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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Shores of Tripoli

The Marines’ Hymn, “From the Halls of Moteczuma to the shores of Tripoli”, was written as farce (tell it to the Marines?)… but right-wing (“conservative” - as if they are retarding change, instead of just being retarded) zealots are mostly oblivious to that kind of thing… anyway… refers to shameful instances of US belligerent aggression against other countries. In the first instance, against military school cadets, none over 15 years old.
“The shores of Tripoli” refer to Stephen Decatur’s bombardment of Tripoli, during which there was only one US casualty (from heat stroke). Some call his raids, bold, daring and courageous,,, I wasn’t there, I don’t know); his ship(s?) had cannon range beyond anything the defendants had. But as with Hiroshima, a powerful warning wasn’t enough, memorable destruction had to be made (perhaps, as with the first US “Gulf War” to better sell armaments, or make other deals).
Seven years earlier, Joel Barlow had negotiated a treaty with Tripoli which read, in part, “As the government of the United States of America is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen - and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Treaties, as international law, are meant to stand with the same force as the US Constitution itself, but we all know what that meant for Native Americans. Why it’s OK for moralists and political “leaders” to lie can be easily explained - it’s an easy way for the powerful to remain so. Not that one can explain this to the gullible or self-righteous…
Barlow’s Treaty of Tripoli was unanimously approved by the US Senate on June 10, 1797. Barlow, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson and many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were ardent Deists, adamant in support of separation of church and state, and leery of organized religions. But history, like treaties, and even the US Constitution under George W. Bush, can be re-written, with unfortunately little protest, even from academicians.
Barlow’s “Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe Resulting from the Necessity and Propriety of a General Revolution in the Principle of Government” directly attacked established churches, but, well, how much did the principles of government ever really change, despite much revolutionary fervor and lives sacrificed? Seems to me, we desperately need a new Magna Carta!
Our “Democrats” don’t really care about democracy (at least most elected ones don’t), and this is why they won’t stand up to “Republicans” – they no more live by the ideals they purportedly stand for than do most religionists.
In 1804, US diplomat Tobias Lear negotiated a new peace treaty with Tripoli; it didn’t contain the same language as Barlow's treaty, naturally, but did contain an article stating that the United States has no established church. NOT no particular Christian denomination, no church at all (there is, though, a National Cathedral in DC, noticeably Anglican…). Jefferson’s Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom extended protections to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination" – but now purported proponents of good governance want the removal of a popularly elected President for being a secret Muslim, and maybe even worse, a socialist (!) for supporting a weakened version of Richard Nixon’s (!) health plan, and are any pungent rejoinders, snappy retorts or brutal come-backs delivered? No, for that would be against the rules of our national religion, MONEY – which knows no enemy, only artifice.
But, a $65,000 a night hotel suite in Geneva, a $10 billion super-collider toy… one begins to wonder if the super-rich aren’t just partying like they figure there’s no tomorrow… Party like it’s 1999 redux?

Long ago, I had a toy French bread truck. On its side, it said, “Pain”. I thought that was pretty cool. I just read (in “The Trouble with Tom”) that that was how Tom Paine’s last name was originally spelled.
Paine, an apparently somewhat self-loathing drunk with antisocial tendencies and poor personal hygiene, had both the intellect and anger necessary to help him move much of human society towards egalitarianism and away from the pinnacled social structuring of Chinese and Roman empire mold, despite heavy odds against him ever accomplishing anything (including frequently poor health, partially attributable to his fondness for drink, but only partially). Society remains highly stratified, but Paine certainly helped diminish respectability in that.
Some prefer to see him, correctly, as a principled rationalist who preferred proofs over tradition, who distrusted organized religion and worked hard for the benefit of ordinary people. His popularity, or acceptance, has varied wildly over time, but many of his beliefs became those of Hicksite Friends (liberal Quakers of un-programmed meetings) like my father, a behavioral psychologist with deep interest in internationalism, peace, human spirituality, human rights, China and Mao Tse Dung.
Paine was a birthright Friend (Quaker) with “no bridle on my tongue” (as Howard Fast had him describe himself in “Citizen Tom Paine”), so he and I have more than a little in common. My namesake (mostly why I know about him) and great (5 times) grand uncle, the author of an epic poem for the new United States of America, “The Columbiad”, helped rescue and arrange publication for Paine’s last book, “The Age of Reason” (1794) – while Paine was led off to a French revolutionary prison, where he languished almost a year. Paine’s later “Agrarian Justice” (1797) is considered just a pamphlet, although an important one. Paine coined the term, “United States of America”; both Paine and Barlow were made citizens of the new French Republic, but both returned from France to retire in the USA. As US consul to Algiers (1795-1797), Barlow secured the release of American prisoners held for ransom, negotiating the first American treaties with the Islamic world (with Tripoli, Tunis – now capital of Tunisia - and Algiers, then nominally parts of the Ottoman Empire, but also key bases for Barbary pirates). Barlow’s “Columbiad” may have been much better, had it a little of Paine’s anger; but that our modern world might well be much better had many of us less anger, might be found relevant about that.
In 1778, with Revolution finally gaining some military strength, Paine, then secretary to the Congressional Committee for Foreign Affairs of a weak, fledgling government, learned new forms of distrust. Fellow revolutionaries, he found, could, about as often as not, be bought. A party of finance, trade and aristocratic power was already undermining what others were literally dieing for (in effort to give birth to). The speculators that have dominated life in the USA since now endanger all humanity more than ever; war profiteering may have become even more dangerous than nuclear weapons, global warming, genetic engineering or any of the other ways we endanger ourselves, for it feeds on irrationality.
It’s pretty well forgotten now, but during the US Revolutionary War, anti-British forces motivated by greed fired on, and were fired upon by, anti-British idealists – for weeks, in 1779, in Philadelphia. It’s important to recognize that, as long as we’ve had it, there’ve always been those interested in nothing more than money (and accompanying power).
Some say the US revolution was basically a guerilla war, others that it could have been. I disagree - there were sufficient Tory supporters to snuff that. It’s also been suggested that the French won the war for us, especially by blockading English re-armament ships. But the Brits could have made gunpowder and bullets, had they wanted to (‘though they’d already failed to make (or supply) sufficient coinage – one of the major grievances leading to the revolt). It had become clear that Britain couldn’t control the frontiersmen who produced much of what was sought for trans-continental trade, and that coastal businessmen would continue in trade, much as usual, after succession. As George Washington was able to build a real army (eventually), the war was simply too expensive for the British Crown (well, not that George III was really British, at least by descent, but never-mind).
The war was expensive for the Colonists, too – and many soldiers’ pay became far in arrears. Only Tom Paine cared enough to really do something about that. Paine, an opponent of un-backed paper currency and mounting national debts, organized the Bank of North America (which eventually became the Federal Reserve Bank) to raise money necessary to feed and clothe the army he’d inspired, and deposited, from his own (perpetually impoverished) pockets, its first funds. Alexander Hamilton, as the first US Secretary of the Treasury, tried to start a Bank of the United States modeled on the Bank of England, and failed, but did manage to institute the form of “public credit” which has recently grown into a very, very pressing issue – despite what otherwise respectable pundits like Paul Krugman of the NY Times, well paid by the “establishment”, have begun to say (more stimulus! Right…).
Both Barlow and Paine served in the revolutionary forces - Barlow as a chaplain under Washington (certainly a challenging duty). But without Paine’s “Common Sense” and “Crisis” papers, there might not have been a revolutionary army to serve in, and independence would certainly not have waited, at the least. Paine later became, though, and nonetheless, the most hated man in the country he helped to found - and also in his home country, England, as well. Hated largely due to the book Barlow helped to save and publish, but also, importantly, due to trends in opinion and outlook.
The Revolutionary War, naturally, did nothing to quickly improve colonists’ standard of living, nor even to put more coinage into circulation. People had to wonder if it had been worth it, and even, indeed, if they had compromised God’s favor. Tom Paine, off in other countries, fell from favor, while Barlow, also off in other countries, pursued diplomacy and made money (apparently, lots of it). Ideals, unfortunately, are often not immediately, nor directly, practical. It was only after both were dead that frequent doubts about the benefits of independence ceased – close neighbors Canada, Bermuda and Barbados, after all, were doing quite well.
Paine had fanned the flames of agitation sufficiently that a colonial revolt eventually (after 8 and a half years) succeeded; but then things went quite differently, when he tried to carry his efforts to the disaffected of England and France. Barlow’s words (including his interesting, if not amazing, 1792 “Advice to the Privileged Orders”) accomplished little, but his actions were important enough that a memorial set up where he died, in a foreign, war-torn country, remains, even today (in Poland). Paine’s bodily remains were refused for burial even by Quakers, became quite lost, and haven’t been recovered.
Much of Paine’s success proved illusory: hidden, irresponsible elites replaced visible ones, and to some extent anyway, accountable monarchs; blatant slavery has been replaced by what can be seen as more insidious forms.
Now our world needs new innovators in reformulation of social parameters and the context through which we perceive things. It would be good to avoid the mistakes of the French Revolution, of the Bolsheviks and Stalin, of Mao and Pol Pot. No?
We can learn from the past, but it’s our imaginations we’re most reliant on.

No longer must we concern ourselves much with monarchs, but we still have oligarchs, and pressing problems with them. Corporations, somehow both (juristic) persons and yet property, are now hardly slaves to their “owners” (stockholders with very little actual say in how they’re run – which may help to explain certain people being on the boards of so many). Lobbyists and incredibly corrupt campaign finance conventions have completely undermined what Paine and Barlow strove so hard to accomplish, and our news media has become less reliable than media under communism (but at least more amusing, I’ll admit, than that of Laos, Cambodia or Burma). We’re faced now just not with issues of human rights, but with the likelihood of human survival – and neither anger nor diplomacy will secure that for us.
We can’t get away with just living simply (“that others can simply live”), but becoming more aware and responsible about our eating, and buying, habits, is a good start. Trying to help educate others, in a non-threatening manner, is also a pretty good idea. But unless we start to hold the powerful to higher standards of accountability, we are certainly lost.
But it’s also essential to better recognize the importance of local politics and grass-roots involvement, and to get out of the habit of putting responsibility for everything on others, even the “successful” and “important”!


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