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Ben Yoke: August 2014
Thursday, 07 August 2014 14:16

Ghostly conversations near Grove Park Inn, Part 2

On troubles in

the Middle East


Special to the Daily Planet

It was very late Saturday night, July 12th, and another full moon bent down upon the Grove Park Inn’s outside terraces. Jasper (an employee of the Inn) was once again secretly observing our group of spirits, who were leaning back in chairs around a table, but this time the conversation turned on international events:

“Surely everyone here can agree that these Muslims, this ISIS, this terror group invading Iraq, are stuck in medieval times…” said Jennings Bryan.

“Always the populist, eh, Mr. Bryan?” John D. Rockefeller muttered in a creaking voice, “We have both had time enough to watch the unfolding of events. Yet why have you neglected to consider that the Arab unrest stems back to when, with the help of Lawrence of Arabia, they broke free of the Ottoman Turks in order to have a single independent Arab country during World War I, but only to be double-crossed by the French and the English and divided into all the little despotic Arab states you see today?

Notice that in the meantime the Turks in their pride have been able to go from an empire to a democracy. And, what about the fact that in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and early 1960s Muslim cultures were moving somewhat gracefully into the modern world? In the 1960s a young Islamic woman in Cairo could wear what was called a miniskirt. Quite impossible now. This radical Islam is not an old phenomena, rather it’s a relatively new one. It parallels the conservative late 20th century resurgence of fundamentalist religion the world over. And moreover that conservative irrationality parallels the 1960s (and onward) liberal affair with these so-called new-age religions, or this secular libertine hedonism manifested with rampant consumerism, careless debt, promiscuity, and ‘recreational’ drug use.”

“I agree with the venerable Rockefeller here Bryan,” said Thomas Wolfe, “These later moderns, liberal and conservative, have both rejected the rational principles of the enlightenment.”

“And what ‘rational principles’ are those Mr. Wolfe?” said Bryan rather sharply.

“Why a reasonable ethos,” replied Wolfe, “derived objectively from nature, Natural Law; rather than from post-1960s subjective whims of ‘if it feels good.’ Which in the conservative temperament has translated into fearfully relying on debunked ‘fundamentalist’ religion and historically failed political values, and in liberals this feckless moral relativism, hedonism, and equally failed political ideas.”

Alex Haley said, “But didn’t the West lose its so called ‘enlightened’ authority in the 1960s because of all that bad history? Eugenics, the destruction of indigenous peoples, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, racism, Jim Crow, sexism, two world wars, the very near nuclear apocalypse of the cold war, looming environmental catastrophes, and so on. . . This Western enlightenment of yours surely was, or is, a failure, isn’t it?”

They all sat quietly, thinking apparently, gazing at the shimmering lights of Asheville below and the distant panorama of mountains that were themselves silhouetted with stars.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Zelda Fitzgerald. “I wish I had appreciated it more when I was alive and able to give more. But I was too possessed with my petty personal dramas....

“Perhaps all of us here betrayed the enlightenment. Perhaps with our selfish whims we failed it rather than it failed us.”

“I suspect that’s so Zelda,” said Wolfe, “It is education that will help people become more reasonable regarding the laws of nature.”

“Piffle!” replied Bryon, “It’s the loss of religion that has been the problem! Social Darwinism from this scurrilous theory of evolution was the scourge of the 20th century; from capitalist and fascist eugenics, to these Stalinists, ‘liquidating’ their ‘reactionary bourgeoisie!’”

“But weren’t you just condemning the Muslim religion?” said Haley.

“I meant the loss of the one true religion, Christianity. The gospel of God’s love, where the lion, by accepting Christ, can learn to sleep with the lamb.”

“And now aren’t you ignoring Rockefeller’s point?” said Fitzgerald.

“I began this conversation with a righteous assertion that these terrorists have a medieval morality!” thundered Bryan, “yet you all see fit to condemn me. I am bemused by the temerity of this illustrious group. And you Mr. Rockefeller, sir, were the worst eugenicist of the lot!”

Rather than respond, Rockefeller seemed to hang his head and withdraw into himself. For a moment Jasper thought the old man would disappear, but Fitzgerald spoke, “There now Mr. Bryan, everyone here has done regrettable things.” 

“Regrettable things!?” said Haley, “being one of history’s worst monopolists, addicting the world to oil, aiding the Nazis and practicing eugenics, are not just regrettable things!”

“But what of you young fellow? It was shown in court that you plagiarized the book that is your only claim to fame!” hissed Rockefeller.

Haley was about to respond, when Fitzgerald jumped in: “Stop! Must we do this? Arguing forever with this petty drama and never able to move ourselves to a higher level. 

William, personally I think Mr. Wolfe is correct; enlightenment values, drawn from the majesty of what you may wish to call creation, are the noble path. That path has been ignored because social Darwinism was humanity’s adolescent misunderstanding of the natural laws of life. The core law of life, for the living at least, in order to be life, is surely to survive.

Biological evolution may sometimes be necessary for survival, but there is no law that says we have to do it just as a general principle. The 20th century showed us that a society based on that principle would be so brutal that the social contract can break down, randomly jeopardizing most everyone’s survival. I suspect if the living could begin to take that lesson to heart terrorist organizations like this ISIS would be less likely to arise....

Just then someone back in the Grove Park Inn started calling for Jasper, and he had to withdraw, hoping to wait for the next full moon to see if Zelda’s opinion had won any respect.

Ben Yoke, a philosopher and writer, lives with his wife and two sons in Weaverville.

The Daily Planet's Opinion: August 20124
Thursday, 07 August 2014 14:13

Poet laureate discord: a tragedy? 

McCrory takes the road ‘less traveled’ — and shouldn’t have 

Gov. Pat McCrory did not make one of his better moves when he appointed Valerie Macon on July 11 as the new North Carolina poet laureate. But, if he was determined to sock it to the so-called “elites,” he did accomplish that.

Macon, whose credentials were less than impressive (to say the least), resigned July 17 after her appointment prompted an uproar from the literary community, the public and the news media, far and wide. An employee of the state Department of Health and Human Services, she self-published two books of poetry.

The discord over Macon’s appoinment did not seem to be a partisan issue, even though, like McCrory, she is a registered Republican, while the past four poets laureate were Democrats appointed by Democratic governors.

As we go to press in late July, no successor had been appointed to this largely ceremonial — albeit somewhat prestigious — position, as “ambassador” of North Carolina’s literature.

A group of former N.C. poets laureate wrote to McCrory that they were “outraged and deeply disappointed by the circumvention of the established process in place for a number of years to appoint the N.C. poet laureate, a cherished, time-honored and crucial position in service to the citizens of the state.” The circumvention of the process “has resulted in disaster,” they stated.

We think McCrory’s failure to follow the established process for selecting a poet laureate was a major misstep, compounded by his demonstration of flawed judgment in choosing someone whose credentials were clearly subpar.

McCrory took the road not (often) taken, to his detriminent, but perhaps he could redeem himself by working with the literary commmunity — and, as poet Robert Frost wrote (in a different context), that could make “all the difference.”      


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