Thursday, September 14, 2017

We're Back Online. Unfortunately, so is David Brooks.

Hurricane Irma didn't manage to do any damage to the Chaos Compound itself, we're far too heavily fortified for that, but she did manage to leave us without internet access for a few days which, in a way, is even worse. Anyway, everything seems to have worked out all right. The cable came back up in time to record the Broad City premiere, and the internet came back in time for me to see this:

Harvey, Irma, Jose … and Noah

Does he mean NOAA? Because that would make sense. He must mean NOAA, right?

Nooope! He means Noah. The Old Testament guy.

Image result for gonna be good gif

Is there anything we can learn from hurricanes, storms and floods?

Oh my God, yes. So much. We can learn not to fuck up our environment because Mother Nature is a vengeful bitch. We can learn the importance of funding agencies like FEMA, NOAA, and the National Guard. We can learn which presidents don't care about which people.

So many things to learn.

Is there anything we can learn from hurricanes, storms and floods?
People have been asking that question for thousands of years, and telling stories that try to make sense of natural disasters.

Oh, I don't think so. I don't think that people have been asking for millennia "Is there anything we can learn from this flood/storm/hurricane we just went through?" I would suspect that after every such disaster, people learned something, or thought that they had. Maybe they learned not to build their village so close to the riverbanks next time. Maybe they learned that they hadn't been pushing enough virgins into enough volcanoes. I don't know, but I bet they took some lesson away from every calamity. I doubt they sat around wondering whether there was any lesson to be gleaned from it.

These flood myths are remarkably similar to one another.A researcher named John D. Morris collected more than 200 of them, from ancient China, India, Native American cultures and beyond. . . The most famous story, of course, is the biblical story of Noah.

Is it, though? Or do we just assume it is because it's the one we're familiar with? You think the billions of people in China and India might have another flood myth that they are more familiar with? Or does the Western myth automatically be the dominant one? Oh, it doesn't matter. It's just kind of annoying that Americans assume that whatever we're most familiar with is the standard for the world. I mean, there might be a singer in China who is known to more people than Elvis or the Beatles even if we Americans haven't heard of him. Whatever.

As the story begins, the human race is living without law, and as a result is living violently and badly. But there was one righteous man, Noah. God tells Noah to build an ark because He is going to wipe out the rest of humanity with a great deluge.
What does Noah say when he hears this? Nothing. Abraham protested to God when the city of Sodom was under threat of destruction. Moses protested when God was going to harm the Israelites. But Noah is silent. He doesn’t try to save his neighbors or argue with his God.

Rabbis and scholars have often judged Noah harshly for this. “He is incurious, he does not know and does not care what happens to others,” Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg writes. “He suffers from the incapacity to speak meaningfully to God or to his fellow human beings.”

So. . .he's a Republican?

“Noah was righteous but not a leader,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes. A leader takes responsibility for those around him and at least tries to save the world, even if people are too wicked to actually listen. Moral integrity demands positive action against evil. Noah, by contrast, opts to withdraw from the corrupt world, in order to remain untainted.

I'm sorry. Are you a theologian now? What does any of this have to do with our present-day situation of dealing with Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and whoever is in line behind them?

Noah and his family get on the ark and Noah gently cares for the animals. Then the rain stops and it is time to go out and remake the earth.

Oh my GOD! We know the story! You just said it was thew most famous one.
Also. When the rain stops. That's not the time to get out of the boat. Floodwaters take a long time to recede. If Noah is dumb enough to go "oh good, the rain stopped, I guess I'd better go get a start on that whole re-making the earth project. Anyone know if there's a Home Depot around here?" If he's dumb enough to do that, he's gonna drown.

Okay, I'm off to rebuild the wor-- Aughhh!

Then the rain stops and it is time to go out and remake the earth. What does Noah do now? Once again, Noah is silent. He does nothing. He sits in the ark for another seven days twiddling his thumbs. He is waiting for God’s permission to disembark.

Or? Or? Or maybe he's waiting for some fucking dry land to show up? Maybe his boat ran aground on a god damn mountaintop, so maybe the entire surrounding area is under thousands of feet of water? Water filled with the bobbing rotted corpses of every man woman child and animal other than the small floating menagerie he's currently in?
I mean, I'm no Biblical scholar like our Mr. Brooks, but I seem to remember Noah sending a raven out and that bird eventually coming back because it could not find anywhere else to alight. No dry land, no treetop, no rock jutting out of the water, nothing.

 So if there isn't enough area to accommodate a raven, what are the odds that a family of 8 is going to find enough land to settle down and start incesting the human race back into existence?

Once again, the rabbis are critical of Noah’s passivity. One doesn’t need permission to go build the world. You just do it.

Um, yeah. . . if I just witnessed God killing every living person and animal on the face of the Earth, I don't know that I would sneeze without his permission.

Now God gives Noah a covenant. Moral laws are handed down, and Noah is told to go off and recreate. Noah seems to flee from this responsibility. Perhaps he has survivor’s guilt. He gets drunk. His sons find him lying naked and passed out.

Give him a break! Do you have any idea what kind of trauma this man has been through? Imagine floating around for weeks, hearing your friends and neighbors begging you for help as they slowly died and being unable to do anything to help. . . wait. I mean, I guess he could have. He could have at least tried to help some of his fellow human beings. Maybe save the babies at least. He could have at least tried.

Noah is a good man, but his story is a lesson in the dangers of blind obedience. The God of the Hebrew Bible wants respect for authority and deference to law. But He doesn’t want passive surrender.

Um, says who? You said Noah passively surrendered to God, never questioning him on even his most psychotic of mass-murder plans, and Noah is the only one who doesn't get punished.

Rabbi Sacks writes, “One of the strangest features of biblical Hebrew is that — despite the fact that the Torah contains 613 commands — there is no word for ‘obey.’ Instead the verb the Torah uses is shema/lishmoa, ‘to listen, hear, attend, understand, internalize, respond.’ So distinctive is this word that, in effect, the King James Bible had to invent an English equivalent, the word, ‘hearken.’

Why are you still talking about this? If you want to be an amateur theologian, there are forums for that. I'm sure you could get this published here:

Theology Online
Theology Online is a forum for discussing theology. Christian theology or just ... who have similar interests. At TheologyOnline you can discuss theology, religion, politics, and just about everything else. ... Individual debates take place here.

Or here:

Theology, Doctrine, and Dogma - Exploring the details of ...
52 posts - ‎20 authors
Debating Christianity and Religion - A debate forum for people of all persuasions.

Or you and Ross Douthat could set up a theological debating society in the New York Times breakroom. Why are you wasting column inches on the story of Noah?

Today we live amid many floods. Some, like Harvey or Irma, are natural. Others are man-made.

Oh my God, finally! Now maybe we can discuss the reasons we have come to the point in our history wherein these massive floods are the new normal. Hahahaha! Just kidding. During a flood is, of course, no time to discuss the cause of floods! That would be politicizing the disaster!

People are still good at acting individually to tackle problems. Look at how many Houstonians leapt forth to care for their neighbors. But we have trouble with collective action, with building new institutions, or reviving old ones, that are big enough to deal with the biggest challenges.

Oh! Oh! I know why! I know why that is!  Um, because one of our two major political parties has spent the last 30+ years pushing the idea that government is never the solution, that government is always the problem? Maybe because the residents of one side of the political spectrum have accepted as dogma that any collective action is "un-American" or "Communist" or, I don't know, something about "pajama boys" and "beta-cucks" or something. Anyway, we know who that party is. We know which side of the political spectrum these people are on. We know who is at fault for this state of affairs.

No. Not both sides. Try again. Think real hard. . .

That’s because we have trouble thinking about authority. Everybody seems to have an outsider mentality. Social distrust is at record highs. Many seem to swerve between cheap, antiestablishment cynicism, on the one hand, and a lemming-like partisan obedience on the other.

Not "everybody."
It's not "everybody's" fault that "social distrust is at an all-time high." That is the fault of the party that's been cultivating the bullshit "rugged individualist" ethos for decades. The party that specifically denounces any sort of collective action, from universal healthcare to labor unions. And the only people I've seen who "wwerve between cheap, antiestablishment cynicism, on the one hand, and a lemming-like partisan obedience on the other," are the people who spent 8 years swearing blind fealty to George W. Bush, insisting that every infringement on our civil rights was necessary to preserve freedom, then became virtual anarchists as soon as the black guy was in the Oval Office. And now those same people are waving palm branches and strewing their garments before the man they belive should restore "greatness" by any means necessary, checks and balances be damned!

The answer is the “hearken” mentality that Sacks describes. This is where Abraham succeeds and Noah fails. Abraham listens deeply to God and derives everything from his identity on down from Him, but pushes out ahead of the shepherd.

"pushes out ahead. . . ?" What" If you mean "pushes back" when God told him he was going to kill everyone in the Twin Cities, okay. That's true, and you made that point earlier. But you know what? God killed them all anyway.

Abraham pushes back when God says he's gonna kill a bunch of people. Noah just passively accepts that God is gonna kill a bunch of people. And in both instances, God kills a bunch of people. The very people he had said he was gonna kill. So what lesson are we supposed to get from thies two examples? No matter what you do, God's gonna kill who God wants to kill.

To hearken is to be faithful but also responsible, to defer to just authority but also to answer the call of individual conscience, to work within the system but as a courageous, creative force.

 To eat meat, but be a vegetarian. To join the Marines and be a pacifist. To buy a house and be homeless.

 Floods are invitations to recreate the world.

 Spoken like someone who has never experienced one. For anyone who lives in Houston or the Florida Keys or Cuba, etc. floods are not invitations to anything. Floods rob you of your home, your possessions, your livelihood and maybe your life. Only a smug wealthy prick like, say, David Brooks, could see the devastation of a hurricane and think "gosh, it must be nice to have the opportunity to remake your world!" Sure, if you're a smug wealthy prick like David Brooks, and you can just jet off to the Riviera or wherever while Sandy is ruining your Hamptons house, it's easy to see the storm as an opportunity to re-do things. "Oh, our beach house has been ruined? You know, I never liked the way the porch looked. Now we can re-build with a nice veranda! Oh, and marble countertops in the kitchen! I'm so glad we got this 'invitation' to recreate things!"

For normal people, floods bring nothing but sorrow, pain and desperation. Many will never regain what they lost. Some have lost friends or family members. They probably aren't looking at this as an invitation to anything except life in a FEMA trailer.

 Floods are invitations to recreate the world. That only happens successfully when strong individuals are willing to yoke themselves to collective institutions.

And if they aren't willing to do that, we know whose fault that is. And it's not "both sides."