What follows is one of the first modern poems I learned (1955, aged 16), which forever sealed for me the idea that heroism, death, and bloody awful mess were a vital part of human experience. This conviction has separated me from many of my former colleagues in the UUA and caused an old cop -- who is dead now -- to fall in love with me because, he said, "You've got balls." What he meant was that I understood that in the ordinary course of events among humans, it is sometimes necessary to risk your life and clean up bloody awful messes. That just about sums up a lot of heroism.
THE DEATH OF THE BALL TURRET GUNNER
by Randall Jarrell
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
This collection of war poetry is cadged from Mary Grace Kosta, who is on Twitter (@marygkosta <https://twitter.com/marygkosta>). I just cut and pasted the quotes. She is not a soldier but a librarian. There is more than one way to risk your life.
...If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs...
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
God love you now, if no one else will ever,
Corpse in the paddy, or dead on a high hill
In the fine and ruinous summer of a war
You never wanted...
...We will mourn you...
Dead in the rice paddies, dead on the nameless hills.
...A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
~ Denise Levertov
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
ready to kill
instead of your children...
And so it is that now (2018, age 79) I recognize the brave and the bloody awful in our streets and in foreign lands, kids never dignified with uniforms or the Red Cross, acting as their own leaders even while, as starving children, they are being shot for throwing rocks.
It's Sunday, so here's a litany for you from farther north.
Movements of all kinds are often better on their edges.
This is not a long post. It is poetry rather than reasonable prose because my interest is in the FELT experience of life, not historical theories about it.
"The Enlightenment, sometimes called the 'Age of Enlightenment', was a late 17th- and 18th-century intellectual movement emphasizing reason, individualism, and skepticism. The Enlightenment presented a challenge to traditional religious views. Enlightenment thinkers were the liberals of their day." (Wiki) Unitarianism is a movement that came out of the liberals who were proud of representing Enlightenment."
Enlightenment, including the recovery from WWI and WWII through the design of a then-new rule of law, is now exhausted. Science, a product of Enlightenment, killed it. Liberalism, a product of Enlightenment, was killed by science.
Today's scientific enlightenment knocks on its butt the Anthropocene, "a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth's geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change." (Wiki) Humans may no longer be seen as the purpose of the cosmos. At best we are a transient pucker in the order of things, both blessed and cursed with ability to get some meaning of what's going on. Or not.
I asked Google for a definition of "post-Enlightenment" but there was none. The people who provide this worthy enterprise feel that Enlightenment is the peak and their definition.
Tell it to Derrida, Foucault, et al, who know no edges unworthy of crossing, and even the much gentler Lakoff, who understands poetry because he understands metaphor and agrees with the scientific theory that brains (human thought) operate by metaphor.
Enlightenment Christianity and its sibs, Judaism and Islam, were empowered by the concept of Evil. Liberalism is criticized as having no theory of Evil, no Satan, even as handsome men are washed out of the ball-gun turret with a hose. Post-enlightenment says there is no Evil. It is a human construct and once enlightenment is out of the way, so are all the human constructs. Even death, which is only transformation.
But there is a the simple fact of destruction, as in the destruction of the standing order of species, climate, and seas. Opposed to destruction is our love of what we know. Simple. The human brain physically -- at the molecular level -- causes us to electrochemically bond with the familiar that we have observed closely enough that it becomes part of us, so that the seasons, the crops, and the deaths are all felt by us. We're only humans, mammals, the latest iteration of a symphony of interacting particles. Isn't that enough?
I'm not talking about Romanticism, though I'm asking us to leave our obsession with individualism a little bit. The newest balance for humans is much more over on the side of the community, but a community that is defined by the cosmos, not our convenient choice. Romanticism is a term used to denote selfishness, self-aggrandizement, childishness. It's a put-down. But it is also a source of courage. Could someone walk into the California holocaust with a firehose on their shoulder without in some sense knowing how brave that is? How much people love their homes?
But there is no peace. That's an anthro-thing, wanting it all to stand still, to remain predictable and comfortable. Life is change, even death is change, and restlessness drives it all whether a quark attracted to a charm or the explosion of a nova or climate change forcing us into new ways of life. The game is not sacrifice anymore. It's participation.