My Ancestral Storylines, Part II

“Hold never in scorn the hoary singer; oft the counsel of the old is good; come words of wisdom from their withered lips …“

– Havamal, Stanza 133

In my last blog on ancestral storylines, I mentioned that my mother and I had agreed to visit my great-uncle in November, when I visited Puerto Rico, in order to straighten out some of the confusing family legends that we weren’t clear about. We were concerned that if he died, we would lose the chance to get the story straight, and maybe find out with certainty who some of our ancestors actually were.

Uncle Rosario’s Stories

Uncle Rosario is 95 and obese, sits in a wheelchair and can’t see very well, but is very lucid and loves to talk and tell stories. I sat in front of his wheelchair and, with the air of an investigative journalist, took notes while my mother and cousin–who eagerly drove me to see him–had parallel and related conversations in the same living room with Rosario’s daughter, who takes care of him.

You may remember that I mentioned a Catalonian by the name Jaca who was proposed as my ancestor on ancestry.com, but one of my cousins disputed that we were not related by blood to him. This is the thing about demographics research versus DNA research: very often, people are adopted, or people remarry, and the parental identity of an ancestor comes into question.

Uncle Rosario cleared up the matter for me: we are NOT related to the Jaca family, but Mr. Jaca was the adoptive father of my great-great-grandmother Alejandrina (Lala). Mr. Jaca actually died in Rosario’s house. He had come from Spain–where he was born in the 1850’s according to census data. Rosario says he had come to the Americas fleeing a war in Spain.

In my previous ancestral blog, I was speculating that we had French ancestry. Rosario tells us that my ancestors Juan and Lala, his mother, “spoke French just as fluently as we’re speaking Spanish” in their household, and Rosario even remembered a few French words. Dominga (Lala’s mother, who was of pure African stock) arrived in Puerto Rico when Lala was eight years old from the Netherlands, according to Rosario (he used the word “Holanda“, or Holland), and Lala’s birth father came with them to work in the train tracks “in Arenales” (a neighborhood?). The French were building the railroad (“el ferrocarril“) in Puerto Rico–presumably to help with sugarcane harvesting and transporting–and hired him.

Dominga was a free Black woman and a “housekeeper” according to Rosario (“ama de llaves“), and when Lala’s father returned to Holland (leaving her some money), Mr. Jaca fell in love with Dominga and they had more children. He helped to raise Lala as if she was his own daughter. Rosario remembers Lala (Alejandrina was her birth name), and says she was very black and had a very big behind (“era bien prieta y culona“).

I asked Rosario why, if her father was from Holland, Lala spoke French instead of Dutch, but he didn’t have an answer for that. Instead he took a detour into the issue of early nationalism in Puerto Rico, and said some things that cast history in an interesting light. Of course, the name we inherited from our mothers (as their children were not recognized by their fathers)–Lasalle–is French, and Dominga and Lala must have experienced French colonialism and acquired the French language wherever they acquired this name.

Uncle Rosario says that my great grandfather Juan spoke French, which he learned from his mother Lala, partly, in order that their overseers (who were so-called “nationalists”) would not understand what was being said (“para que los capataces no entendieran“–I looked up the archaic word capataz, it means “foreman” or “supervisor”). They spoke in code.

Why? The reason for this–Rosario says–is that our ancestors were against the nationalists, who were for the most part (perceived as?) Spanish. Keep in mind that, when Rosario was growing up, the United States had recently annexed Puerto Rico after the Spanish American War, and the Spaniards or loyalists on the island bred a resentment not too different from how some whites in the South still view the north. Nationalism, he says, was a Spanish invention, and it’s true that many on the island today still perceive the Puerto Rican independence movement as a white and Spanish ideology. There have been very few dark skinned nationalists on the island.

Rosario says that the Americans entered the island from Guánica (in the south), and that they were well received. He said: “los esperaron con ramos de flores” (= they waited for them with flowers). When the Americans arrived, the Spaniards feared that their exploitative schemes would be dismantled, which in fact they were. He says: “Y la industria y los ricos se fueron pa Lares” (= “Industry, and the rich, went to Lares”). Lares is the mountain town where the cry for independence had been heard in the late 1800’s. This was known as “el grito de Lares“, where the word “grito” also has the sort of nuance of “rebel yell”. Rosario said: “el Grito de Lares fue de los españoles, no fue de los puertorriqueños” (= the “Lares revolt was of the Spaniards, it was’t by the Puerto Ricans”).

There’s more: We must keep in mind that Dominga and Lala (our side of the family) were black, and that Lala’s son Juan (my great grandfather) was an illegitimate child. Rosario told me a story that sounded like the type of racism that took place in the American south long ago. Uncle Rosario told me that Sarito Jaca (half-brother of great-grandmother Lala’s Catalunya-born adoptive father) and “the Naga” (a local family?) were “españoles malos” (evil Spaniards) who orchestrated to take away the land that Lala would have inherited in the rural region of Guajataca. He says they even went as far as burning their house “y se fueron con los Rodríguez” (= “and they went with the Rodríguez”, which I suppose means that my ancestors had to move in with the Rodríguez family). They finally made our ancestors sign away their plot of land (“la finca“) in Guajataca, which Dominga had originally wanted to be Lala’s. It ended up going to the Jacas, who were my ancestors’ half-siblings or adoptive relatives by marriage to Dominga. This is a view of Lake Guajataca.

Many decades and a couple of generations after these historical facts, the Jaca family was involved in inheritance-related controversy again. I believe this was in the 80’s–my mother remembers this being in the news for weeks when it happened. One of the Jacas (nicknamed “Goyo”) killed his son in order to get money that his father (his son’s grandfather) had given him to inherit, as the boy had been raised by his grandfather.

It’s not my intention, in writing these storylines, to present American colonialism as a necessarily more benign form of colonialism than Spanish colonial oppression–in fact, in the past I wrote a book review on War Against All Puerto Ricans, which eloquently covers the evils of American imperialism and its effects on our people. I don’t really have any guarantees that Rosario’s stories were lacking in his own ideological nuance, or that the “holandés” (rather than the more obvious French or Belgian, considering the language they spoke) attribution to Lala’s father is accurate, but he seemed absolutely lucid and knowledgeable throughout our conversation and I feel that I have no reason to doubt his narrative. Plus, he is closer to the events than anyone else alive today in my family. He was also sweet, affectionate, and kind, and I will forever be thankful for his words.

We took a detour and drove through the mountain region of Guajataca that day, where my mother had many memories, and knew the people that had lived in many of the houses that we drove past. This is one of the pictures I took that day. We would have inherited land here if the Jacas had not had their way. Below, you can see Lake Guajataca.

Johnny – RIP

The house in this picture is where my great-grandparents Juan Lasalle and his wife Cola (Nicolasa) had lived, and where my orphaned mother spent some of her early years.

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die:
fair fame of one who has earned.

Havamal, Stanza 75

Above, I took a picture of a street that bears my grandfather’s name. Below, a street that bears his father’s name, the Juan Lasalle mentioned above. Back in the day, due to Catholic taboos against family planning, people had many more children than they could afford, as a result of which I have hundreds of cousins, most of whom I don’t know, and almost everyone in the area informally known as “el Sector Lasalle” in Quebradillas is related.

Unfortunately, just after the Day of the Dead the oldest one of my generation in the Lasalle clan died. He was actually named after my great grandfather: Juan Lasalle (we all knew him as Johnny) died in Louisiana shortly after receiving the visit of his sister and father. My aunt Abe has now buried two of his sons. He was 58. RIP. I took a picture of the street sign bearing great grandfather Juan Lasalle’s name.

As for the open question (brought up in the previous ancestry blog) on whether Sico (Francisco) Hernández was (old) Juan Lasalle’s brother and whether Juan Hernández was his father, I asked Rosario and he simply said he couldn’t tell me. As far as he knows, Juan’s father is a John Doe. He also repeated the anecdote that was shared by a cousin of my mother’s when I asked about this in our family’s Facebook page: women–particularly Black ones–were often raped in the haciendas back in the day.

I gathered a few more side-stories about uncles and rumored siblings of our ancestors, but I’ll end this blog here.

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” — George Bernard Shaw

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Travel Blog: Puerto Rico, the Land and Its Fruits

After my Key West vacation, I spent some days in Puerto Rico with family. This time didn’t feel like a vacation, as I didn’t do many of the things that a vacationer does. I spent time with family, and watched the movie Smallfoot–which I highly recommend, and is a great way to teach children the value of critical thinking and questioning consensus. For the most part, I helped my father to cultivate the land and ate locally available food.

Next to the entrance to my parents’ house, there is a field of yummy green sweet potatoes that grow in the Caribbean. The Taíno indians called them batatas, so that’s what we call them. The root is what’s harvested.

My father has plaintain and banana palm trees in the back of his house. This species is locally known as guineo morado. I didn’t know this is what bananas look like when they flower.

My parents have a breadfruit tree, and they also get breadfruits from my uncle who is a farmer in Utuado. I hadn’t eaten breadfruits in a long time and was eager to try my mother’s homemade boiled breadfruit after a long time away.

Breadfruits are nutritionally dense, being one of the few fruits that provide us with protein, and are versatile. They can be cooked like potatoes (fried, boiled, mashed, in breadfruit salad instead of potato salad, etc). If not consumed before it fully ripens, the breadfruit goes to waste–which is a shame for such a large, rich, and delicious food source. Therefore, what many in poor countries (like Haiti and Jamaica) have learned to do is to harvest it prior to this point, dry it, and turn it into a flour that can be used year-round in baking or cooking. For this reason, the breadfruit is known as a potential solution to world hunger. A single tree can produce dozens of large breadfruits every year.

Breadfruit originates in the Pacific, but has become a staple in many Caribbean islands. In Hawaii, the breadfruit is known as ulu and features in its own foundation myth as the body of the god Ku. In Jamaica, it’s often cooked in coconut milk and is a staple of the local Rastafarian dietary regime known as ital. In Puerto Rico, we keep it simple: we boil it with a bit of salt and serve it with olive oil, typically alongside fish (usually codfish) and other tubers (yams, malanga, chayote, sweet potatoes) and plantains or green bananas. Ripened bananas are eaten widely throughout the world, but green ones are also great boiled, mashed or fried. This way of serving green bananas, tubers, and roots is known as viandas. My mother and uncles say that the jíbaros (Puerto Ricans of 2+ generations ago) used to eat viandas daily for lunch, and rice and beans daily for dinner back in the day.

Above are the assembled tubers and green plantains used to make viandas. Below is what breadfruits look like on the inside. The central part of the fruit is usually not consumed. In the old days, this part was given to the pigs, and the rest of the fruit was cooked.

And this is what the plate of codfish and viandas looks like once served with an avocado. It’s a very refreshing meal with healthy fats from the avocado and olive oil. In India–where people go to great lengths to make vegetarian meals filling and satisfying–our vianda ingredients are often given a curry treatment. There are many other ways to cook breadfruits and the other ingredients here. It’s just that we like to keep things simple, and this unadorned method brings out the flavor in the tubers.

Traveling to Utuado

We went to Utuado (from the Taíno name Otoao, which refers to the mountainous terrain), where my father grew up. Central Puerto Rico is incredibly lush and mountainous. The air is fresh, and the soil fertile. The height, together with the breeze that caresses the mountains, makes the weather much cooler and more comfortable than down below. I really wanted to go to the Taíno Indian ceremonial grounds (“batey“) known as Caguana, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to go.

A highway was built a few decades ago that goes through the town from north to south. It saves the traveler a huge amount of travel time, as this would otherwise be a journey through curves. I used to always get dizzy, and sometimes nauseous, when as a child they drove me through the curves to see my grandmother. In order to build the highway, the engineers had to dynamite entire mountains. Here, you can see the drive through this highway, with the tall mountain rising on both sides.

Above is the river that runs behind my uncle’s (and also used to run behind my grandmother’s) house. Don’t let its meager size fool you! Sometimes, when it rains heavily or when hurricanes hit, it grows suddenly and takes many people and animals with it. During hurricane Maria, this river notoriously wrecked several bridges around town.

Puerto Rico is not a state but it sometimes almost passes for one. This is not a picture from PR. It’s actually one of the last pictures I took in Key West: I spotted the PR plate within a collage of state plates at a seafood restaurant.

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Travel Blog: the Pleasures of Key West

I just spent three full days in Key West and (like most people who visit) fell in love with the warm, friendly, picturesque town. The pastel colors reminded me of my Caribbean homeland of Borinquen, and much of the architecture also reminded me of either rural old Puerto Rican houses from the old days, or of oceanfront towns like gay-friendly El Poblado (aka Boquerón–google it if you want to see pictures!), in Cabo Rojo.

The Pleasures of Travel

Leaving the routine, the familiar, one’s comfort zone, initially can be uncomfortable, but in a place like Key West one quickly comes to appreciate why so many people who visited didn’t want to leave.

Mural

The Key West art scene is frequently ocean-inspired

The Key West art scene is frequently ocean-inspired. The locals take pride in being a tropical island, and in their Caribbean influence.

Parrot

Conch Republic

The true story of the Keys secession from the US is the foundation myth of the micronation known as the Conch Republic. It has also spawned souvenirs, silver coins, a flag, anthem, and many other cultural products.

Chicken

Birds are considered protected species. This includes chickens, and they are everywhere.

Also, there are no squirrels in the Keys–I suspect that they would not survive the large populations of osprey that we saw in the Keys and the Everglades–but iguanas have taken their niche.

Flamboyanes

I was surprised to see a house with two flamboyán trees up front (with very few flowers). The reason for my nostalgia: the Vega Baja, Puerto Rico house that I grew up in had a huge, beautiful flamboyán tree up front, which was cut by the next person who lived there. We were so sad to see the tree dead! It was part of the place and gave it its character. In folkloric and romantic Puerto Rican paintings depicting the old times, one would always see a flamboyán somewhere.

I was hoping to be able to enjoy a few shells of kava in the Keys but this kiosk didn’t open while I was there!

“Kava Makes You Happy”

At 90 miles to Cuba, KW has the southernmost point in the continental US, but the Cuban influence is not as strong here as it is in Miami. It still seeps into the history (José Martí, the liberator of Cuba, gave a famous speech from a Key West balcony), the art, and the food (I tried a variety of the Cuban sandwich and the cortadito–a particular way of serving coffee). Even the English name of the island is a bad yet convenient translation of the island’s Spanish name: Cayo Hueso (Bone Isle).

“Hippies Use Back Door”

The Pleasure of Food

Every island has its own flavor(s), and key lime is Key West’s flavor. At my neighbor’s insistence, I tried the famous local key lime pie. It was yummy! There was something familiar about it. I’m sure I’ve tried it before in candy or shaved ice or some other tropical delicacy.

I also tried a local delicacy known as conch fritters, as well as oysters, breaded shrimp, etc.

The Pleasures of Friendship & Conversation

My roommate and travel partner for the trip had been my friend and neighbor who is an economist. The trip deepened our friendship and, more than once, we found ourselves expressing our mutual appreciation and how happy we were to be doing this together. We flew to Miami and took a van from there, and later another van back to the Miami Airport.

On the way back, we discussed politics and philosophy. I explained some of the basic principles of Epicurean philosophy. He discussed with me some of the very sound ideas that he has for education reform.

His initial argument is that capitalism requires both carrots and sticks, and that socialist policies (like Bernie’s universal education idea) are often lacking the stick component. He says that students who get tax money toward their education should have, say 80% of their educational debt erased if they graduate with a 3.5 GPA (100% if they graduate with a 4.0 GPA), but only in certain majors/professions where the government is likely to get the money back in future taxes. This would also address the shortage of US professionals in certain fields.

Key West was an unforgettable experience. If you go, don’t forget to try the key lime pie and conch fritters!

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Happy Twentieth! Lila: Reclaiming Religion as Pleasure

Philosophy Now has published yet another intro to Epicurean philosophy that confuses the end (pleasant living) for sedation or painlessness (disguised as ataraxia, which is a condition that leads to pleasant living). The article is titled The Ultimate Tranquilizer, and has prompted a strong reaction in defense of pleasure by some Epicureans (see this post in the Epicurean Friends forum).

Also, read The Return to Lucretius II, and the last two parts of Andrew James Brown’s Epicurean reflections–on friendship and on the Garden’s community. And one of our members brought up a video titled The Case Against the Jedi Order, which critiques what Nietzsche called “the self-tyranny of the Stoics” and discusses how it tore apart the Jedi Order.

Aeon Magazine published a piece arguing that religion is about emotion regulation, and encourages atheists and humanists to see religion as the product of evolution and as fulfilling a role different from that of science. The piece–and its requirement that we separate religion’s utility from its dangers–reminded me Raoul Vaneigem’s brilliant book On the Inhumanity of Religion, which seems to indict religion as an absolute evil, but in actuality what it does is point the finger at innocent, primitive spirituality as a form of play that was later coopted and corrupted by the powerful.

Religious play is actually an established practice in Hinduism, where it is known as lila. Lila is the game that deity plays, or the participatory game that we play when we engage in religious activity or tell religious stories. Lila is used to describe true religious experience as blissful, joyful. It is also used cosmologically, where the ultimate nature of reality is described as spontaneous and playful.

For instance, the love story between Krishna and Radha–which is meant to model the love between deity and devotee–is a lila, or a game of love. When Krishna dances with Radha and the gopis (cow-girls) in Vrindavan, this is called rasa lila. The divine epic of Ramayana is understood as a divine theatrical play as well, one that depicts the eternal relationship between deity (Lord Rama, a divine incarnation who acts as hero and savior) and devotee (Sita, his wife who is stolen away by a demonic King). All the relations in the epic are characterized by all the complexities of any relationship: youthful discovery, longing of lovers, loyalty between brothers, familial treachery, yearning, mutual responsibilities, friendship, loss, redemption, etc. And so it is a vast contemplation on how to relate to others.

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Lord Krishna as a child with his siblings

Then there is the cult of the infant Krishna–an avatar, or incarnation of God–which uses deities that are often treated as dolls by children. Hindu children worship the infant Krishna in his form of Jagannatha together with his sister Subhadra and his brother Balaram. They learn stories of how the three divine siblings played in Vrindavan, participate in their games, and lead the chariot with the deities in procession with a cord. All of these activities look and feel like children playing, but they are pious activities through which children learn to associate playfully with Sri Krishna. Imagine if there was a similar Christmas tradition of children going into a stylized manger and playing hide-and-seek and other games with baby Jesus, and you get the idea.

There are many more examples of lila in Hinduism. Any kind of pretend play is lila. The point is that Hindus, when they engage in these pious activities, are not taking themselves seriously. This sets them apart from other, more austere and sober religions like some forms of non-Sufi Islam, which ban music, dancing, and other joyful activities as impious. According to this Mahavidya article on Lila,

in Hinduism, God is playful. Like a child building sand castles on the beach, God creates the world and destroys it again. God plays with his (or her) devotees, sometimes like a lover, sometimes like a mother with her children, sometimes like an actor in a play …

Lila … demonstrate(s a) positive relationship to religion.

I know that many who read the Aeon article will likely not agree with all of its premises. However, religion will not disappear from society, and the terrorism, bigotry, and predatory behavior that goes on in some religions raises many questions about the role of religion in human societies, how its dangers might be neutralized and what a healthy religion might look like. Lila helps to separate the dangerous or useless aspects of religion from its utility, and Epicurean philosophy clearly requires us to take a second look at religion and to reassess it, perhaps even reform it, purged from popular folklore. Here’s what Epicurus said in his Epistle to Menoeceus on this matter:

Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly impious, for the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions.

Further Reading:

Epicurean sources on piety and autarchy

The Goal of True Spiritual Practice: Pure, Effortless Pleasure

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Cassava Bread: Cultural and Culinary Notes

I didn’t delve much into my Taíno heritage in my ancestral storylines piece, but at over 10% Native American, I’m much more credibly aboriginal than Elizabeth Warren! 🙂 The Taínos worshiped deities known as the cemí (somewhat like the kami of the Japanese Shinto faith, they’re linked to nature and ancestors). The Great Spirit was known as Yaya, which I suspect may have been the true inspiration for God’s name in the Rastafarian religion (Jah), rather than the Biblical IHVH. Jamaican Rastas have an ethical code that requires them to live according to nature, including a dietary lifestyle that avoids processed foods known as the ital diet (for vital). This closeness to nature strikes me more as an aboriginal spiritual tradition than a Biblical one.

The main cemí that was close to the people was, however, Yokahú–the spirit (hoo) of yucca (cassava root). He’s also known as Yukiyú, as this cemí spirit is believed to sit atop the peak of the El Yunque mountain. This is the National Rainforest of the Caribbean, and was the most sacred natural site to the Taínos. Whenever a hurricane visited from the east, it was this easternmost mountain that confronted Hurikán (=”the Spirit of the Great Winds”) and defended the island, protecting it from the fierceness of this evil cemí. And so Yukiyú is understood as the protector-cemí of all the Boricuas in the Taíno mythical cycle.

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The yucca tubers, or roots of the cassava plant, being harvested.

The importance of this cassava tuber and vegetable is considerable for many reasons, in addition to being the embodiment of the spirit of the great Taíno cemí. The Caribbean was prone to hurricanes, which–as we saw with the post-apocalyptic reality of Hurricane María last year–can strip entire islands of greenery within a few hours. As a result of this, those who had cassava plants in their conucos (Taíno gardens) were far more able to find food and survive after a big hurricane, since the tuber (root) of the plant is the main source of nutrition. While most of the plant above the soil was destroyed in the storm, the root was likely to remain. Yuca (the Taíno name for cassava) was so central to the Taínos that their villages were known as yucayekes (cassava fields). They dried the tuber and made a bread from it known as casabe, and also fermented it and made a beer from it known as chicha.

In recent years, cassava has gained popularity in North America thanks to the dietary fad known as the Paleo diet, which seeks to imitate the dietary lifestyle from the hundreds of thousands of years prior to the discovery of agriculture. Paleo dieters avoid grain, and instead make bread from roots like the cassava. The leaves of the plant are also puréed and consumed, mainly in stews and in African cuisine. I love yucca so much that I’ve learned to make these stews, and by now they’ve become staples in my kitchen.

My neighbor has been exploring the Paleo dietary lifestyle, and together we recently made cassava bread using cassava flour that is available online. In the past, I’ve made cassava bread the hard way, by grating cassava, salting it, sometimes adding spices (like a hot chili that grows in the Caribbean known as ají), and then putting the patty on the skillet with a bit of oil. Cassava blends great with garlic, so I frequently made garlic bread with it.

The cassava bread we made resembles more of a roti from East Indian cuisine than a tortilla from Mexican cuisine, in that it was thicker and would fill with bubbles of air when cooking. It had the beautiful aroma of warm yucca. I’ve discovered that the secret to good cassava naan is to use very hot water when mixing the dough, and to make sure the skillet is very hot before placing the bread in it. The recipe I followed is from Cotter Crunch. Here are pictures of it.

Trivia: the English word barbeque actually originates in a word from the Taíno language, barbacoa. It was they who gave us the cherished tradition of the BBQ. The type of flat oven that the Taínos used when cooking was known as a burén. Any skillet, or even a wok, can be used as a burén today.

Like most bread or crackers, cassava naan pairs beautifully with cheese. Below are tacos that I made with the cassava bread, using refried beans and vegan meat both seasoned with chipotle sauce.

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Happy Birthday, Sting!

See the source imageSting–whose birthday is today–is a versatile artist. He even recorded a CD in Spanish and Portuguese, beautifully sang the Hare Krishna mahamantra with Jai Uttal, and entered the science-fiction mythology of the Duniverse when he incarnated the feisty nephew of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the film Dune, for which a sequel or remake is being planned.

Every Breath You Take is probably the most well-known song from his days as lead singer for The Police. Other songs he’s known for are If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, Desert Rose, Fortress Around Your Heart, and Englishman In New Yorkwhich was dedicated to the legendary and witty gay icon Quentin Crisp. The song’s lyrics contain a rehashing of Epicurean Principal Doctrine 39:

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than a license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

But in my view, Sting’s best song ever was in the reggae tradition: Wrapped Around Your Finger.

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On the Utility of Blasphemy and Shame

Today is the International Blasphemy Rights Day. When I read the Satanic Bible, I remember having a strong reaction when I read the few truly blasphemous verses. I left the Catholic Church of my upbringing in 1991, but the blasphemous hues of the Satanic Bible still moved me and shocked me. I wasn’t morally or intellectually opposed to them–I was merely not used to content of this sort. But I can see how cathartic they can be for someone who is in the initial stages of struggling to get away from forced indoctrination, and I can’t deny the potentially therapeutic properties of blasphemy in cases where people are recovering from religion and unburdening themselves from unwarranted religious fears and shame. There are also issues related to free speech and religious privilege that, for many people, add political and societal utility to the act of blaspheming.

Blasphemy can be a form of parrhesia, or frank criticism, and so can be used to therapeutically rid ourselves of unwarranted fears and shame, and of opinions that are vestiges of a worldview that is not based on the study of nature. But in Epicurean philosophy, we also see a role for shame in human society.

Do nothing in your life that will cause you to fear if it is discovered by your neighbor. – Epicurus in Vatican Saying 70

The Epicurus quote makes a case for the utility and naturalness of shame, and in our Epicurean reasonings on Confucius, we evaluated the role of shame and of role models in any non-supernatural system of morality.

Religious tyrants will attempt to require our shame where it is unwarranted, and will frequently not experience shame in themselves when warranted–particularly if they’re fundamentalists or theocrats who think their religious privilege is above the law.

So here is the central moral question: when is shame warranted and when is it not warranted? When is blasphemy warranted, and when is it not? Whenever both are warranted, how do we balance them? The advantage and disadvantage of both has to be measured against one’s strongly-held convictions, the social contract, the laws, a person’s upbringing, and reliance on members of the community that may or may not share our views.

To conclude: The balancing act in our hedonic calculus rests on the utility and value we attribute to both shame and blasphemy. Here is a passage from the Satanic Bible on the moral necessity of blasphemy:

Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted–no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy!

Whenever, therefore, a lie has built unto itself a throne, let it be assailed without pity and without regret …

The most dangerous of all enthroned lies is the holy, the sanctified, the privileged lie–the lie everyone believes to be a model truth. It is the fruitful mother of all other popular errors and delusions. It is a hydra-headed tree of unreason with a thousand roots. It is a social cancer!

Further Reading:

Atheism 2.1: the Tension Between Atheist Politics and Ataraxia

Swinish Herds and Pastafarians: Comedy as an Ideological Weapon

Reasonings About Confucius’ Analects

 

 

 

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