A Paean to Heresy

Black Rose

Perhaps this reflection is stimulated by a lack of stimulus as I, like billions of others, am stuck homebound during governmentally mandated lockdowns to combat the current coronavirus pandemic.

Images of ostriches somehow come to mind. I wonder how ostriches feel about all the fun poked at them for poking their heads in the sand. I assume they feel they’ve very good reasons for doing so. I wonder what they are. If only ostriches could speak, perhaps they’d have something important to teach, perhaps they’d be recognized and respected and perhaps, become Australia’s national bird. Which brings to mind turkeys and Benjamin Franklin. Still, with time on our hands, perhaps it’s a handy time to consider important aspects of the manner in which we perceive things and how our habits and tendencies are used against our best interests, which perhaps explains the electoral choices we make in what pass for democratic processes.

For some reason, for much of the twentieth century and all of the twenty first, or perhaps, in a longer view, or at least longer sounding view, for much of the third millennium (at least so far), George Orwell’s Cassandric warnings have seemed prescient, as if he’d been the Kwisatz Haderach of our times. I wonder if (had temporal currents proved cooperative) he might have envisioned B.F. Skinner as the essential virus that would lead us to “1984” and “Animal Farm”. Certainly all forms of mass communication today have devolved from means of entertainment and education into wars of behaviorist memes competing to control us. Not that misinformation, distortion and calumny have not always been a principal element of mass communication (images of Thomas Jefferson snickering appear unbidden).

For example, if even superficially analyzed, the sacred books of the Hebrews, today venerated as divine truths by many, prove to be but a hodgepodge of constantly evolving politicized edits to justify genocide, misogyny, xenophobia and racism, not just historically but in real time (think Palestinians). The same is true of their Abrahamic progeny among Christians and Muslims and is probably true of most historically significant literary works the questioning of which is condemned as heresy: for example, the United States Constitution.

Heresy. Onomatopoeically the word sighs like a soft breeze, perhaps cooling or warming as needs require. Of course, the visions the word generates to those who know its meaning are very, very different. They conjure imagery of women burning and men impaled, books aflame as they turn to ash; stern, humorless men dressed in black enforcing norms in which few believe, then, having their scribes pretty up the ensuing mess into what we are fed as history.

Heresy: almost everything we consider as facts today started out as heresy: physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, medicine; all progress in each such field as new hypotheses were presented was born as a new heresy and almost immediately denounced. Unfortunately, as heresies become mainstream, they tend to become the antithesis of what they were, evolving from crystalized truths to calcified dogma. That is clearly evident in the tension between those who postulate innovative theses and hypotheses, whether in art or the sciences, and the critics charged with, … well, … criticizing them. Research, in large part, is not innovative but rather, at best, engaged in poking holes into attempts at innovation and at worst (most often the case), regurgitative, wasting time saying things already said in a different order or fashion, in order to meet institutionally mandated “publish or perish” obligations.

But heresy, … perhaps its onomatopoeic aspect is accurate. Perhaps it is what we need more of: symphonies of new theses and hypotheses blowing all around us, looking for solutions deemed heretical by the masters of the status quo. Other imagery comes to mind: Ludwig van Beethoven, composing heretical music doomed to become classic and J. R. R. Tolkien, playing at philology while creating new worlds with old values, and the Beatles, constantly evolving until poof!!! They were gone.

I wonder if a new heresy waits inchoate to challenge the behaviorist legacy of B.F. Skinner so successfully used today to keep us in our place, or to move us around, as needed, like chess pieces on a globalized board, more and more polarized by Identity Politics, conditioned in purported Western Democracies to believe that we exercise free will when we go to the ballot box in lemming-like parades casting ballots against greater evils, always existentially threatening everything we think we value, voting for change by accepting the same old players promising the same old things.

Ahhh, heresy, where are you when we need you as we sit, somewhat bored but introspective, waiting for someone who thinks “out-of-the-box” to intuit or find a solution to the coronavirus pandemic that plagues us, or the two political parties that play us.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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