Winter Celebrating

Winter Celebration_breaker

blue nutcrackerDuring this time of year, the holidays or Christmas and New Years, have always been a jolly, entertaining time of year of expectancy, of buckle your seat-belts and brace for anything. Sixteen days or so of all things good, sparkle and wonderment, uplifting or mysterious it all was/is possible. Taking time for the less fortunate in a plethora of ways. Reuniting with family around meals, in the kitchen or living room for games, maybe telling stories past or present with traditional beverages and libations for cheer. Most things are fluid, undefined precisely, other things traditional, conventional, predictable, and new. The exception? Young children. Then holiday gatherings are certainly fluid, very undefined, traditionally loud, unconventional, unpredictable, and newly broken. Messy. Pass the broom and dustpan.

red nutcrackerThere is also a never-ending amount of wishing. Wishing everything was neat and tidy. We wish you this, we wish you that, we wished you’d come, we wished you’d leave! Lots of wishing everywhere, wishing some things were different. Wishing other things and people were all the same, maybe equal. Identical? Wish you were like me, like him or her or it. Or a very popular wish of the last couple of millenia: wishing things were meticulously, undeniably true.

Not the case.

green nutcrackerNo matter what time of year it is I find things are wonderfully messy. People of all ages are messy. Life is messy, past and present, and near certainly will be in the future. That’s what it means to be human among 7.7 billion other humans. We are all alike, but equally different, from just as many different places and backgrounds. Normality and paradox somehow coexist. Going against this truth will eventually drive you mad. Life plays and swims in paradox while the kill-joys go mad and the libertines live.” A quote from yours truly on my Favorite Quotes page. But enough with my rambling!

red-captain nutcrackerWhy do we celebrate this time of year? When and where did this celebration begin? Who should I ask? Or should I not ask and go find out for myself? Ahh, more messy answers from previous messiness. One is never served so well as by oneself as Charles-Guillaume Étienne coined. The common version is If you want something done right, do it yourself. There is some truthiness to either one, I think. Some will exhort the Golden Chalice exists and certainly can be found! Others will posit no such thing exists. Still others will have no answers of any import. Perhaps it’s wise to saddle both, or maybe all three? HAH! A ménage à trois beaucoup! Oui?

Apologies. Now I’ve slipped into delicious hédonisme and débauche as the French would say with a sly grin.

court nutcrackerThere are many wrong answers to those questions, mostly wrong… most likely. Yet, if one puts on their forensic hat and goggles, with some persistence, equitable examination without rash simplification and disassociation, 😉 the messy truth can and will be found. It’s not so scary. Much of this messiness is well-known, checked and rechecked. Nevertheless, here are a few starter-fireworks, kindling if you will, sure to light-up and excite your holiday bonfire, conversation, and show:

  • Christmas is a multicultural Pagan festival dating back to at least the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages, i.e. 5000 BCE to 600 BCE, as winter solstice festivals.
  • The year and precise date of “Christ’s birth” is unknown, but the time of year is estimated by scholars to be in Autumn, not any later than September.
  • Earliest Christians from Yeshua’s (Jesus’) The Way Movement never celebrated his birth; it wasn’t until the 16th or 17th centuries CE that Western churches in Europe incorporated popular Pagan winter festivals in December into their Catholic Christ’s Mass or Mass for Christ.
  • Several Protestant denominations throughout the world banned Christmas celebrations completely, English and American Puritans, for example. Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Christ are three more examples.
  • Our familiar gift-giving charity originated in the Victorian Era (1800’s) and the traditional Christmas tree is Germanic-Teutonic in origin where greenery from outside is brought inside to cheer up the dormant, colorless, glumness of winter.
  • Christians of the mid-1st century to 2nd century CE celebrated Christmas in April to May; this greatly bothered the Church Leaders because Jesus’ place of birth, or death, or burial were completely uncertain, speculation and conjecture. Therefore…
  • Pope Julius I in 350 CE declared Dec. 25th as the official imperial birth-date of Jesus; it was the same time of Rome’s very popular Pagan Saturnalia festival.
  • Nativity stories, plays, and decor are taken from several Pagan celebrations and imagery, like the ideas of shepherds, wise men (Magi), and an illuminating star were all secular in origin.
  • In the modern era Christmas has taken on more diverse forms, various rituals, and commercially energized out Rudolph’s cold, red ass; I mean, nose!
  • Saint Nicholas was an obscure 4th-century philanthropist and turned into a chimney-diving Santa Claus with elves and flying reindeer, a mingling and mixing of the ancient German king of the gods Odin and his Yule celebration.
  • The story A Christmas Carol was a quick-buck publication by Charles Dickens in 1843 turning traditional Christmas scenes into heavy sentimental, heart-grabbing sharing and giving.
  • The Advent Calendar of the holidays was once just an unromantic invention by a weary 19th-century Munich, Germany housewife to silence her pestering children who would not stop asking Momma, how many days until Christmas!?
  • Yes, now is the time for some good song! Hit play (below), give hugs, find mistletoe, and be of good cheer because it is the most wonderful time of the year!

As it turns out, if truth be told historically, the Christmas holidays actually have nothing to do with the birth of the anti-Semitic Greek Jesus Christ, but instead is a winter celebration and festival of diverse, all-inclusive, ancient cultural Coming Together. A gathering of family, friends, and strangers from many messy traditions and perceptions to form a messier, melting pot of holiday mess! I vote to call the winter celebration Good-mess. Goodmess Eve, Goodmess Day, and have a cheerful Goodmess New Year. Yes? Say Ho ho ho if you agree.

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Christmas_Lights

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes

This past weekend and some days this week I have been keenly interested in heroes. Whether modern or older I have wanted to know a bit more and pay personal homage to ordinary people who through acts of selflessness and the highest valor and courage, sacrificed unquestionably their own self-benefit for others, for a greater good, for a greater number in the future. Some of these remarkable stories included many war heroes, men who willing put themselves in lethal danger in order to protect their Brothers in Arms, their squad, platoon, or battalion. Their acts of sacrifice are legendary and should never be lost to time.

But there are also other heroes who never fought in any war, or armed conflict, but the risks and dangers they willingly faced were just as daunting, just as consequential as a soldier faces in combat. Many of them are women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their fight for equal rights, equal treatment, pay, and opportunities in patriarchal dominated societies across the globe deserve just as much awe, respect, and homage as any man’s stories of gallantry, valor, and sacrifice in war! Agreed? Of course you do if you are a fair and reasonable human being.

Some of the immediate names of female heroes that come to my mind are Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Billie Jean King, Malala Yousafzai, and a big one for birth-control Margaret Sanger who eventually laid the groundwork for America’s badly needed Planned Parenthood. However, the one specific woman I was reminded of this past Sunday and Monday was Emily Wilding Davison. If you are unfamiliar with Emily’s unwavering commitment to eliminating injustice and gender inequality, then watch this following 15-second clip of her public statement:

As part of my remembrance to many ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes for the betterment of humanity, I watched the 2015 film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Natalie Press, and Meryl Streep. The film is pretty accurate historically regarding Women’s Suffrage in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s England. From the Smithsonian Magazine web-page:

The filmmakers deliberately modeled [fictional character] Maud [Watts] on the stories of working class suffragettes, whose activism put their jobs, marriages and even custody of their children, at risk. “I think what was interesting for us was to create a rich ensemble of composite characters who we felt would carry the voices of these women who hadn’t been heard and allow them to segue and intersect with these extraordinary moments of history,” says Morgan.

Horse Racing - The Derby Stakes - Epsom - Suffragette Protest - 1913Many parts of the film were real historical events and characters.

…the bombing of Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s empty country house, and Davison’s fatal protest at the Epsom Derby – were real. After decades of peaceful protest with no result, suffragettes, particularly those in Emmeline Pankhurst’s (Meryl Streep in a brief cameo) Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), followed the motto “Deeds Not Words.” Taking pains not to hurt people, they created mayhem by attacking property – including slashing a Velázquez in the National Gallery  – and disrupting government meetings.

Emily Davison’s protest, whether to attach a scarf of her Movement’s colors to King George V’s horse or to sacrifice herself by death or maiming is unknown to this day. What happened in decades and a century later was unprecedented.

Today, Davison’s gravesite in Morpeth, Northumberland, is a feminist shrine that attracts visitors from around the world. […]

“What is extraordinary about that footage is you can see that this wasn’t a small movement of ladies who meet for tea in Kensington,” says Suffragette’s screenwriter Abi Morgan.  “This was a national and international movement.

Emily Davison closeup

Emily Davison’s entire story is quite remarkable for the time-period. She like most women of the time had very few options outside of the home and birthing then raising children. As a well-educated woman she taught as a teacher and live-in governess as well as attaining two college degrees from the University of London.

Davison was tireless and ingenious. She was arrested nine times for offenses ranging from breaking windows at Parliament to firebombing letterboxes. One of her more creative stunts was sneaking into a closet in the House of Commons one night in 1911 so she could claim Parliament as her place of residence on the official census. It was a subversive double protest. In one act, she could – as many suffragettes were attempting – avoid being counted as a citizen by a government that didn’t recognize her right to vote while if she were counted, it would be at the address of the center of that same discriminatory body.

After her first arrest she wrote gleefully to a friend. “Did you read about it? We went outside Lloyd George’s Budget meeting at Limehouse, and protested at women being kept out, etc. I was busy haranguing the crowd when the police came up and arrested me.” She describes breaking windows in her jail cells and adds “What do you think of me?” before signing off “your loving and rebellious friend.”

If you’re interested in more heroic details of the Suffrage Movement—which later fueled our modern-day Women’s March and activism for more women’s social, workforce, and legal equalities—then click here for the Smithsonian’s article. It is well worth the time.

As I finished Suffragette, I then moved on to another well-directed, acclaimed cast and historically accurate feminine hero 2009 film called Agora starring Rachel Weisz. If you are unfamiliar with the great female philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician named Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt, during the late 4th-century CE inside a Christianizing and increasingly patriarchal Roman Empire, then I suggest you study her and watch this outstanding film. Hypatia was perhaps one of the very earliest suffragette’s in human history.

Nevertheless, let’s never forget that extraordinary heroes come in all sizes, all races and ethnicities, and certainly all genders and sexual-orientations. They’re all human. That is no debate whatsoever.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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21st-Century Humans More Peaceful

With utter fascination last Wednesday night Nov. 20th, I watched one of my favorite PBS shows, NOVA. The title of the show was The Violence Paradox. The one hour show investigated how over the last 200,000 years Homo sapiens as a whole are living and dying less violently. In other words, comparatively speaking in the 21st century by the compiled numbers most human beings are living and dying more peacefully than in our past.

stevenpinkerIn his two published books The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) and its sequel Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), cognitive psychologist, linguist, and Harvard Professor Steven A. Pinker states on the show:

We’ve done something right. Let’s figure out what it is and keep doing it. The reality is that we may be living in one of the most peaceful eras in human existence. Violence has been in decline, but that just doesn’t count as news. You just never see a journalist saying, “I’m reporting live, from a country that’s at peace,” or “a school that hasn’t been shot up.” Once I stumbled upon this graph, I mentioned it in a blog post, and then I received correspondence from scholars in a variety of fields, telling me that I could’ve made an even stronger case. I saw data-set after data-set, all of which showed declines in violence, in different parts of the world, with different kinds of violence. And I realized there was a story that needed to be told.

Enlightenment Now_PinkerHowever, Pinker wants to be clear about the explicit and implicit meaning of his findings so as not to be painted as a deluded optimist.

To point out that things were worse in the past is not to say we should relax, our problems are all solved, quite the contrary. It’s by understanding how our predecessors were able to drive down rates of violence that we can be emboldened to try to drive them down even further.

And this is where I was personally intrigued! How. How has this downward trend of violence, on the global scale, been achieved? What various factors and events have contributed to humanity’s gradual increase to more peaceful existences with each other?

I found the entire 1-hour 53-minute documentary to be powerful and yes, hopeful with tangible solutions and methods offered and that are in fact tried and tested for success, offering more reasons to keep this peaceful trend rising. What I found especially intriguing from the scientific and statistical findings was of the many factors scientists have connected to violence or peace, seven modern societal conditions and their related sub-conditions which guided humans either toward, hate, prejudice, and violence, or on a path of peace, collaboration, and prosperity. They were:

  • Government or State — the rule of law kept better peace
  • The Civilizing Process — economic order went hand in hand with social norms and manners, etiquette, self-control, etc.
  • Equality — learning about others with the same experiences (with empathy below)
  • Literacy — not just reading, but how much could be read about from a diverse continent or around our diverse world (e.g. Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
  • Empathy — feeling deeply about someone else’s plight and/or prosperity (linked with equality)
  • Biggest World Powers — the top major powers/armies are not fighting, at the moment
  • Testosterone Levels — today violence is no longer an effective tool to get something done or achieve conquest as it was before. Non-violent movements are 2-3 times as successful as violent movements

However, without these seven conditions above or just two to four of them or one or more in fragile existence, the whole of a civilization could collapse, returning it/us right back to Medieval societal hardships when one ruler or small group of “Lords” could easily become sadistic tyrants willing, forcing their subordinates into heinous acts or genocide. From the show:

NARRATOR: At SWPS University, in Poland, Tomasz Grzyb and Dariusz Doliński are revisiting a famous experiment first conducted in the 1960s by the American psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the aftermath of the holocaust, Milgram wanted to understand how seemingly good people could follow terrible orders.

Just as Milgram did, the experiment starts by setting up a fake study.

TOMASZ GRZYB (SWPS University): There are two participants, and there is a guy who presents himself as a professor of psychology, and he says that, “Well, you are a participant in an experiment which is devoted to find out how memory’s working.”

NARRATOR: Grzyb is masquerading as a participant, the so-called “learner.” The other participant is the “teacher.” Grzyb pretends to memorize sets of letters, but his responses are scripted. The teacher is told that the student is hooked up to the machine, and they must administer a shock, if he answers incorrectly.

Because the experiment is highly stressful for the real subject, the so-called teacher, it’s controversial. So, it will be stopped at 150 volts, the 10th switch on the panel, which, if real, would be an extremely painful shock.

Will anyone go so high?

PBS NOVAThis experiment showed that with a powerful authority figure or figures ordering the “teacher” to commit this violence—by fear, coercion, or perhaps blackmail—of the 220 participants, about 90% of them obeyed the orders. Many of us think we would never commit such heinous crimes on another, a baby, child, or adult, but this test and others like it suggest otherwise. Similar to the soldiers of Genghis Khan or the Nazi SS of World War II, all of us have the capacity to commit heinous acts given our personal circumstances and surroundings. Peace and non-violence are not a forgone conclusion.

There were two other fascinating facts the show presented:  1) the Availability Heuristic, and 2) strong Gun Regulations, particularly on assault weapons, cut in half or more, crimes of homicide and mass killings.

Availability heuristic says that a diet of news stories will fool us into thinking that violence is much more prevalent than it really is. This is very much the case with social-media bombardments of a specific (viral?) topic. On the contrary, this very narrow propaganda or sensationalism (for revenues) does not factually represent the overall global or continental trends.

Gun regulations that are widespread and strong, e.g. in 1996 Australia, contribute to significant reductions in suicide, homicide, and mass-killing rates according to these studies, click here.

Cure Violence logoFinally, an international program called Cure Violence, ranked #9 in top 500 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in the world, stops the spread of violence by using the methods associated with disease control. And cities around the world have turned to Cure Violence to prevent violence—from the United States to Latin America to the Middle East. One method utilized in Iraq (based upon Contact Theory) is through a football/soccer league where teams must have players of various ethnicities, religious beliefs, and/or social classes, even if historically opposed, in order to enroll and play the season. In football/soccer their are no national, ethnic or religious boundaries. Players and their families are also encouraged to socialize off the soccer pitch in restaurants and home-gatherings. The soccer league and additional off-field activities have been a huge success! How about that Ark! 😉

If you ever have the chance to watch this outstanding documentary, The Violence Paradox by PBS NOVA, I highly recommend you do it! It is well worth 2-hours of your time and undivided attention. Most of all, it shows us clearly how to understand our lesser nature for violence, but more importantly it gives us proven solutions and methods of stopping the spread of the violence disease and it becoming a repetitive epidemic.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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