The Liberal in the Red Hat

As a life-long liberal, I am concerned about liberals. I often hear how we strive to be tolerant and inclusive, but I am not witnessing this. If I had to evaluate liberalism, I would replace it with a series of disjointed boxes. Their only connection would be with their artificial alignment. They appear unified, but each focuses only on its own box.

Not long ago, I was present at a faculty meeting, and the topic was hate speech. One professor argued that if a person showed up with a Trump MAGA hat, they would not allow him to wear that cap. The professor said the hat would disrupt the class and make students feel uncomfortable. It would be a macroaggression.

Political office is a mess, from current events in Virginia to the toxic partisanship in D.C., yet I strongly disagreed. Our students and our faculty have protections under the First Amendment. It would be illegal to remove someone from a public college classroom because of what they are wearing, I argued. Unless he is privately chanting “build that wall, build that wall” or making a Nazi statement, he has just as much right to wear that shirt as a gay person can wear a rainbow shirt, or an African American can wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt.

That scared me. As one that often writes on disturbing and inappropriate content, I know what it is like to get censured. I wrote a poem that addressed my past trauma through a speaker. I lost a childhood friend in a horrible school bus accident. Its purpose was to hold a mirror up to society and show all of us what we seldom do. That poem was banned by a social media platform that champions free speech for violating “community standards.” I wrote them back and said, “I hope you never experience what it’s like to have your tongue ripped out of your mouth.” That banning felt like assault to me. I am the liberal in the red hat.

I was being vulnerable. I was admitting to the darker more conflicting aspects of myself, but I also was a survivor of repeated trauma. I felt that because I was a man, my boyhood abuse did not matter. That is the message men get.  

 I then realized that we have no art in the United States when any form of art is censured. Art is not meant to be politically correct. Now, I was the enemy. Yet, I knew, as a professor in literature, that my readers needed a lesson in how to read literature. They were reactive, the possible catalysts for fake news. They became the self-righteous moral “social justice” crusaders with little regard to the poem’s true meaning.

What all of us have in common is that we are connected. I grew up so poor that I lived on hot dogs and fries for two years, often with no running water, and, at times, had no central heat in rural Western New York. I understand the anger the Trump voter feels. I try to understand what it’s like for my African American student to be a minority in America, whose cousin dies in her arms from a gunshot wound, and after 20 years of feminist study, even as an editor of a collection on women, what it means to be female in America. It’s hard for all of them, and if we listen to their stories, we will connect.

People care about what they care about. By nature, we don’t care about people unlike us, so if we mock the differences in us: a hat, skin color, gender, sex, or our struggles, demons, and mental illnesses. We are running from ourselves. We will make the others enemies. There is the saying I’ve heard, When good conquers evil, good becomes evil. We all suffer, but we suffer differently. The very heart of fundamentalism relies on the devaluation of human beings. If the United States is anything, at present, it is a bi-polar fundamentalist state.  For liberals, controlling speech will make us all better and happier. I see it as an assault on a democracy. In truth, free speech is the only pathway to continued democracy. As my conservative friend once put it, “Sometimes you have to put up with a little crap on your glasses.”

[On Jean Phillipe Rameau.]

exhaustion

by

Proteus Ashmole

Jean Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764) wrote music that had the clean lines of early Classicism as well as the flowery ornamentation of the late Baroque period: one need only listen to his ballet suites to hear Classical lines overlaid with the perfect amount of embellishment.  In this sense, Rameau’s music was both brackish and beautiful.

What Do Bananas Have To Do With Aesthetics? Segment 2

pretty girl in vintage style. pinup girl with fashion hair. banana dieting. pin up woman with trendy makeup. retro woman eating banana. feeling flirty

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Proteus Ashmole

[Study, Study, Study.]

Unless one studies and reads widely, he or she will never truly know Art.  The verb “know” is particularly important here because it has multiple senses; “Know” as I here use it means to fully experience and understand a work of Art as an entity.  So move freely, widely, and eagerly among the offerings of the art world, be they literature, dance, drama, music, painting, sculpture, furniture design, or architecture.  To experience is to know.

[Love What You Love.]

Here is some pragmatic advice: allow yourself to love what you love.  If you think the music of Dmitri Shostakovich ugly, so be it.  But thinking his music ugly does not preclude the fact that he made a major contribution to Twentieth-Century musical form.  One need not care for a work of Art to acknowledge its place in the art world.  For Art can only exist within context.  That context is usually cultural.  Shostakovich produced music within the political context of the Soviet Union.

It might be helpful, in terms of understanding the significance of context, to introduce two major schools of criticism: New Criticism and New Historical Criticism.  The former arose out of Yale University during the Twentieth Century, its principle proponent being M. H. Abrams.  New Criticism simply asserts that a work stands on its own and requires no external context for one to appreciate or understand it.  New Criticism is most often applied to literature; indeed, it was created to better understand literary texts as self-contained texts.

New Historical Criticism is a revival of Historical Criticism, one that has primarily occurred in the Twenty-First Century.  New Historical Criticism, unlike New Criticism, emphasizes the importance of context; specifically, in order to fully appreciate a work of art—be it a poem, sculpture, or building—one must know something about the creator of that artifact, that person’s beliefs, and when that artifact was created.  Quite obviously, New Historical Criticism has a broader application than does New Criticism.  Both approaches have their merits.  The times usually dictate the popularity of any given approach to the world.  Use these critical theories as you will.  I argue that context is essential, but that is far from fact.

{More to come.}

See Segment One here

Sin

depositphotos_156962000_xl-2015

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Proteus Ashmole

As properly understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition, sin is any act that offends God.  Sin is inherent to all people because Adam and Eve chose to freely eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. [1] And while the sacrament of Christian baptism washes away the sin of concupiscence—original sin—we are still inherently sinful, or so goes Christian teaching.  Atonement theology asserts that Christ was the Son of God, who died on a cross as expiation for our sins, making all right with our Father.  Christ is called the Lamb of God because Hebrews, once a year, would lay hands on an unblemished lamb and reflect on their sins, then cast the animal out into the wilds where, presumably, it was devoured by some ravenous beast.  But, unlike a helpless lamb, Christ rose from the dead on the third day; Christians celebrate this resurrection on Easter Sunday.  And so you have the basic tenets of Christianity.

Except for one problem: Sin is a loaded term, one that makes people squirm.  Sin is not a bad thing.  Yes, you heard me correctly: Sin is not in and of itself bad.  Simply put, we sin, and that is a fact, but that does not mean that people are either good or bad, wicked or angelic.  Rather, we do things to others that we would not want done to ourselves because we are people–people acting like people, and that is all.[2]  So since “sin” is such a loaded term, I would propose that “trespass” is a better word.  But even “trespass” is off the mark.  So what do we mean by “sin?”

I would assert that God is love.  Period.  It’s that simple.  You can read all the theology you like, but God is love.  Jesus himself taught that the Greatest Commandment was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” The second follows: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:35-40).  The moral underpinnings of the theological concept of sin are simple: When we sin, we are not loving God.  Ours is a feeling God.  We hurt or offend Him.  On the face, this seems to make sense.  It made sense to me, until I had children.

My children love me very much.  They also hurt me, but they do not hurt me because they do not love me.  They hurt me because they love me.  More specifically, they hurt me because they can.  I let them. Why?  They have a deeply meaningful relationship with me, their father.  When people are close to us, as we hopefully are with God, they hurt us.  We are vulnerable, and we make ourselves so because we love them.  We are human.  Children, clearly, are also human. They screw up, and life goes on.  I love them despite the fact that they hurt me, as I always will.  And so, by way of the God-as-Father analogy that Christians constantly employ, He, too, loves us, even when we “sin” and hurt or offend Him.  But just because we hurt or offend Him does not mean that we do not love Him, nor He us.  In short, God allows us to hurt Him.  It’s called free will, a gift he freely gives us out of love.

Truly bad people could not love, at all.  I would challenge you to find one person completely devoid of love.

And God will always love us, regardless.  He said so when He made a covenant with Noah.  He showed us this fact by humbling Himself and becoming Emmanuel, sending His beloved Son, to walk among us, God and man, hyopostasis, the Word Made Flesh.[3]

So if sin is not that big a deal, why did Jesus come at all?  Jesus, the Messiah, came out of compassion, as well as to more closely unite us to our Father.  Compassion is a side of a coin, opposite love.  Every coin has three sides (think Holy Trinity).  Yes, He died for us as expiation for sin because we are flawed, but Jesus also died for us out of love and compassion, just as a parent accepts a child’s cruelty because he or she loves that child very much and realizes that their son or daughter is just being human.

I have never, in all my fifty years, ever met an evil person, a truly malevolent person.  I new one young man who suffered from anti-social personality disorder, formerly known as sociopathy.  But even he cried.  I saw him cry.  I also thought him capable of doing some scary things, though he never did them around me.  Oh yes, I’m sure truly evil people exist out there, for there is, as the weary adage goes, always an exception.  But, with grace and protection, I hope I never meet one.

As a Roman Catholic, I have suffered crippling guilt.  No longer.  In my twenty years as a Catholic, I have come to see Christ’s Church as a beautiful gift freely given.  Without the Sacraments, I wouldn’t stand a chance.  Go ahead, call me a sinner; it’s okay: God loves me.  I know he does, especially in still moments.  “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).  So rest easy, dear reader, for, if you are a believer, know that God loves you, too.

[1]     Gen., 2:3

[2]     For more on this parallel to sin, see L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings on the “overt.”  Yes, L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology.  (There are fragments of useful information everywhere.)

[3]     Hypostasis means God and man commingled, all at once—not globules of God in a body; not half God and half man; this is a profound mystery beyond our comprehension.

The Cult of Virginity

Adam and Eve - a fragment of the fountain in Krasnoyarsk
Adam and Eve, a fragment of the fountain in Krasnoyarsk (depositphotos)

by

Proteus Ashmole

 

The Cult of Virginity has three primary sources: The early Christian Church, birth control, and the transference of property.

 

1: The Early Christian Church

My long-standing theory about human sexuality—and the Church’s erroneous teachings about it–has now been proven valid.

I was reading some theology today that dovetailed with my theory about human sexuality and God.  This is my theory: We best know God through interaction with others.  This idea originates from a sociology course I took in college, which taught that how others respond to us shapes our identity, our very sense of self.  So I take that idea one step further and assert that we know God best–come closest to Him–through interaction with others, be it through family, or everyday contact, or at church, work, etc.  Even monks and nuns, who are devoted to the religious life, live in communities.  Our very lives are prayers.

Now if my theory holds true, then we also know God, come closer to Him, through physical intimacy with a partner, or even oneself.  I turned to the Church fathers for theology on asceticism (i.e., practicing strict self-denial, including an abstinence from all sex) and celibacy (literally, the state of not being married).

A 4th Century monk by the name of Jovinianus argued that virginity–meaning never having had full sexual intercourse—and celibacy were not superior to marriage, which early Christian ascetics rejected as, at best, a pagan ideal, and, at worst, a distraction.

Specifically, the idea that asceticism and celibacy were preferable to marriage—and certainly fornication[1]–arose from early Christians (followers of The Way) who reacted against the Ancient Roman, pagan notion that the individual was of no consequence, that one lived to serve society and only society and that marriage was in high service to society because one had offspring, which contributed to society itself.[2]  This was one’s fate, and this social ideal came from the Ancient Greeks, particularly Socrates.

These early Christians went in the opposite direction and renounced marriage and sex, asserting the primacy of the individual, as taught by the Hebrews in Jewish scripture.

Jovinianus reasserted the notion that one need not be literally solitary and individualistic to best know God; rather, one could marry and have children and worldly cares and still be close to God.  One could even indulge in luxuries–be they food, wine, or nice clothing–since these gifts came from God.  St. Jerome freaked out.  He called Jovinianus a heretic.  Notably, to prove Jovinianus wrong, St. Jerome transposed two key passages of Hebrew scripture when translating it into the Vulgate Bible.  He placed marriage as an institution ordained by God after The Fall.  In reality, marriage and sexual contact occurred between Adam and Eve before The Fall according to Hebrew scripture.  Jovinianus was excommunicated and Saint Jerome’s teachings became Church orthodoxy.  Interesting how that happened.

What’s the point?  All of this means that, as argued, when we root experience in the flesh–which is one of its primary purposes–we know God through others, even through sex, either alone or with a partner.  Sex is, therefore, not wrong, dirty, disordered, or intrinsically evil, as long as it is done between two mutually consenting adults.  After all, it feels good.  Really good.  That’s why people have sex.  If sex were excruciatingly painful, the human race would be greatly diminished in number.

 

2: Birth Control

Now on to the second principle origin of the Cult of Virginity: birth control.  Until quite recently, birth control was unavailable.  The best way to avoid getting pregnant was not to have sex.  The earliest form of birth control, aside from plant abortives, was the condom, which was fashioned out of a sheep’s intestine.  Supposedly, the condom was invented in France, hence its name, the “Frenchy.”[3]  These early condoms were unreliable and expensive.  Thus, the best way not to get pregnant was not to have sex.  (People did anyway, lots of it.)

 

3: Transference of Property

Money dictated a need for true physical virginity.  According to traditional English law, all property went to the next male heir.  Preferably, that heir was a male son.  Were there no male heir, the property went to the next closest male relative, like a brother or cousin.  Women could not inherit property.  Period.  A wealthy man’s worst nightmare was to marry a young woman and, eighteen years later, have his wife’s bastard son knock on the door and demand part or all of his mother’s husband’s property.  Victorian English literature is full of this kind of thing.  I know: I read a great deal of it in college.  The bastard-son idiom was more than prevalent in English novels, as were impoverished widows and ineligible daughters.[4]  So we see that the third main contributing factor to the Cult of Virginity was money.

 

4: Coda

Thus, the Cult of Virginity is not only bogus but entirely based on man-made (literally) moral code, practicality, and greed.

Farewell,

Proteus

Notes:

[1]     Interestingly, Jesus never uttered a single word condemning sexuality, even at the well at Bethesda, where He merely observed that none of the woman’s male partners were her husbands.

[2]     Cf. Elaine Pagels’s Adam and Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity, Chapter 4

[3]     English erotic Victorian literature often makes reference to the Frenchy.

[4]     Jane Austen heavily favored this narrative, whereby poor daughter’s of widows made good marriages based on their virtue.

They will have you calming or panicking: Dropout Essays, 2018

As with my poems, here is a link to my essays from 2018:

THE ESSAYS THAT WILL CALM YOU OR MAKE YOU PANIC

Hopefully some will make you laugh.

Thanks so much for a positive year. I am looking forward to reading and wriitng more!

-from Dropout because does it really matter who I am?

What Do Bananas Have To Do with Aesthetics?

Fountain pen on a book

By

Proteus Ashmole

 

“Where there is not too much air is the pretty sound.”

                                         –Gertrude Stein

 

[Part One: How Art Differs from art.]

We must differentiate between Art and art, which is a distinction of taste.  A traditional criterion of Art is universal appeal, as discussed by various philosophers, including Schiller.[1]  But anything universal is perpetually held in tension with exclusivity, for Art would not be Art unless it made people uncomfortable.  For example, few appreciate experimental fiction, which frequently makes readers uncomfortable through both subject matter and its disregard for convention. Yet some experimental fiction is deemed Art due to the variable of taste, which is extremely subjective. Consider Miss Stein’s The Making of Americans; it ushered in Modernist Literature,  though one critic denounced the novel as “The first stunningly original disaster of modernism.”[2]

[Part Two: What about Taste?]

So how does one address the subjective matter of taste?  One trusts the educated.  The caveat is, one need not agree with them, but let them lead the way.  And one need never go to college, or even finish high school, to be considered educated.  Educated is here defined as having experience, be it particular or general.  A streetwise illiterate is educated in the labyrinthine ways of back alleys and hustles, no?  Would you trust them to help you survive the urban environment, or a sociologist?

[On Critics.]

Critics are not to be lumped in with the educated, even though they may be so in the formal sense.  Why?  Critics fall into two categories: sensationalist naysayers and sell-outs; both deceive.  The former pan anything for effect (think Jock Sturges’s or Robert Mappelthorpe’s photography); the latter generate hype (for the box-office flop Waterworld).

{More later, Friends.}

[1]     For more, see his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man and his concept of Plasticity.

[2]     The New Yorker