Monday, February 21, 2011

Power and Glory

Glory, glory, hallelujah,
right? Thine is the power and the glory? A novel by Graham Greene? Probably something punned on by a thriller writer as well, but do you know what the word "glory" means?

"The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit." -- Jonathan Swift
Where I went to college, the student body was slightly minority Jewish, which made Jewish the largest single religion. (I.e. 48% of the students there were Jewish, but, since all the other religions called themselves Methodists or Baptists or Christian-unspecified or Muslim, that made reformed Judaism the largest block.) The evangelical Christians noticed that our school had a church affiliation and even a school of theology and a seminary, and so they would routinely do what they could to antagonize the Jews and, in the process, the rest of the student body. I, at the time, was far more fundamentalist than I am now, and they forced me into the position of having to criticize my brothers and sisters forcefully when they would invite flames 'o hell apocalyptic speakers to proselytize outside of the student union ... on Yom Kippur. These people were just being jerks, though. They were not looking for converts. They were throwing bricks and hoping to radicalize Christians for a religious war they wanted to provoke.

Where I went to college again and again, though, the schools were public, and so they had "free speech" areas. These were a heritage of the glory days of the 1960's. These areas were most frequently used by "pit preachers." Two, in particular, seemed to appear at both schools. One was named Jed, and one was named Zed. (It seems that Zed is less well known. The web has remembrances of him, but Jed got more attention.) Both of them did much the same thing: preached at the undergraduates about how damned they were, how sinful they were, how they were creatures of lust and constant fornication, and how they were all, "GOIN' STRAIGHT TO HAIL!" If, on the other hand, the students would only accept Jesus, then they wouldn't go to Hail. They'd "Go to Glow-ry."

Zed was particularly entertaining for the students. I never saw either preacher convert anyone, unless you count converting the antagonistic into the radical. They provided an excellent rallying point for gay and lesbian groups, and they were figures of fun for the lunch crowd. At Georgia, the students sat on bleachers and chanted along with the preacher, "GOIN' STRAIGHT TO HAIL!" They'd then applaud, as if they'd just done the wave.

Of course one does not "go" to glory, as glory is not the antonym of Hell. Glory is also not a synonym of power, nor an empty syllable to go with vestigial Hebrew phrases like "Hallelujah." It is, instead, "Fame for goodness or greatness."

Middle eastern rulers understand glory, while northern Europeans understand fame. Fame is glory without historical memory, I think.

People go wherever a dead teenager's coffin goes and stand in line for hours to take a look at all his stuff. They travel thousands of miles to look at all the official statues made as publicity for the tyrants of Egypt. For thousands and thousands of years, rulers in the middle east have known that the very first thing you do upon taking charge is force a bunch of artists to start making your likeness and plastering, taping, painting, hammering, stapling, singing, and gluing it up everywhere. Make sure that visitors and the natives alike cannot escape seeing an enlargement of you and that they realize that you're big, really big.

If you're leader of all Turkmen, you need to show it, in gold, in every direction. Trust your gut: one day tourists will stand in line to bask in its beams.
In the United States, though, we think things like that are ugly, vainglorious, and obviously futile -- unlike winning at "American Idol." That gets an important recording contract and fame. Fame means everyone WANTING you. The other thing means everyone seeing and fearing or obeying you. That's why we consider it the height of progress when we can bring a "Miss Kabul" pageant to Afghanistan and tear down a statue of Saddam in Baghdad. Down with the official power, and up with the fame.

Not that I disagree about the propaganda thing. I'm a Christian. This is why I know that it's revolutionary, absolutely, when Martin Luther said, "yours is the power and the glory." In other words, we follow Jesus in denouncing any temporal glory, but I don't think I can praise the substitution of fame in its stead, nor the quiet way we have given up on the substance of glory.

You see, those dread monarchs were putting up their likenesses because they were going to get authority and fear and quaking knees. Their glory and power were in one body and being. In the United States today, we have moved into a world where power has slipped away, where morality has ceased to exist, because power and morality both have gone into this deferred mass. Individuals go to their Baptist churches and drop checks for $10,000 a month in the plate and go to work, where, for the good of the company, they agree that corporate strategy involves a plan to increase fees for consumers with low balances and overdrafts and a new order of payments processing that might increase overdrafts on people with low balances. That's not evil, though, because it was a good decision for the company.

The company isn't evil, either, because the company's decision, which is going to have a huge effect on tens of thousands of people, robbing many of them and sending hundreds of thousands of dollars from their accounts for no wrong of theirs, is simply a manipulation of that which is allowed, and companies are supposed to maximize profits. This is their command, and they would be failing if they didn't. Furthermore, a competing company would surely do so, and then that company would have that increased capital and use it against this one, and its directors might not be good people.

Our corporate landscape has gone entirely M.B.A. It is working as aggressively as it can according to its solitary rule: maximum profit for the lowest wages possible, with the lowest quality necessary. There is no thinking beyond the next quarter, unless it's about product development. And thus it is that every human on the planet has ingested dioxin, most have been exposed to PCB's, rBGH milk is suspect (IGF-I is identical in cows and humans, and the rBGH causes increased IGF-I expression), and "Round Up Ready" plants are extremely suspicious, and yet now in our food chain. Our own body's genes are patented by Novartis, Monsanto, and Aventis. We live our lives penetrated by radio waves from all spectra. We drink estrogens. We accept that there is such a thing as "the consumer" and that this creature is distinct from "us." We believe that there is something called "labor" and that it is also distinct from us. We believe that "middle class" means just about anything.

These changes are mainly in the last 50 years as well.

What we have now is not what we had. There are no mustache twirling villains and no gleaming smiled heroes. There is no glory. The evil that the average person faces is nameless and faceless. A company is convincing his eight year old daughter to text more, and it is doing so in order to make her a cash machine. It doesn't want her love. It doesn't want her to know its name. It just wants power over her. The bank he deals with doesn't care if he hates it. The Wall Street trader who drove up wheat prices and led to massive instability in Africa doesn't care if people wish him dead. He is without a name and is content. He just wants the power, the money.

They have no glory. They're making us all a Hell.

1 comment:

Clyde Penquin said...

Jed Smock was a routine visitor at Free Speech Alley when I was at LSU, along with Sister Cindy (who later became his wife) and Holy Hubert. I used to cut class to watch them.