Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Church of the Romantic

I was trained in my youth to be a preacher and I was quite good at it. For all of my life I have been a preacher, though not necessarily of the Christian variety. It is because of this background that I sometimes refer to myself as a preacher in the Church of the Romantic.

For over ten years of my life I studied and worked to be a bard in the Celtic tradition. It is only recently that I discovered that the image of the Celtic bard also inspired the early Romantics and not just Robert Burns. So perhaps it is only fair to call the position of preacher in the Romantic Church a bard.

Of course using the term “church” is not entirely accurate. For explanation, I must return to my bardic training. I became a bard officially through the Celtic Christian Church. The title was bestowed upon me through the authority of a bishop in the church with twelve lines of apostolic succession. That is the most official as you can get according to Western tradition.

The role of the bard in ancient Celtic society was as the keeper of the culture and traditions of the people. This involved the music and storytelling most commonly associated with bards but also history, news, and even law. So imagine a singer, musician, actor, writer, filmmaker, history professor, journalist, and lawyer all wrapped-up into one package and carrying political authority among the high ranking bards equal to a king. It sounds like a lot, but the functions can be divided into two categories: the medium and the message. The medium is the singing, music, poetry and acting that usually comes to mind when someone thinks of a bard. The message is the philosophy that imbued the culture. The message of the bard was to say, “This is who we are as a people”. In a largely oral culture you can understand why the Roman conquerors sought to eliminate the bards, which were technically part of the Druid caste.

The idea of the bard as poet-prophet, and that is prophet is the sense of speaker for the truth, appealed to the Romantics and many of the Romantic poets saw themselves in that mould drawing on examples from Milton and the Biblical prophets as the spokesmen for traditional Western Civilization at a time of cultural crisis. This strikes a chord with me for I was anointed as a “prophet” in the fundamentalist church where I grew-up. The Romantic poets believed that it was the power of imagination that set them apart and qualified them as bards.

If we look at the Romantic poet Robert Burns as a bard, which he referred to himself as and he certainly filled the role, we might wonder if the other poets were, like Burns, influenced by the work of the folklorist James Macpherson who wrote Ossian. This text was so popular in the early 19th Century that Napoleon commissioned statues based on the work. So it is likely that the bard Ossian provided a model for other Romantic poets.

I feel obliged to share my life as a bard. When I was eighteen years old I discovered a book in the occult bookstore I used to frequent called, “Practical Celtic Magic”. What caught my attention was the author’s description of Celtic culture. As an alienated young man I felt that I had discovered my people. This sparked a passion, that some called an obsession, with Celtic history and culture from the ancient to the modern, which lasted ten years.

I was not content with this as a hobby or interest. Passion demands action, and I wanted to act on my passions. I wanted real life and not pretend. I was involved with the Celtic Arts Center in Hollywood, California, then I moved to Oregon where I was involved in laying the foundations for a Highland Games in the small town of Myrtle Creek, in Eugene/Springfield, Oregon I was involved in the Celtic Church, and eventually I became the bard for the 79th New York State Militia, a Civil War re-enactment group portraying a Scottish-American regiment and operating out of Portland, Oregon.

The 79th was much much more that a Civil War re-enactment group. It was more like a combination of the Boy Scouts and a civilian militia. I taught Scottish history, told the ancient stories, helped with learning folk songs, and provided moral instruction. I also laid the foundation for the transformation of the organisation into The Cameron Highlanders of the Northwest as a non-profit organisation.

During this period, I had helped a young woman who was working on a PhD in modern Celtic cultural movements in Oregon. She later confided in me that in all of her research she found that every line of inquiry that had any value led back to me. I was the centre of everything that was going on, but I was largely ignorant of this position until she told me a year or so later.

It was during this time that I became involved in the Scottish National Party. I served as a liaison with the party in Scotland, formed the new branch, and served as the second and last convenor before it all went bust due to lack of support from Scotland. It was during this time that I met my ex-wife and immigrated to Scotland.

I was never the stereotypical Scottish-America blinded by the image of Scotland, but nothing could prepare me for what I found here. The negative experiences I have had in Scotland led to a complete melt down and one of my periods where everything I once believed in and felt passionate about evaporated. This is when I turned my back on being a bard.

A Scottish-American friend once said to me that everything he had could be taken from him and he could be thrown in a cell, but come morning he would still be Scottish. I agreed with him and took great pride in my self-perceived Scottish identity. However, it was in coming to Scotland and living among the true Scots that I lost that belief. I was not only not one of them, but I also found that I resented much of the dominant culture. I now see that the “Scotland” that I came to love was the Romantic Scotland that grew out of the Scottish Enlightenment. Today’s Scotland takes pride in that heritage, but they worship the symbols and have forgotten the creed.

This is when I found myself returning to the Gothic interests of my youth and I became involved in the Glasgow Goth scene and soon became the convenor of the Scottish Vampyre Society for about four years. Just as I strove to promote the deeper meaning of Scottish-American culture, I sought to do the same for the Goth scene. I could not help but play the bard and try to demonstrate the philosophical underpinnings of the various activities. But alas, few really cared and I never achieved the status that I had in Oregon.

I had been writing a book on the subject of Goth, but discovered that everything that gave Goth meaning was inherent to it as being a piece of the larger Romantic philosophy. This is when my focus shifted to the philosophy of the Romantic and has been for the past four years.

Today, I see that everything that I have ever believed in and every passion that I ever had from childhood learning to be Californian and American, to comic books and certain films, to all things Celtic or Scottish, to the Gothic, to vampires were all manifestations of what I label as the Romantic.

I want to stress that this is my label of the Romantic. The Romantics themselves never called themselves Romantic; that term was slapped on them by late 19th Century literary critics. If you look-up the word Romantic in the dictionary you will find a dozen different meanings. Last year I created this video to describe my idea of the Romantic which is derived from the central premise shared by all Romantics, the belief in the individual over the collective. This is the single defining quality and as Romantics this is what we are fighting for.

So why do I call this the Church of the Romantic? Because Romanticism is NOT an ideology. There is no formal system of beliefs, there is no organisation, there is no hierarchy, there is no fixed scripture, and there is no authority. Instead we have principles. We have a code. It is what Western Civilization is built upon and I am convinced that we have become complacent in these principles and this has given our enemies the upper hand. Our enemies have an ideology, they have an agenda, and without a banner to rally around we will never organise and we will lose what our ancestors have created.

It is my intention to one day make a list of these principles and they will no doubt be familiar to all of my readers because we have been taught them since childhood and we tell the stories of them every day. We take them for granted because we have not had to fight for them in over two hundred years.

There are two great threats. One is internal and one is external. How do you know your enemy? I have a critic of my work who on two occasions has brought up the fact that Adolph Hitler used the language of the Romantic to advance his cause; therefore he concludes that Romanticism is a threat. You can see through the disguise if you understand the principles.

Romanticism emphasises the individual. This translates in practice to promoting and defending the Natural Rights of Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness. So if someone like Hitler uses the language of the Romantic to promote the violation of these rights, then you know that he is a liar and the enemy of freedom no matter his justifications. By the same token when a politician advocates the violation of these rights in the name of charity, then he too is an enemy of freedom. If a religion advocates the murder of all unbelievers and has been expressing a desire for global dominance for the past 1,300 years, during which time it has succeeded in conquering vast territories in the name of their god, then they are the enemy of freedom. Thomas Jefferson recognised this threat.

I call it Romanticism. Others call it Western Civilization or Modernity. Some call it “our (Classical) Liberal tradition”. You might even call it Anglo-Celtic-Americanism, or the Anglophere for short. When I express the Romantic I am sometimes dismissed as being “an American”. It’s a fair cop. The foundations for the American system of government and culture are the same as the foundations for the Romantic – the Enlightenment.

Romanticism is often portrayed as being in opposition to the Age of Enlightenment and Neo-Classicism that came before it. I disagree. The Enlightenment created the foundation and the context that made the Romantic Era possible. The Romantic is the outgrowth of the Enlightenment. It is thought (Enlightenment) put into passionate action (Romanticism).

The two places where the principles of the Enlightenment were put into the greatest action were Britain and America, but it was in America where it became most institutionalised and socially conditioned into the population. This is why the popular images and ideas of the Western genre are in many ways the greatest expression of the Romantic. Since I consider the Romantic as a work in progress, it is not enough to focus on where it started but to look at its development in practical reality and more and more the image of the American West seems to typify the Romantic.

It is a common expression in the United States to discredit something by saying that it is “Un-American”. What they are saying is that something is not in keeping with the principles that American was founded upon. The problem is that being an American allows some licence to decide what is or is not American. Consequently, you have plenty of proud Americans who hold beliefs and take actions that are arguably un-American.

Last time I checked, being an American was a political designation and not the consequence of subscribing to a philosophical system manifested through the culture. This is why it is important to codify these principles as being something other than “American” and I choose to use the word “Romantic” as most expressive of the meaning.

As far as the Romantic principles are concerned, I write about Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love as a nice summary, but these concepts are open to interpretations whose conclusions are not always Romantic. I also write of the 7 Romantic Virtues. I have yet to uncover the principles, but here is a starting point.

Recently, economic historian Niall Ferguson created a list he called the “Six Killer Apps” that made the West the global power:

1. Competition

2. Science

3. Property Rights

4. Medicine

5. Consumer Society

6. Protestant work ethic

The point Ferguson makes is that by losing the monopoly on these apps we are under threat from competition, but more importantly if we abandon these apps or cease to value them, then we shall fall. Every one of these “apps” is currently being destroyed from within on various levels and to varying degrees. I would argue that each of these apps corresponds to one of the Romantic Principles and for the first time in our history we have to fight for these if we want to keep them. To fight for them we need to know them and be passionate about just, just as a devout follower of an ideology would for their beliefs.

Gary North created a list of “Five Principles That Made America Great”. These can equally be applied to the Romantic. They are:

1. God helps those who help themselves.

2. Mind your own business.

3. Live and let live.

4. Let's make a deal.

5. Our kids will have it better.

And in his book, American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It, Stan Nussbaum lists what he calls The Ten Commandments of American Culture. They are:

1. You can't argue with success. (Be a success.)

2. Live and let live. (Be tolerant.)

3. Time flies when you're having fun. (Have lots of fun.)

4. Shop till you drop.

5. Just do it.

6. You are only young once. (Do whatever you can while you have the chance.)

7. Enough is enough. (Stand up for your rights.)

8. Rules are made to be broken. (Think for yourself.)

9. Time is money. (Don't waste time.)

10. God helps those who help themselves. (Work hard.)

You may notice some over-lap and repetitions. One that I would add is “If you can; you may”. This references the idea of equality of opportunity rather than the equality of outcome. No one should be discriminated against based on any recognised, imposed, or adopted category or group. If they can do the job, then let them, but do not lower the standards to accommodate them. Everyone deserves a shot to prove their worth.

I am not a Freemason. I just had to make that clear. In his essay, “The Age of Enlightenment and Freemasonry”, W. Bro. Ronald Paul Ng, a master mason, writes “There is no doubt that many of our precepts arose at the time of the Enlightenment. The only question is, which is the cart and which the horse”.

It has been said that the United States did not win its War of Independence, rather Britain lost it. The support for this theory is that many on both sides were Masons and many of the ideals the colonists were fighting for could be called Masonic ideals. Members of Parliament, such as William Pitt, supported the colonist’s efforts. Even someone like the British general Cornwallis (a Mason) was a brilliant military leader before and after the war, but strangely not during it.

In the afore mentioned essay, the author continues:

The Craft is supported by the Tripod of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. It is not just about Fellowship, it is not just about Relief and it is not just about Truth. It is about all three together. No doubt fellowship and charity play a very large part in our Masonic lives, but let us not forget the intellectual and spiritual parts.

Tonight I have demonstrated how intimately our Craft is linked to the Enlightenment Period of European history. Many of our forefathers were at the forefront of the thinking of their day.

I have a challenge to issue today, are we like Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Flute, fearlessly going forward to face the trials of our life in search of Wisdom, Virtue and Truth, or are we Papageno, who would rather have wine, women and song and abandon the search for wisdom and virtue?.

The Romantic ideal is not that dissimilar to the American ideal or the Masonic ideal. When I write of the Church of the Romantic I envision people with the same dedication to a set of principles that we see in the self-representation of the Masons. We simply replace their “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth” with “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love”. Like the Mason, there should be a commitment to these principles and a willingness to fight for them and to defend them.

Our ancestors fought and died to end authoritarian governments and religious supremacy over the rights of the individual. They won, but if we forget those principles of the Romantic, that many scholars argue created the Modern world, then we will return to the state of serfdom from which we came.   Perhaps it is the Romantic in me, but I like the idea of an organisation dedicated to work towards these end whether they be out in the open or in the shadows as a secret society fighting for the freedom of all against tyranny large and small.  Perhaps that is my true bardic calling.  Afterall, the motto of Clan Logan is Hoc Majorum Virtus – This is the Virtue of our Ancestors.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Green Lantern: Romantic Icon?

I’ve never been much of a DC comics fan. I use to collect Marvel Comics, but I do not think that I have purchased a DC comic in my life. That is not to say that I do not like the characters. I have seen a good chunk of the animation and live-action creations and yes, I even have my favourite characters. High on the list is The Green Lantern.

The origin story is pretty simple. An alien crash lands on Earth mortally wounded. Before he dies he sends off his power ring to choose a new Green Lantern and it chooses test pilot Hal Jordan. The power ring is a tool used by an army of over 3,000 intergalactic cops called The Green Lantern Corps with each Green Lantern patrolling an assigned sector. The source of the ring’s power is a battery shaped like an old lantern which is linked to the main battery, on the corps’ headquarters planet of Oa, containing an energy source called the green element. With the ring, the wearer can create solid light-based constructs. Here is the important part. The strength and force of the constructs depends on the will of the user, and the variety and complexity of constructs is limited only by the user’s imagination.

There is another factor. Every superhero needed his weakness, his Kryptonite. For Green Lantern, the ring would not work against anything that was the colour yellow. Yep, pretty stupid. Fortunately, the writers finally got around to explaining the weakness and came up with something brilliant.

There was a yellow energy impurity in the main battery. Just as the green energy responded to will, the yellow energy responded to fear. Eventually all the colours of the light spectrum where shown to have a corresponding emotion: Red is anger, Blue is hope, Orange is avarice, Violet is love, Indigo is compassion. The main point here is the battle between Green and Yellow – Will vs. Fear.

The philosophy of the Romantic can be reduced to a single word – I. Romanticism is all about the individual. I think, I feel, and I act. I am a human being. This opens up quite a few questions. Am I my heart? My mind? Who am I? And what does it mean to be human?

Aristotle taught that we are what we repeatedly do. We live in a world of action and reaction, of cause and effect. The Hindu word for this is karma. This is the world of karma and all that is in existence made by humans is the result of action and consequence. Who are you? Your thoughts and feelings drive and direct your actions, but ultimately you can choose to exert your will to either act or not act. With each action or inaction there are consequences that shape your world and effect the worlds of others.

As for what makes us human, there are two schools of thought. One is that it is emotions that make humans unique among all the species on the planet. Another is that it is our ability to reason. Is Man primarily an animal that feels or an animal that reasons? Adam Smith proposed that what makes humans unique is our ability to reconstruct reality in our minds as concepts that can be both manipulated or used to trigger emotional responses. What makes us human is our imaginations. Without which there would be no emotion or reason.

So what defines Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern is what defines us all.  The will that makes us who we are and the imagination that makes us human.  The strength and the quality of our life constructs depends on the these two character qualities.  The only thing holding us back is fear.

I subscribe to the theory that there are four root emotions from which all the variety of feelings emerge as variations on these four themes. All living organisms have the same basic concern. Can I eat it or will it eat me? Gaining a value is good and losing a value is bad. When we gain a value we feel happiness and when we lose a value we feel sorrow. Imagination provides the next two root emotions. To imagine gaining a value evokes desire, but the imagined loss of a value evokes fear.

Part of the human experience is regularly coming to terms with our desire and our fear. Desire drives action but this is tempered by fear. I desire the hot girl, but I fear approaching the person because I might lose the value of my self-esteem if I am rejected. I desire a new job, but I fear losing the job I have.

Some superheroes are born with power, like Superman. Some develop powers naturally, like all the mutants whose powers emerge as teenagers. Some work hard to achieve their powers, like Batman. Some create their powers, like Iron Man. And some have their powers thrust upon them, like Spider-man.

In the case of the Green Lantern, sure, he is given the ring, but the ability to use it powerfully is derived from the innate character of the person wielding it. I think that this makes Green Lantern unique. In the recent film adaptation Hal Jordan fails as a Green Lantern when he tries to be fearless and only succeeds when he stops trying and just trusts his innate ability to face and work through his fears. He is not afraid of fear, rather he is more focused on his desire – what he chooses to accomplish through his will.

Frank Hurbert writes in the book Dune that “Fear is the mind killer”. When a person is afraid they become like a startled deer trapped in the headlights. The mind shuts off.  The will that defines us as individuals and the imagination that makes us fully human simply evaporates.

This is why we need heroes like the Green Lantern.  Sure, he is not a moral iconic like Superman, or a feminist icon like Wonder Woman, or a brooding badass like The Batman.  Not only is he not one of those “Big Three” in the DC Universe,  Hal Jordan is not even the only Green Lantern from Earth, the others are John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner and that’s not even counting the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott.  If Batman had a power ring he would be, well, over-powered because he has the required character qualities in abundance.

In a sense Hal Jordan is special because being the primary titular Green Lantern we are more involved with him as a person and he is often touted as the greatest of the Green Lanterns.  From another angle seeing Hal Jordan as just one of many Green Lanterns reminds us that he is symbolic of everyman.  We all have will and imagination, but the measure of a person is how they use it.

We are all engaged every day of our lives in the battle against fear.  Those who seek to live life consciously rather than on autopilot must exercise their will and imaginations if they want to prosper.  Yes, it is easy just to sit back and let the river of life just carry you along, turn-off your will and your imagination and follow the herd.  But this has never been the path of the Romantic.  Those who choose this road less travelled must be creatures capable of harnessing the power of their will and imagination and employ this against their  fears and in the construction of their realities.  It is this power that makes the Romantics the larger than life characters they are in both fiction and reality, or as I like to say quoting Rob Zombie, “More human than human”.