Tuesday, October 12, 2004

An Apology for Breathing

Not that you care, nor that you should, but I'll get the name out of the way first (and alienate any number of prospective readers while I'm at it, natch).

Bouphonia is the name of an ancient Greek ritual, the moral daintiness of which has impressed me ever since I read this description of it by Sir James Frazer:

"The weapons were then sharpened and handed to the butchers, one of whom felled the ox with the axe and another cut its throat with the knife. As soon as he had felled the ox, the former threw the axe from him and fled; and the man who cut the beast's throat apparently imitated his example. Meantime the ox was skinned and all present partook of its flesh. Then the hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up; next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to a plough as if it were ploughing. A trial then took place in an ancient law-court presided over by the King (as he was called) to determine who had murdered the ox. The maidens who had brought the water accused the men who had sharpened the axe and knife; the men who had sharpened the axe and knife blamed the men who had handed these implements to the butchers; the men who had handed the implements to the butchers blamed the butchers; and the butchers laid the blame on the axe and knife, which were accordingly found guilty, condemned, and cast into the sea.

"The name of this sacrifice,--the murder of the ox,--the pains taken by each person who had a hand in the slaughter to lay the blame on some one else, together with the formal trial and punishment of the axe or knife or both, prove that the ox was here regarded not merely as a victim offered to a god, but was itself a sacred creature, the slaughter of which was sacrilege or murder."

Seems to me there are lots of modern-day human endeavors that echo this charming little charade. But the most obvious one, right now, is politics. There are people who are doing their damnedest to murder not only the fragile democracy that we enjoy in the United States, and not just its historical and intellectual wellsprings, but the very human instinct for it.

Insofar as this is indeed sacrilege, and insofar as they've been allowed to do as much damage as they have, I'd say there's more than enough blame for all of us to share, and I have no desire to foist my own portion of it off on anyone else. If we look at something like...oh...well, like the Iraq War, to pull an example out of thin air, the blame surely falls on the instruments of that war, and the people who built those instruments, and the people who used them, and the people who ordered them to, and the people who didn't do enough to stop them, and the people who cheered them on from a position of perfect safety with the insouciance of perfect cowardice. And above all, it falls on the people who are still making utterly dishonest excuses for everyone else, and for themselves: the mass media.

So that's what's going on with the title. It's kind of dense, and a bit pompous, and is thus an unmistakable child of its father. It could be worse, though. Originally I thought I'd complement my alchemical nom de blog by calling this thing The Sophic Hydrolith ("Changing the World, One Element at a Time!"). But despite being a pedant and a lunatic, I'm going to try to keep things fairly breezy and cheerful around here. Or breezy, anyway.

Or to put it more succinctly: I'm Philalethes and I'm here to say, I'm a crazy motherfucker from around the way!

1 comment:

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