About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Can you find Nirvana in Utopia?

New Urbanism

In my last blog post I wrote about nostalgia, and how the imagination of a past that never was is influencing the course of the future.  In this post I want to examine one of the ultimate expressions of nostalgia, and how the imagined past is destroying the neighborhoods of today.

The idea of New Urbanism is a Utopian vision of the American neighborhood.  Which brings me to the question, can you find Nirvana in Utopia?

First for those of you who may not be familiar with New Urbanism, I will sketch it out for you.  First, it advocates a slightly higher density than the average suburb, with six to eight houses to an acre, as opposed to the standard three to four.  It prescribes neighborhood stores, preferably in walking distance to the residents.  Garages go in the back, off of alleys, because garage doors and driveways destroy neighborhood cohesion.  In the same vein, the front of the house should have a large porch, to promote neighborliness.  White picket fences, tree lined streets and an overall walkability dominate.  In short, it is Seaside, Florida, which was one of the first and most influential New Urbanist projects.

It is a completely hollow, and overly precious answer to the suburban condition.

Please don't think that I am advocating traditional, postwar suburbia, which is also hollow and on top of it, soul-killing, but the answer cannot be a false recreation of a model that ceased to be valid when Truman was president.

There are many problems with New Urbanism, that it doesn't actually stop sprawl, that it still promotes an environmentally unsustainable lifestyle, and that it reinforces some very bad demographic patterns, but one of the most important is that it is a complete nostalgia fabrication.  It attempts to wind back the clock, through environmental determinism.

In that regard, it is the bastard child of Pruett Igoe, which was the first "housing project."  The project was based on the idea that if you take people out of the slums, and put them in good architecture that's designed to inspire them, they will become better and happier people.

It was a complete failure within a decade.  It was so bad that it had to be imploded in the early 70's.  (On a side note, Minoru Yamasaki had two buildings that he was noted for, Pruett Igoe and the World Trade Center, both of which met a visually similar end.)

New Urbanism draws from the same deterministic roots as the housing project; both envision altering the patterns of human behavior through design.  If you make everything in walkable distances, and make those walks visually interesting, people will stop using their cars and walk to the store.  If you put the garages in the back, and add large front porches, people will sit on them and get to know their neighbors.  If you put people in traditional turn of the century neighborhoods, they will stop having modern problems and live a traditional happy turn of the century life.

First I would like to deconstruct those propositions. 

Whether or not the store is in walkable distance, people will still drive there.  I have lived in New York City, and trust me, if you have an alternative to lugging your groceries several blocks, or more, you will take it.  You will find freedom in not having to stop by the store every day for stuff to cook for dinner.  Add in dragging along a couple of cranky children, whom social services frowns on you leaving at home alone, and you have a recipe for a very unpleasant afternoon.  Driving to the store for groceries is one of life's major conveniences, and one that most people are not ready to abandon, no matter how pleasant the walk might be.

And I would like to add in a tangentially related complaint.  The car is not the enemy to sustainability, it is the internal combustion engine, and our desire for a single family detached residence.  I hear many "green" people say that we need to get rid of the car, because it is the cause of all of environmental ills.  They advocate that no one should have a car, and everyone should walk or use mass transit.

There are two problems with this attitude.  First, except for the environmental zealots, this attitude will turn off the majority of Americans.  Even people who care about the environment will turn away if you tell them that in order to be green, they have to give up a car, even a hybrid or electric.  Second, all of our cities, with the exception of the borough of Manhattan and part of San Francisco were designed based on the car.  Mass transit for everyone will not work in most cities.  To make it work, you would have to demolish everything built after about 1940, and rebuild it at a Manhattan density.  All of that reconstruction would take far more resources than finding clean sources of energy to power the car.

Getting rid of the car is another nostalgic impulse that is false; the idea that getting rid of the car, and returning to a pedestrian centered lifestyle of the past will make cities better.  This is a false re-imagining of the past because, in America at least, we have always had personal transportation.  People had horses and sometimes buggies.  They had bicycles, which are still acceptable to the environmentalist, even though people on bikes are every bit as rude on the road as a car. (Even though they seem to not think so, they are still bound by all of the same road rules as a car, including stopping at stoplights and obeying speed limits.)  But the upshot is, most people have always had access to some sort of private transportation, at least for in-city transit.

This is not to say that we should not have mass transit.  Alternative transportation should be a part of any new development, but it is not a panacea for all of the problems of cities.  But even the vaunted streetcar suburbs still had plenty of private transportation as well.  For example, I live in one of the streetcar suburbs in Denver, and almost every house in the neighborhood has a carriage house that is as old as the main house.  Most of them held actual carriages in the day. 

Moving back to the problems with New Urbanism, the porch in the front, garage in the rear set up does not inherently promote neighborliness.  Yes, in the past, people sat on their front porches, but it had nothing to do with preference, and had everything to do with what the backyard used to be.  This is again where nostalgia fails us, because we do not understand the original purpose of the backyard.

The backyard in 1900 was not a place you would want to spend time in.  It contained the kitchen compost pile, probably some chickens, and maybe a pig and quite likely a horse.  The carriage house would hold a horse drawn cart or buggy, and probably a stable space.  Prior to about 1870, it would also have had the family's privy.  In other words, it would stink like manure and rotting food, both of which would be used to fertilize the kitchen garden.  In the hot summer, you can imagine the stench.

Because of this, people would spend time on the front porch because the smell would be less.  Not gone, because of the piles of horse manure in the streets, but that was at least a distance from the house, and you could plant roses and other fragrant flowers between you and those horrific hills.  Why do you think the traditional home has fragrant vines and climbing roses draped around the porch?

Also, in the days before air conditioning, sitting (and sleeping) on the porch was the only way to escape the oppressive heat of the inside of the house.  They weren't out there to enjoy the neighbors, or to participate in community engagement, they were trying to avoid heatstroke.  The human interaction was a side effect, not the reason for the behavior.

The last issue, that people will be happier in traditional neighborhoods is woven from the whole cloth of nostalgic reinvention.  As I discussed in the last blog, people in the past had many of the same problems as we have today.  Also, the neighborhood that we are recreating in New Urbanism was not the norm one hundred years ago, it was the exception.   Most people lived either on farms or in crowded tenements.  The New Urbanist vision was actually only available to a small segment of middle class and working class people.  Trust me, those people had just a many problems as we do today, and they had to deal with them without indoor plumbing.  Saying that a neighborhood plan can solve societies ills is the same sort of wrongheaded environmental determinism that has failed over and over throughout the decades.

It is Utopia, which actually means "not place" in Greek.  It is an imaginary or fictional place, someplace that cannot be real, but only envisioned.  The use of utopian to describe the New Urbanist vision is very fitting, but for all of the wrong reasons.

They are trying create a place that never was for people who do not live in the way that they want to prescribe.  For good or for ill, the patterns of our lives have shifted.  We are not going to sit on front porches and talk to our neighbors while escaping the heat inside, we are going to crank up the air conditioning and sit on Facebook chatting with our virtual friends.  The garages in the back are not going to make walkable streets, it is simply going to make the street appear uninhabited.  This is because we will still drive everywhere, even if it is only a few blocks away because we no longer have the time for a meandering walk to wherever we are going.  And with the garage in the back, we will drive into the garage and go into the house through the back door.  We may never set foot in the front yard, except to mow it, and if we have a service for that, we may never go there.  And now that mailboxes are conglomerated in a hut at the neighborhood entry, we don't even need to go out front to get the mail, we just swing by the box on the way in or out.

The patterns of suburbia are very empty, which is the actual meaning of Nirvana; the word does not mean heaven, it means nothingness.  We do not have actual engagement with the people around us, we stay locked in our air-conditioned sanctum sanctorum, except when forced to venture out for supplies or to earn money to pay for this lifestyle.

I understand the motivations of the New Urbanists; they understand the hollowness of modern suburban life.  But the problem is, rather than addressing it by developing new typologies, they are fueling the fire by producing a new suburb that only differs from others in terms of being slightly more dense and somewhat more attractive.  Even though environmental determinism is a false syllogism, urban planners can attempt to create vibrant communities by inferring current behavior patterns and developing their designs from them.

Unfortunately, they are as caught up in nostalgia as everyone else today is.  They operate from the idea that the neighborhood of 1900 is the greatest and best model to work from, and adamantly try to recreate it.

And because of this, the answer to my earlier question is yes, you can find Nirvana in Utopia, as long as you understand that what you are finding is nothingness in noplace.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Illusion of Nostalgia

Modern Problems

In our current, nostalgically enframed world view, we think that the past is better than the present and definitely better than the future.  It envisions a perfect time when men were strong and brave, women were respectful and obedient, young ladies were demure and virginal, and children were seen but not heard.  It is at it’s core, a desire to return to the Garden of Eden when everything was paradise.

We ascribe a nobility to the past that is probably not warranted. 

We tend to reminisce about the good old days, which always seems to be the period when our grandparents were children.  As we enter our declining years, the good old days morph into the period when we were children; it always seems to skip our parents' generation.  That time never seems to be what we describe as the good old days, probably because we are too close to them and we remember them too clearly to ascribe a nostalgic fog to them.

We need to have about fifty years of elapsed time before an era becomes the good old days that we long for.  We need to be able to hear about that time in wistful reminisces from beloved elders.  Right now the good old days are the 1950's, when America was at it's zenith, home life resembled "Leave it to Beaver" and a good job was something you had for life.  When I was very little, I remember the good old days being the depression (yes, really) because "that was when people worked together, communities were tight knit, and even though they didn't have much money, by God they were rich in love within their families."

This nostalgic view of history is false.

It makes us feel good, and we love the bittersweet quality of those days, but the reality of the past is more "Blue Velvet" than "Leave it to Beaver."  There is always a dark and sinister underside to the past.  We think about all of the good of the 50's, and gloss over the bad parts, the "duck and cover," the McCarthy Hearings, Jim Crow Laws and Little Rock.  The reality of this side of the fifties can be seen in "Good Night and Good Luck," "Rebel Without a Cause," and "Death of a Salesman."  These are not happy reminisces.  

Nostalgia carries connotations, buried deep within the coded language of melancholy remembrance, of racism, sexism and other, even more unpleasant “isms.” There seems to be a veiled desire in nostalgia for people to return to their "proper" place.  Anne Coulter recently told an audience of George Washington University that women should not have the right to vote, that it was bad for the country, because they are the reason that Democrats elected.  (For the full article on the debate, click here)

We can layer nostalgia onto anything to create a false memory of how wonderful it was.  We can impose nostalgia on horrific events like the Great Depression and World War Two, calling people who lived through those times as the “Greatest Generation,” and talk about how much better that group was than any other in history. 

Never mind that they were often violently racist, anti-Semitic (yes even in America), and just plain violent at times.  Although the Axis far superceded the Allies for atrocities during the second world war, our side was responsible for horrors such as the Dresden Firebombing.  And remember, prior to Pearl Harbor, public sentiment in America would probably sided with Hitler.  Prescott Bush (W's grandfather) and Charles Lindbergh were two outspoken proponents of this alliance.

But to return to the point, this nostalgic impulse has always been there.  I’m sure that in the 1400’s there was even nostalgia for the time of the Black Plague.  I can probably even reconstruct some of the discourse:  “At least then, people knew the absolute power of God.  Back then, they didn’t question Divine Right.  The plague made those who survived strong.”  The conservative of society, and certainly the nobility, must have been nostalgic for the feudal society that the plague shattered. 

Nostalgia must be recognized for what it really is, the most radical revisionist vision possible.   It is not a desire to return to the past, it is a desire to recreate the past the way it should have been.  It is a pure fabrication, created out of whole cloth, of a time that never really was.

And coupled with this nostalgic view of the past is the certainty that today's problems are unique, and if we just had the morality of the past and all of the other things that made it so perfect, our problems would cease to exist.  Just take away a woman's right to vote and contraception, and the world will be a more moral and better place.  Bring back Jim Crow, and those "uppity" people will be put back in their place.  All we have to do is return to the way we were in the past and everything will be perfect and all of our problems will be solved.

The nostalgic impulse warps our perceptions of the actual past.  We envision issues such as rape, out of wedlock babies, pedophile priests, prostitution, divorce, affairs, religious hetrodoxy and other "modern" problems as being the result of our current lax morality.  We think that these were not a problem is the past.

That view is also false.

I am currently reading an excellent book called "Montaillou" by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, which chronicles life in a small region of the Pyrenees during the early 14th century, just before the Black Death.  This book is based on an exhaustively detailed register kept by Jacques Fournier, who later became Pope Benedict XII.  His records were made during the Medieval Inquisition at Pamiers, and provide one of the most complete records known of 14th century village life.

In reading that book, I was somewhat surprised to find that many of the things that are currently in the headlines were also occurring 600 years ago.  And these things were not even happening in a large city of the time like Paris or London, which both had populations at the time over 100,000, but in a series of tiny villages in the mountains of Southern France, with a total population of maybe 1,000.  In our nostalgia, we also think that problems are the bailiwick of the urban condition, and that if we returned to our agrarian roots, we would be better and more moral.

For example, the last fifteen years have had revelation after revelation about pedophile priests, and we act as if this is a brand new problem, certainly one that has only been occurring for the last few decades.  However, the Fournier Register documents numerous pedophile priests, especially one Arnaud de Verniolles.  He was introduced to homosexuality by a fellow classmate, who also became a priest, then was made a catamite, along with other students, by the master of his school, Pons de Massabucu, and ultimately became a violent pedophile rapist himself.  There is a description in the Register of him raping a young man at knifepoint in an encounter that seems to be ripped from today's papers.  There are also accounts of him "grooming" his victims with small gifts and other indulgences, almost identically to today's scandals.

Rape was common in that time as well, with the only major difference being that many times the girl would be forced to marry her rapist.  Now, they just want her to have his baby if she's unlucky enough to get pregnant.  Most of the shepherds used prostitutes for their entire lives, since most of them were too poor to marry.  Prostitution was also one of the few ways a woman could earn living without a husband.    

The men, especially the rich and powerful ones, had numerous affairs, while one notable woman, the only noble described in the book, slept with both a priest and one of her servants.  The two richest brothers, the priest and the bayle, seem to have slept with half the women in the town.  Also, because many marriages were arranged people only found love connections in extramarital relations, with the woman often becoming a formal mistress, or concubine.

Pre-marital sex was the norm, as it is now, and often marriage happened if the woman got pregnant, which happened, then as now, when their contraception failed.  And yes, they did use contraception, mostly local herbs, but the condom was probably known to them as well.  There is a detailed passage about the priest using contraception when he wished to "know (her) carnally." 

Gossip ran rampant, as did heresy.  People right and left rejected the teachings of the church, yet went to mass on Sunday, and seemed to all outward appearances to be good Catholics.  Even the village priest (the one who slept with the noblewoman and many others) was a mix of Cathar and Catholic.

In all, most of the ills that we blame on modernity were as common 600 years ago, in a tiny rural setting.  This should teach us that nostalgia about morality really is a false view of the past.  Human nature does not change significantly, and none of the sins of the present are particularly original.

Which leads me to my final question, why do we want to recreate the world that we imagine in our nostalgic daydreams?  Even with all of the bad things in the world, so much is actually better now.

We can cure common illnesses that just a few decades ago would have been a death sentence.  We live longer, healthier lives than even our grandparents did.  Our families may not be as traditional as in the past, but we still manage to raise fairly well adjusted, successful children.  Even though there is still poverty and hunger in this country, there is at least some sort of a safety net in place.  Our children are not working full time in factories at the age of ten.  My god, we even have decent toilet paper, which trust me, is probably mankind's most important invention.

We need to build a future from the present, not to be haunted by ghosts of a past that never was.  Our world is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  But rather than try to wind back the clock, we need to look at what is good in the world around us and build off of it.  We need to strive to build the future we want to give to our kids, a world without hunger, war, discrimination.

We don't want to give them the failure of a world that never was, and never could be, and instead we need to give them a real future, full of hope for a better tomorrow.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

God on Line Three

God's calling

Throughout the course of this election, several of the Republican candidates for president have said that they were/are running because God told them to.  The fact that this has been said by more than one person raises some serious problems. 

Assuming that none of them are lying, there are four distinct possibilities, either: God is very fickle and changes his mind about who He wants to run for president as often as I change shirts; there are multiple deities, each of whom has a preferred candidate that they want to run; God really isn't omniscient, and He's hedging His bet by flooding the field with candidates in the hopes that one of them will win; or, to use Patton Oswalt's term, He is just having a naughty caprice, and is actually setting them up for failure, probably for His own amusement.

Any way you look at this, it is a pretty disturbing concept.

But any of these disturbing possibilities are more comforting than the final possibility; the voices that these candidates are hearing, and ascribing to God, are actually signs of incipient schizophrenia.  It is not a good thing for a person with their finger on the Doomsday Button to be hearing voices.  One of them might just hear, "Do it NOW!"  Of course, that could be what Armageddon actually is, a schizophrenic hearing a voice that says to destroy the world.  No actual Deity involved.

But this leads to a larger question; are our Prophets and Messiahs actually inspired by God or are the voices that they hear just symptoms of a mental illness?  Are the great religions of the world actually just the product of incipient insanity?  Do we write these crazy stories, or do these stories make us crazy?

These are questions that I cannot answer.  Perhaps what we call schizophrenia is merely the ability to hear something greater.  For certainty, people who were mentally ill used to be called touched, as in touched by the Gods.  They were our first priests, oracles, prophets.  In ancient society, mental illness was a sign of connection with the Gods.  Later, it became possession by demons, or the Devil himself.  Today, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, or possibly a misfiring of the cerebral cortex, or something along those lines.  Perhaps we are medicating away God.

Understand, I am not advocating not treating the mentally ill.  With proper medication, they can lead well adjusted, productive lives.  But at the same time, are we doing the right thing for them?  Perhaps we are removing a connection to the Divine, that if we accepted and welcomed, we might find new spiritual avenues.  Perhaps rather than medicating them so that they can hold down regular jobs, and be good little cogs, we held them up as divine messengers, with an important role to play, much as the ancient shamans. Perhaps, given a role that embraces their "illness," they might find themselves to be happy and productive, in ways that we cannot currently imagine. 

This leads to another even more disturbing thought, if Jesus were to come again, or the Messiah to arrive, or any of the religious icons to return to earth, would we accept them, or would we repeat history and imprison or execute them?  Was David Koresh actually the second coming, and we killed him again?  Have we been killing Jesus over and over for the last two thousand years?

And why, when some people, televangelists and Republican politicians, hear God speaking to them, we accept it and put them on television?  Also, why, when people who are not in the upper crust of society, or not trained ministers, claim to hear the Word of God, do we lock them up and shove clozapine down their throats?

Why is one person to be believed when they hear God speak to them and another discounted?

I think the answer comes from the fact that we want God to say what we want Him to say.  If someone is saying that God is speaking to them, and we like what He has to say, we believe that the person is actually hearing His voice.  If they say that God is saying something they don't want to hear, they are just crazy.  It also helps when the person speaking is part of mainstream society, and not from the fringes.

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a Roman Governor of Judea.  You have this crazy guy running around, gathering disciples and followers, preaching the world of "God," and generally sowing civil disobedience and discontent with the Empire.  To keep order in the province, you are going to have to stop him, because he is creating a high probability of uprising.  Since long term imprisonment has not been invented, what do you do?  You execute him. 

Unfortunately, for the Roman Empire, this turns him into a martyr, and his movement becomes much greater.  As Obi Wan Kenobi says, "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

The same thing happened with David Koresh.  I am not saying that I think he was the Second Coming, as he claimed.  I really think he was a megalomaniac, with a messiah complex.  But, in this context, what I am saying is that his preaching and message was construed to be a threat to civil stability, and he was eliminated.

And yet, we allow Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and all of the other politicians who claim that God told them to run for office, to continue to operate.  We do not denounce them as an existential threat to America, despite the fact that their policies would be far worse for our country than the ravings of a fringe preacher in Waco Texas.

And I think it does go back to the fact that we want our Messiahs to be non-controversial.  We don't want them to change the status quo, and because of this, we have bled religion to blandness.  You sill have fire and brimstone preachers, how rise up thousands, or even millions, of devout followers, but they do not preach disruption of the social order.  They have cast God as the Ultimate Conservative, unchanging and unchangeable. 

We accept a Rick Santorum, precisely because he wants to freeze society in ice, preferably in 60 year old ice.  The same goes for almost all of the Televangelists, preachers and self styled recipients of the Word of God.  They want to keep society stagnant, even rolling back the clock in a fit of nostalgia.

But we must remember, all of the prophets and messiahs in history have actually preached radical change.  Jesus was basically a socialist.  Mohammad was also a reformer.  The same goes for Joseph Smith.  All of the religious icons we hold up now as paragons of conservativism,  were radicals in their day.  Each and every one of them upended social norms, preached radical change, and rejected the strictures of the society in which they were operating.

Even today, the teachings of Jesus are pretty radical.  His words hold far more in common with Occupy than the Tea Party.  Obviously, I can't predict exactly where he would stand on every social issue, but given how much he promoted the poor and the meek over the wealthy and powerful, I can feel pretty sure that he would not be a Republican.  (I blogged about this here)

So what is the end result of this?  I have posed a lot of questions here, many of which I don't have an answer for.

But I can say this, if God is speaking to someone, or through someone to the rest of us, it is probably to bring about some sort of change, to cause some sort of growth or development, to lead us to higher thoughts, to transform the world and guide it in that transformation.  Whoever God speaks to will probably be an agent of change.

I doubt He would speak to someone in order to maintain the status quo.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Is This Really Part of the Plan?

God's plan

Yesterday, I watched an interview with a couple who's home was destroyed by a tornado for the second time in eleven months.  Yes, twice in less than a year, they had just finished rebuilding the house when it was demolished again.  Anyway, in the course of the interview, the woman said that "She was sure that this is part of God's plan."

While I'm sure she finds the thought comforting, I was appalled by the thought.  If her tragedy is part of God's plan, that means that God saw fit to obliterate her house twice.  That would be a Jobian level of capriciousness.  And for her to continue to profess love for such a deity implies at the very least an extreme version of Stockholm Syndrome.

I am not trying to denigrate the woman's obvious faith; she is clearly and genuinely devout.  What I am getting at is the idea that many profoundly religious people are suffering from a divine traumatic bonding.  From Wikipedia, the definition of Stockholm Syndrome describes "the strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."

A while ago, talking with my friend Patrick, we began to question whether pets actually love us, or whether they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  Training a pet involves a considerable amount of behavior modification, which a pet is likely to not understand, at least a first.  Their noses get rubbed in poop, they get yelled at, or other things that they find quite frightening.  They come to associate those bad things with certain behaviors in a process that is called aversion therapy.

But despite the behavior modification (or even more disturbingly, perhaps because of it) they still love us.  Most dog trainers will tell you that a dog's love of you is mixed with a healthy dose of fear.  This is not a bad thing in and of itself, because that is how a dog pack maintains it's social order.  All the subordinate members are afraid of the alpha animals.  Therefore, the typical dog both loves and fears its owner, and the owner intermittently intimidates the dog in the process of maintaining their status as alpha.  This is the definition of Stockholm Syndrome.

I would like to point out here, that the average loving pet owner does not realize that they are intimidating their pets, but they are.  At the very least, a pet owner must keep their animal under control at all times, running the preponderance of their waking lives.  Putting yourself in the mind of a pet, you can realize how that control could be intimidating.  Fortunately, the process of domestication breeds acceptance of this into an animal.  They literally depend on us as pack leader.

But to return to my point, are many of the devout suffering from Divine Stockholm Syndrome?

It think that this is quite likely, not necessarily from direct personal experience, but at least through projective identification.  This is where we identify with the experiences of others, and then project our experiences onto them.  We read the story of Job, and then take our own misfortunes in life and project those experiences into him, and consequently identify with his story.  We use our life as a filter to understand his story.

And his story is of a capricious and ineffable God, tormenting a just and righteous man to prove the depth of his fate.

The filter of the Job story (which as my mentor Joe would say, is a Goddamned good book) teaches us that God is unpredictable and erratic, and that no matter how much we love Him, and no matter how blameless of a life we lead, he might still pot off and punish us, for no reason that we could comprehend.  And identifying with this story inspires fear of God, mixed with love of God.  There are many other stories in the Bible like Job: Abraham and Isaac; the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a classic overreaction to say the least; Jacob and his brothers;  Sampson, the haircut was not consentual; the list goes on and on.

The Old Testament is full of stories of a jealous, vindictive God who acts irrationally, and yet his people still love him.  Before you think that I am just complaining about Christianity, this is a trend in most Western religions.  Look at the ancient myths, and you will see that they are full of unpredictable deities.

I would like to take a minute to look at why deities would be viewed in this manner.  The world was, and still is, a violent and unpredictable place.  Bad things are always happening, and often to good people.  Without science and satellites, the weather is completely unpredictable.  Tornados can appear without warning.  Volcanoes and earthquakes can level cities in the blink of an eye.  Plagues can ravage the countryside.  The entirety of existence is tenuous to say the least.

And the stories we create about the Gods reflect this fragility.  If God rules over the Earth, and unpredictable horrors occur with great frequency, obviously, God is doing it for a reason.  And we work that capriciousness into our definitions of Deity.

And by continuing to love him, despite all of this, we develop Stockholm Syndrome towards God.

I do want to insert here, there are some who ascribe the bad things to the Devil, but if God allows Satan to have this dominion over earth, he is at the least an accomplice in the crime.  Or maybe he also has Stockholm Syndrome towards the Devil.  (I think that may be the most blasphemous thing I have ever written.)

But back to my point, I have talked to many devout people, and their love of God is mixed with a healthy dose of fear; they look at God the way our dogs look at us.  We have been well domesticated.

And through this, when bad things happen in our lives, we defend God, by saying the bad things that happen to us are part of his plan.  Somehow, though it all, our faith is reinforced by all the horror in our lives.  God is capricious, and we still love him.  He inflicts misery on us intentionally, and we react with Stockholm Syndrome.

But I prefer a different way of looking at it.  There is a quote from Babylon 5, which is one of my favorite television shows. In it one of the characters says, "You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."

I think it is a healthier way to view the world.