Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carlyle: The Hero as Divinity

And now, back to Thomas Carlyle's On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. I provide the link to an e-book download from Google Books, a no-cost download.

Carlyle's six lectures in 1840, becoming the six chapters in the 1841 book, are:


It seems that these titles almost have to be the opposite. Instead of "The Hero as Divinity" it should be "The Divinity as Hero". But no matter. It was Carlyle's lecture series and he could choose the titles.

Still trying to draw from the opening of the book to better determine Carlyle's definition of a hero, we find this in his opening remarks.

...Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world's history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.
This gives us his purpose in the topic of the lectures, but not really a definition. Well, maybe a sort of definition. Heroes are the leaders of men; the modellers, patterns, and creators of what the mass of me do or attain. Um, I don't think so, but that is a topic for the end of my series of essays.

Odin, he says, may or may not have been a man. He was the chief divinity of the Norsemen, competing with Thor and maybe a few others for that title. Carlyle says Odin was an actual man who, through ages of verbal story telling, became revered as a god. Others disagree. I won't go into specific references, but those who have carefully fact checked (to use the modern term) Carlyle's work say no, the evidence that there ever existed a man named Odin who became revered as a god is next to nothing—perhaps spurious, even. Odin most likely never existed. He was the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Apollo; a legend, nothing more.

But Carlyle believed at that time that the religion of a man was of utmost importance in knowing the man. "It is well said, in every sense, that a man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man's, or a nation of men's. ...the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is." So it is natural that Carlyle would start with the divinity as a hero. After all, in his way of thinking, a man is known by his religion, and the great men order the steps of man, so a god as a hero—perfect sense.

But I could make little sense of this chapter. Carlyle was obviously well read in the Norse myths and legends, and in their paganism. For pages and pages in the book he goes on, representing who knows how long in the lecture, about how paganism was okay, given the intellectual and religious development of mankind at that time. Okay, I can accept that. We developed as a people over centuries, are still developing (or going backwards, depending on your viewpoint, but even backwards is a development of sorts), and can always be better in our thinking and our doing.

Henry Larkin, in his 1886 work Carlyle and the Open Secret of his Life, compares this lecture to Carlyle's mystical work Sartor Resartus, and says:

This first lecture is in many respects the most magnificent of the series; and yet, in the express purpose of it, it is the most inconclusive  and disappointing. Nothing can be grander of its kind than the introductory portion; mainly embodying the transcendental ideas of 'Sartor' but with the now added emphasis of his own personal endorsement. No less satisfactory is the light he throws on the old Norse Mythology, still living amongst us in strange, unexpected ways.

The use of language is magnificent. The conveying of useful information is lacking. That's my assessment of the letter, so to some extent I agree with Larkin. Maybe this was another of those times when I was reading in my off-peak hours. Re-reading portions of this I see the rhetoric soaring, and feel that the substance is something I should better grasp, and so should read it again. But I will not, at this time. Maybe in a future time. And if I do, it will be from printed pages, rather than from my e-reader, to see if that makes a difference in my comprehension.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Great American Political Divide – Urban vs. Non-Urban

[Note: I wrote this post on November 11, 2012, just five days after the presidential election, but saved it rather than posting it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I meant to think about it; maybe I didn't think it was done; maybe I pushed the wrong button. I just read it, now on February 25, 2013, and it seems ready to me. This time I'll hit "Publish" instead of "Save". I realize it's a bit out of date, but I wrote it so I'll post it.]

How is it that Americans are divided? In 2000 the election was razor thin for both POTUS and Congress. 2004 wasn't as close, but it wasn't a blow out for Bush. If less than 100,000 voters changed their minds, Kerry might have been president. 2008 was a wider margin. Some called it a landslide since the Electoral College vote was lopsided. However, the popular vote differential was only 6 percentage points. By the old standards, this wasn't a landslide.

So we come to 2012, and the results are closer than in 2008, but with the same result. I haven't checked state totals yet, but I suspect a shift of between 100,000-200,000 votes would have made Romney president. It was actually a fairly close election by American historical standards.

But, my point here is different. Remember back to the 2000 election results if you can, and the maps that showed the results by county. The land mass of the USA was mostly painted red, showing that the Republican, Bush, carried most of the counties. Democrats won along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, along the Mississippi, in some border counties, and in pockets here and there.

If someone had put together a similar map in previous elections, I never saw one. But such a map is standard post-election fare now. The maps in 2004, 2008, and 2012 are all similar to 2000: lots of red, blue on the coast and a few other places. People have made a big deal arguing about those maps, one side claiming they are significant, showing how little of the nations supports the Democrats. Others create population-proportioned maps of the same areas, organized by state, which shows distortions but which are supposedly balanced by population.

As I looked at those maps and studied them, it wasn't difficult to see, with even a basic knowledge of our nation's geography, that urban areas were blue and other areas were red. Not exclusively so, but mostly. Thus I came to the conclusion that our divide in the USA is urban areas vs. non-urban areas, with the suburbs stuck in the middle. It's not really Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative, or minority vs. white. It's urban vs. non-urban. Non-urban could be defined truly rural areas, exurbs, and farther out suburbs. The near-in suburbs would be urban rather than non-urban. How else might you define it? Maybe those areas served by regular and frequent mass transit would be considered urban, those areas with no mass transit system or with a "call for service", or unscheduled system, would be non-urban.

The goals for and desires from life are different for those who live where the population density is 100 people per acre rather than 100 acres per person. Sociologists and political scientists will have to be the ones to figure out exactly why.

But it seems that urban dwellers expect more from the government. Since Democrats generally look for government solutions in places where Republicans look for private sector solutions, it's no wonder that urban areas migrate to he Democratic party. And since many in non-urban areas tend toward "rugged individualism," it's natural that they move in the direction of the Republican party.

Certainly this is a simplification. Party affiliation is sometimes family based, sometimes based on specific policies, such as economics or social issues. But even some of these are based on the urban or non-urban circumstances.

This is a fairly new conclusion I've come to. I think I always knew this, but hadn't articulated it. I'm going to think through it some more. Maybe in a future piece I'll have more to say about it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

In Agony in a Gardena

Sunday is always a good day. Rest from the normal work week; fellowship with friends; worship of the living God. And, I hope, a little time to exercise my brain by putting words on paper.

At church we are in the midst of a five week sermon series based on the book 24 Hours that Changed the World, by Pastor Adam Hamilton. This traces Jesus from the Last Supper through the crucifixion. This was week two, covering Jesus' time in the garden of Gethsemane. A familiar story, but one that can be looked at from another of angles, so it never gets stale. It was my week to teach.

The class discussion was quite active, and I had little direct teaching. The book suggested having a discussion of how Jesus praying three times in the garden was parallel to his being tempted early in his ministry. It also suggested saying how Jesus praying in a garden as a link in the chain that broke the curse of sin was parallel to a much earlier garden, Eden, where sin first got its start. They seemed like reasonable parallels, so I brought them up. That got discussion started.

First one person said she didn't see any parallel between the number of garden prayers and number of temptations. She was quite adamant. Someone replied that the devil was obviously in the garden, because it was shown that way in the movie The Passion of the Christ. I tried to remind the class that The Passion is fiction based on the Bible, not history.

Then the same class member said making the parallel between Eden and Gethsemane was ridiculous. So much for following the book.

The discussion was free wheeling. We talked about the failure of the apostles, especially Peter, James, and John, in the garden. At this someone again mentioned what The Passion had to say about this. This time I was more forceful in telling the class that The Passion is not authoritative; it's a fictional adaptation of the scripture. This time I'm pretty sure they got it.

I'm looking forward to this series, a slow walk through those critical 24 hours. While such a look leaves out the resurrection, which was even bigger, it will still be a good study.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Carlyle: Heroes and Hero Worship Part 1

While I was on the road trip, rather than write, rather than edit, rather than read a pleasure book I had with me, rather than read to research for my next non-fiction book, rather than study my Life Group lessons, I read for research into Thomas Carlyle, specifically his 1840 book On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History. The language and sentence structure is a bit old-fashioned, but actually the reading wasn't too difficult. I don't yet know what I want to do with Carlyle over the remaining years of my writing career, but until I do I'm reading him.

The term "hero worship" has always grated on me, because I believe our only object of worship should be God. However, if I think of the term more as admiration I can deal with it and absorb it into my brain.

First, or course, is to come up with a definition of a hero. I read deep into Heroes without understanding Carlyle's definition. In fact, I think it was chapter 4, corresponding to the fourth of his six lectures, before I figured it out. However, going back and re-reading from the beginning, I find this a little way into Chapter 2, with it also stated (thought less clearly) in Chapter 1.

But of a Great Man especially, of him I will venture to assert that it is incredible he should have been other than true. It seems to me the primary foundation of him, and of all that can lie in him, this. No Mirabeau, Napoleon, Burns, Cromwell, no man adequate to do anything, but is first of all in right earnest about it; what I call a sincere man. I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic.

So to Carlyle, the most important thing for a man to be considered heroic is that he be sincere in his pursuits. The opposite, in his term is a quack: someone who practices quackery. By this he means someone who is trying to hoodwink those he interacts with, perhaps trying to appear sincere but knowing none of what he says or does is based on truth. While the term quack is nowadays applied to medical charlatans, Carlyle would apply the term to someone like Bernie Madoff, who bilked investors out of billions, because Madoff knew he was conning people. I suppose, had Madoff sincerely thought the type of investments he was making for his clients would have paid off, if he really believed what he was doing was right, he would be a candidate to be a hero even if his clients lost billions.

I find this a strange definition. Or maybe I find that Carlyle overstates it. In his mind, and in his lectures and book, if a man is sincere and does great things then he is a hero. He doesn't need to be right—just sincere. He doesn't need to help people as opposed to hurt them—he just needs to be sincere as he goes about his work. If his work is riddled with errors, or if he actually hurts people as a result of what he produces, so long as he did this sincerely he can be a hero. So Mohammad, who Carlyle says was in error in his doctrines and approach to spreading them, was a hero because he sincerely believed he received those doctrines from God. Rousseau, who he pans as having few accomplishments other than spurring the intellectual foundation for the French Revolution, was a hero because he was sincere in what he did.

I'm sorry, but for me that's not enough. Sincerity may be one component of being a hero, but accomplishment for good is of greater importance in my opinion. The sincere man who hurts people, such as Rousseau, is no hero. The prophet who leads a billion people into theological error, thought he sincerely believes what he preaches, is no hero.

I'm going to take a few posts to give my impressions of this book. At the end I hope to say a few things about heroes in our own generation, and to give some examples. Of course, I've planned such series at this blog before, and often fall short of my own expectations. I'm currently in the last chapter of the book, with about 90 e-book pages to read. We'll see how this series goes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Road Trip Recap

At noon on Thursday, February 7, Lynda and I headed south in our 2003 Town & Country for a long drive to San Diego. I was to make presentations at Environmental Connection 13, the annual conference of the International Erosion Control Association. We allowed three days drive there, and arrived at a good time on Saturday the 9th.

On Sunday we attended worship at San Diego First Church of the Nazarene, next to Point Loma Nazarene University campus. Then we toured the campus, which is quite nice, and walked some of the paths down toward the Pacific. After a good Mexican lunch we headed to Balboa Park. Finding a place to park was so difficult on that beautiful winter day that we lost a lot of time. Then we walked in wrong directions, back-tracked, and wasted more time. Consequently all we got to do in the park was buy passes and see an Imax film, The Flight of the Butterflies.

Monday was a full day of conference, but Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to leave a bit early and we took in some things at the park. Thursday was a vacation day, so we were all day at the park. The things we saw on those four days:
- The outdoor organ
- Air and Space Museum
- Automobile Museum
- San Diego Museum of Art
- Timken Art Museum
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- the Botanical "Garden" outside the Horticulture Building (which was closed)
- Model Railroad Museum
- San Diego Zoo
That's a big park and a big zoo. We did lots of walking. It was all good, but for sheer amazement it's hard to top the model railroad museum.

We left for home on Friday morning, stopping at Corona del Mar (south of L.A.) to see Lynda's 93 year old great-uncle (by marriage). We headed east from there, driving through the Joshua Tree National Park. It was about two or three extra hours, included four stops for photos and two stops for features.

Saturday found us in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, were we visited cousins of mine we haven't seen in a half-dozen years. That night we spent in Santa Fe with Lynda's brother. Sunday we drove to Meade, Kansas, Lynda's home town, to visit family there. We were supposed to bring Lynda's mom home from her extended visit there, but she decided to stay on longer. So we headed east from Meade and pulled up in Bella Vista around 8:30 p.m., 3,660 miles later. On the way our faithful van turned over 170,000 total miles.

Tuesday it was back to work at CEI. I haven't yet found motivation to return to my second job, that of writing. Maybe tonight.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still Learning From Thomas Carlyle

I'm probably wasting my time reading Thomas Carlyle. Not really just reading him, but studying him. Right now I'm reading his 1840 book On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic Heroic in History. This is the first time I've read that, and I'm 330 pages into its 523. I'm also doing some formatting of his book Past and Present, with an eye toward putting it into a certain printed volume of his works.

I started reading Past and Present years ago, maybe 2005, but put it aside for other things that were more important at the time. This is an interesting book. Carlyle had finished Heroes and was working on a book on Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil War of the 1640s.

Something going on in England troubled Carlyle, so he broke off from the Cromwell book and in a hurry put together and published Past and Present. I read the first couple of chapters of the Cromwell book some years ago, and as I say am reading the Heroes book right now. So three books, from 1840, 1842, and 1844 have passed from Carlyle's mind to his pen to my mind fairly recently.

It's interesting to see the common themes in these books, even common wording and overlapping ideas. In Heroes Carlyle frequently makes reference to German literature. Early in his career Carlyle wrote extensively  on German literature. In Cromwell Carlyle used "Dryasdust" as a euphemism in the Introduction. In Past and Present he uses "Dryasdust" as well, though I'm not sure yet of the context. I suspect, as I go through his writings, I'm going to find much more overlap.

Which leads me to a memory from Saudi Arabia and North Carolina. This will take a while to explain. In Saudi it was very hard to find good English language reading material. One day I stumbled upon the library in Dhahran, the Aramco community. In that library I found an atlas of the stars. Actually, it was an atlas and sort-of encyclopedia of astronomy. When I was at Dhahran for business, I would look for occasions to spend an hour in the library. I studied certain things in the encyclopedia, learning about galaxies, galaxy clusters, and all the stars closest to us.

Fast forward a few years to our time in North Carolina. In the Asheboro public library I found two magazines of great interest. One was on astronomy, the other on NASA and the space exploration it did. I found many excuses to go to the library (fortunately my children were at a good go-to-the-library age then), and so we were in the library often. Those two mags were my main reading material in those visits.

In the astronomy mag I read an article about a certain astronomer. The interview explained how getting telescope time at a major telescope was difficult. The other problem was getting the time when whatever it was he waned to see was visible. He might have to wait months if not a year for telescope time at the right time. But when he did, he planned out his work, maximized his time, and then spent months going over the photographs. So meticulous planning led to six hours in the key place which led to months of deciphering research/work which then led to many publication.

Carlyle did the same thing as this astronomer did. His early work on German literature found much more use for him than just those translations and articles. Carlyle may have over done it some, however.

Which leads me to...what thought? That I need to do a good job of planning my research, of finding time in the "right seat" at the right time. Then to use that research over a long period of time to write whatever it is I right. I think I'm on the right path with this, but probably need to do a better job of it.

In another post, I may explore this habit of Carlyle of overdoing the same themes from book to book.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Different Perspectives

I think I mentioned this in a blog post once before, probably on this blog. But being a rather lazy fellow tonight, rather than look it up I'll re-post it. Not that this entire post is a re-post; just the opening illustration—maybe not even that.

It was 1985 or 86. We were living in Asheboro, NC. A couple of hundred miles from the coast. If a hurricane reached us it was pretty well just a rain event with a little wind. In late August we went to the Nags Head area for mixed business and vacation, and while we were there Hurricane Charlie hit. It was a Category 1 storm that did relatively little damage. We rode it out, even though our hotel was on the ocean side, and it was an adventure.

A month later a big storm headed for the same area. It was either Gloria or Hugo. I could look it up and know for sure, but did I mention I was felling kind of lazy? It was bearing down on Cape Hatteras and Nags Head. The evening the storm was to hit, I couldn't sleep. I thought of my several clients there on the coast, braving a strong storm, while in Asheboro the weather was dead calm. We slept with the windows open that night, and the silence and calmness mocked me.

I was amazed at how much difference a couple of hundred miles could make. I knew that intuitively already, but that was the moment in time when I thought it through logically. The United States is a big place. The weather and circumstances vary. Not all that many of us will share the same experiences.

Yesterday the Blizzard of 2013, a.k.a. Storm Nemo, pounded my old stomping grounds, southern New England. Relatives in central Massachusetts had over 30 inches of snow. Friends in RI received over 20. In eastern Massachusetts my nephew's house had at least two feet of snow and lost power, though no one was there. He's at sea, his wife was at work in the hospital, and the children were with relatives.

Where I was? In a place where the temperature reached 74 degrees on Friday, began Saturday at 44. Later it dropped to 32 and we had snow showers and a little sleet. Just enough to be enjoyable, not to cause worry. It didn't slow me down a bit. Such a contrast to what my friends and relatives were going through.

But such is America: a land of great physical diversity. I am all the more amazed at my homeland.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Football Culture

It's infected every part of our society. I've got it. Most of my friends have it. It dominates my workplace at times, and yesterday it took over our church. I'm talking about the football culture in the United States of America.

I love football. It's my favorite sport by a wide margin, so don't get me wrong here. There's nothing I like better than sitting back on a weekend day and watching the teams go at it on the gridiron. College or pro, doesn't matter. Maybe the pros slightly more. But I also enjoy going to see a high school football game. I love it all.

The violence of the game is a concern, of course; one that I push aside and let the NFL deal with through their evolution of the game. The off-field antics of a number of players is a concern, though I suspect we hear about more football players getting into trouble because there are more of them on a roster than are there players for other pro sports. Per every 100 players I bet the NFL has no more troubled players, and maybe fewer, than MLB and the NBA.

Our pastor likes football as much as I do if not more. I spend many a Sunday afternoon during football season with the television off, using that time to write a couple of thousands words. He probably watches as much as he can, and relaxes from his Sunday morning job.

Yesterday, since it was the first of two weeks between sermon series, pastor Mark decided on a football theme for day. He made it "Soup-er Bowl Sunday." Everyone was to bring in cans of soup or other food items for our church's food pantry. That's a good thing. But, we were to choose a bin to put them in, the choices labeled NFC, AFC, and Don't Care, and we were going to see who won. Seemed kind of silly.

Last week he encouraged everyone to wear their football jerseys, hats, or other apparel. Okay, nothing wrong with that. But I was left out as I've never seen the point of paying money to buy one of those overpriced items. Meh, no big deal.

The sermon, and hence the Life Group lesson, was "God vs. Baal". For the projection they created a graphic with two football helmets on the 50 yard line, with logos created for the God team and the Baal team. The sermon was from 1 King 18, where Elijah met the prophets of Baal and bested them in a day-long challenge, complete with trash talk, taunting, illegal use of knives and swords, and a contest won on the last play.

It was a good sermon. And we had a good life group class afterwards talking about it. I can't complain; I enjoyed it.

When it was time for the big game to begin, I was in The Dungeon busy working on my novel-in-progress. So I didn't turn it on. I got as far as I wanted to in the book, then went upstairs and we watched the news. The brought us to 7 Central Time. I turned the TV to the game and it was early in halftime. So we heated our soup for supper and settled down to watch the halftime show.

It seemed to me that the show mimicked the football culture. An attempt to be overly sensational. It wasn't music she sang so much as supposedly clever metrical sounds, and barely metrical at that. I never had a sense of rhythm from the singing, never heard a string of words that my brain could process into recognition of a tune. I'm used to music having melody and meaning, of being poetry without the words. Even rap has the strong meter that makes up for lack of strong melody. But last night? It wasn't music. I find it very hard to believe that people pay money to hear that kind of thing.

I have no real solution for this, and of course a lot of people will say no solution is necessary. Bring on more of it. It does seem that everything the NFL does prospers, and that people can't get enough of it; that the NCAA has the same phenomenon and have stretched out their season and differentiated their bowls to tap wider audiences. America is pulling further and further into the football culture.

This post is long enough, and I haven't fully gathered my thoughts and turned them into words. Perhaps I'll write a couple of more posts on this. Stay tuned. This may just be the end of the first quarter.