Well, you know Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he gave us the concept of black swans, very bright guy because he questions, questions, and the answers he gets from reality don’t always match with the expectations routinely offered in answer to the same questions.
Well, Taleb‘s tweet cropped up in my feed within about a minute of Greg McMurry quoting the Oratorian priest Fr David Abernathy‘s tweeting a quotation from St Charbel, which seemed to convey a very similar notion, only expressed in terms of spiritual rather than secular ratios between loss and gain:
Their buildings rise, their morality sinks. Their worldly goods increase, their values diminish. Their speeches multiply, their prayers grow scarce…. An edifice based on man may well rise, but it ends up crushing him. St. Charbel pic.twitter.com/5iZChni2ia
I bother because seeing parallelisms and oppositions and taking note of them is one of the prime “moves” in creativity, and I want to be as primed to recognize such parallelisms, particularly when they cross disciplinary boundaries, as readily as possible.
Bonus point because both St Charbel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb are of Lebanese origin.
[ by Charles Cameron — a meeting of the opposites in the Lutheran and Catholic martyrologies ]
I dreamed of two headlines, one occupying most of the page with its sub-head, author’s name, and first few paragraphs, enough to tell the tale — “Naval Academy Midshipman Charged With Setting Fire to Historic Documents” — and in the margin, that other — “Scottish church suspects some lillibethians among its martyrs.”
I’m not interested, today, in the Naval Academy outrage, though maybe on another day.. What interests me today is the possibility that some saints, martyrs indeed, venerated by the Catholic church in Scotland, home of my male forebears across the centuries, may turn out to be found to be “lillibethians” — a word I believe I coined, meaning “followers of Elizabeth” in the Catholic times of Queen Mary.: martyrs indeed, but for the wrong, Protestant faith.
Now the thing is, it might be difficult for the current church to admit that some of its venerated saints who, remember, were killed by the hated, heretical Protestants for their fortitude in holding the true Catholic faith even unto death were, in historical fact, martyred one might say, by right-minded, rigorous, righteous Catholics, for their fortitude in holding the true Protestant faith even unto death..
My dream has me wondering, can one switch religions, from Catholic martyr to Protestant martyr, while still retaining the same respect, veneration indeed, for fortitude in holding the true faith even unto death? Can a venerated Protestant martyr become a venerated Catholic martyr (other team), or vice versa?
Could a Catholic pope canonize, as one novelist has suggested, a Protestant Johann Sebastian Bach?
Astonishing, the fertility and freshness of his mind, and as the centuries roll on, the fresh brilliance of this virtuoso performance..
Recognizing that the same tale was told from India along the trade routes to Europe, with Bodhisattva becoming Iodasaph, then Ioasaph, then Josaphat, how can we avoid acknowledging that the saints Catholics have venerated for centuries as Barlaam and Josaphat were originally and thus are in fact, Bodhisattva (the apprentice Buddha) and his teacher?
Thus a priest might call the 27th of November, the Feast of St Buddha… Fr Thomas Merton OCSO would very likely have approved.
Oh, and the Scottish martyrs. I recall Jorge Luis Borges‘ story, The Theologians, in which the heresiarch and the arch-orthodox duke it out, the definitions of heresy (a death penalty offense) and orthodoxy even shifting at one point — it’s final paragraph is the killer:
It is more correct to record that in Paradise Aurelian knew this: in the unfathomable divinity of God he and John, the heretic and the rector of the Faith, the abhorring and the abhorred, the victim and his accuser, in God these two had ever been one person only.
So may it be with the damned Lutherans and the blessed Catholics — and their respective martyrs!
[ by Charles Cameron — some quick recommendations, under pressure of time ]
Baghdadi is dead, and as the dust settles we can re commend some readings.
Our friend Tim Furnish has provided his WikiStrat entry, moving from the news otself (1) via apocalyptic fervor (2) to the eschatological implicationos of ISIS’ future (3), the latter reading:
ISIS remains, however, an eschatological movement dedicated to preparing the way for the coming of the (Sunni) Mahdi. It’s thus enamored with “hotwiring the apocalypse,” and this fervent belief will not end with the death of the Caliph.
Hotwiring the apocalypse is a concept the late Israeli analyst Reuven Paz offered up in a 2006 piece titled Hotwiring the Apocalypse: Jihadi Salafi Attitude towards Hizballah and Iran. A dozen years have passed since Paz wrote his piece, and the journey from “Hazbollah and Iran” to ISIS in the wake of its Caliph’s death is a long and winding one, but Dr Paz’ phrase continues to cover the possibility that an end-times oriented jihadism may seek to bring about the final sequence of events by threatening, inciting or unleashing sufficiently impressive violence. As Dr Furnish has pointed out with respect to Iranian (Shi’ite) eschatology, the great disadvantage of unleashing violence of sufficient potency is that it would leave the earth, or at least its holiest lands, devastated just as the Mahdi arrives to begin his rule over it.
Graeme Wood is one of the most perceptive writers on ISIS and its religious impetus, author of What ISIS Really Wants, the article which first revealed ISIS’ apocalyptic driver to a wide audience. His Atlantic piece yesterday, Baghdadi’s Final Humiliation. Most striking of Wood‘s insights as I read him:
For Baghdadi to seek refuge among people who want to kill him probably means that the places where he had more support, such as within his home country of Iraq or near its border with Syria, could no longer provide him with any measure of safety. Finding him in HTS territory is like finding Derek Jeter hiding out in South Boston, or Martin Bormann living quietly by a synagogue on the Upper East Side.
Graeme Wood is a gifted writer, working here in a field of rubble and human destruction, and it is always a pleasure to read him.
The great Rukmini Callimachi spent, she says, months working on the obituary of Baghdadi. Other writers find themselves confronted with a newly urgent topic to cover with Baghdadi‘s death. Callimachi, who also discovered and reported with AP an amazing cache of Al Qaida documents in 2013 Timbuktu — a cache which included “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division” — has somehow found time along with her grueling travel and reporting schedule, to prepare an extensive obit for Baghdadi — ready for publication now that news of his death can be dropped in:
The son of a pious Sunni family from the Iraqi district of Samarra, al-Baghdadi parlayed religious fervor, hatred of nonbelievers and the power of the internet into the path that catapulted him onto the global stage. He commanded an organization that, at its peak, controlled a territory the size of Britain from which it directed and inspired acts of terror in more than three dozen countries.
Al-Baghdadi was the world’s most-wanted terrorist chieftain, the target of a $25 million bounty from the American government. His death followed a yearslong, international manhunt that consumed the intelligence services of multiple countries and spanned two American presidential administrations.
Callumachi and and Falih Hassan cover a lot of ground in few words. Here, for instance, is the brief overview of Baghdadi‘s attempt at a caliphate:
Although Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, had dreamed of restoring the caliphate, he was reluctant to declare one, perhaps fearing the overwhelming military response that eventually cost al-Baghdadi his territory.
Yet it took five years before troops seized in March the last acre of land under al-Baghdadi’s rule. And in the interim, the promise of a physical caliphate electrified tens of thousands of followers who flocked to Syria to serve his imagined state.
Part of the caliphate’s excitement, attraction and repulsion came form its sheer brutality — some of it scripturally sanctioned, some definitely and indeed defiantly not:
Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their hands hacked off, and men who had defied the militants were beheaded.
While some of those medieval punishments are also meted out in places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State shocked people around the world by televising its executions. It also offended Muslims by inventing horrific punishments that are not mentioned in Islamic scripture.
A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages, as underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank, or strung up by their feet inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.
With the destruction of the geographical caliphate, the internet’s role becomes increasingly significant:
The militants harnessed the internet to connect with thousands of followers around the globe, making them feel as if they were virtual citizens of the caliphate.
The message of these new jihadists was clear, and many of those on whose ears it fell found it emboldening: Anyone, anywhere, could act in the group’s name. That allowed ISIS to multiply its lethality by remotely inspiring attacks, carried out by men who never set foot in a training camp.
In this fashion, ISIS was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people around the world. A shooting at an office party in San Bernardino, Calif. An attack on a Christmas market in Germany. A truck attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day. Suicide bombings at churches on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
Baghdadi‘s death will do little more than cause a pause in this virtual empire of jihad-enthusiasts — the story goes on..
For a whole other strand of Rukmini‘s commentary, see her unrolled Twitter-thread from today’s feed:
Richard Engel for MSNBC is another journalist with in-field expertise, and his story of the informant who assisted US troops in the eventual raid on Baghdadi‘s compound is stunning —
General Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces said his intelligence service had a source deep in Baghdadi’s inner circle who described a room-by-room layout of the terrorist’s compound on the Turkish border, including the number of guards, floor plan and tunnels.
Kurdish intelligence operatives who managed the source passed that information to American forces, giving U.S. Special Ops a better understanding of Baghdadi’s safe house before striking it, according to Abdi.
Abdi, who is also known as Mazlum Kobane, said the unidentified source was on location during the raid and left with the attacking U.S. forces.
Well, that’s about all I van manage today. I think you’ll find a mine or two of valuable information here, if you read deep in.
I’ve a medical appointment after lunch which will wipe me out for the day, and hope to pick up with a piece on the issue of Baghdadi‘s possible successor(s), the Mahdi and the Day of Judgment tomorrow.
[ by Charles Cameron — reading my daily dose of 3QD again after a health-induced lapse, and glad I’m back ]
One of the more interesting comments about, well, religion, comes from a review by Robert Fay in 3QD of Chinese science fiction master Liu Cixin‘s novel, the first in a trilogy and the one President Obama so praised, The Three Body Problem, reading it in a wide world context:
Sacrifice used to be part-and-parcel of the western self-identity. Jesus on the cross at Calvary was the central spiritual truth of Christendom. The west, of course, left much of this behind during the Enlightenment. The French Revolution further asserted the rights of individuals. If anything, the consumption of consumer goods is the true religion of the west now, and it demands we all act immediately on our impulses, cravings and desires.
This hasn’t worked out well for the planet.
Yes, sacrifice, and it’s dual, martyrdom, have all but disappeared, although, well, the Marines understand sacrifice, and the jihadists understand martyrdom.
To take you into the audacity of sacrifice or the self-surrender of martyrdom is beyond me here. Let me just note that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and the death of Joan of Arc a martyrdom. Arguably, the two ideas are parallel, and meet at infinity, as in the Cure D’Ars observation:
If we knew what a Mass is, we should die of it.
Thus, theologically speaking, the Eucharist (present) cyclically repeats Christ‘s sacrifice on the cross (past), in a transcendent manner which makes of it a foretaste of the Wedding Feast (future) envisioned in the book of Revelation.
There’s a fine alternative vision of the three body problem in Bill Benzon‘s Time Travelers We Are, Each And All, his account of brain, mind and Beethoven, which, like Robert Fay‘s account of Liu Cixin‘s novel of that name, arrived in today’s edition of 3QD. Benzon is quoting the literary critic Wayne Booth describing a performance of Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 as constituting unities out of a string quartet, Booth himself and his nwife, and, somehow, both of those and Beethoven — three bodies as one:
There is Beethoven, one hundred and forty-three years ago … writing away at the marvelous theme and variations in the fourth movement. … Here is the four-players doing the best it can to make the revolutionary welding possible. And here we am, doing the best we can to turn our “self” totally into it: all of us impersonally slogging away (these tears about my son’s death? ignore them, irrelevant) to turn ourselves into that deathless quartet.
That unity of three bodies is found, and can be joined, in Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131:
Reading Benzon‘s piece, we can benefit also from his presentation of neurons, their connections and internal workings:
We have no way of directly counting the neurons in the nervous systems, but estimates put the number at roughly 86 billion with an average of 10,000 synapses per neuron.
To specify the brain’s state at a given moment in clock time we need to know the state of each unit component, such as a neuron. One convenient way to do this is to say that a neuron is either firing or it is not. So it can have two states. Neurons are complicated things; each is a living cell with the full complement of machinery that that requires. There’s a lot more to a neuron that whether or not it’s firing.
This description of neurons is in service to a discussion of clock-time and brain states, which is itself in service to a wider discussion of time itself, as our wrist-watches understand it, and as our experience of Beethoven might cause us to discover it.
Following the musical branch of this discussion, we find Benzon quoting Bernstein on ego-loss:
I don’t know whether any of you have experienced that but it’s what everyone in the world is always searching for. When it happens in conducting, it happens because you identify so completely with the composer, you’ve studied him so intently, that it’s as though you’ve written the piece yourself. You completely forget who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there. You just make it up as though you never heard it before. Because you become that composer.
Benzon‘s three into one is Bernstein‘s two into one, and all paths lead to reliving a keynote segment of the life of Beethoven — Beethoven as a musical Everest, with Bernstein and the quartet as sherpas, Booth and his wife and Benzon and you and I as climbers, some at base-camp listening to the great Chuck Berry, some on the final ascent, some planting flags at the peak..
Peak Beethoven is phenomenological unity. Across time, time travel.
Oh, the numbers games one can play — Sixteen into forty into one in Tallis’ forty-part motet, Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui — where the very title speaks to the union – I Have Hope in None Other:
Oh and is not religion at the heart of this unity, this unity at the very heart of religion? And is not this braiding of voices, this polyphony, a working of this unity?
My early mentor and friend, Herbert Warner Allen, wrote of his own time with Beethoven. As I wrote elsewhere:
Herbert Warner Allen, a classical scholar, sometime newspaper editor and noted authority on wines, experienced a timeless moment between two beats during a performance of one of the Beethoven symphonies. Not knowing quite what had hit him, he went on to research the mystical tradition and wrote three mostly forgotten books [of which the first was aptly named The Timeless Moment] situating his experience within intellectual tradition without nailing it to any particular dogmatic structure. TS Eliot, who published the books, inscribed a book of his own poetry to Warner Allen with the words “from the Srotaapanna to the Arhat, TS Eliot”, with a footnote to explain “Srotaapanna: he who has dipped one toe in the river of the wqaters of enlightenment; Arhat: he who has arrived at the further shore”.
Here’s the almost anonymous A.T. writing to The Times, 19th January 1968:
In your obituary notice of the late Mr. Warner Allen you do not mention the books he wrote describing his “journey on the Mystic Way”. The best known of these books was The Timeless Moment in which he gave some account of a visionary experience that for him “flashed up lightning-wise during a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Queen’s Hall “. In this split second of time he received (as no one reading his books can doubt) a flash of absolute reality that broke through the normal barriers of the conscious mind and left a trail of illumination in its wake. Mr. Allen never claimed to be an advanced mystic or profound philosopher. He described himself as an ordinary man of the world. He spent years unravelling the implications of his strange experience. The resulting volumes were and are of extraordinary interest.
Pat Robertson — well, I leave you to our own musings about him — in any case, he mentions the Mandate of Heaven which, the Chinese being subtler thn the British, compares favorably with the Divine Right of Kings in that it can be withdrawn at the pleasure of the gods. Justice in a ruler, equitabe and fair, is the criterion for
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has a rule-book for kings and those they reign over, and while Trump was anointed to his presidential role and widely considered a king Cyrus, as an outsider to the faithful, or a king David, as an adulterer nonetheless pleasing unto God, both concepts conferring wiggle-room on the wishes of Heaven, Russell Moore, one of the prime theologians and ethicists of the Southern Baptists, appears to agree with Robertson that the Mandate or Divine Right or fidelity under oath to the Constitution of these United States may be evaporating.
Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President. President‘s serve at the pleasure of the Congress, Cabinet, or electorate. It would be wise for the Congress, Cabinet, or electorate to ponder, under present circumstances, the Mandate of Heaven or, which is much the same thing, the Will of the People.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.