Rewritten: Sunday March 4, 2018
“But most important, you gotta believe in yourself! Like I do!”
--- Bill O’Reilly, “The O’Reilly Factor,” Tip of The Day
Believe in himself, indeed O’Reilly does, in italics. Add Donald Trump, in Tweets. Quietly, humbly self confident they are not. These are but two currently most notable examples of the core human craving for empowerment that flood my mind. To be fair and balanced, there are no lack of other candidates. This week there is crowing; next week, eating crow. But there’s always going to be a this-week’s chest thumper. Chest thumping will always be with us and is universal. It’s even metastasized to blueberries.
Such egomania assumes some sort of empowerment -- inner and intrinsic, latent and just awaiting activation by tiptoeing over coal beds with bare feet, whirling prayer wheels, or by positive thought. This essay is a skewed, necessarily incomplete, and not altogether serious or respectful review of some of mankind's most popular magic wands and pogo sticks. Upsy-daisy!
Bill “believe in yourself” O’Reilly might well have got his self-belief from Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking (Peale’s best-seller book bore that title), the first inner-driven up-up-and-away mass-movement that I witnessed first hand. I was twenty-something at the time, the early 1950s. That was a long time ago. But still driving seminars and books and blueberries is the Peale message: Think positively ’till you are blue in the face and you can fly with GPS satellites.
How fitting that the first American prophet of psychological power was an ordained progressive minister and pastor of a proto-mega church. Trump’s parents were members. The Donald got religion there. A pioneer psychologically-oriented progressive, Reverend Peale was somehow also a regressive religious legalist. During the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential campaign, Pealee preached negatively about Stevenson because Stevenson was divorced. To this The Egghead replied, “St. Paul appeals but Peale appalls.” Pun Power is second only to Eisenhower’s grin (Eisenhower Power).
Biblically oriented people know that the empowerment bug goes way back to the very beginning, to the Garden of Eden, when Satan beguiled Eve into believing that the apple was the very key to super-cosmic empowerment. “God,” Satan whispered, “well knows that, but wants to keep it secret, the abusive old patriarch. Woman, believe in yourself! You're a woman! You’ll show Him that you won’t stand for enslavement. Go ahead, take a bite -- you’ll be Queen of the Universe! Long live the Queen!”
Alas for Eve, it didn't work out that way at all. She didn't get the distinction she bargained for. Instead, Eve has the distinction of being the first human in history to learn the hard way that empowerments may not be as represented, plus the distinction of begetting unnumbered offspring, all of us, all humanity, who are pretty much refractory to what she learned. We just keep on hopping like jumping beans on trampolines.
Arguably, it was first through Architecture that mankind collectively and through work has most impressively tried to launch itself into the heavens. Rising from the mists of history is the Tower of Babel. Alas, instead of defying the heavens it had the honor of inventing human diversity with all its confusion. Later came such high-rises as the pyramids and much later the World Trade Center of 9/11 fame. Perhaps subdued by what happened to the WTC, Frank Gehrey shrugs altitude and aims to be weird, and is indeed.
Individually and through the wielding of authority, selected humans have from early history levitated themselves above all others, assuming the title of king, emperor and so forth, which entitled them to reside in the grandest architecture. The peak of authority has been apotheosis. Nebuchadnezzar, misinterpreting Daniel 2 for his own benefit as empowerment-seekers are prone to do, saw himself not as a god but as gold, the most golden monarch ever to be in all history. So he erected an enormous golden image, a pretty imposing selfie, to which all were required to bow on penalty of instant cremation in the fiery furnace. A perk of potentates whether forgotten or memorable, whether apotheosized or not, is disposing of dissidents. Before Nebuchadnezzar, Tiglath-Pileser I of Assyria, ascended a couple of notches by proclaiming that his god, Ashur, defended and guided him to his awful conquests, which piqued the Israelites who saw Jehovah in that light. Though merely brass (according to Daniel 2), Alexander the great ascended all the way, claiming actual apotheosis, starting the regal trend that has included sundry fully deified Caesars, and, in my day, Japanese Emperors.
The Roman emperors and their self-declared apotheosis were thrown down by heathen barbarians, only to be replaced by a higher authority which, in some eras, perfected apotheosis as never before, the papacy. I was taught by scholars of established authority, not just Google, that the popes never themselves claimed to be God. Rather, they claimed the Vicarship of Christ on earth with the keys to all earthly kingdoms as well as the heavenly one. Mere kings settled for the “divine right of kings,” conferred upon them by the pope. Eventually Napoleon simply grabbed the crown and himself planted it squarely on his own head, and without ado announced himself as another emperor but not a deified one, taking down the pope, for a while.
Not quite apotheosis but great enough is the appellation "soter," "deliverer," or "benefactor," popular around the time of the division of Alexander's kingdom and nowadays among African dictators. In recent times the trend has been to drop the “deliverer” in favor of “dictator.” Not bothering with apotheosis, votes or popes or any ceremony other than a coup empowered either by mobs with clubs smashing windows or disloyal soldiers in tanks, they are usually soldiers (from corporal on up), accoutered with gilded and heavily bemedaled or dreadfully stark black bespoken military regalia.
Mammon and monarchy -- the two usually go together like love and marriage, more like divorce and settlement. Kings Croesus and Solomon with their wealth in precious metals, were potent kings – Solomon could afford and service a thousand or more wives. Pope Julien, as rich as our own Jeff Bezos and smarter (he got his money from indulgences at minimal overhead), engaged Michelangelo to lie on his back and adorn the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and Bramante to tear down the invaluable 1200-year-old St. Peter’s Basilica and build a more awesomely overwhelming one for the world to wonder at. Architecture flies again.
But history does record impoverished monarchs who, though owning divine rights, had to grovel before mere commoners, notably the Rothchilds, for money to fight their wars. Our politicians, equivalents of dukes or archdukes, unusually already rich or on the way, kowtow to the PACs and fund raisers and donors like Soros and the Koch brothers.
Mammon can tower over monarchy. Deprived of holy oil or a dynasty and empowered by the mystical American capitalism, Jeff Bezos, Emperor of Amazon, is currently the richest man in the world, according to some the richest in history. I personally one-click the Bezos palm at least daily. Poor Croesus.
Meanwhile plain citizens are stuck in their places in a wide range of non-regal niches with or without riches, an unyielding inflexible matrix. The caste system, and/or the feudal order held ancient and certain Asian and, until recently, European societies in an unbreakable grip. Americans pride themselves on having the first caste-free, classless, all-men-born-equal society in history. Americans boast a lot, as much or more than Tiglath-Pileser. But we've got our own American Style caste system, with bells on, featuring, I’m expected to say with head bowed, slavery, which activists insist is worse now than before the Civil War which we fought to end it. In a way it is, thanks to activists and politicians, arguably the slave-masters of our day. Besides that millstone hanging around our necks, our class spectrum currently ranges from the homeless to Rockefellers and Bezoses, throw in Zuckerbergs. Still, whereas in previous civilizations a person’s status was determined by his or her dynastic bloodline, ours is, or was, determined by merit, as Horatio Alger used to write about. I'm so old I remember when men were men and self-made; I remember the term "meritocracy." Alger's meritocracy is long gone but I'm so old I still brush the dust off the dried flower and hold it up to my cheek. Exercising unique upward mobility, certain of us, certifiably of unsound mind, have leapfrogged imperiality to full deification, which no mere emperor has deigned to do. Insanity can be a curiously untroubled empowerment. Christ warned that such identity-theft claims would increase as history winds down, which it is. However, most of us can forget that notion, being of rather more if not altogether sound mind.
Only a few, the 1%, are singled out for sovereignty or aristocracy or old-time nobility, or to get off our couch and exchange our rags for riches. Yet the rest of us, the “99%” do have easy access to a cornucopia of ersatz empowerments. Available by 1-click Amazon are such gratifications as falsies, football or tailored shoulder pads, masks, helmets, Green Beret camos and full dress uniforms, boots, Lugers and AK40s, Harley Davidsons, and the Breakfast of Champions, and much more, delivered by Prime within 24 hours. I assume that shortly sex robots will be a top seller. A little more clicking and snapping of fingers yields Siri and the scientific method; horoscopes and the Oracle of Delphi. Say yes to lottos or Las Vegas, botox or extreme makeovers. Editors and agents, personal trainers or hit men. Protest signs and tweets, #MeToos and tattoos. Rich old men are helped out of their walkers and into their Lamborghini Veneno Roadsters to race over to have hair implants.
But entertainment, now a potpourri of just about every empowerment, is the grandest and most enduring sop or soporific to the peon’s or couch potato’s fantasy of flying with Batman. Always has been since the masks and dramas and comedies and smoke and mirrors of ancient Greece. Rome’s divine emperors kept citizens and slaves from rioting or rebelling by distracting them with galas featuring gladiators shedding genuine blood and slaying each other, and Christians being devoured by hunger-driven lions, in the Super-Bowl Coliseum. But it is Hollywood that is the Nebuchadnezzar of entertainment, the most Golden (Metro-Golden-Mayer) of all, reigning unchallenged (except maybe by Bollywood but not Dollywood) as the emperor of action, special-effect blood, and escape through virtual reality and suspension of disbelief, instantly available at a theater near you and a screen already in hand. To 98-pound weaklings gallons of latex are applied and – voilà! – superheros! Take a sick day off and fly away to a theme park and, without moving a muscle except to scream, be transported in a people mover through pirate coves or haunted cobwebby houses the size of blimp hangers. Yet our citizens, though stuffed to the gills with virtual entertainment, are all too likely, in contrast to sated Romans, to ratchet themselves from their La-Z-Boys or $5000 black market seats at colossal stadiums and riot, real window-smashing rock-throwing riots. Could it be that the Roman entertainment which spilled genuine blood from gladiators and Christians and yielded real corpses more effectively slakes the entertainment-empowered lust to revolt than Hollywood's fakery? But the show isn't over yet.
Empowered by entertainment, the celebrity is the consummately coiffured top lap dog of the American Style caste system, the proud personification of the American Dream. Eating awards for breakfast, and virtually apotheosized by Paparazzi, celestial celebrities with their astronomical riches, even their stupid opinions, are worshiped above presidents and popes and Bezoses. To us plain citizens celebrities dazzle with unapproachable light.
All very nice, but merely materialistic. There are much different and even mightier empowerments.
“Creativity,” also called the “Inner Eye,” is what inner power is called in art schools, where it rendered unnecessary the previously required years of raw practice and hard study, plaster casts, and live models, and charcoal dust all over your clean apron.
But now it is recognized that primacy belongs to spirituality, the engine of creativity. Creativity standing alone, once the rage, is out of style. Not only in art school and ikebana flower clubs but in Hollywood there is more talk about spirituality than creativity, even in car chases. I understand the next Oscars will include a lifetime award for best spirituality. Harvey Weinstein and his ladies have been nominated.
I have noticed that religion is becoming less about God and more about spirituality, especially for fund raising, now the church's Great Commission. But religion is no longer the largest or even most prideful domain of spirituality. Spirituality now belongs to the world, to art clubs, flower clubs, politics, even, I discovered on Google, to atheism.
But spirituality defies easy definition. With or without religion, usually without, the word seems to proclaim forces that are not human but para-normal, other-worldly. One would assume that it's all about God. But depending on the era and the culture it is not. In fact "spirituality" is not infrequently a handy euphemism for avoiding God while invoking some even more ill-defined quality, not necessarily even preternatural, in some cultures as vaporous as vapor, and thus amenable to incense and eagle feathers.
In certain eras the preternatural entities become more defined and preternatural. Then they are "spirits." Though of necessity not tangible, spirits like to express themselves in various tangible ways, always unexpected, sometimes scary and sometimes enrapturing. In the 19th century, when spirituality carried the technical name “spiritualism,” the spirits rattled windows and levitated tables and scared people. Or, at the beck and call of handlers known as mediums, assumed the persona of your dear departed mother or father. Spirits have been known to behave like Nordic or Greek gods, about whom Jeopardy contestants never miss a question, while being embarrassingly uninformed about the Bible.
Which raises the question of whether spirituality involves goodness or evil. Easy question: neither. Those that usher you into nirvana are of necessity neutered.
Women, all women and not merely those involved with flower or book clubs, seem especially sensitive to spirituality. As to women who are taken over by spirits (Eve wasn't exactly, but for humanity, worse), usually known as witches, their reputations and fame have varied like the stock market. King Saul resorted to the famous witch of Endor to have his fortune told. But in more recent times ladies specializing in fortune-telling are to be found behind a crystal ball rather than riding a broom, and their business cards say "madam Psychic."
In 17th century Salem witches were hung. But in the 21st century it's the witch-hunt rather than the witches that is despised. the Salem girls themselves are now not regarded as all that bad -- they merely pushed pins into avatars or somehow inflicted spells of twitching. Now they and their spirits are rather fashionable and not just on Halloween.
In the 19th century days of spiritualism, the spirits extended their repertoire. Some liked to materialize as your dear dead father or mother, fully recognizable though perhaps unfamiliarly mellowed and speaking comfortingly rather than abusively. Others specialized in rattling windows or dumping tables over, and were towards the not-exactly hellish but merely devilish side. Scary at least. But scariness isn't really evil, is it? Not by today's standards, not in Hollywood or on Halloween.
I am of the opinion that so far the spirits that were the engines of spiritualism, evoking at the most fright, and now spirituality, so far quite benign and even productive, were just getting revved up. Soon the serious business is to start. Google informed me of atheism's dabbling in spirituality. The “Drudge Report” reports, without mentioning spirits or spirituality but curiously assigning those identities back to "religion," that "Inside religion is creating 'God robot' billion times smarter than humans..." A mere billion? If spirituality can straight-facedly worm itself into atheism as well as your dead father or a table, why not into religion and technology, maybe both at once? After all, spirits were the preternatural intelligence of 19th century Ouija boards, why not 21st century robos? Why must robos rely on artificial man-made intelligence? It would explain a lot of eerie things that happen to the most advanced operating systems, things like sudden incompatibilities between applications that always before worked, that multiple calls to tech support, even the supervisors, can't explain or help fix, even when, like spirits, they take over your computer. It's demon (or daemon) possession, as sure as when they would take over houses and haunt them and rattle windows, and people knew it was spiritualism, and said so. But think of what a spirit-possessed robo could do! SiFi bloggers and headline-writers see preternatural robos as consummately bloody threats to the very existence of civilization. Only now it isn't "spiritualism." It's artificial intelligence.
But we all know that in this the 21st and thoroughly post-modernist century nothing is final. Tomorrow always beings something to strain credibility even more than yesterday did, something unexpected. That's what's so great about being alive right now, if you like to have your credulity stretched to the point of snapping every morning. Spirits are the very soul of postmodernist unpredictability. Who knows, maybe some spirit, the one that in 1848 came back as your mother, may get tired of returning as she or a Salem witch, or even Ouija boards and motherboards, and rather than behave as a berserk robo, come back as – Christ!
Meanwhile, spiritual blogs or progressive pews like to speak of their spiritual experience as a "journey." My circle of friends like to say that. For them the journey is unceasing for a lifetime. But the term “journey” has become popular, and therefore generic with spirituality not required for a ticket. Haight-Ashbury hippies called it a “trip,” propelled by flower power. Trips were short and likely to shorten one's lifetime. Then there is a Trek, more familiarly "Star Trek," a trademarked creative property that offers to take you on an entertainment trip of a lifetime.
My friends say their spiritual “journey” leads them to a higher open-minded theology about God or at least “life” or, for those of a Platonic bent, satisfactory ethics or deontology. That is to say, their journey climbs to higher cognitive centers in the brain. Theirs is a journey of thought. The goal is "understanding."
On the other hand, what seems to be a lot more popular in Hollywood (California) as well as Bodhgaya (India) than thought-crammed spiritual journeys, is that popular yearning to descend to some lower brain center that doesn’t bother with consciousness -- somewhere out-of-brain, out-of-body, out-of-mind, anywhere to attain disembodied mindlessness in quest of, or escape from, the unendurable pain here below or the unendurable bliss above, itself disembodied. Quite a contrast with the up-up-and-away Peale Positivity of the 1950s.
These types yearn for their souls to merge with a preternatural bosom, or segue into some less defined transcendent state. The less thought or discussion, the less the brain is involved, the more empowerment into heavenly nothingness. For them the consummate empowerment is impotency. Their journey’s blessed end is a return to the womb. Call it Nirvana if you are a guru; call it OTVIII if you are a practitioner wise in the vocabulary of Scientology. Progressives of my church call it the “Spiritual Foundation.”
It is to ancient India that award-winning TV producers cross-legged on a mat mediating themselves into Nirvana, pay homage. Indeed nowadays India and gurus are big-time in show- and big business. But I’m so old I remember when liberal arts and humanism prevailed in America and Indian-Indian gurus were less known than American-Indian medicine men.
In those days the hallmark of academia’s fascination with humanism was the “100 Greatest Books.” In the 1940s and 50s the lists offered by the University of Chicago set off a Great Books fad that over 700 “liberal arts” universities have also felt compelled to compile to this day, even while magic yoga mats waft overhead. I’ve just rechecked Adler’s original list. Embarrassingly eurocentric as well as out of date, It includes Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin but nary an Asian Philosopher. There have been additions. More sensitive to political correctitude than to the philosophy of ancient Vedic India, most additions have been black philosophers.
When Western humanities reigned, challenged by only the Great Depression, not that long ago, scholars proclaimed that Plato and his Greek ilk had invented philosophy and thus were the founders of Western Civilization, a cornerstone of which has always been Christianity as remodeled from its primitive apostolic state by Platonism-NeoPlatonism. The re-creation of the Church in the image of Plato happened about the 4th century and prevailed until the reformation.
It is with very good reason that Plato should be acclaimed as the titular founder of Western Civilization and prevailing Christianity. For it was Plato who conjured up the “Form,” (aka hen, Monad and so on) an ingeniously uninformative name for his substitute for the Hebrew God whom Plato saw as insufferably defined and demanding. For practical purposes Plato’s Form was as thought-free as a vegetable in Vedic Nirvana, able only to emanate undefined apparently pantheistic powers like redwood trees do, while God creates and commands and demands – the nerve of Him! Plato next conjured the “soul,” agonizingly entrapped in the necessarily evil human child at its birth and blessedly liberated at its death to return to beatific nullity in the bosom of the Form, where it had been and will be for eternity. Likewise it inhabits essentially all Western Religions, providing sweet solace at our funerals.
But more recent philosophers, notably Nietzsche, have declared God Dead. Nowadays He's been Zen-ed. Or declared terminal, or drifting into irrelevancy or nullity. Will Bill O'Reilly's next best-seller killing be Killing God? Maybe not. Both God and Christianity, this time more openly Vedic and demotic, are hiring consulting agencies to conjure up a comeback, a reincarnation if not a Second Coming. Whether Western Civilization ever will, is moot.
Pharmaceutical modalities as tickets to spiritual and cerebral nullity swept the nation in the 1960s, 10 years after Peale’s positivity wave. As a thirty-something I witnessed it too.
There were two substances of choice: (1) pot, an easily grown plant that’s now growing like weeds, in fact is sometimes called that. (2) LSD.
Actually discovered by Albert Hofmann, PhD a researcher at Sandoz Labs and empowered by Timothy Leary PhD, a Harvard professor, LSD is a sophisticated laboratory derivative of -- of what? In medicine I studied pharmacology just a decade before LSD was heard of. Mercifully the various board examinations med students must take didn't ask about it. LSD-wise, I have remained ignorant. So back to the authorities I must go. Being old and lazy and also modern, it's not to the library but to the web I go. The web, where diversity is even-handedly offered, from old indigenous and imported superstition to dumbed-down versions of university curricula. Wikipedia: LSD is a laboratory derivative of psilocybin mushrooms crucial in religious rites of the Mazatec people of Mexico. I'd like to let it go at that.
In contrast to the drugs for Alzheimer's which don’t work, pot and LSD and unnumbered derivatives do, rather too well, empowering hippies to stop the world and drop out. Sacked out on curbs, homeless, or hanging out in coffee and paraphernalia shops, hippies had forfeited their humanity according to the majority view in the 1960s, or had become pioneer creative and spiritual beings, the nostalgic view now. Their time has come. Just recently (1 January 2018) pot became legal, and a billion-dollar business, in California. I understand Haight-Ashbury streets in San Francisco have been declared a national historic site like Mt. Vernon, and a world heritage reserve by the UN.
But now in the 21st century pharmaceutical empowerments are called “Neurophysiological communication enhancement.” I found many ads on the web for “Neurocell,” or NeuroCell” or “synIQ” featuring celebrity scientist, Steven Hawking of Cambridge University, being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, with endorsement by Bill Gates. Almost totally paralyzed from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”) and speaking via his defunct vocal muscles empowered by a speech garbling generator, Hawking testifies that “neurocell,” has enhanced his own already renowned “cognitive brain function and neural connectivity, while strengthening the prefrontal cortex and boosting memory and recall.” “It will change humanity.”
Being an old doc I checked the label and found the Hawking pill is simply another pill containing the potpourri of ingredients including multiple multisyllable molecules you never heard of even in med school, plus caffeine. Maybe something cosmically powerful lurks in the pill, but it sounds like snake oil to me. Caffeine is quite probably the active ingredient. Caffeine is cheap, but the Hawking stuff is expensive, and obtainable only by prescription, or should be. Will you settle for a pricey cup of Starbucks?
I also found that the claims for both LSD and Neurocell could have been written by the same ad agency: Hawking hawks his pills as strengthening neural connectivity; Leary claimed that LSD is good for enhancement of brain, reality, and even length of life; discoverer Hoffmann called it the “medicine for the soul.” Carter’s Little Liver Pills, eat your hearts out. Still, Hawking hasn't sold as well as Leary, or Carter's.
Besides mental and spiritual powers the less spiritual and more physical powers are being pharmaceutically enhanced. Anabolic steroids and less identifiable chemicals are widely employed to great award- and prosecution-winning effect by Lance Armstrong and baseball celebrities. Why are they are not yet in official favor in this freedom-cannabis-loving land of ours? But as socially acceptable as marijuana and yoga for spiritual power is Viagra for power in bed.
Drugs aren’t the only way to enhance metabolism and body-parts. Before L.A. Fitness’s more than 700 upscale locations took North America, Gold’s Gym famously bulged boxer’s and bodybuilder’s biceps. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to pump iron there. When not posing shiny with grease he wore a grungy message t-shirt (“EMPOWERMENT”). Already here or just over the horizon are such cellular and subcellular enhancers as cloning, and stem cell manipulation, and molecular engineering. For the terminally ill liver, kidney, heart transplants are life-saving; for the toothless tooth implants are merely expensive; for the vain face-lifts and liposuction; for the torched, face implants. For the rich and powerful craving immortality, there have always been pyramids; now, cryopreservation. But that’s nothing compared to gender changes at whim. And there’s something toxically male about cannibal warriors eating a formidable adversary’s heart or testicles to import the victim’s powers. Over here that culinary practice hasn’t come into style yet, but we're working on legal equivalents. Always in style, although currently distracted by the cute #meToo fan-dance, are the devastating female ways (let me count the ways) of commandeering the sundry male substances and strengths, rendering the mightiest monarchs but quavering slaves.
In this land of ours the freedom to rise from splitting rails to being President, has been our birthright. And what empowers that empowerment? We’ve always said Education does, although exactly what the curriculum should be has changed – I’d say drastically. Now education has careened away from the 3 Rs and Platonic liberal arts into extremes with doctorates in ufology, Manga, and Entertainment Engineering. Gender studies is old school. My advice to grandchildren is, forget the MBA; get into IT. (Millennials don’t have to be told that that means Information Technology.)
But there is an empowerment looming high over even freedom, education, over monarchy, over everything. It is Evolution. Evolution is consummate empowerment and Darwin the awarded, acclaimed, adulated Emperor Empowerer. It may sound absurd but I venture that Darwin has managed to apotheosize himself and Evolution, and the swamp, above God. Sorry, Caesar.
Darwin created Evolution from eons of survival of the curiously empowered fittest, which have evolved into the various master races from the Hittites and hit-men to the Nazis. And without Evolution there would be no Buddhas or Peales, no Learys or Steven Hawkings (or Sadie Hawkins), or iguanas. There would be no inner power driving individuals to fly like eagles or stomp like dinosaurs. For that matter there would be no David Attenboroughs and BBC nature documentaries with exquisite photography and background music to enhance the eons of propaganda for Evolution. Needing only the fittest and billions of years and billions of guesses and mutations, and cosmic luck, Evolution empowers life -- and nature documentaries and, so the court has adjudged, science itself, what it is and what it isn't, at pain of loss of tenure and grant money. All rise, rise out of the swamp.
After Evolution what rising-from-the swamp empowerment is left? That’s the limit! We've reached the end of the line.
Please, it’s time to quit the trampoline, catapult, and pogo stick, to call off hang-gliding with geese, and settle back down to earth. Inner Pogo Power is either overrated and underpowered, false, fake, fictitious or feeble; illusions, delusions or hallucinations; or downright scams, or worse. Ask Eve. And if they don't crash, they're trashed because something even more alluring and gottta-have has just come on the market.
The apple did not bring Eve the cosmic diadem. The Nebuchadnezzar who erects a towering golden image to himself is demoted to munching grass in the meadow with the cows (Daniel 4). Workers empowered to "arise" wind up on the floor -- sitdown strikes. He who would fly with the eagles winds up tripping over peacocks. He who bellows into banks of multimedia microphones may then be abashed not to realize the thing is still on. ePods and Pads and Phones are fantastic until -- darn it, Samsung is getting better reviews! Passwords are a mighty empowerment and protection, until you forget them. I'm as deaf as an earwig. My digital hearing aids ramp up the volume plenty, but did you say you bought cat food or just got tattooed? Dreaming is fine until you have a nightmare and wake up screaming, "the ICE-man commeth!" Cannabis is not, despite the storm of slick documentaries to the contrary, cannabis is not the tree of life. One man's empowerment is another man's enslavement. Uppity Daises wilt.
"I did it my way!" as crooned by a Frank Sinatra is inspiring, but turns out to be inspiring also to mafia mobsters and noisy rat packs unable to get a laugh without a champaign glass in one hand. Back-patting, whether of somebody else's back or your own, puts your rotator cuff in jeopardy.
By their very nature empowerment’s powers are self-centered at best. Did Ponzi scheme for love of humanity? Those monarchs and dictators from Nebuchadnezzar to Mobutu have exercised power on behalf of only themselves, no bones about it -- except dissenter's bones. Self-centered to the core. Apparatchiks and courtiers vow fealty -- with their fingers crossed behind their backs, hopefully out of sight or it's off with their heads. Louis XV's vast Versailles was famously a dog-pile of history's most suave, unctuous, bootlickers. The more despotic the tyrant the more he demands to be adulated as a liberator. Has there ever been a US politician who is naught but a puppet of special interest or political party who doesn't plea to be elected to serve the American People? In politics, the mother of all hypocrisy is compassion. The mother who yearned for a baby and so beatifically smiled at her newborn, is exhausted by the screaming and diaper changing all night, and slams her fists against her hips to signify that she has liberated herself from her chains and will refuse to serve anybody but numero uno.
As to riches, to many the most potent of all empowerments, St. Paul warned Timothy that money is the root of all evil. Evil smeevil. Americans crave that evil root like cows crave turnips, like Snoopy quaffs root beer, or Coloradoans inhale weed. Christ admonished us to store our riches in heaven, not at Wells Fargo or Fort Leavenworth where rust doth corrupt, hackers hack, and poker and Ponzi purloin your bitcoins. Christ warned that it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Cute saying, that --- but, hey, right now we need change for a couple of grand to feed the slots! Wish us luck!
Freedom has been the key to American empowerment. Like our nation, empowerments, of which legal action is as crucial a supplier as Amazon is of goodies, have mushroomed, burgeoned, exploded, and mutated and become unrecognizable, while freedom has dwindled and wilted. Once American empowerment was simply the freedom to work hard. Now the big empowerment is the dream. Once upon a time if you didn’t get up and do something you were a failure; now you’re a dreamer, maybe even a poet. If you can dream it, it's possible, from selling silly startup ventures to Amazon or Apple, to draining the Washington swamp.
If once we revered education as an empowerment tool and worked hard to get one, now it's a sparkling magic wand we expect to be waved over our heads (but spare our brains, please). But it must not interfere with whatever it is about reality we have the urge to protest. The university is where youth go to dream, or to loll in safe spaces, flutter like snowflakes, or riot. Now Education is a right, to be forked over forthwith, free, like abortion. Or so the media is now revealing as news. Education no longer is something for which uneducated immigrant parents slaved and saved so that their children could become doctors.
Education, which claims to leave no child left behind, leaves not a few grad students way behind in employability, less employable than 3rd graders in the days when Abe split rails and educated himself. Holding an MD degree now entitles one to be consigned to functionary status and damned as greedy. Of less account than a celebrity’s, a doc’s opinion is inferior to that of Google's quacks. The burgeoning of doctorates in seminaries has brought in a form of Platonism that is recreating the church in its own image, as Neo-Platonism did the apostolic church at its beginning. American education once earned an A+ and was the wonder of the world; now an F, but that grading system itself is being challenged in the name of privacy and human dignity. Grading now is not to be based on how well a subject has been learned or taught but how well the student has been instilled with social responsibility.
Plato Power, on the scene millennia before Peale Power, is only emanations from the formless Form or Prime Mover, and what happens when the Form runs out of emanations, or the Prime Mover is put out of business by Uber Mover? An inner atomic engine powering nuclear submarines is impressive, but inner nuclear power for people leaks and you develop 2 extra eyes on your flat head that only Picasso could sell. He who boasts that he just reaches out and takes what he wants gets #meToo'd.
That spiritual, creative Inner Eye of the artist is good only for generating blotches and abstracts and silly awards, and abstract inner yearnings, hardly reality.
Human cannonballs (and cannabis rollers) take a token arc and then crash, hopefully into nets if not gutters. All those schemes for self-exaltation succeed mainly in exalting pride which goeth before a pratfall. The curve goes up, then down. Gravity wins.
And even if, by questionable criteria, those empowerments are successful, they are subject to the Statute of Limitations. For those few who actually are anointed and crowned, there is inevitably a comeuppance, thanks to age or rebels, rivals, or scandals. Julius Caesar was done in; Queen Victoria petered out; Nixon was watergated. Art Linkletter (from my day; do you remember him?) promised ladies queenhood for a day. That turns out to be a reign 24 hours longer than Eve got. Andy Warhol promised everybody only 15 minutes of fame. This week even the recent iconic self-believer, Bill O’Reilly, is off the scene, killed off like the subjects of his series of best-selling The Killing of Whomever books.
Those CNN interviews with Hawking touting “neuroenhancers” Neurocell or NeuroCell or synIQ or cognIQ as surely to change humanity, are fake. Or so claim such odd web sites as Quartz Media, which, I suspect, might themselves be fake. Other sites do expose such fakery just to make more credible their own listings of memory enhancers, complete with images of the bottles, -- which, of all things, turn out to be the exact same stuff as Hawking hawked. Self-declared most trusted judges of urban legends and scams, e.g. Snopes, are not talking. Fakes of fakes of fakes, hacked and spliced from out-of-context video bits.
By whatever name, whether vaporous Nirvana, heaven, which at least has a check-in desk and harps, or some secret destination, people have tried to get there by many easy or painful maneuvers ranging from 1st class all-amenities journeys on magic carpets to bounding barefooted over beds of coal. Take your pick of incantations, or endless repetition of a holy name (or big words like hermeneutics, or long sentences like this one); or kissing images, especially toes, bowing to the East, West, to Mecca or to the sun or moon or a frog, or climbing exactly 666 marble steps on your knees, stopping to finger beads after each step, or pilgrimages on highway 66 to Fatima with truck stops on the way. Whether by a pacing saffron-robed Buddhist or umber-hooded Catholic monk, or by a socialite or TV producer clad in deluxe spandex YogaWare meditating motionless on a mat; or by a naked aborigine decorated all over with painted keloids and dancing in a frenzy around a pole adorned with eagle feathers and sacrificial skulls, or a celebrity Scientologist being audited and "cleared" of all unwanted or toxic or traumatic mental things; whether by Yoga, Zen or Dianetics, by a witches brew or cyanide-flavored Kool Aid, by ritual or recreational psychedelics dispensed by shamans, street dealers, or CVS; whether “kat” fresh off the herb or “cat” (Methcathinone) fresh out of the lab; or simply, as seems to be the most popular route of all, spending all day with your nose in a screen. Or don't bother trying to find God or the Form, find yourself by journeying to Cleveland as Ted Baxter did on the Mary Tyler Moore show, or your infant self by stretching yourself out on a pricey Freudian couch.
Even Darwin Power's survival of the fittest leaves only dismal swamps uninhabited but for retrogressive mutations and master races of splendidly robed or uniformed dictators, and ACLU lawyers ranting in court. They that live by the sword shall die by the sword. They that invent atom bombs shall ... but that's too cataclysmic a prospect to talk about in this heavy-handedly light-hearted essay. Things are looking bad. Such professional and cerebral diviners of the future, able to see where the rest of us can't quite, such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Steven Hawking, have given up on even Prime pogosticks. We must, they warn, rocket ourselves up-up-and-away from this hopeless planet and set up homesteads on Mars or Venus, and start all over again. Venus sounds nice.
In the meantime let's escape to Hollywood and, naturally, to "Star Wars." But although for now the Force may be with you, when Lucas or Disney run out of sequels the Energizer Bunny will outrun you.
But buck up! Though now feared like Artificial Intelligence run amok and killing people, maybe there's hope in genetic engineering as it was in the beginning when discovered by Mendel for changing colors of pea blossoms and praised as Nobel-worthy. What blessed things it's done for my blueberries. I’ll let them speak for themselves. The empty container says it all. They were great.
Well, I'm glad that blueberries worked. Nothing else does. Every last empowerment formula, template, or mantra that Google or Dr. Leary's lab can cough up or a leadership seminar cram into a syllabus relies on human power, or worse. Even Google relies on algorithms. What's an algorithm? Look it up with Google.
It's no mystery why man-made empowerments fail. The fundamental defect of every man-made empowerment, ironically even pastor Peale’s, is that they don’t bother with God. He’s left out. Worldly empowerments are powered by crossing God out of the picture and replacing Him with a special-effects and extremely made-over and fantasizing, prideful human, bound to fail. Ask Eve, please.
I’m insisting that there is indeed infinite empowerment, and it is not man-made, and cannot fail. At last the flat-out, no-nonsense, twinkling-of-an-eye cosmic, everlasting secret of empowerment. God. It is God. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). The empowerment God offers enables me to believe in myself in a way that none of mankind’s formulas can. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4: 13. Now that’s self-belief I can believe in.
That exceeding abundantly good news, above everything we can ask or think, should end the matter once and for all, and this essay. But no. Instead it brings a tsunami of offended feelings, cries and outcries, scoffings and sobbings, fist poundings and, gasp, dashed dreams. That's a hate crime, dashing a dream is.
I'm hearing things like “… who needs Him? God’s idea of empowerment is a let-down, as hollow as God says human empowerments are. As fake as Hawking's claims, or the claims that he claims, about neural enhancements. Empowerment through obedience? Yours is a snorting fire-breathing angry God with nothing to offer but commandments and punishments and eternal torture. Plato had it right: obedience to anybody much less such a God is just too suffocating. Your God is hellbent on our enslavement. Infinitely more satisfying are the no-strings-attached Platonic Form or Vedic nirvana. Your St. Paul’s, ‘Behold what love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called sons of God,’ is untruth in advertising.
“It’s all comedy, good mainly for sending us rolling in the isles, rolling our eyeballs. Oh, that bit about "being born again," always good for a belly laugh. Like your St. Paul says, “The natural man cannot receive spiritual things; to him it is foolishness.” Like Satan chortled to Eve, Did God tell you THAT?”
Yes, God told us that, and that’s that. But let me elaborate.
Despite what Satan told Eve, or O’Reilly tells you, or Darwin tells the courts or you, it is God. God, not eons, created you and your powers -- will power, reproductive power, muscle power, digestive power, and brain power whereby to comprehend, and eyes to see, that it is God who is all powerful.
God's empowerment is not simply superior Peale, Ponzi, or Political Power. It is not an upsy-downsy curve. It's a one-way ascent without a downside, even under His yoke. You won't fly with eagles but angels. He offers not a high and then a crash but the thrill of knowing and receiving from Him now and for eternity. Your journey should not end in dusty circles or a cul-de-sac or dead end, or even mere clearer understanding, but in heaven and seeing, actually seeing, and knowing, and being empowered by, God. The stories of ascents to success that Horatio Alger told may have been more admired than the story of Christ’s descent to earth where He had not where to lay his head, but He has ascended to His unutterably glorious place in Heaven, inviting us to join Him, to receive us unto Himself and be where He is.
Human empowerment is for the short term, too often gone in a twinkling of a tearful eye. God's is long term, everlasting. His is not only for the beyond but for the here and now. It is the power -- quite amazing when you think of it -- to be at peace when the world and Ponzi schemes collapse, the power to bend over to help the fallen to stand up, not for you stand firm for your rights though the heavens fall, shaking your fist at the heavens. He offers not the upsy downsy teeter-totter but rest from frantic self-empowerment, which, if pursued at full Peale pace, or inhaled at parties, always leaves a person panting, burned out, maybe jumping through glass doors and off the 20th floor rather than leaping over tall buildings. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matt 11:28. Rest, not nirvana, nor an afternoon at L.A. Fitness and a Happy Hour at Cheers, and a hangover.. Where else can you find both earthly and eternal empowerment and rest, both such as "eye hath not seen nor ear heard?" 1 Corinthians 2:9
If He not only inspired awe by his miracles, He did also evoke fear in his own disciples when they perceived Him, walking unexpectedly upon water, as a Ghost. Their fear was quite human. Christ accepts our humanity; He made it.
But need I point out that the disciples' instinctive fear when facing the supernatural was not the same kind of fear that ISIS's or Hollywood's neck-severing chainsaws aim to excite? It is assuredly not the wrath, vengeance, even evil, that Satan works to redirect from himself, the author of all evil and fear, to God, the author of all love and kindness.
Christ, assuring the disciples in the boat that He was no ghost, instantly abjured them to "fear not." He was not out to exacerbate and cultivate their fear as do Norse Gods and Islam ISIS-style. Instead, He calmed them and proceeded to calm the storm that had threatened to engulf the boat and them. It is peace He offers, but "not as the world giveth give I."
Yes, God does have standards which He requires us to obey. But should it not be expected that He would? Is it not vastly reassuring that God, the creator and manager of the universe and everything in it from sub-quantum forces to black holes, should function by laws, and, for our own sakes, give us Commandments as empowerments, just as He empowered Adam by giving him a helpmeet and a Garden and offering the Tree of Life? He is not out to scare us out of our wits but to save, even if He sometimes, in love, must scare us out of our complacency.
God’s commandments are empowerments. His biddings are enablings. Yet they can be made to seem the grotesque opposite. St. Paul proclaimed that loud and clear. Speaking as an ex-Pharisee, he offers in his book “Romans” a scholarly and personal-experience analysis of the law and commandments as Pharisaical Jews of his day used them -- as a death decree. And they are indeed, so long as man’s obedience to God is by force. But God does not force obedience. We may obey because He so loves us and thereby moves us to love Him and everything He has given us, especially the concise expressions of His character, the commandments.
That divine process is just not acceptable, or comprehensible, to monarchs, politicians, or prelates. They do not function that way. What they can do, and do relentlessly, is to take over from God and interpret and administer His commandments in the only way a man can: by law and force, even capital punishment at the stake.
With dispatch legislatures pass lots of laws against what they define as hate crimes, but nobody’s heart is changed thereby, or even enabled to offer a convincing apology, which isn't taken seriously anyway. It's just a bit of ritualistic gesturing we have devised to empower us to shake off mephitic swamp water like a wet rat, which is quite enough to satisfy this week's outrage. No man can by himself change his own or anybody else’s heart. Only God can. To the core. And that takes a miracle. No wonder Christ, in trying to explain the process to a theologian (John 3), called it being "born again," knowing that His figure of speech, as well as the process, was foreign to the hermeneutic-wielding scholar, and to just about everybody so happily opaque as to evoke great belly laughs.
So what does God, our creator, think of our chest-thumping? Some people like to think God has a sense of humor. If so, He cannot but be bemused by the chest-thumping and trampoline antics that humanity, under the goading of Satan as coach, is hellbent on pursuing. If we think His empowerment is comedy, He could regard our snickering at Him as inebriated laughter and our declaring Him dead as sick humor. But belly laughs resounding and echoing like thunder from one end of the universe and back again? Warranted, but no, I don't think so. More likely tears, for He knows where all our strivings to do it our way lead – not upsy-daisy but downsy-splatsy. Not higher than the Most High, which is the elevation Satan coveted and where Satan promised Eve she would go, but into the abyss. As to chest thumping, that's why He created gorillas. As for His way, "I dwell in the high and holy place, -- and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." (Isaiah 57:15)
And I believe, am convinced, that a certain exquisite baby born blind from retinoblastoma so that both her eyeballs had to be taken out to save her life, now a little girl running in place in the park, her little feet hopping up and down but not moving forward, crying out to her younger siblings romping in the park, “wait for me!,” has a better hope than that of expertly crafted prosthesis occupying her otherwise vacant eye sockets. God will give her two fine new eyeballs that see so much better than an eagle's. She'll be the champion track star of the galaxy. She’ll dance in fields of aureate daisies scattered among divinely engineered blueberries which she, with me trying to keep up, picks and tosses into my open mouth. And, my dear beloved daughter, you can pitch those sightless prostheses that were only acrylic. They never fit quite right anyway.
YOU GOTTA BELIEVE
Or, At The Count Of Three: One-Two-Three….Upsy Daisy!
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