Sunday, March 31, 2013

Habemus Papum?

     Habemus Papam. I am told I must rejoice. So why this profound malaise? Shall I regale you, my fellow faithful, with my tale of woes? On second thought, let me just share with you my compact history of the recent Papacy; call it my Litany of the Three.
     In his book "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII" (NY: Viking, 1999), John Cornwell tells us how Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, accommodated our Church to Hitler's murderous Third Reich and the Holocaust--in spite of repeated entreaties from the German bishops to come out in public against the unfolding abomination. Hitler was nominally an Austrian Catholic. Should Pope Pius have had the moral gumption to ex-communicate him? For his utter moral blindness, this Infallible of my long-lost childhood was rewarded with canonization by a pair of successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
     Next, the now-retired Joseph Ratzinger: In his youth, a member of the Hitlerjugend. Did he object? Resist? Was imitatio Christi too much? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. In 1968, on the Theology faculty of Eberhard Karls University in Tubingen, this paragon of Christian orthodoxy came out against the striking students and many of his own colleagues, including Fr. Hans Kung, famed theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council--who had recommended him for the post. The revolution that shaped my generation this side of the Atlantic was anathema to this strict dogmatic.
In his next incarnation as head of the Munich diocese, Archbishop Ratzinger was complicit in hush-hushing priestly child-abuse in his diocese. Promoted to the Curia, Cardinal Ratzinger took over the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--a.k.a. The Holy Office, a.k.a. The Inquisition. There he proceeded to muzzle his old colleague Fr. Kung, removing him from teaching Theology at Tubingen. More recently as Pope Benedict XVI, he helped our very own Cardinal Timothy Dolan muzzle the American nuns, whose mortal sin was taking Christ's Gospel of love, charity and inclusivity too seriously. His lasting legacy, we are told, is berating European and American Catholics for exercising, too exuberantly, it seems, our God-given rationality.
     Just for comparison: On March 12, 2013, the NY Times reported the passing of the last living Valkyre conspirator, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist. Scion of protestant East-Prussian landed gentry, namesake of the illustrious novelist Heinrich von Kleist, and son of the anti-Hitler resistance hero Ewald von Kleist, this 22-year-old lieutenant in the German Army was recruited by Col. Calus von Stauffenberg in 1945 to join the Valkyre plot. Only the steadfast refusal of von Kleist's co-conspirators to disclose his name under torture saved his life. Joseph Ratzinger, by then 17, was out of the the Hitlerjugend and into the Waffen SS.
     And now, Jorge Mario Bergoglio: anti-women, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception and a "humble" Jesuit to boot, reigning as Pope Francis I. According to the Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitzky ("El Silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA", Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005), as Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina during La Guerra Sucia Fr. Bergoglio accommodated to the military dictatorship, refraining from either protesting the arrest of or protecting two fellow Jesuits who were snatched and incarcerated in the infamous Naval torture camp. Their sin? Not accommodating like their Superior; that and their ardent belief in Christ's ministry to the poor, also known as Liberation Theology.
     So enlighten me, my fellow faithful, what exactly am I to rejoice in? The recurrent moral blindness of our Papacy? Their retrograde rejection of the world we live in? Their insistence on repressive hierarchic control? Their repeated accommodation to murderous "conservative" regimes? Their 335AD Nicea model of servility to mundane Imperial powers? Shall I, per chance, rejoice in Fr. Tomás de Torquemada, my illustrious namesake who burned my kin at the stake for being mere conversos? Or in that other Francis, the rapacious Church-supported Generalísimo Fransisco Franco?
     For you see, I take my Catholic Faith dead serious. I believe in Christ's gospel, and have always cleaved to this hopeless romantic idea that The Body of Christ were us, the flock in the pews. To top it all, my favorite religious order is still the Society of Jesus. But how can this "humble" Jesuit hold spiritual sway over me, when all I see is--here I had better revert to my native tongue and his--nomás que otro lobo en piel de oveja? Shall I acquiesce to his triumph of style over substance? Is that what our Savior would have done?

Tomás Givón
Ignacio, Colorado

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Guns and Freedom

     In a farewell salvo following his forcible retirement (Durango Herald 1-1-13), State Representative J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, my hometown, offered to continue the good fight on our collective behalf. Having abused his elected opponent one last time, he then exhorted us: "...We must also continue to fight for the right to own guns to protect ourselves from the tyranny of government, or from invasion by another country..." (emphases added). No hunting. No defense of hearth and home.
     J. Paul is of course not alone in his zeal to defend our sacred constitutional rights. In a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) offered the following historiography concerning our right to possess weapons like M-4 or AR-5: "...Well, for the same reason George Washington said: a free people is an armed people. It insures against tyranny of the government. If they know the biggest army is the American people, then you don't have the tyranny that came from King George..." (emphases added).
     By my own reckoning, the last time we took arms against a foreign invader was 1812. The last time a portion of our population took arms against our own government was 1861. Yet for the insurrectionist fringe of J. Paul Brown and Rep. Gohmert, the crux of the Second Amendment rests in an apocalyptic vision of overthrowing the freely elected government of the Republic by force of arms. Just in case these seditious designs are not transparent enough, the NRA's kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, have been muttering darkly about "Resorting to Second Amendment Remedies" against the depredations of the Affordable Care Act; while a latter-day apocalyptic doomsday cult is building a medieval Citadel for armed resistance in the Idaho Panhandle.
     The Second Amendment to our Constitution, as it turns out, has a clear history that belies latter-day revisionism. Its very language offers the first hint: "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". Given the grammar of adverbial clauses in 18th Century English, the only possible interpretation of the first clause of the Second Amendment is: "Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state...". As any grammarian will tell you, "because" clauses, in English as in any other language, are presupposed, i.e. taken for granted; they supply the justification for the asserted main clause that follows. The current interpretation by our 'Originalist' Supreme Court notwithstanding, the Second Amendment is thus about communally- regulated armed militias.
     But why militias? An immense amount of past research on this issue was summarized in an article by Carl T. Bogus (UC Davis Law Review, vol. 31, 1998). In the 18th Century, state militias were primarily the preoccupation of the South, where they were raised to suppress recurrent slave rebellions. In his objections to the section of the Constitution that vested war powers in Congress (except in case of foreign invasion), Patrick Henry, during the deliberations of the Virginia Convention in Richmond in June 1788, spelled out this fear rather explicitly: "...Not domestic insurrection, but war. If the country may be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded..." (emphases added).
     In the context of mounting Southern fears that the North harbored abolitionist intents, and that Washington's standing army would supplant state-sanctioned slave-patrol militias, the Virginia Convention promulgated the first version of what eventually became the Second Amendment: "...That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state..."
     Latter-day revisionist historiography about militias defending us against foreign invaders, or against the coercive power of a democratically elected Federal government, is largely a post-Civil-War Southern concoction. Or as Carl Bogus notes: "...The militia was first and last protection from the omnipresent threat of slave insurrection and vengeance..." (emphases added).
     At the outset of the War of Independence, the hastily-gathered militias indeed played an important role. But by the end of 1776, American fields commanders and politicians alike conceded the ineffectuality of the ill-trained, undisciplined, desertion-plagued militias. As historian Charles Royster observes: "...One year's experience convinced most American officials that they needed a standing army to fight the war...". In a letter to Congress at the waning weeks of 1776, George Washington lamented: "...The militias...are dismayed, intractable and impatient to return home. Great numbers have gone off, in some instances by whole regiments...".
     It is this sobering experience with the militias that prompted Alexander Hamilton to write: "...The project of disciplining all militias is as futile as it would be injurious if it were capable of being carried into execution...The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate size, upon such principles as will really fit it for service in case of need..." (Federalist Papers, no. 29).
     A friend of mine--salt of the earth, a good ol' boy from down South who served his country in Nam--told me before the last election: "Tom, we are well armed. If Obama is re-elected, there will be blood in the streets". Hard as I rack my poor ol' brain, what I think my friend meant, and what J. Paul and his insurrectionist cohorts mean, is this: "If our candidate wins, peace and quiet will prevail; out of the goodness of our heart, we might let you losers parade peacefully in the street and write bitter editorials. But if your candidate wins, there'll be blood". It is not exactly an accident that my friend and his Freedom Works cohorts keep telling us that "Democracy Sucks". In a way, it does, being a rather messy two-way street.
     The absurdist hue of the Colorado gun debates is hard to miss. In a recent report (Durango Herald, 2-14-13), Joe Hanel quoted the new Speaker of the Colorado House, Mark Ferrandino: "...Since I started here, I think I have always known that members had guns on the floor...". Who exactly was J. Paul Brown going to defend himself against on the State House floor? Our coercive elected government? Foreign invaders?
     In another report by Joe Hanel (Durango Herald 2-13-13), the absurdity is further amplified by the shameful saga of concealed guns on the CU-Boulder campus. Where exactly, pray, will CU students and faculty use their guns? In bickering about the Dead Sea Scrolls being sent to us by aliens from outer space? In tenure-denial vendettas? To resolve failed love affairs? Avenge a C- grade? Reinstate a rejected dissertations? Hasn't anyone up in Denver heard of Chris Dorner and his vengeful California saga?
     I had better own up--I don't have the magic bullet, pun intended. So I pass the following to you without comment. The very same day of the Newtown massacre (Dec. 14th), the NY Times reported an eerily similar incident in China. A deranged man attacked a school, injuring twenty- one children. Not a single one died. How come? He attacked them with a knife.
     At the bottom of our communal predicament is neither the type of guns we may license, nor the ammo clips, nor universal background checks. What this raging cacophony is all about is the kind of society we are and would like to be. Ruled by the courts of--impartial, fair, just--law, or down the barrel of a gun? Governed by replaceable elected representatives or by anonymous lobbies of the rich and powerful and entitled? Ballots or bullets? As a veteran and life-long gun owner, I have learned to my sorrow, occasionally from close quarters, what guns can do to people. I remember all too well the Old Testament's atavistic injunction: "He who comes to kill you, kill them first". But I am also mindful of Christ's haunting query: "What profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?"

Post Script:
     After circulating an early version of this article to an e-list of 100-odd people, I received an avalanche of responses, most of them supportive but some bitterly chagrined. In an obvious way, these responses reflect the extreme polarization of the country at large. What strikes me most about this unholy mess we have gotten ourselves into is how edgy and passionate everybody seems to be; so much so that W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" fairly leap to mind, most emphatically these two lines that ring as scary and prophetic now as they must have in 1921:

"...The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity..."
Whichever side of the issue one falls on, it would behoove us all to lower the decibel level, and to remember that, just maybe still, we are all in it together. Perhaps also, that we are our brothers' keepers. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Requiem to a Dumb Blonde

     I expect everybody's had their own TK, pending on when they met her and which 'her' it was they met. My own take on TK harkens back to the spring of 1970, my first year on the faculty at UCLA after 10 years as a perennial grad-student. I was walking on the beach in Venice zonked out of my gourd on a sweet batch of acid, when I bumped into this dumb-blonde-looking chick in jeans and tight sweater--she was practically spilling out of it and there was lots to spill--sitting at an open- air hippie café right on the boardwalk. We wound up having breakfast and it was a mind-blower, I couldn't tell for sure whether it was the acid or the lady was funning me.
     She said she had just quit her tenure-track job in philosophy at U Mizou in Columbia to do another PhD in psych at UCLA. Said she grew up in KC, said her dissertation was on C.S. Peirce, a rare in-group specialty in those days. It turned out she knew about my teacher-cum-nemesis Noam Chomsky, with whom I had had growing issues ever since the summer of 1966. She explained, eyes sparkling benevolently, how it was all in the faulty epistemology--there were not just the two extremes, Aristotle and Plato (or Descartes, Chomsky's stand-in for Plato). There was also the middle way--pragmatics, Kant and Peirce. That Swede-Suomi dumb blonde blew my mind sky high right there and then.
     The 1960s being what they were, we wound up in bed. Tho not before I got her high on the weed. Her eyes went double-wide, she turned into an innocent child, this dumb blonde on her way to a double PhD. She proceeded to tell me about Kara, whom I soon met and fell in love with. And Tommy, from whom she had just split. His dissertation, she said, was on Bertrand Russell, another heavyweight that took me years to fathom. She didn't believe in non-amicable separation, she said; Tommy was a dear friend, she was working on him to quit his post in Missouri and join the revolution in LA. The sixties, just ended, were still in full bloom in Middle America. California was an irresistible magnet, siphoning in the restless souls of Middle America, who were quitting their safe havens in droves to flock to the Coast. My ex had split to Aspen with my boy Christopher, I was just starting my life-long commute between the Coast and the Rockies.
     She also told me about her dad and Aila, whom I met years later. Her dad was an old-line Marxist and labor organizer, harkening back to the old country and its Syndicalist tradition. No way of understanding TK's politics without remembering her dad. And Aila was a sweetheart, I could see her smile on Kara's lips. Forty years later I finally met another Aila right here in Colorado. Boy do I love those Finnish vowels.
     Before I knew it, she dragged me to a meeting of a wild underground, the Elephant Theory Group, where I met more crazy people who turned my intellectual life upside down forever. Ed Sadalla, Kalyn Roberts, his artist wife Ruthie, bearded Jay Dowling. We met at Kalyn's house two blocks from my shack on Beverly Avenue in Ocean Park. At the start of each meeting we smoked the sacrament, Kalyn being a grand connoisseur. Of whiskey too, alas. Everything was on the table--psychology, philosophy, language, art, life--no topic was out of bounds and relevance was never an issue . As TK explained, preparing me for the shock, relevance was just another hobgoblin of small minds.
     Of course, it was too good to last. Kalyn drank himself out of tenure. Like most perfectionists, he had a serious writer's block. We did an experiment together; sweet results, iffy stats, but he couldn't write up his part. It set a life-long pattern for my collaboration with psychologists--I would design the language stimuli, their RAs would run the experiments, do the stats. The stimuli were always too complex, it turned out, and the stats barely borderline. No reputable editor, I was patiently told, would publish results with such ungainly stats. Then Jay decamped, then Ed, to greener pastures in Arizona. Now I was spending more and more time in Colorado, between the ranch on the Rez and Christopher in Aspen.
     TK puzzled us most with her move to Rand and applied research. Here was a prime, supple theoretical mind who could write her ticket to a top academic job anywhere, burying herself in boring real-world issues. What a waste of a mind, we thought. But she said she'd had enough of theory, she wanted to do something meaningful in the real-world. Her father's voice speaking.
     Many a time when, after a heroic struggle, I came to her with a conceptual epiphany, she smiled sweetly: "Oh, I was wondering how long it would take you". She wasn't beyond arrogance, a professional hazzard, but was incredibly sweet about it.
     She had a most generous idea about love: share and share alike. This was before she came to terms, reluctantly, with how smaller minds could inflict spectacular collateral damage in the fields of Eros. When we were together, we struggled mightily over her amatory inclusivity. I thought she toothe Sixtiemuch too literally.  She said I was having a hard time with my macho genes. Eventually I conceded, writing an extravagant note to her--she never saw it--in my copy of Alan Watts' "Nature, Man and Woman". It was excised years later, alas. It turned out we were both right, but by then I was mostly away, in Colorado and then Oregon.
     We kept lamenting the distance but never lost touch. As with my other Sixties friends, scattered all over the map, the bond never snapped. Tommy came over for our wedding on the ranch in 1978 with his Hawaii lily, Winnie, joining the Yin-Yang circle of witnesses under the perfectly-round juniper tree.      As with Ed, rare reunions merely reaffirmed that we had never parted. Two weeks before TK's shocking demise, she sent me a note about my latest novel "Downfall of a Jesuit", (a lurid sex-scandal in 18th-Century France). She loved it, she said, it reminded her of her Medievalist training, Aquinas, Abelard, Occam et al. She was just ready to trade it to Tommy for my Rez novel "Blood".
     I've never left, TK. You haven't either. We had a lot of forgivable illusions in the Sixties, we thoughtweecoulld change the world, but the world turned out to be most recalcitrant. At the very least, tho, we may have managed to change ourselves. And we may have left a lasting sediment, I see the spark in our kids' eyes--Kara and Chris and Nate and Jed Karim. Just enough so that the world may be a bit easier to bear; and that the words of our romantic prophets may still resound acrosthland, Bobby's "Love is all there is, it makes the world go round"; and Paul's "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make". I still take this silly axiom quite literally. I thought you did too, TK.

Tom Givón
White Cloud Ranch Ignacio, Colorado (February 2013)