Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Truth, cool and purdah

It’s been said, “The truth will set you free” and that truth is “that opinion, to which all who investigate sufficiently are fated to arrive”… also that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Each is quite equally questionable. Knowledge, understanding and appropriate or correct belief will not necessarily bring one money, food, clothing, adequate housing or even love, affection or contentment. A stone-age hunter-gatherer without magnifying lenses or a good calendar is unlikely to be able to investigate sufficiently to conclude that the ground on which he stands is on a pear-shaped globe rotating in a variety of ways, or determine anything of the role of germs in disease!
Freedom is neither learned, nor failure. People are free to believe things contrary to their best interests, and often do, but usually other people help to keep them from rock-bottom – for as long as they can, anyway. Those of us concerned with our well-being here (and now), instead of “in the next life,” usually find cause to revise our opinions, and do that on more than rare occasions. Apparently there are many others who feel freed by subservient avoidance of relying on information from their own senses. Maybe there actually is some kind of freedom from responsibility, but certainly freedom from consequences is rare – if it has ever existed at all.
Maybe, just maybe, meditation can bring about enlightenment, and separation from the endless cycle of renewed desire and dissatisfaction. But even if so, we hardly know that that equals freedom, or even equanimity. More likely equanimity than freedom, certainly, but I fail to see how enlightenment could end needs for food, rest, a livable body temperature, limits to pain from whatever cause &/or dreams. Life continues, with obligations, annoyance, and distractions.
Even the unenlightened escape all that upon death – and if there is a “next life” we enter it as something not quite the same (except perhaps in the case of bodily ascension into Heaven in the event of Rapture, in which case some troublesome realities are bound to accompany).
But one can fail to acknowledge all this – many, many do. Many seem to find freedom in slavery, honor in dishonor and bad behavior, and pride in their humility. And who can blame them, really? Our world is confusing, our lives often bewildering. But remember, in the beginning was the Word, a truth that will set you free.

In What’s the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank exclaims, “It is business that… forever shocking the squares, humiliating the pious, queering tradition, and crushing patriarchy. It is because of the market that our TV is such a sharp-tongued insulter of ‘family values’ and such a zealous promoter of every species of social deviance…. Indeed, counter-culture is so commercial and so business-friendly today that a school of urban theorists thrives by instructing municipal authorities on the fine points of luring artists, hipsters, gays, and rock bands to their cities on the ground that where these groups go, corporate offices will follow.
“Ordinary working-class people are right to hate the culture we live in. They are right to feel that they have no power over it, and to notice that it makes them feel inadequate and stupid. The ‘Middle Americans,’ after all, are the people the ads and the sitcoms and the movies warn us against… the prudish preacher who forbids dancing, the dullard husband who foolishly consumes Brand X, the racist dad who beats his kids, the square cowboy who is gunned down by the alternative cowboy, the stifling family life we are supposed to want to escape, the hardhat who just doesn’t get it.”
His theory is that the “backlashers” need the “liberal” boogeyman to reconcile the increasingly “shabby state of American life while absolving business of any responsibility for it” – a plausible theory, except that it fails sufficiently to explain the hurt feelings involved.
Beatniks, hippies, punks, homosexuals, stage personas and literati can all be convincingly charged with encouraging a back-turning on normalcy. ‘Science-fiction’ aimed at the adolescent market has particularly favored an elitist attitude, redolent of snobbery and disdain, but Frank’s “backlashers” ignore that: sci-fi readers being but geeks. But the attitude conveyed within the cult of the cool is that some of us simply are better, more ready for fun and fornication – which is rude, and really not all that sophisticated. Maybe it’s that attitude that most elicited the anger currently tearing apart our world – perhaps as intended (at least subconsciously).
That some are ‘ahead of the times’ and more aware, able to appear more free, more talented, and superior, is undeniable. So is it that many with money fail to be hip, entertaining or even interesting. And now those many who felt left out, or worse, rejected, have cut off their noses to spite their faces, undermining all they have professed to hold dear. The ‘market’ has undermined not only quality of life, but is undermining life itself.
Ah, sweet revenge.
This has a fascinating parallel in the slighted feelings of many Arabs and some other Muslims, maybe especially ones who occasionally watched Baywatch (often illegally) on TV.
Or maybe it’s gone on for over a millennia, as shown through purdah: You’re not going to disparage the looks of my woman! She was chosen for me anyway, and I can have as attractive a whore as anyone!
Not that fundamental Christians will take that well, either, being compared to fundamentalist Muslims, but there it is. We’re in a world dominated by the sentiment, “I’m going to get you for that!” – a pretty good snappy come-back indeed.
Cool not existing anymore, having been entirely co-opted into the commercial, perhaps Thomas Frank has a pretty good point. The people who made the True Believers so angry aren’t significant anymore, but the anger remains – perhaps because it’s needed, but also, perhaps, because that’s now what’s replaced cool. That (anger) and junk food. But keep it under wraps, you know…



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