May 14, 2009

Briefly, on Music

I want you to think about music. Music in general and any music or song or artist that has stopped you at some point; a melody that caught you, sent chills up your spine and given you an indescribable sense of something so profound, so totally divorced from and eclipsing the subject matter or theme or theatrics or messages or morals of the artist, that it is an experience bordering on the divine, a resonance with the universe catalyzed by external harmonies. I cannot imagine the most unrepentant solipsist, the most cynical nihilist, the most coldly logical atheist being unable to feel this effect which music has always been capable of impressing upon the human consciousness. Music has throughout our history been our balm in times of darkness and our most direct method of shouting our thanks to creation.
But so it is for most things under the sun; today’s ubiquitous technology is yesteryears dream, the sorcery of a dead age. Our cave-dwelling fathers crouched in terror and awe at the spectacle of the lightning storm, imagining vast powerful beings waging cosmic and inscrutable wars. They, in their pioneering innocence and open-eyed wonder, experienced in every phenomenon that same sense of the grand incomprehensible span of creation. So now today we have conquered the night, and caged lightning illuminates the pages we read; while the summer storm has perhaps lost none of its terror for some, it has been exposed, denuded of much of its magic and wonder. So we attempt to do with all our mysteries, all the things which catch us and show us a brief glimpse, behind the scenes, of the life-slick clockwork sorcery which drives our world and us.
It has all been done to music. In the background of every age of our species, running beneath every story any person has enacted here on this brief, tiny stage, there has been music; first heard in the raised voices of primate priests, intensified and heightened by the instruments of our ingenuity, we have been singing with our mouths or our hands since first we had either, and still we have not lost the sense of the infinite wonder of the universe engendered in us by this religion of harmonies.


Feb 9, 2009

The Edge of a Knife

A lot of Barack Obama's presidential campaign was concerned with transparency in government. Indeed the campaign websites made no bones when it said "“Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them . . . as president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”

According to Politico 44, the President has a bill-signing scheduled this coming Wednesday, though there has yet to be a House vote. To the author at Politico, this means he's broken his campaign promise. What I'm puzzled by is the lack of dialogue, on either side of the table, concerning who decides, and how it is decided, what constitutes emergency versus non-emergency bills. Is it at the President's discretion? Does he get advised by a panel we've yet to hear of? Or will he simply sign things and gauge America's reaction? Can there even BE an issue we can, in our current situation, classify as a "non-emergency?" Are not all the crises that surround us today really just one large complex crisis?
Mr. Obama is in a pretty tight spot. He is one of the rare individuals who has come to power at the edge of what will likely be a total paradigm shift for this culture. As is often the case, such a shift has brought us to all but the brink of collapse, and our president finds himself in the unenviable position of having to balance a need for immediate implementation of the changes he harped on for so long during his campaign with the transparency and accountability he seemed as dedicated to on the very same campaign.


Feb 6, 2009

Bailing out on TARP

CNNMoney is running an article today which reports that Goldman Sachs, as well as a few other companies, has decided it wants to give back the billions of dollars it received in government aid under TARP. The decision follows closely on the heels of President Obama's introduction of a policy which would put a cap on executive pay among companies who receive bailout money; a policy which does not, in fact, operate retroactively.

That fact is casting a shadow over Sach's decision. The general sentiment is that this move is an attempt on the part of Sachs (and banks in general), who are already in the doghouse with the american taxpayer in a big way, to distance themselves from the possibility of being caught up in any further government regulations. At the same time, some analysts are voicing doubt as to whether Goldman Sachs can even continue to fund their business without government aid.
Should struggling private companies be given the choice between aid and bankruptcy? My knee-jerk reaction is to say of course they can, provided they're actually able to pay back the full amount they were given. In such an instance, isn't the company that makes the decision the only one to face the negative consequences of such a decision? It really isn't as simple as that.
Banks, who are major agents of the flow of currency through our nation, are intricately tied to the health of our economy. It seems obvious to me that the sudden collapse of multiple banks would be disastrous not only for the economy, but more importantly for the general population of the nation. But this dependence is largely a manufactured thing; indeed our dependence upon currency as we understand it is itself an entirely manufactured thing. When private companies become so inextricably interwoven with the existence of a manufactured product which has become essential to the continuation of our economy, a product which at the same time depends entirely upon the system which those private companies perpetuate, a system which is itself a large portion of the structure which holds up our nation, the individuals who make up those companies cease to be entirely private citizens. They become caretakers of the economic system which they are helping to manipulate and (hopefully) stimulate to the benefit of the entire nation and ALL the individuals that make up that nation. It seems to me that this concept is the very thing that has been forgotten.
In the face of all this, President Obama's approach seems to be aimed at temporarily bolstering a sinking ship in an attempt to provide enough time for meaningful, long term retrofitting. The unprecedented size of the buoys the president has proposed is a good indication of just how serious the problem is, and just how serious he is about how long it could take to fix the problem. His reaction to the actions of companies caught up in the need for aide, particularly the banks that are largely blamed for the bulk of our nations financial woes, is an encouraging indication that our president has NOT forgotten that our national financial system is inextricably beholden to the people who prop it up: John and Jane Doe.
So should the banks be allowed to implode? Probably not, at least not immediately. While it's entirely possible (and indeed seems increasingly likely) that an entirely new economic system must be implemented to safeguard the survival of our nation, the banks and other currency-concerned systems are all we have at the moment, and to let them go would be to let the cohesion of our nation fade, an event that would have disastrous ramifications for the only people whose well-being the nation should be concerned with: The People.


Sep 26, 2007

Notes & Conversations on Atheism

Originally post from by gonzo_md. Post has been edited for context

(Written by someone named Dorothy Oosterman on Facebook, original context unknown:

10. You vigorously deny the existence of God, yet you frequently blame Him for all the "evils" in the world, all the natural disasters, and everything else under the sun that is wrong in modern society.

9. You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when creationists say that people were created in the image and likeness of God, but you have no problem with the evolutionist claim that we all evolved from slime by a cosmic accident.

8. You criticize fundamental Christians who believe the Bible, and say that it can't possibly be true because it's just a book written by mere men, yet you never question any of Darwin's writings or Richard Dawkins' books.

7. You can't seem to understand the primary differences between fundamental Muslims and fundamental Christians (hint: strap-on TNT. Plus - Muhammad says, “kill innocent people and yourself if you love me.” Jesus Christ said, “I’ll die for you because I love you”).

6. You say the Bible is full of fairytales and fables, yet you believe all life forms including plants, trees, insects, birds, fish, reptiles and mammals evolved from one species into another - As if evolution isn’t the biggest fairytale of them all.

5. You laugh at the Supernatural, even though scientists have calculated the odds of life forming by natural processes to be estimated less than 1 chance in 10 to the 40,ooo power – But you find nothing wrong with believing that billions of years full of random mutations would result in the impossible.

4. You accuse fundamental Christians of being intolerant, judgmental and hateful, while you foam at the mouth calling them freaking lunatics, ignorant, weak-minded, stupid fundies, and hateful bigots.

3. You ignore scientific concepts like cause and effect, and you don't realize that a closed system can be defined however the observer wants, so you throw out technological phrases to try to ignore the implications of thermodynamics by saying the laws of physics are not set in stone.

2. While all evidence, logic and reasoning point to a Creator and absolute truth, you prefer to hide behind relativism and a theory of evolution which does not, in fact, describe the creation of the universe at all, or why concepts of good and evil or morality exist.

1. *Atheism fails to adequately explain the existence of eternal, unchanging truths, for it rejects the existence of an eternal unchanging mind. Atheism cannot offer man any eternal significance whatsoever. Temporary meaning in life is insufficient, for our accomplishments die with the death of the universe -- there is no ultimate purpose in a universe void of God. *


If you know me, you'll also know that I really don't have a problem with anyone believing whatever the hell they want to, but people like Oosterman are why I absolutely resent this "holier than thou" attitude some fundamentalists seem to project.

When I read number 7, my mouth actually dropped wide open in total shock.

I know there's still people out there like this, but it's always a particularly disturbing wake-up call to actually have a written reminder of it.


A reply by wesaturtle in response to my statement that atheism is a religion:

I disagree.

1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

I do not believe in a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and govenor of the universe. My set of beliefs, values and practices are not base don the teaching of a spiritual leader.


My response:

1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

I find the word "supernatural" meaningless in this context. The only requirement is for some consciousness of the "powers of creation," be they Bearded White Sky Daddies or complex mathematical equations or pure chance. The simple fact remains that SOMETHING obviously created "all this," and therefore there is some "power of creation," spirit of Jesus or electrical current or whatever. Religion, at its most basic level, is simply the conscious awareness of the existence of this "creative energy" or "creative power".

In this sense, atheism is indeed a form of religion. It just isn't a theistic one. I would argue that animist religions are atheistic in a similar way.

I realize fully that using terms like "creative energy" are cheesy in a sense. Much of this is inherent to this particular "mystical" type of religious idiom. I also believe that science is a religion, and I would use those words if I were a scientist.


Apr 5, 2007

Notes on Religion

Several of my contemporaries keep insisting I get to work on this whole religion thing, which I guess isn't a bad idea under the circumstances. I hesitate though, because I know I'll be misinterpreted at various points. Religion is a powerful thing in the human world, and a misinterpreted religion is one of the most dangerous things that can be. Our history as a culture speaks to that fact.

I'm not a prophet. I may use the word occasionally, out of humor or necessity in conversation, but prophets are bringers of law. I'm not here to tell everyone exactly how they should live. The idea is ridiculous. How would I know? There's no rule I can tell anyone that they can't figure out on their own, should they look in the right places. It's all right there in our biologogy and our history and our anthropology.
The problem is we've convinced ourselves that there ARE no rules to be found, either in ourselves or in the world at large. Instead we turn to the agents of supernal beings who, if they exist even remotely in the way we think they exist, do so in a manner so far removed from our own existence that any opinion they might have concerning right and wrong becomes laughably irrelevant.
Why should the rules be so hard for us to access, when apparantly every other successful species on the planet knows them and lives by them effortlessly? Ours is the only species plagued by addiction, suicid, and murder. Ours is the only culture that eradicates entire species systematically and regularly. Whey can't we figure it out? Why do we need someone to tell us? Again, it's because we've convince ourselves that:

-There are no rules for us to find.
-If there are rules, they don't apply to us. If this is true,
they're the ONLY natural rules that don't.
I won't go into details on these two points. Read Daniel Quinn

I think the most important thing is our concept of religion itself. Like our prophets are removed from us as humans, so our religions have a tendency to be removed from ou lives in a very practical way. Religion means taking time out of your day to express your faith. Why Does this suggest that you're being less faithful when not performing rites of some kind, or at least "thinking about your faith?" I see no reason that every moment can't be a religious moment. Is not even the most devout Christian the one who seems to live by their tenets most easily? Having to work at your faith means your faith is incomplete.
In societies as they exist today, all laws are extrapolated in some way from commonly held moral paradigms, just as all moral theory is ultimately extrapolated from degrees of mysticism (for the purposes of this argument, religion and mysticism or synonymous). If our laws are meant to express our moral delineation between right and wrong, which themselves are derived from our religions, why make any attempt to separate social theory from religious mandate? They both serve the same purpose.

-Religion is not what creates commonality. Commonality is a
fucntion of culture, and religion (modern use) is a narrowly
defined expression of the mystical aspects of a culture.
-No amount of religious dogma will cause individuals with no
social commonality to unite on a social level.

So the problem then becomes formulating a mode of religious or mystical expression that ignores (through inclusion) the details of widely variant cultural (and subcultural) paradigms. I think this will necessarily create a rather simple religious system, covering little more than the basics at its core.

-Religion is the recognition of the manner in which one attempts
to live in accordance with the Law of Life as it is embodied
in him and those things that affect him.
-Culture does not create religion. It creates modes of religious
-All religious operations are inherently magical. Not all magical
operations are inherently religious.
-There is no limit to Love, and Love's expression and bond cannot be
shaped by the laws of men.
-Love thy neighbor completely for no reason at all.
-Hate only for a reason. Hate is a tool, which, like unto a gun,
may consume the victim, the weilder, and the whole world.
-Each man is master in his own home, and his word is law. His
domain ceases outside the environment he immediately controls.

We of the Shierran faith refer to the higher power responsible for "all of this" as The Great Spirit. It was chosen over the thousands of other possible Names for its neutrality/ambiguity in so far as gender, disposition, etc. are concerned. Whether The Great Spirit is male, female, good, evil, or indeed even sentient at all, is to me completely irrelevant. Whether It is an abstract expression of mathematical possibilities or an omniscient, omnipresent, self-aware sky-daddy makes no difference because the effect are the same either way.
A large part of religious expression is concerned with making one's life as pleasant and meaningful as possible, in one way or another. What has created todays high number and diversity of religious systems is the haphazard and highly ethnocentric manner of their creation. Everyon insists that their description is the only true one, and either take up arms or sniff in contempt against non-believers.

All forms of religios expression are symbolic
All forms of mental apprehension are symbolic, in one way or another. All sentient beings relate and react to their world in a symbolic way. Religions are symbolic systems in which we attempt to understand, explain, and sometimes affect aspects of our world outside our immediate physical and mental control.

Here witness the "higher nature" of religious expression as opposed to scientific expression. This is not a qualitative statement. Religion expresses that which man can perceive incompletely. So science is the firmer expression of that knowledge, late in the coming but indispensable. The one takes us higher, the other secures our footing. And neither remains without the other.


Mar 29, 2007

A Time for Change

It is the unending curse of every population to one day require that the shackles of their governing bodies be thrown off. At some point in the life of every civilization there occurs the moment in which the people become victims of a government that has far outstripped not only its granted powers but its ability to move beyond a particular M.O. that is tyrannical toward its own people. Each generation is in possession of a longer line of hindsight than the last, yet somehow this comes as a surprise every time it happens.
We are now saddled under the yoke of a president we did not vote for, who now blatantly and consistently ignores the documented will of the people he is sworn to serve. Indeed, even the powers set in place to curb the abuse of power have become little more than advisors with the desire to replace the king. A pissing contest is now in session in which the American people have no say, yet are the direct victims of this power struggle.

Don't believe me?

In the National section of the LA Times for 3/29/07, this article ran concurrently with this article, and if that doesn't chill your blood, please reference the post in slashdot from spiedrazer regarding this conversation between our esteemed Attorney General and one Sen. Arlen Specter at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18 (conversation paraphrased courtesy of Danny Dorsey):

SPECTER: Where you have the Constitution having an explicit provision that the writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended except for rebellion or invasion, and you have the Supreme Court saying that habeas corpus rights apply to Guantanamo detainees — aliens in Guantanamo — after an elaborate discussion as to why, how can the statutory taking of habeas corpus — when there's an express constitutional provision that it can't be suspended, and an explicit Supreme Court holding that it applies to Guantanamo alien detainees.

GONZALES: A couple things, Senator. I believe that the Supreme Court case you're referring to dealt only with the statutory right to habeas, not the constitutional right to habeas.

SPECTER: Well, you're not right about that. It's plain on its face they are talking about the constitutional right to habeas corpus. They talk about habeas corpus being guaranteed by the Constitution, except in cases of an invasion or rebellion. They talk about John Runningmeade and the Magna Carta and the doctrine being imbedded in the Constitution.

GONZALES: Well, sir, the fact that they may have talked about the constitutional right to habeas doesn't mean that the decision dealt with that constitutional right to habeas.

SPECTER: When did you last read the case?

GONZALES: It has been a while, but I'll be happy to — I will go back and look at it.

SPECTER: I looked at it yesterday and this morning again.

GONZALES: I will go back and look at it. The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. [technically true i guess. so the framers were saying you couldn't take away something that isn't granted or assumed in the first place? clearly.] But it's never been the case, and I'm not a Supreme —

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can't take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn't say, "Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas." It doesn't say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by —

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.


Please read this article from the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel for details concerning the exchange.

Are these truly the people in charge of protecting the American people, of which they are (at least nominally), a part? I do no support violent revolution or terrorism, GOVERNMENT SANCTIFIED OR OTHERWISE, but for how long can the tyrannical leanings of ANY government be tolerated by its own people?

Many will say that such statements are unamerican, to which I would reply that they need to re-examine the nature of our original split with England. To constantly test the decency of the powers that govern us is in the very nature of the American Spirit (at least in theory). To blindly ignore the signs of impending storm and to blithely swallow the ravings of the propoganda-machine that is modern entertainment, to continue to support a government that blatantly lies, misleads, and double-talks its own people, to ignore the mounting outcry of ones fellow men, domestic and foreign, is quite possibly the worst act of treason imagineable in a country that prides itself on the supposed freedom, intellect, and dedication to good of its people and leaders.

It is far past time that something be done to curb the destructive actions not only of our president and government in general, but indeed to re-examine entirely the philosphy of government that can lead to and allow such flagrant war-mongering, hate-mongering, and power-mongering.

It is our job. No one elses.


Jan 3, 2007

Moby Dick: An Allegory of the Human Condition as Compared to the Work of Daniel Quinn

Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael series (Ishmael (1992), My Ishmael (1997), and The Story of B (1996) ) is, at the surface, the story of a gorilla named Ishmael (specific species unrevealed) that can somehow communicate telepathically with the “students” who answer his newspaper ad. This plot functions as a springboard for a philosophical conversation in which Quinn examines the state of the world resulting from the actions of what he calls Taker Culture. Interestingly, the major concepts Quinn is addressing seem to be a much more involved, and in some ways a more abstract, explication of the things going on under the surface of Moby Dick.Because I can’t assume the reader’s familiarity with Quinn, there is the difficulty of attempting to explain some of these concepts while comparing them to Melville’s work. As a result of this, a list-like format is required. Let the reader bear in mind that this is by no means a synopsis of all three Ishmael books, nor are the concepts examined chronologically through plotlines. Indeed, much of Quinn’s message has been ignored here, simply for the fact that it is so wide-ranging in specifics that to examine them all would take up a whole book in itself. However, enough will be made clear that the reader will be unable to ignore the similarities and parallels to Melville’s piece. Perhaps what will make this more difficult is that few of the characters in Moby Dick occupy only one archetypal slot. Ishmael the whaler may at one moment be a Leaver, and at the next be the very epitome of the Taker dream.

First there is the nature of the names of our main characters. Ishmael (in both books) is a mystery to the reader, for the most part. The opening line of Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” is just as arbitrary as the manner in which Ishmael the gorilla is named, in that the reader is left to simply accept the name given. For all we know, the gorilla really was Goliath (Ishmael, 18), and the narrator in Moby Dick is really named Bob. The point being that both characters are ambiguous, even mysterious, in their own particular ways. Examined in tandem, this phenomenon serves to create a certain degree of removal from the philosophical precepts being discussed, perhaps making the reader feel a little safer, more remote from the lives and emotions in the books.

Quinn’s Takers are a specific human culture that developed in today’s Near-East, and by nature of its structure (totalitarian agriculture) began to spread rapidly. For Quinn, Taker culture supercedes concepts of East and West and all the connotative impressions involved (see Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God). Instead, the Takers are one of two world-wide archetypal cultures. In Moby Dick, Ahab permanently occupies this seat. He is the Takers. His monomania mirrors the enthusiasm with which Taker culture is pursuing its systematic destruction of all things not Taker, i.e. outside the realm of their immediate and total control. Concurrently, Moby Dick himself is one of the other few permanent archetypes, at once representing nature, the planet, and, indirectly, Leaver philosophy (though this is a bit of a stretch). The reader will never see him represented as a Taker. The easiest way to draw the parallel to Melville is with a statement of the Taker myth: The gods made the world for man, and made man to conquer and rule it (Ishmael, 80). This makes our job a bit easier. In Ahab’s mind, for whatever reason, the only reason Moby Dick exists (and perhaps by extension whales in general) is for Ahab to conquer and kill him. Indeed, he was “consumed with the hot fire of his purpose, Ahab in all his thoughts and actions ever had in view the ultimate capture of Moby Dick” (Moby Dick, 204). This is also manifested to a degree by Ahab’s viewing Moby Dick as “the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them” (Moby Dick, 176). Moby Dick is the cause of all Ahab’s distresses, his death Ahab’s reason for existence, the highest possible manifestation of his purpose.

The Leavers, like Moby Dick himself, are the diametric opposite of the Takers. Generally tribal in nature, these cultures exist today where they haven’t been eradicated by the Takers (though the process is far from over). This is perhaps the most difficult concept to pin down in Moby Dick, particularly because there is no specific character that permanently occupies this one symbolic niche. Ishmael, our narrator, may be seen as a reformed Taker, or an almost reformed Taker. He still exists, for the most part, in their world, haughtily berating the “common man” who would disagree with the established norms of the whaling industry (the Taker dream). He even names one of his chapters The Honor and Glory of Whaling. However, as a result of his experiences he is unable to continue to support the pursuit of Ahab’s madness (this is implied, for the most part). We can see this waffling most specifically in his early descriptions of Queequang, who represents recently assimilated Leaver cultures, being a savage who has subscribed to the Taker philosophy of subjugating the world (Moby Dick) into destruction. Similar archetypal niches are occupied by most of the “savage” crew of the Pequod (Tashtego, Dagoo, Pip, etc.) Ishmael runs a range of emotion from alienation to fear to acceptance and friendship with this savage “wild cannibal” (Moby Dick, 23), only eventually abandoning the disgust for all things non-Taker that has been bred into him by Mother Culture.

The reader may question why there is no actual Leaver represented in Moby Dick, and I can only postulate that this is because Moby Dick is a Taker story, written by a Taker, for Takers.Totalitarian Agriculture is a system of agriculture geared towards the production of human food and human food only, eliminating competition, and then locking up all surplus food so as to force cooperation out of members of Taker culture, which mirrors Quinn’s portrayal of the inception of division of labor (My Ishmael, 54). The concept of Totalitarian Agriculture is treated specifically in chapters 89 and 90 of Moby Dick. In chapter 89, Ishmael goes into a lengthy description of the rules of ownership in whaling, referring to fast and loose fish. To hear Ishmael tell it, any whale (land) not occupied (held) by a Taker culture (ship) is a loose-fish, up for grabs to the strongest arm. Chapter 90 is perhaps the most representative of the totalitarian agricultural system. Here, Ishmael relays the tale of the Lord Warden, who lays claim to a whale caught by some local fisherman (Moby Dick, 387). The fishermen did the work, and immediately their winnings (food) are to be taken away, essentially locked up, so as to force the fishermen to work even more for the goods that they originally produced. This scene is paralleled in My Ishmael with the tale of Terpsichore, a planet where inhabitants are forced to dance in order to receive the food that they’ve helped to produce (My Ishmael, 51); which story is again indirectly mirrored by the story of Steelkilt (Moby Dick, 234). Steelkilt’s refusal to cooperate results only in his (symbolic) destruction.

Quinn states that The Great Forgetting was and is a process enacted in the Taker culture by which they convinced themselves that nothing prior to the birth of Taker culture is of any real value. According to Quinn, this is where the ambiguous term “prehistory” comes from, as well as the (now long defunct) theory that the earth is only about 5000 years old. This is represented in Moby Dick when Ishmael addresses the head of a beast who “has moved amid this world’s foundations . . . and [yet] not one syllable is thine!” (Moby Dick, 302). The reader gets the same impression, though perhaps less defined from Ishmael’s condescending attitude towards opinions outside the fishery. Without question, it is Ishmael’s opinion that the fishery is one of America’s greatest enterprises, and those who belittle it members of the uninformed, savage masses.

The Flying Machine is another of Quinn’s metaphors. He uses the flying machine prototype as a model of cultural systems. Previous designs that didn’t work have been discarded (Aztec, Inca, etc.) and despite the increasingly obvious uselessness of the Taker model, the Taker culture continues to insist on its being the only correct model for a flying machine, or cultural system in Quinn’s case (see Ishmael). One of the easier correlations, the reader can see Quinn’s flying machine in the Pequod, a boat much like any other whaling boat, valiantly and courageously sailing the seas in pursuit of the Taker dream. Ahab’s monomania prevents even the sad tales of failed ships like the Jeroboam (Moby Dick, 303) from stopping his pursuit of the white whale. It is precisely this refusal that leads to the destruction not only of Ahab, but of his ship and crew: the complete collapse of the world he has dedicated himself to (see “The Collapse of Values,” The Story of B, 276).

Perhaps the easiest of Quinn’s concepts to examine chronologically through Moby Dick is that of the boiling frog, a metaphor for the current worldwide state of Taker culture. A frog placed in a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out. A frog placed in a pot of tepid water will float calmly as the temperature is consistently increased, until the water is boiling and the frog is dead. The increasing number of bubbles in the pot Quinn likens to the increasing frequency of human disasters (famine, plague, gang violence, drug addiction, etc.). By far the most directly parallel metaphor, we see the plight of the Pequod increasing by stages, beginning with the Starbuck’s disastrous pursuit of a whale in a dense fog (Moby Dick, 217). The pressure increases with Tashtego’s falling into the emptied head of a Sperm Whale (Moby Dick, 331), and yet again when Ishmael’s whaling boat is becalmed in the center of a mob of confused but still very dangerous Sperm Whales (Moby Dick, 372). This progression is perfectly (though more extensively) paralleled in The Story of B as “B” continually relates increasing “signs of distress” in the world at large(Story of B, 262).

So what does it all boil down to? Melville and Quinn both seem to be telling us something very important about what we’re doing here. Quinn’s work is a warning (as well as a possible path to correcting the problem). What Melville gives us is not the warning, but the story of what’s happening now, and where it’s going. It is no mistake that Moby Dick was the victor, just like it is no mistake that Ishmael the convert was the only survivor. What we will or can do with the information they’ve presented us, that is the real test.


Campbell, Joseph. THE MASKS OF GOD, 1959-1968 (4 vols., Primitive Mythology, 1959; Oriental Mythology, 1962; Occidental Mythology, 1964; Creative Mythology, 1968)

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. Bantam: New York, 1992.

Quinn, Daniel. My Ishmael. Bantam: New York, 1997.

Quinn, Daniel. The Story of B. Bantam: New York, 1996.



Our educators can be some of the most moronic people ever.

Read this first

" The concept that searching a blog site is an invasion of privacy is almost an oxymoron . . . . It is called the World Wide Web."
-Associate Superintendent Prentiss Lea

"World Wide Web" indicates ONLY that the communication network/ informational dispersion system in question extends througout the globe (which even at this point is technically untrue). The "World Wide Web," or the internet as anyone living in the 21st century calls it, is completely familiar with private information. Even Live Journal and MySpace have options to make information viewable ONLY by the author. The internet abounds with information accessible only by username and password. To make a statement indicating that simply posting ANYTHING on the internet makes that information "public" is a grave and sadly typical misunderstanding on the part of people responsible for educating our children and American society in general these days.

Simply "monitoring" a students communications based on the "concerns" of friends, family, or ADMINISTRATION (and dont' kid yourself) is an invasion of privacy. Even the police (who, let's admit it, generally do whatever the fuck they want), are technically required to go through some kind of legal channel before searching someones home or confiscating their personal correspondence or "diary" work.While I'll admit that concern over the safety of schools after the incident in Columbine is much more important than in the past, this concern can not be met at the expense of the basic rights of every person on this planet, regardless of any man-made law you can think of.How are we supposed to teach our children to be inventive, creative individuals in a complex society if we use the first third of their lives instilling in them a fear of "thinking out of line."

THAT'S on oxymoron.