A peek at the past to see our reality

The Dark Ages (486-1085) are filled with intrigue, murder, minor kingdoms warring against their neighbors, treachery and torture. While some individual leaders may have been educated, (Leo VI, Constantine VII, and most particularly, Charlemagne) the Durants’ overall description of the Dark Ages can only be imitated, not improved upon:

“In other aspects it is a sorry spectacle of generals climbing over slain rivals to imperial power, to be slain in their turn; of pomp and luxury, eye-gouging and nose cutting, incense and piety, and treachery; or emperor and patriarch unscrupulously struggling to determine whether the empire should be ruled by might or myth, by sword or word.”

The Durants’ multi-volume review of history is superb. Pity that so few can get their hands on it. They covered innumerable events in almost  every historical age, managing to weave it together in a logical, easily comprehended manner. Plus, they both write well.

At one point in our history, the Roman empire was quite sophisticated. Sadly, future historians will describe today’s America in similar terms: “America was quite sophisticated. Alas.” Both the arts and sciences thrived. Their military was strongly controlled, and their people were ruled by competent leaders whose policies were based on rationality, science, training and experience. Education was stressed and those who learned were rewarded. Agriculture was sophisticated and extremely successful. Secure and honest trade was the life’s blood of the entire country. Roman roads connected the most distant parts of their empire and their water supplies were clean, safe and constant.

After eight years of Bush, our water, food, products, and air quality have  taken some serious steps backwards. The fall of the Roman empire had similar problems.

Unlike our modern christians, Romans bathed regularly. Having attended a recent Teabagger meeting under cover, I suspect our Teabaggers and the christians of ye olde time shave much in common. Soap is as a satanic tool as is rational thought, apparently.

  The Roman empire did not survive, as hordes from the north continued to sack most of the land. Although some remnants held out and tried to maintain some semblance of civilization, christian mobs and hordes finished the job that outside invaders started. Even before the official start of the Dark Ages, christian gangs would periodically attack and murder pagans and non-believers.

By 314 CE, tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children were wiped out by christian mobs simply because of a minor difference in religious ideas.

Eventually, the Dark Ages wiped clean the last remnants of the Roman civilization and turned Europe, Asia and northernAfrica into a place of carnage, blood and death. Look up the actions of almost any leader at that time, and you find little but horrific stories. Praise the lord. So much for salvation of the soul.

One hero of those times, Leo V, found the creation of human images to be horrifically sinful, so he barred their use. (His deliberate destruction of artwork was matched by few other popes, emperors, or Chinese communist chairmen over the following centuries) Eventually, he was assassinated while praying and singing religious hymns in church. That says a lot about the power of Prayer. The greed, corruption and backstabbing during his short reign was notable, given the short length of his reign. Leo tends to be ignored by contemporary christians, probably because his greed and faux faith remind them too much of their own activities.

At the other extreme, we find Basil. He became an unlikely ruler at the tender age of 18. Surprisingly, he managed to hang on, avoid revolution and assassination for close to fifty years. By many accounts, his tenure probably marked the height of the Byzantine Empire, at least in terms of the length of a leader’s reign. His surviving brother, Constantine, appointed three daughters to rule together after his own demise. Although they continued to try to rid the Empire of the vast, widespread corruption in both Church and State, the decline of empire continued. Just one distant, corrupt church official was found with more than 5000 pounds of horded gold, worth probably $40,000,000 in today’s dollars. His actions were the rule, not the exception of that time. There were countless other examples of christianity’s greed, corpulence, corruption and crimes.

There were precious few bright spots. The most notable one, Charlemagne, was probably the most honest and capable ruler throughout the Dark Ages. He tried to reform the myriad of rules governing beliefs, religious practices, sexual behavior, even marriage. Agriculture, industry,  education, even financial reforms were started solely because of his efforts. His successes were notable, and often surprising. Even his strongest enemies learned to respect and fear him.

If only we had a leader with his wisdom and courage to deal with the corruption of Wall Street. Instead, we have Obama selecting Geithner and other criminals to fix the very problems they created (and personally profited from).

With every new move Charlemagne made, the Church did its best to stop him, until he figured out how to co-opt them. Over time, although he made great strides in turning the existing “barbarism into civilization”, Norse and Viking attacks, the Saracens (those evil Arabs) to the South and the west, and worst of all Church corruption,  all took their toll.

One (of many) difference between Obama and Charlemagne is obvious. Where Charlemagne aimed to fix obvious structural and social problems, Obama is content to pacify those who have been most damaged, and to cover up, rather than to fix the core problems.

Despite Charlemagne’s best efforts to protect the rights of free peasants, serfdom and internal slavery grew, especially after his death. While Charlemagne’s era still suffered from slavery of the most deadly flavor, today we find ourselves victims of a new and improved form of serfdom.  Perhaps calling it Corporate Slavery would be the most accurate.  Contrary to Charlemagne, Obama does not even acknowledge that our serfdom even exists.

The comparison gets even worse. Rather than fix access to health care, Obama forces us to enrich insurance companies. Instead of dealing with massive corruption and self-serving dealing on Wall Street, Obama hires and promotes the very leaders who created a global financial tragedy. Instead of protecting individual rights and the last remnants of our privacy, Obama wants the most expansive type of the Patriot Act. And worst of all, just like Charlemagne saw slavery grow despite his efforts, our corporate serfdom continues to grow, as Obama’s corporate masters  useever more powerful tentacles to control (and profit) from our lives.

Here’s another lesson that Obama seems to ignore. Charlemagne knew better than to fight the Church outright. Instead, he co-opted its leaders by supporting it financially, then repeatedly calling on it to explain and support the reasons for its most vile practices. In this way, he changed Church behavior, and probably saved thousands of lives from torture or worse. His patient practice yielded good rewards. It also placed the Church in a position of relative stability, unlike before. More importantly, it also prevented the Church from assassinating Charlemagne, like so many before him, an idea that very likely crossed his mind from time to time.

If Obama has tried to co-opt Wall Street, we have seen no evidence of it. Commercial credit is non-existent. Credit card rates have effectively doubled. Goldman’s bonuses have never been larger. And not once has Obama called for Wall Street to reform its ways in a serious way. So much for reforming the second worst criminals in our society. The worst criminals? War crimes, torture, renditions, and Blackwater’s pay per hit assassinations loom much higher, but there too, Obama is content with letting their crimes pass without any legal review.

During Charlemagne’s reign, the Church named Leo III as  Pope. Native Romans hated the idea and eventually put poor Leo into prison. He escaped and asked Charlemagne for protection. Charlemagne managed to get all the parties together and negotiated a final peace. Leo “surprised” him by pulling out a crown and crowning Charlemagne the new Emperor.

Charlemagne later complained that he did not want the title, and would not have attended the church meeting  had he known of the upcoming crowning.

This act resulted in the birth of the Holy Roman Empire, which affected future history for many centuries.  Unfortunately, it also served to further increase the power of the Church and gave it an even more control over society. By showing that it had the final word on who could be selected emperor, it bound future emperors to the church. I wonder when Wall Street with reward Obama with his own crown.

In many ways, Obama’s support of the Patriot Act and warrantless domestic surveillance matches the worst of Charlemagne’s era. Do we really think that NSA, CIA, DOD and our military industrial complex would ever permit the election of a person who inspires real change? Or would they use all their intel, data, and devious power to maintain their strangle hold over our political apparatus, and find a bright, shiny, new face, one that would say one thing to get elected, while doing his best to maintain the status quo?

In ye olden times, christian control came in two flavors, the Sacerdotium, (made up of preachers and washers of brain) and the Imperium, (secular leaders who competed with the preachers). While they supposedly cooperated, in real life, their internal political  battles were bloody and frequent.

Then, like now, the real losers were the citizens who had to follow the edicts and demands of both groups if they wanted to maintain their temporary status among the living. One cannot help but get a sense that everyone lived in a constant state of fear.

When the Dark Ages were finally over, the Church found its popularity ebbing. Instead of having complete control, it had to contend with competing cults and energetic princes in many territories. Over time, popes and cardinals realized that there was a wonderful solution, one that would best employ their remaining control over society. Why not invade a country on false pretenses? You can get rid of your local trouble-makers, while increasing your grip over your people. That lesson seems to have stuck all the way up to the current Bush Administration. Even Obama has seen the political wisdom of maintaining pointless wars against innocent peoples.

Back then, poor economics conditions, greed, failing religious control over society, and internecine power struggles all led to the creation of those fun vacation trips that we call the Crusades.

The first Crusade took place in the 1100s. Europe and the Middle East were split by two major religious organizations, as well as several important splinter groups. Concocting a “religious” war masked the real reasons that the Church was aching for a fight.

On one side, the Arabs (called Saracens) were literate, educated, civilized, artistic, multi-lingual, and curious about the world and the universe that surrounded them. They had made incredible strides in astronomy, medicine, literature, and the arts. They developed superb math and numerical systems that even employed the concept of “zero”.  They admired and cooperated with Jews and other educated tribes. Under the Saracens, trade thrived, and the general populations became well educated. They even tolerated different ideas and religions, and traveled far. Treaties and agreements allowed Jerusalem to survive and thrive.

On the other side, christians were un-bathed, smelly, bloodthirsty, small-minded, uneducated, uncurious, bigoted, greedy, war-mongering bastards who were absolutely sure that only their belief system was blessed, and everyone else was a sinner.  It is sad to report that as of today, one of the two groups has changed their stripes and has become much like the opposing group – and not for the better. Even worse, it is sad to report that the christians were not the ones who changed their stripes.   

Back then, christianity could not allow the obvious imbalance between the respective cultures’ advantages to continue. Something had to be done. So the plans had to be made, plots to be hatched. If the Saracens were so far advanced, they posed a danger! At the same time, christian leaders were worried about growing impertinence from many small fiefdoms supposedly within their control.

If you were one the christians lucky enough to be able to read (and own) a calendar you probably had noticed that recently, some 1000 solar orbits had passed since the alleged death and re-awakening of this Jesus character. We are sadly reminded that the first mention of Jesus even existing did not take place until Papias (think of an ancient Glenn Beck) concocted a whole slew of really incredible stories about some jewish cult leader. Even Papias’ contemporaries thought that he was an idiot and an ass, but because he knew how to write, his stories took on further life.

1000 years or so after the fact(?), apocryphal cults, scare stories told by power-hungry bishops, and the preaching of deranged priests were popular in those days. While some cult leaders were hoping for some rapture or another return from Jesus, more practical christian leaders saw it as a great way to control the wild hordes.

They implanted fears of upcoming raptures, Saracen rapists, slavery and worse. Those fears, as well as the pleas from the Eastern Christian Cults, caused the western christians to gather their forces, head east, and attack anyone who got in their way. Because most of the globe was illiterate, and because they controlled most of the information flow, the impact of the christian cults was predictable.

Not surprisingly, the christian hierarchy also used this as a way to deal with the growing French, English and German independence, forcing them to pay for the privilege of having the most powerful men leave and head out to an endless war in the Middle East. Somehow, that sounds strangely familiar.

Thus, the first Crusade was fought. Over the next few generations, it was followed by the Second, Third, and eventually, the most unfortunate of all, the Fourth Crusade. By some estimates, there were at least seven crusades to follow. Others suggest that there were as many as 14. The key point was that when they found themselves in domestic danger, their first, best reaction was to invade and occupy a country that posed a “perceived” threat.

In our most recent past, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, even Bill Clinton followed suit. George W? No comment. The impact of his de-generation on the world will take decades to repair.  

Unfortunately, Obama, a student of history, seems to have learned the wrong lessons. His Iraq and Afghan policies are no different than W’s. Even though he never spewed faux WMD reasons to occupy Iraq or Afghanistan, it has become “in our national interest” to maintain hundreds of thousand of occupying forces abroad. As targets.  We can only hope that Israel no longer directs our foreign policy to the degree that it once did, so that we can avoid an invasion of  Yemen, followed by Iran. Maybe.

After Charlemagne,  kings, emperors, soldiers, bishops, cardinals, popes and charlatans endlessly bickered and warred against themselves for more power within their organization. By sending them all out to fight on behalf of the Church, the Church managed to consolidate, even increase its control. Not only would only a few survive and return, but their mere absence left a vacuum in the leadership in the region. The Church was more than willing to step in and keep that control over its sheeple.

Let’s face it. Much like the Roman Empire, and even more like Charlemagne’s own land, America has become a failed state. Our judiciary is controlled by a bunch of christian nuts, especially at the Supreme Court level. Our Congress is little more than a paid political puppet of K Street, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and other corpulent, corporate interests. As for the Executive branch, and all that hope for change and audacity of progressive, liberal policies?

To put it simply, “We wuz had.”  

No matter from what angle you view it, getting a knife in the back still hurts the same. More and more, it is obvious that there really is no difference between the D or the R side of the Congressional aisle. Both sides are equally corrupt. Both sides are equally beholden to K Street. Both sides forget their constitutional duty to American citizens. And both sides could use a huge electoral broom in the upcoming elections. And right behind them, President Obama is doing his best to insure the protection of corporate America. At all costs, especially that most horrible cost, the future of our country.

3 Responses to "A peek at the past to see our reality"

  1. neondesert  January 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Excellent column, Rob.  If only material like this was more prevalent, rather than the all-too-common contextually vacant bitching that passes for commentary, the public might be persuaded to exercise their democratic will over our government instead of resting on devoted partisanship or bare cynicism.

    Would hope to see more like this on CHB.

  2. griff  January 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Not only wuz we had, but it appears we’re more than willing to be had over and over.

    Although I could argue a few minor points you’ve raised, I’ll stand pat and simply offer my heartfelt congrats on a fine column.

    Indeed history can teach us a lot, if we’d simply let it. It seems we’re so full of ourselves that we fancy ourselves better than the lessons that history tries to teach.

    We are not.

  3. Carl Nemo  January 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Truly, a beautifully written piece of comparative history Rob Kezelis…! 

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. : )

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    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    …Steven Weinberg. Physicist

    ***

    Carl Nemo **==

     

     

     

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