary, Joseph, sweet little ‘Baby Jesus’ and the Seven Dwarves or, more tellingly, a Crucified Santa Claus, they weren’t getting it wrong. That is what we were selling. And so we have people who no longer recognize real Christmas carols and consider Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer to be a classic.

The foamy tide of ‘classic holiday albums’, I forbear to list them, is endless. They drone on and on in the background of retail establishments fed by satellite radio. They poison the air. They drain the life from anything resembling a festivity. And I include the many worthy rock and pop albums (I own many of them.) that clog the lists of the demiurges who find the tabulation of media favorites their last moral refuge. But rarely is an album of true Christmas music mentioned in any of these neurotically calculated lists.

And since for years I have helped supply my friends with the real thing I have decided to at least make one list that few people will ever read. I toss the meat out to the internet dogs. It is nearly Christmastime after all. Time even the dogs ate well. So here’s the Christmas T-bone steak Fido.

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This list is not in ascending or descending order. The music is not necessarily easy to find. I will not be including lots of links or videos. You’ll need to hunt them down for yourself. If you find the standard pop/rock/jazz holiday music to be filled with enough good cheer and nostalgia to warm your heart during the Christmas season you probably won’t find these albums very clever or interesting. However if Christmas as either the old European winter festival (notice I did not say ‘pagan’, an overused poorly understood word) and/or as the Christian remembrance of Christ’s birth is meaningful to you, then I suspect these albums and the music contained therein will help you to find something extra at Christmastime.

The Twelve Albums

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christmas-with-robert-wagner-chorale
Christmas with Roger Wagner Chorale

This is basically the definition of a classic Christmas album. Choirs and classical orchestra. No extra production mojo. No extra electronic cinnamon and nutmeg. Just the classics done purely. Just Christmas and the real thing. This was made in the 60s. It hasn’t aged at all because it is timeless. Their version of O Come O Come Emmanuel is the gold standard along with the rest of this album.

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ritornello-czech-christmasJesličky, staré nové písničky (also called Old Czech Carols) – Ritornello
Okay now it’s time to get seriously obscure. Ritornello is a Czech group who recreate Baroque era folk dances and celebrations. And this is one of my eternal favorites. Period. I found it when I first showed up at Prague in December 2000 surprised by actually finding myself in Prague to begin with. I had come looking for puppets and then as I entered the Old Town Square, my first evening there, as the winter market was open and I had no idea where I was, I looked around at the spires lit up in the night winter skies then suddenly I realized that I was actually in PRAGUE!!! And for me this music sums up my Prague perfectly. Jovial, serious, antique, mysterious European Christmas. The instrumentation is sheer perfection. Not a sentimental note to found. The singing is in Czech and sometimes Latin. The music is gutsy not flabby. It makes one want to ring in the season with a hefty glass of pivo. How ironic that one of the most sincere Christian Christmas albums on earth would come from the most atheist land imaginable. But it makes perfect sense to me. Jan Hus would understand.

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Christmas From a Golden Age – Various Opera Singerschristmas-from-a-golden-age
This is the true spirit of Christmas as seen through the angel throngs of 78rpm scratches, digitally restored, of various opera singers from the first half of the 20th Century. Some of these songs just sound creaky. But most of them sound utterly haunted in the Dickensian sense by the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Coventry Carol by Elisabeth Schumann is absolutely chilling. And Cantique De Noel (The original French version of O Holy Night) by Georges Thill is reverentially majestic.

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thesecondnowell
John Roberts and Tony Barrand – The Second Nowell
This is the second of three ‘Nowell’ albums from these Christmas jesters. They are all excellent, but this one gets to the point for me. With rollicking accordion, reedy voices, hail and hardy harmonies and true Christmas mirth these Englishmen marooned in the colonies deliver the groceries. Whether sharing out the spare ribs of the highly symbolic wren or restoring the dance to the old time Christmas carol there isn’t a false moment. And it’s a recording you want to crank up and sing along with at the top of your lungs. You only think you know the old carols. Rediscover Christmas here!

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A Medieval Christmas – Boston Camerataa-medieval-christmas-boston-camerata
And excellent demonstration of why Christmas, properly celebrated, is actually our portion of the Middle Ages still surviving. While stately, and profound, there is joy to spare with authentic Medieval instrumentation. It’s also a much needed respite from the 21st Century.

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traditional-and-modern-carols-paul-hillier
Traditional and Modern Carols – Paul Hillier
Another great choral album. This would be more obscurely researched than the Roger Wagner album with an emphasis upon antique Americana as well as an assembly of classics. This Is Jesus’ Birthday opens the album and is as far from a contemporary notion of singing Happy Birthday to Jesus as you can imagine. It’s all very well done.

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The Christmas Story – The Waverly Consortwaverly-consort-presents-the-christmas-story_9563331
Another Medieval Christmas album, but this time things get much more serious as the Waverly Consort  interprets the Christmas story in it’s entirety complete with horns announcing the angel Gabriel and ending with a ferocious dance piece for the Massacre of the Innocents. Excellent, profound, thrilling music all round.

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noe%cc%88ls-celtiques-ensemble-choral-du-bout-du-mondeNoëls Celtiques – Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde
A exquisitely beautiful album of choral music from the mysteriously named Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde (Choral Ensemble from the End of the World). This Celtic Christmas album has the lilt, bagpipes and tunes of the Celts. While also being filled with the organ and breathtaking choral approach of the French. Truly sublime.

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nautrei-siam-tres-bomians-mont-joia-noe%cc%88ls-provenc%cc%a7auxMont-Joia: Noëls Provençaux, Nautrei Siam Tres Bomians
Meanwhile down in the lower regions of France in another zone where the older language struggles to be heard this folk revival group from the 80s provides darker rhythmic minor keys, yet no less joyous, as an acoustic band strum and and harmonize their way to Noël bliss. There is another Provencal Christmas album of more recent vintage with many of the same songs which is also worthy. La Bela Naissença – Les noels Provencaux (Christmas carols from Provence). It’ll do in a pinch.

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to-drive-the-cold-winter-away-st-georges-canzonaTo Drive The Cold Winter Away – St. George’s Canzona
Here’s an interesting and truly recondite work. And one of my favorites. Here the old Baroque European winter festival mingles with the Christian story perfectly in Chestertonian fashion. The mixture of Playford dances with seasonal cheer is sheer perfection. I am captivated utterly by their version of the Playford dance The Dressed Ship. But the entirety of this is merry and festive in the deepest sense.

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noel-we-sing-boston-camerataNoel We Sing – Boston Camerata
This is the Boston Camerata’s English and early American Christmas album. It’s just as researched and just as authentic. I like it even better than the Medieval Christmas. Highly recommended.

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the-new-possibility-john-faheys-guitar-soli-christmas-album

The New Possibility – John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album
And finally the closest I’m going to get to pop music… which is to say not at all. This is psychedelic folk guitarist John Fahey’s 1968 version of Christmas classics and obscurities. It’s ‘simple’ guitar music without echoey production values or anything else to clutter up his strangely sincere version of these old carols. He later rerecorded these in the 80s. He probably needed the money. The two Christmas albums from that period are good. But this version is much quirkier and ‘simple’ in the best sense.

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A few more:

To Wish You A Merry Christmas – Harry Belafonte
No this is as close to pop as I get. There is something very real in Harry’s folk pop Caribbean Christmas music. He manages to find the heart of it even through the RCA production line.

A Renaissance Christmas –  Boston Camerata
See Medieval Christmas above and add the word Renaissance.

A Baroque Christmas-  Boston Camerata
See Medieval Christmas above and add the word Baroque.

The Christmas Revels – John Langstaff & Co.
This is a classic which later became the Revels industry. This is close in spirit to the Roberts/Barrand Nowell albums mentioned above. But you can tell it’s a show, where Roberts, Barrand and company sound like they are actually celebrating Christmas. And later that aspect of the performances and albums would stand out more and more. Nevertheless you can always find a few gems here and there.

Angels and Kings – The Mediaeval Baebes
There are two wintry themed Mediaeval Baebes albums, the other is Mistletoe and Wine. And there are some real gems on them. The only problem I occasionally have with them is that they do like to conflate the modern interpretation of paganism onto the older Christian past. But then again maybe turnabout is fair play since that is the opposite of what the Christians did… except they did it genuine old school paganism, which was a much different beast than what we imagine in our fantasy worlds today. Nevertheless their Gaudete is amazing, especially the first version on Mistletoe and Wine. But for a more purely Christmas album go with Angels and Kings.

Handel’s Messiah – Robert Shaw Chorale
The first version of Messiah that I know to bring to life the older, smaller, quicker, livelier Baroque version back to the present. I hesitate to call this a Christmas album though, since fully half of it has nothing to do with Christmastime. But the part that does? Are you noticing a Baroque trend anywhere here? It’s no accident.

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So that’s it. Look for any of these if you want to get closer to the spirit of Christmas.

And if you don’t? Might I recommend A Mutated Christmas, Christmas at Luke’s Sex Shop or anything that’s really well produced in the last 30 years.

Get away from the noise
Have a meaningful Christmas
Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
12/4/2016

(We’ll get back to Georgia very soon.)


Georgian Lessons #4: Chaos And Order

cecayed-courtyard

This Tbilisi courtyard may look abandoned, but the hanging clothes reveal that someone is living here.

Tbilisi, as I mentioned in my Gravity From Above diary, was a rude shock to my American system at first. It just seemed like pure chaos on some level that I had never encountered before. Travelers to India, Africa, certain parts of South America will I’m sure bring back even more intense observations than mine. Nevertheless I have traveled most of America, much of Canada, maybe two thirds of Europe, as far as Romania, and to Juarez, Mexico. I’ve seen things that gave me a sense of culture shock before, but nothing on the level of Tbilisi, Georgia.

car-garbage

Cats at home on the streets Tbilisi.

It was swirling blooming confusion of signs and cars, cats, people on the streets and a certain casualness that  I didn’t get at first. The spoken language was not related to anything else outside of the Caucasus Mountains. (For those unaware Georgian is not Russian at all.) But not only that the actual alphabet just seems like hooks and squiggles. (I’ll do an addendum on signs and the language later.)

walk-between-cars

An older woman making her way through an intersection. (The cars were moving.)

Then there is traffic. I don’t know where to begin. It seems like normal traffic at first glance. But then you slowly begin to realize that there is no traffic control. It a city of one million and one hundred thousand I counted maybe four or five stoplights. The police rarely seem to stop anyone. Yet you hear the barking of squad car loudspeakers all the time: A sound that, for these American ears, means pull over immediately. (Subtext: We’ve got guns and your license plate number and you’ll never get away.) But here? I was told they were just giving instructions. Hey you!!! Turn left!! ??? At least twice my life was in peril looking for a way to get across speeding highway traffic. Later I was told I should have used the underground passages. Which I would have used if I had seen anything like a sign I could read. Mothers with families, old ladies, giggling teen girls, men who looked unconcerned, all just simply walked in front of cars and they stopped. The key I realized was to see where the car was. Judge your luck. And go! But do NOT look the driver in the eye. If they think you see them they won’t stop. (Which I discovered was the opposite of France where eye contact stops the oncoming traffic.) I eventually learned to walk between moving cars, putting my best New York City moves to good use. And as I did my ballet around the vehicles I thought half-jokingly “Maybe this is why Georgians are such good dancers?”

street-vegetables

No taxes. No regulation. Everything happens on the streets.

Another thing that leapt out at me like the swipe of a bear’s claws was the street life. You see everything in Tbilisi on the streets, the good and the bad. People sell food. I don’t just mean vendors. I mean if a old man from the edge of the city in a village has a dozen extra eggs he’ll come down to the streets with his twelve eggs and wait as people walk by. And he’ll sell them one at a time if he has to. I saw a woman day after day with freshly plucked chickens selling them on the street, no refrigeration needed evidently. People sell fruit, vegetables, odds and ends. Booksellers seem to crop up everywhere, with Georgian books, Russian books and the occasional English title. And don’t even get me started on the huge swap meet at The Dry Bridge near the river. I couldn’t even begin to describe it, except to say that THAT was reason enough to visit Tbilisi all by itself. (I made a video of it that takes nearly a half hour to watch as a strait walk through.)

underground-bookseller

Walking along I looked down into a basement. This was a bookstore. It was actually far darker down there than this photo shows.

But back to the streets. Another thing that was quite common to see was older folks, mostly women, begging on the streets. And since my own elderly mother recently passed on this hit me strongly. A sign of obvious trouble with social welfare systems. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on in the USA. This is something you don’t want to see. In fact in America we have large industries dedicated to taking care of the aged. Or is it keeping them out of sight? The more I looked at these folks on the street the more I adjusted my eyes. It never became a good thing to me, as it isn’t to the Georgians. Yet there was something about seeing everything on the streets. There was less shame about it. And people did contribute to these people. It didn’t take too much money to fulfill ones daily needs. I reckoned that if I was really desperate I could live on less than five dollars a day for food easily. And stay full. The more I saw these old women, the more I realized that they tended to occupy one area regularly and they had people who would give to them regularly. Which was similar to the homeless in New York City. The difference is that in New York you rarely saw people who reminded you of your mother or grandmother on the streets.

behind-umbrella

It was not raining. A women with a plastic tub for begging. She was one of the few that hid their faces as they asked for change.

Other things: Construction was going on everywhere. And ancient buildings sat in habitable decay everywhere. (See the photo at the top.) And there were nice stores all over. And one street might seem fashionable and next to it might seem like the end of the world. The sidewalks were uneven. Stores sprouted from holes in the wall. Traffic never stopped swirling. I only mastered about half of the alphabet while I was there, but there was Latin script in enough places to figure out how to navigate. The metro made sense. The buses were almost impossible. And I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

sidewalk-hole

There were many sidewalks like this one.

But here’s what I began to see, and this meshed with my observations about Orthodox culture, my American culture is far more organized than I ever realized before. No one seems to collect taxes on these street vendors that I can see, yet they can make extra money for themselves. We have rules for absolutely everything: Protecting consumers, traffic flow, jaywalking, safety, even our children live in an age appropriate world. Even the most laissez faire anarcho-whatever in North America has never experienced anything like this. We all want a net to catch us when we fall. And yet I looked at this and realized that on some level this was more human. There was a net actually. The government provided some amenities and was learning to do more. But the net, the real net, was a thing called family, extended family, and a network of acquaintances. And I was actively beginning to appreciate this chaos. Because the more I looked at it the more I could see a different kind of order, almost invisible to the outsider, holding up the structure of Georgian society.

street-clothes

How to sell clothes in Georgia.

Now there many troubles in Georgia. As you can see I’m not romantic about the country. And there are many deeper and darker layers of problems I am not qualified to address. But there is one area I can discuss. As Georgia enters the contemporary world it will, and has already begun to, experience the problems of a highly technocratic postmodern age. I’ll deal with that next time.

wiring

A typical electrical pole in Tbilisi.

But let me say this about my time in Tbilisi. I walked down dark streets at night. Houses all turned away from the road sequestered in courtyards. In all of my wanderings I never ever felt endangered. Never once felt that someone was watching me in a predatory fashion. Bucharest, Prague, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, Seattle, even Juneau here in  Alaska all have given me more of a shiver of unease than anything I experienced in Tbilisi walking through the dark streets at night. Our order seems a bit like a mirage when I consider it. We live in a society where we thrive on rights. And while rights and the law are crucial to living, I can’t help feeling that often we only have rights left. And if you step on them, then comes the crush of the rules, of the law. Everyone wants what’s theirs.   Maybe in Georgia they are a little less concerned with getting everything due to them. Maybe after their extremely rocky history many are glad to simply be here.

inpenetrable

The sense of bewilderment even extended to the large cemetery. Once I found a way into it there were no strait paths to anything as far as I could see.

Come back again soon.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
November 23rd 2016


Georgian Lessons #3: Mystery And Truth

april-9th-martyrs

April 9th Commemoration – Secular Day or Orthodox Ceremony? Both.

Here then are the observations that began to accumulate around me after my journey to the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Tsminda Sameba) in Tbilisi Georgia. I don’t mean these to be anything definitive, nevertheless I did begin to comprehend something that had been tickling my eyes and ears for a couple of weeks.

samba-tram

Tsminda Sameba rising above Tbilisi.

First of all there was this: If in an Orthodox Church the actual times do not matter the way they do in America or Northern and Western Europe, to different degrees, then that helped to explain the rather casual attitude towards work and punctuality. Why only this week I stepped into my local Presbyterian Church and they were discussing whether it was exactly 10 o’clock or not. (‘No we still have a minute to go.’ ‘Well my watch says 10.’) This attitude would be positively incomprehensible in Georgia and I suspect many Orthodox countries. And this would make it quite difficult to enforce Western or East Asian standards of business production. Thus anyone coming from outside Eastern Orthodoxy expecting a certain kind of timeliness would feel very disappointed. But I adjusted my own expectations accordingly. When I went to see Nino Sukhishvili I was constantly playing tag with the times. I didn’t really lose a beat over this. People seem to come and go. And when I went to the theatre or the ballet the shows did start generally, though never precisely, on time.

orthodox-ins-outs

Just a Wednesday afternoon, people coming and going… to church.

Next and much more to the point. The Orthodox church service did not revolve around the sermon. In an American church, Protestant or Catholic, in many ways the liturgy builds up to the message. It’s a little less with the Roman Catholic Church who focus upon Communion, but it’s certainly still there. And when one leaves you discuss the message to compare what one already believes with the words of the minister. Did the sermon stick with the Bible? Was it delivered well? Did the words ring true?

Now what this means is that not only is the emphasis upon the truth of the message, but in fact this weighing of the message for truth is a hallmark of Western Christian culture. And it is also a fact that although the vast swaths of Europe and America think about God as much as they do the country of Vanuatu they nevertheless have inherited the same approach to ideas. So that an atheist judges the truth of a thing the same way. A third wave feminist who blames the Christian patriarchy for the sins of the world still will react with a miffed ‘That’s not true.’ Or perhaps ‘That’s just so wrong!’ So our churches have grown stale over the years but the assertions of truth don’t end, even if the speaker claims that Truth doesn’t exist.

grapevine-cross

Someone found pruned grapevines shaped like the cross and tied them to a very random spot. Grapevines have a special meaning in Georgia.

Now look at Georgia and the Orthodox Church. I’m sure people care about the Truth in Georgia. But not in the same way. In fact, unlike the western branches of Christianity, the Orthodox Church believe the Bible is true and yet don’t really try to harmonize science and the Bible. In other words the Bible is true AND science is true. And I see no force trying to reconcile the differences. Now again I don’t see everything going on, but I do know that is a feature of Orthodoxy. In other words there are no ‘creationists’ in the Orthodox faith. There is paradox. Two truths held together. Looking from my position on the West Coast of the USA that strikes me as, well, radically different. So what this means in practice is that there is a lot of leeway in belief. But God created the world and Christ died for us and was resurrected. And maybe things most likely evolve or maybe not. It’s just a human idea.

What this means practically in international relations is this. Remember Russia is an Orthodox country. Even if that Orthodoxy is suppressed as it was during the Soviet Era. What happens when Americans come over with their true or false mentality? It just seems rather silly to them. Especially since publicly we change our truths like we change our socks. One minute, after World War 2, one must be a good member of the Christian Democratic world. The next they see us haranguing them about homosexuality, which only a few years back we weren’t in favor of. Is it any wonder that there are major conflicts? Neither side is even on the same page. How to communicate? Now Georgia isn’t Russia. That must be said. But many of these issues still hang over them as well.

church-repair

An ancient church slowly being repaired. (Tsminda Sameba in the background.)

And here’s one last Orthodox observation. The point of the service seemed to be the glorious mystery of God. The words seemed secondary. But the music, the actions of priests, the reverence of the congregation definitely seemed focused upon that aspect of faith. And that affected everything. For one thing the music was not being passed around to amateurs. The five women singing may have been mere congregants, but the sounds coming out of their voices put to shame anything I’ve heard in a western church service for my whole life. Only once in a while have I ever heard a church choir come anywhere near the beauty of that music. In America we value inclusiveness over the quality of the music. It is rare that I hear good music in churches these days. The songs we sing together are again more about collective feelings than anything to construed as depth. Every now and then we sing the old standards, which still are glorious (Amazing Grace, O For A Thousand Tongues, How Firm a Foundation) But even those get updated. (How on heaven or earth is Amazing Grace improved by adding a chorus???)

Or here’s another comparison: If I enter the standard Protestant church, or even many Catholic churches, is there any reminder of God’s mystery, his Otherness? If I walk into that same local Presbyterian church the answer is a resounding no. Not in the folksy/poppy music. Not in the various activities of the church, not in the potlucks, not in the architecture, not in the quilted wall hangings, occasionally the sermon gives hints. And that’s about it. So our inclusive faith essentially makes God into our pal. Make sure no one squirms.

Now again what is found in our churches is found in all aspects of our culture. And it’s a two way street. We’ve just become folksy dorky self-conscious people. Real things bother us. Even the approach to nature among folks who would never step into a church these days is often mostly recreational. We could all stand to watch and understand the great Russian films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Our walks into nature would change immensely. In his very Orthodox films the textures of the environment become alive and mysterious. But again we like to make things casual, cool, no biggy. And thus we live in a neutered world, as we gaze into our hands and make magic swishing motions over the devices at our fingertips. So yes I was overwhelmed to find God’s mystery in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

st-george-on-a-wall

St. George overlooking a street in Tbilisi.

My feeling is that a cross-pollination between Western questing for Truth (capital T please) and Eastern Orthodox Mystery would be a beneficial thing on both sides. But I’m not sure they need our postmodern casualness however. Yet that seems inevitable as the ‘blessings’ of pop culture descend like crematorium ashes across the whole world.

(But we’ll get to that soon enough… Come back again for our next Georgian Lesson.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

November 14th 2016


Georgian Lessons #2: Orthodox Observations

tbilis-from-above-small

Tsminda Sameba, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, rising above the city like a golden crystal. (As seen at night from the terminal of the funicular railway in Tbilisi, Georgia April 2016.)

My next Georgian lesson comes in a very different manner from the first. Although I had come to understand the cultural heritage of Georgia, it soon became clear to me that in order to make sense of Georgia’s many points of artistic creativity I needed to investigate the place of the Christian Church in the country. Like Poland Christianity plays a big part in the life of the people. Like Poland the Church was the glue holding the society together and giving an essence at odds with Communism.  Much of Europe has shed its Christian roots in favor of some more contemporary definition of self and society. But like Poland Georgia has clung to its faith.

ikons-sign

Icons in a beauty salon.

But unlike Poland the Church wasn’t an obvious catalyst for change during the Soviet era. For one thing Georgia was actually subsumed under the Soviet Union itself for historical reasons which would take too long to explain here. While Poland was dragged behind the Iron Curtain at much later date. The Soviets actually tried to destroy as many churches as they could. And Georgian homeboy Joe Stalin made sure that this task was carried out thoroughly. But as in periods of Muslim invasion and occupation Georgia seemed to have been denuded of Christians and then as soon as the pressure eased suddenly there were Christians everywhere. So when the 1991 coup came the Georgians were the first to bolt for independence after their own period of intense struggle culminating in the bloody 1989 April 9th tragedy, all of which most non-Georgians have never heard of. Immediately the Georgian Orthodox Church became a strong force within country again and they started rebuilding ruined churches.

laying-a-flower

Laying a flower in commemoration of the 19 women who died on April 9th 1989.

And so I was arriving in what was essentially a peaceful island caught between the Scylla of the Middle Eastern eruptions not too distant and the Charybdis of Russian/Ukrainian tensions not much further north. I arrived in Tbilisi to research music, dance and puppetry. But soon it became clear to me that it would be important to go to church to make sense of this unusual country.

Georgia (Sakartvelo) is an Eastern Orthodox Christian country. Statistics for the country range between 83 and 80 percent of Georgians being members of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Autocephaly means being independently governed and not under another Patriarch of the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. That means what the aging Catholicos, Ilia II, is the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church without any outside interference. You see the distinctive architecture of the Georgian Orthodox churches everywhere. And since independence they have also constructed the largest church in Georgia, and one the largest Orthodoxes churches in the world, the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral სამების საკათედრო ტაძარში (Holy Trinity Cathedral), often just called Sameba by the locals. Sameba can be seen easily rising above the city in the night from the mountains next to Tbilisi.

As I strolled around Tbilisi, dodging traffic, through the crowds, feeling the sweat of a warmer season on its way, I often passed Orthodox churches. They always seemed to have people coming and going. A baby christening might take place on a Wednesday afternoon. People walked by, some crossed themselves. Some might kneel before entering a church. One young woman stopped on a bridge nowhere near a church and made a cross. The only church in sight was off in the distance. I entered a couple of churches as I had more tentatively back 2000 in Romania. People bowed before icons, even kissed them. A normal working man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt walks into one church. Soon he is prostrate on the ground in the middle of the pewless church. I understood all of these gestures as acts of faith in a manner different than anything I had quite seen before. I sat off in corner as a visitor observing what I didn’t really understand.

baby-christening

People with babies waiting to be christened during a normal weekday afternoon.

The more I researched music I realized how important it was to attend to a serious service to hear Georgian liturgical singing. (Tinatin Gurchiani later apologized that she could not get me into see a Georgian priest and music expert before my departure.) And so I determined I would go to Tsminda Sameba on the last Sunday of my trip. It would require some planning to get there on time. Or so I thought.

Now I have been to many different kinds of Christian churches. I’ve been to Anglican High Church and folksy Roman Catholic Masses. I’ve been to churches so dead you’d need an EKG to detect a pulse. And I’ve been to Pentecostal churches where the preacher was rockin’ the organ and shouting “C’mon y’all look like you’ve been hit over the head by a dead wet possum!” I’ve been to African-American churches of various stripes and styles great music and bad and to Jesus People Godstock gatherings in the hills of California replete with acoustic guitars and roasted lambs on spits. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I wasn’t the casual visitor without a clue. I knew enough about Orthodox doctrine to realize that the icons weren’t idols and that the rules would be different. But how different didn’t occur to me until I arrived at what I thought would be a little late at Tsminda Sameba Cathedral.

And truthfully when to arrive presented me with my first conundrum. I’m coming from a culture where church starts almost exactly on time. If the sign outside the church or on the website says 10am or 11am. That’s when it starts. Period. Hard as I looked on line for when Sunday services start at Sameba or any Georgian Orthodox Church the more befuddled I became. Finally I saw one person on Trip Advisor who had written ‘Go at 9 in the morning.’ Of course they wrote to go then. They didn’t exactly say that’s when things start. So at 8:00 I left my friendly and quiet guesthouse and strolled out to the metro to find my way to the church. My first clue that things were a little peculiar in Georgia was that the streets were as quiet as 5am in New York City on a Monday might be. That is hardly a soul was on the streets at all. This was the first time I’d been on the streets before 10:00 since I’d arrived a few weeks earlier. The metro was quiet. Hardly anyone looked like they might be going to church. And when I arrived at the subway exit I found myself mystified by the bus schedule and so decided to walk the last couple of kilometers up the hill to the cathedral.

church-soldiers

Soldiers guarding Sameba? No I saw them inside a few minutes later.

As I walked up the initial stairs onto the cathedral grounds I noticed only a few people going towards the grand building. Maybe I was late? I decided to follow them. I walked through a grand room that had been a burnt out from a fire that  left it dark and eerie. I followed the few people through a set of glass and brass doors into the main structure. I could hear the angelic voices of women singing somewhere up ahead of me. I entered a large chamber that felt as if I was under the main floor. I found myself on a terrace within the large room looking down one floor from a cement and marble balcony upon a congregation in the middle of a service that seemed like it had been going on for sometime and that had no specific focus. And everyone was standing, except for some occasional soul who would be on a chair nowhere near the center of the pewless floor. In Orthodox tradition sitting is considered resting and you do not rest in church. I descended to the lower floor to find people engaged in various points of attention. Some were stationed before icons. Some were awaiting the return of a priest with the communion host. A group of five ordinarily dressed women in headscarves were off to the side and would occasionally singing another short exquisitely haunting song in Georgian harmony. There was from what I could tell no congregational singing. I eventually moved back upstairs, after climbing the stairs further to find that the larger main room of the cathedral did not seem too busy, to watch from above to try to get an idea about what I was watching.

sameba

Worshipers awaiting the Priest with the Host downstairs at Sameba. In the middle left of the photo there are five women singing exquisite mysterious church songs. (One has a red scarf.) In the top left a man is kneeling by himself and others are in different places behind him.

Eventually a priest came from behind a closed door with the Eucharist which he personally dispensed only to those who had been waiting. Eloquent blessings seemed to follow each supplicant. After a while I could see he was calmly talking to that specific cluster. But he seemed to make no larger speech to the entire congregation. And during all of this at certain moments the heavenly music of the women ascended out from floor. It was deep, overwhelming and mysterious and so very different from any other service I’d ever been to. I eventually wandered out again. The service continued. More people were arriving. I passed through the blackened chamber, down the stairs, down the hill again towards the metro pondering all the while.

burnt-church

Passing through the immense burnt out chamber in Tsminda Sameba.

And I was struck by so many thoughts, thoughts that reflected back to the core of Georgian society and ultimately contrasted so strongly with ours.

(But to find out what those observations were you’ll have to return for Georgian Lesson #3 here at The Anadromous Life. And you’ll want to even if you have no interest in God or religion.)

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
10/23/2016

You can read about my full journey to Tbilisi in Georgia here:

https://gravityfromabove.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/east-of-moscow-and-mecca/


Sacred Cows #7: The Gospel of Fun

 

Having Fun With Christians

So imagine the following scene: A church decides to have an Easter sunrise service on a Sunday morning. One of the features of this event is to attach a cross, that looks suspiciously like a white frosted cake standing upright, to a cloud of helium filled balloons that will float off into the distance. There is some talk that maybe someone will find it. There are some printed words somewhere in the confection. And there is a prayer that it might be a mighty witness for the gospel as well as an offering of praise. I beheld this with my own eyes in the late 90s. The Gospel of Fun has indeed taken over the church.

Jesus Christ He's the Real Thing

This T-Shirt originated with the Christian Hippies of the Jesus Movement back in the 70s.

Now if we are going to use our imaginations seriously let’s picture this: Present at the balloon offering there are a host of other Christians representing different traditions down through the ages; Martin Luther, the Reformer is there next to John Calvin, Augustine and Paul are looking on, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are standing near T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers. Frederick Douglass and Dostoevsky turn to each other. Saint Nino of Georgia, Thomas Aquinas, Jane Austen and Charles Finney are all in attendance. And finally Jesus himself is present. And what would such a cloud of witnesses make of this strange diminution of the truth of their faith into a pop spectacle. (And balloons do pop!) Could any of these believers from times passed not be disturbed, even deeply saddened, perhaps some even to the point of tears. And Jesus? Who suffered and bled and died for all of humanity? What would he think of balloons being offered in his name? I certainly can’t claim to know. But I do remember the story of the unworthy offering of Cain way back when.

Reading_the_Bible_is_Fun

Judges, Lamentations and the Crucifixion of Christ are Especially Fun

And this strange image of balloons and sweet crosses flying into the sky is only the tiniest metaphor of the shape of a Christian faith now also tainted and deformed by the new universal Gospel of Fun.

A Cake for Christ?

Happy Birthday Jesus Cookie Cake

The Spirit of Christmas?

The examples are legion… and I am thinking of the exorcism story in the Bible when I use the word legion. Where to start (because there is no end): What about Happy Birthday Jesus cakes for Christmas? Or Youth Bibles to make the Faith more Fun and Exciting? How about Catholic balloons? Speaking of balloons, what about hot air balloons shaped like Jesus? There are at least two. T-shirts featuring Pepsi or Coke graphics with ad slogans modified into a ‘Christian witness’? How about images of a laughing Jesus? Church music, like much contemporary religion, has turned into a blood bath of feel good commercialization. In the extremities we find such phenomena as the Toronto Blessing, where for over a decade congregants engaged in laughing, dancing, shaking, barking like dogs and entering trances all in the name of being ‘drunk in the Lord’. Sounds like Fun doesn’t it? And it is, with a capital F.

All in One Bible Fun

Extreme Teen BibleAction Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of Fun and Positive Thinking (we’ll get to that down the road) have essentially taken over much of Western Christianity and beyond. And I can already hear many of my Christian friends saying ‘Hey no fair. We have to do whatever we can to reach out for Christ. Don’t be critical.” What’s really odd is that the general impression of the Western secular world that Christians are still all hellfire and brimstone. The media jumps on every weird ‘Christian’ they can find. Think Westboro Baptist Church. Think of the crazy Florida pastor who was going to burn copies of the Koran. Or the naïve folks in the Jesus Camp documentary. They leap at every utterance that any celebrity makes that suggests that they are still clinging on to some bigoted form of traditional morality. And in reality most churches in America have long ago converted to a feel good version of the Faith. Concepts like hell, heresy, judgement are nearly taboo in most Western churches. God is a therapeutic deity. The point is to be positive, whole, healed, happy and to have Fun.

Mega Church Worship

Worship Time in a Mega-Church

That it’s impossible to find such a message in the Bible doesn’t seem to cause too many sleepless nights . The anti-intellectualism which had surfaced within Christian circles in the second half of the 19th Century has had the effect of making sure that the average congregant is no more worried about these contradictions than they are about eating a moist birthday cake.

Happy-Birthday-Jesus-PartyHappy Birthday Jesus Cake Drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly the word ‘fun’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Neither do any of its relatives; amusement, entertainment or diversion. Although one word does show up which is an elderly relation: merriment. And some folks try to shoehorn words like blessed, happy or joy under the Fun umbrella. But merriment is an interesting word. The word in the New Testament is a Greek word which can also be translated as ‘cheer’. And it is a good thing to be of good cheer. The prodigal son was certainly cheered up by his father’s celebration. But then there is this ominous passage in the twelfth chapter of Luke where Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who has worked all his life just to finally kick back and have some fun. His motto? ‘Take life easy; eat ,drink and be merry.’ And then next word out of God’s mouth is ‘You fool. Tonight your life will be required of you.’ It’s more complicated than that, but I think we can easily see that the philosophy of Fun gets no free ride from Jesus.

Laughing Jesus 3

BFF With JC

Laughing Jesus 1

Laughing Jesus 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in fact Fun with a capital F did not enter the Christian world until the 1950s. When in order to combat juvenile delinquency and a fear of Communism para-church organizations began to seriously create youth ministries who would lure kids into the fold with ‘funspiration’. These ministries continued into the Sixties and they hooked up with the Jesus Movement in the 1970s. This was a crucial time. These new Christian hippies moved away from the stale and boring traditional churches and into the charismatic world. They brought with them the new catchier praise songs, developed by the youth ministries during the folkie era. Catholics had guitar masses. They brought a looser, more casual, approach to the Faith. Jeans and T-shirts came into the church. And they also brought in the T-shirts with cute Jesus slogans. By the mid-eighties the transformation was fairly complete. The older culture of easy listening Christian crooners and televangelists had merged with the newer Christians and their peppy tunes and Christian market. Eventually New Agisms would be interlarded. And lashings of Positive Thinking culture.

Jesus air balloon Nevada

A Jesus Hot Air Balloon in Nevada. How Are We to Resist the Conclusion that Christians are also Full of Hot Air?

There is an informative book called The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler (Eerdmans). In it he states that “Of course these changes came at some cost. White evangelicals invested heavily in young people and aggressively adapted to their preferences for an informal, entertaining, feel good faith. They ended up with their churches full of Christians who think that the purpose of God and the Christian faith is to help them feel better.”

Slain in the Spirit

Somewhere in Florida… The Sleep of Reason Produces…

And so for far too many folks the Gospel of Fun has superseded the Gospel of Christ, and they can’t even see it. It is identical to the aging hippie wearing high tech spandex biking gear. How can you explain it to them? Rational argumentation is dissed as judgmental. Everyone is supposed to smile. Check out their Facebook pages. (Of course there is a very dark side to all of this Fun and Positivity. Try to express a thoughtful dissenting opinion on internet sites like IMDb or in response to a newspaper editorial and just watch the knives come out.)

You know this might all be a bit of a downer… But if you look at it a different way it’s just so Cute.

Precious Moments Chapel

Inside the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri

I think we’ll have to continue this next time…

Byrne power

Haines, Alaska

8/10/2014