March 9th, 2005


From the Department of Historical Parallels...

93, all!

I've already posted here about the works of the masterful Ramsay MacMullen, and in particular his Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries and Corruption and the Decline of Rome (I think I have them titles right, though I ain't gonna go check right now). Rome's decline has been on a lot of educated minds lately, of course, for the strong parallels to the current self-immolation of the American empire, and MacMullen's analysis (written some years ago) highlights crucial issues seldom raised in this regard.* But like I say, I posted about that already, and anyway I'm avoiding political posts as pointless now that it's far too late to avert catastrophe.**

I've been wondering, however, whether there was a good historical parallel for the astonishingly effective Magick Trick these guys have pulled off in making hundreds of millions of Americans (a) believe that their country is a good deal stupider and more superstitious than the vast majority of it really is, and (b) go along with the elimination of virtually every ideal we spent our lives thinking of as American. Turns out there is, and thanks to Terry Jones of Monty Python fame -- also, as you may know, a medievalist -- those interested can read about it here: Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery, by Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, and Terry Dolan.

Despite the title, the point (as the book opens by telling us) isn't so much whether Chaucer was in fact murdered; instead it's a survey of one of the most effective campaigns of thought control in history, one that in some ways has held for six hundred years: the systematic remaking of English society to install, and gain acceptance for, the usurper Henry IV (who overthrew Richard II ca. 1400 EV), followed immediately by an internal religious crusade that'll make your hair curl, if you're into historical parallels 'n' stuff***. One needn't agree with every speculation in this admittedly speculative book to recognize it as a masterful piece of both historical reconstruction, and social analysis.

A must-read book for those in English (particularly medieval) studies; funny, scary, and informative by turns for those who just like reading history. Highly recommended. :D

93 93/93 -- AJ

P.S. On a related topic, those of you bewildered by that ubiquitous "reality-based community" quote might want to try substituting "perception-based" to understand it better. What the guy meant was: you folks react to perceptions we feed you. We act; you react; and your reactions are easily both anticipated, and manipulated. There -- now I don't have to do a separate post on that topic, having cleared it up in a postscript. Is that economy, or what? ;)

* e.g., the roles of falling intellectual standards and privatization -- not to mention growing reliance on mercenary troops -- in ending (a) social cohesion, hence (not surprisingly) (b) societies themselves. As saith the Prophet, "Duh." :)
** Warning, though: duck. With that domestic agenda stalling, I suspect it won't be long now. :/
*** And isn't it nice to have another one, besides Germany in the 1930's and Augustus? You bet! :)