A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
March 20th, 2013
By Dan Miller
Or is it already one or the other? I don’t know the answer, but the question is a basis for this article.
I am not a student of religion and know little of Roman Catholic doctrine concerning Purgatory and Hell. Nor, as best I can remember, have I ever stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. However, my wife and I on several occasions back in 1997 and 1998 did enjoy our stays at Los Fraelis, a former (seventeenth century) monastery up in the mountains of the Venezuelan State of Merida that had been converted into a resort hotel.
Los Fraelis probably surpasses any Holiday Inn Express in comfort, ambiance and perhaps even in opportunities to absorb (through osmosis?) any stray fragments of ghostly knowledge as they waft by. Up in the mountains, the weather is pleasantly cool. The rooms were rustic and small but comfortable, the service good, the food plentiful and delicious, ditto the drinks. We remember it fondly. Here is a picture taken at a lake there, too many years ago.
Those were the days we hoped would never end.
Yep. I feel much the same way.
Based on what little I think I may understand of theology, it is my impression that Purgatory is a pit of torment (or at least temporary damnation) from which one may eventually emerge, while Hell is a deep pit of eternal torment (or at least permanent damnation). That’s as much as I think I may know. One can hope that Venezuela will someday escape from the pit in which her people have placed themselves, and that the United States will not sink too deeply into a similar pit of our own creation before emerging. While nations often outlive people, their days also end. Gradually or suddenly, something better or worse displaces them. How often that may happen after experiencing and then escaping from a government-based Purgatory I don’t know.
The old monastery, at least when we visited, seemed to retain much of the beauty and even some of the serenity it must have had more than three centuries ago. Much of Venezuela — now a toxic witches’ stew of vipers, poison toads, rabid bats, corruption and suffering that has been simmering with increasing toxicity since the ascent of (now finally deceased) el Presidente
THugo Chávez to power in 1999 — lacks comparable serenity. The old monastery has long outlived Chávez and many of his predecessors. I hope it will outlive many of his successors, if only to provide a sense of continuity with the distant past and of hopeful permanence for a nation where both have become sadly absent.
The Middle East and California
An article by Barry Rubin about prospects for President Obama’s visit this week to Israel seems more immediately relevant than my recollections of Venezuela from what is now the previous century. An article by Victor Davis Hanson (VDH) presents a log of his recent five day trip through parts of California; it has similarly current relevance.
Considering the centuries-long survival of the beauties of the old Venezuelan monastery, and reading Rubin’s and Hanson’s articles, one gets a sense of hopelessness tinged with at least a soupçon of hope for the future.
The article by Barry Rubin
Mr. Rubin’s article focuses on the present foreign policy of the United States toward the Middle East. He sees it as empowering Israel’s enemies and their “friends” — generally the enemies of the United States and of our “friends” as well — in the hope that all will work out for the best. It won’t.
One Middle Eastern saying that has become widely known in the West is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the Obama era, this has been transmuted into: The enemy of my friend is my friend. No, wait! U.S. policy has gone even further than that to: The enemy of myself is my friend!
That’s from the beginning of the article. This is toward the end:
Empowering anti-American and antisemitic Islamism in the guise of “moderate Islamism” is the most dangerous thing U.S. policy could do in the Middle East or in the world generally. The price in blood will be paid for decades to come. I’d end this article by asking Obama to stop doing this but why bother because we all know that he won’t do so.
Please read the stuff in between; there are many insights and they should be welcome contributions to our store of regional knowledge. What we are doing in the Middle East makes no sense from a perspective of U.S. long term interests and little if any even from a perspective of our short term interests. Despite the ill consequences, we continue to do it. Einstein would shake his head in dismay at our insanity in doing the same things over and over again while expecting different and better results “this time.”
Gerald Steinberg at the National Post expressed not terribly different thoughts as follows in an article titled “Netanyahu is from Mars, Obama is from Venus:”
When they meet this week, the Israeli Prime Minister and the American President will need to find a middle ground between their very different perceptions of international politics. The Israeli leader is a hard-core realist (or pessimist, if you prefer), who sees the dangers of what Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) described as the “war of all against all” in the anarchy of international politics. Israel stands out as a solitary and vulnerable Jewish state in a hostile and dangerous Middle Eastern environment, whereby survival depends on a powerful military able to defeat all threats.
Obama, on other hand, is a liberal democrat who takes an idealist (or optimistic) approach. Like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), he believes that disputes generally can be overcome through dialogue and compromise. For Obama, the use of military force is an undesirable last resort, reserved for a few sociopaths such as bin Laden, Gaddafi and the leaders of the Taliban. He has given priority to ending America’s military role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and renewed U.S. participation in the UN Human Rights Council, citing its lofty principles, rather than the unpleasant reality.
Considering the situation in the Middle East — the recent past, present and likely future — the Martian perspective seems more rational and less suicidal than the view from Venus.
Victor Davis Hanson and California
VDH’s article, titled “Five Days of Hope and Despair,” is about what he perceived (there is often a significant difference between what one sees and what one actually perceives) during a five day trip through parts of his home state, California. No less distressing than Mr. Rubin’s article, it compares places visited in today’s California with what went on there not many years ago. His first stop was a new “library.”
I am returning today to the rather new, multimillion-dollar CSU Fresno Library. We’ve been there before, but I thought I would see whether things have changed from my last visit. It is easier to use than Stanford’s far larger holdings. Few students seem to check out books on history and literature, so recall is rare. (Few students inside know that it has over a million volumes and that its real creator, Henry Madden, was an eccentric genius.)
The glass and metal addition was underwritten by a local tribal casino corporation. It is far more lavish than the old library I used for a quarter-century: Starbucks inside, Wi-Fi, and plenty of lounging nooks. To get into the stacks, you go downstairs and push red and green buttons to move the huge tracked bookcases that are otherwise crammed together. I think the idea was to save space. But the inconvenience of waiting on slow-moving book cases does not seem to be warranted by opening up space for those who do not use books.
I studied ten random students as I walked about looking for six books. Four were engaged, eating and laughing, a sort of student-union experience surrounded by a backdrop of books — reminding me of talking heads that do interviews with faux tomes in the background.
Two were on cellphones (loudly so). Two were video-gaming on their laptops (from a few glimpses, they seemed glued to some sort of road race game and a military-style assassination exercise). One was reading, at a table marked “Physics,” and one was typing. Twenty percent at work confirms my earlier visits — given that the library has very little to do with students searching out books and articles in a repository, deferentially quiet in respect for other scholars, careful to eat and drink only in assigned places, and wide awake. Out with the old, in with the new.
Instead, the campus library that I saw is still not quite a library, at least by any definition that we used to employ. Most there had little visible interest in reading or writing. The stacks were for the most part not being used. It is part student union, part a movable Starbucks meet-and-greet over coffee and cookies, part a nice place to text, net surf, and play around with video games.
Despite the external symbolism suggesting a place of learning, the new library has very different ambiance and function. It is less a place for academic learning (scholarship) than for casual “hookups” and socializing of a Facebook type. Is that what those who may be bound for the “learned” sectors of American society are evolving/devolving into?
Please read the rest of VDH’s article as well. It’s depressing but in a perhaps perverse way even mildly encouraging. Many of the changes at the other places he visited have been toward increased economic efficiency but toward more dehumanization as well. The conflicts these changes present, each with the other, probably are not sustainable; something has to yield. To what extent is such efficiency compatible with humanity as we have known it? As we hope to know it in the future? How might the conflicts be resolved? If choices are eventually to be made, as seems likely, which are the most desirable choices? The worst? A very different question is, “what will happen?” Will sufficient humanity be preserved to permit its regeneration? Or will our descent continue into deeper and less tenable regions of Purgatory? What about Hell?
That’s the basis of the Purgatory or Hell title. Whatever we are now experiencing, it is neither now, nor is it likely soon to become, Heavenly. I hope it will more closely resemble a transitory Purgatory, from which it will be possible to escape to something far better, than a permanent Hell. Which it becomes is pretty much up to us.
I have posted this video before, mainly because I revere aspects of the past of which it reminds me and hope for a future which might still be ours. Perhaps others may also think it has at least some relevance here.
(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)
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