The Hobbit Eve- Tolkien and wealth

Pete Petersmaug

I challenge Stephen Colbert to a Tolkien Geek Off.  I can name all of Galadriel’s names in Quenya, Sindarin and the Common tongue.  I know who the Fëanturi are. I know how many Glorfindels are running around Arda. Take that, Stephen!  He won’t take me up on it because he knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey starts on Friday and there’s a good chance that I will be at the very first showing.  My local theater will show it in 24 fps but I don’t care.  I’m going for the story.

And what a story it is, a quest to burgle win back the Dwarves gold from Smaug the dragon. While I was reading advanced reviews of the movie, I came across this reminder of Tolkien’s thoughts on gold and wealth.  The New Yorker reviewer went back to the book to explain the greed of dragons:

It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.”

Like tax cuts they didn’t need on top of the insane amount of money that they have already hoarded for themselves and have been sitting on for more than four years.  It’s too bad this movie is split into three pieces and we won’t get to The Lonely Mountain until towards the end of the second movie*.  Tolkien didn’t like allegories but Smaug the dragon is a timely metaphor.  He is the very picture of greed without purpose, sitting on a mountain of gold and keeping all of that capital out of the hands of the people of Middle Earth who could put it to use it to set up their own Inns, mills, vineyards and small biotechs.

I won’t tell you how it ends if you haven’t read the book.  Let’s just say that dragons aren’t the only creatures with lust for gold.

One of my favorite quotes about wealth and gold from Tolkien comes in the Fellowship of the Ring when Galadriel asks Gimli the dwarve what he would ask of her as a gift.  Dwarves are particularly attracted to shiny objects and the craftsmanship of intricately worked gold and silver.  She would have given him whatever he asked for.  But he asks for a single strand of her beautiful golden hair.  She gives him three and says:

‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. `I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.’

Discuss.

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Andy Serkis becomes Gollum:

*It has occurred to me that I might die before I see all of the Hobbit films.  I could have a house dropped on me or catch some nasty MDR bacteria or my kid could be infected with a zombie virus and will eat my brains some night when I neglect to arm my bedroom door.  It could happen.  It’s possible that I will never see film three.  Peter Jackson should rethink the timing of the movies.  Wait.  I had this very same irrational fear when the first LOTR movie came out and nothing bad happened.  Nevermind.

But I was 12 years younger then…

#S17- I Occupy

Good Morning!  Today is the anniversary celebration for Occupy Wall Street.  I am still at home this morning for various reasons.  I have things that urgently need to be finished here.  But my afternoon looks free so I might scoot up to NYC later.  In the meantime, I’ll be finishing putting down a new floor in my basement and watching the events live.  Anyone who wants to help let me know in the comments.  Yeah, didn’t think so.  {{sigh}}

You can watch all the #S17 events streaming live here and at several Ustream channels.

And for anyone who doubts whether I still believe in Occupy, listen up: I still believe.  Not only do I believe but every day I see and hear evidence that the message, “We are the 99%” has grown and spread beyond the numbers of the bold individuals who risked arrest to protest in Zuccotti park and other places.

Movements go through phases and have to figure things out.  How to organize, who to trust, what they say and how to say it.  This is what happened to the Jesus Movement, the most successful Occupy movement up until this point.  This Occupy has the benefit of knowing what lays ahead for movements that are co-opted like the early Christians were, but it doesn’t know the future.  None of us do.  Occupy is a moral movement and it is a catalyst for many other movements.

Here’s what we do know.  That all people and all work have dignity and worth.  That there is more to life than screwing your neighbors out of their fortunes in order to hoard obscene gobs of cash for yourself.  That there is nothing wrong with people who refuse to use their talents to exploit others.  They are not losers. And that there’s nothing worse than insisting,unquestioningly and unwisely, that others kiss the whip of those who would exercise their power and authority over them.  You are not a mindless automaton who takes orders and whatever your master throws at you.  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

So, to those of you who are wondering whether I’ve abandoned Occupy Wall Street, think again.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and some of us need to finish other things that can’t wait. But if you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve written for most of my career here, you will know that I’ve *always* belonged to Occupy, long before it even came into being.  And there are many others who are just beginning to understand the message, many of them formerly middle class professionals who have through no fault of their own have fallen into economic despair.  Their careers and fortunes have disappeared.  Every day that this little Depression goes on, new Occupy sympathizers are created. Yes, even among people who only a couple of years ago wouldn’t have dreamed of questioning their authority figures are striving to understand where it is the 1% is trying to take us and are realizing that they need to resist it in their own way.  In that sense, Occupy has succeeded and will continue to succeed.

You don’t need to go to Zuccotti Park to Occupy, although, I highly recommend it because it’s exhilarating.  Just soap your car windows today, chalk a sidewalk, bang a pot.  Let the 1% know you’re still here, everywhere, and you aren’t going away.  Ever.

I do not believe this darkness will endure.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Here’s what an Occupy event is like.  This is my poor excuse of a video on the events from #N17 last year.

Bold Occupiers come in many flavors.  This group of wheelchair Occupiers blocked Liberty and Broadway in Lower Manhattan and are being rolled off to jail.

So, you know, if you can run, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, roll.  Occupy does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, disability, lifestyle, age, religion or national origin.

 

If Boromir had seized the ring…

Tolkien talks about WWII and speculates what might have happened if Boromir had seized the ring and taken it to Minas Tirith:

“The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-Dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Tolkien hated allegories but it’s hard to not apply his scenario to just about any situation where a besieged group gets its hands on an unaccountable, powerful advantage.  Once you abandon your principles in order to gain the upper hand, there’s nothing to stop you or others from allowing treachery after treachery to happen without restraint.  Someone is bound to get hurt and it’s usually the little people who have no desire for power or unlimited wealth.  The powerful hold them in contempt and scorn them for failing to be as ruthless and selfish.

Before long, the hobbit gardener would be patronizingly praised for struggling to pull weeds without pay.

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The accusations of neoliberalism have flown fast and furiously at Bill Clinton since Wednesday night when he reminded us all about what our lives *used* to be like before the Democrats seized the ring stabbed him and his wife in the back. We’ve gotten little lectures from Atrios, Thereisnospoon and Matt Stoller.  Matt seems to be having a moment of cognitive dissonance.  He clearly doesn’t love Barack Obama anymore.  But he, like the others, have completely lost the plot over Bill Clinton.  One of our commenters tried to explain it to my silly lady brains about what the neoliberalism thing is all about.  Unfortunately, he used Chile and Pinochet as an example.

Yeah, THAT Pinochet.  You know, the guy who made torture into an art form and trained dogs to rape dissidents?

Can anyone out there see Bill Clinton even coming *close* to behaving like Pinochet or entertaining ideas of being a ruthlessly cruel, powermad dictator?

Anyway, while I understand that the University of Chicago is now the new Isengard and Milton Friedman is Saruman the White (and have forbidden the kid from going there, I don’t care how many recruiting letters they send her or how close it is to Ira Glass), I think the neoliberalism thing has been blown up to ridiculous proportions and misapplied to Bill Clinton.

Furthermore, I think it is the delusional neoliberalism boogieman that has in a way contributed to the advance of the true neoliberal president, Barack Obama.  Yep, in your paranoid frenzy to avoid electing a person who was associated with the hated neoliberal William Jefferson Pinochet, you have managed to elect and promote the guy who seems to be completely devoid of any principles whatsoever.

If you crazy neoliberalphobics didn’t exist, the right would have to invent you (and for all I know, the right has invented some of you).  You have done more to help them achieve their goals than Bill Clinton ever could and they’ve been trying for 20 years to shut him up.  In four short years, your unbridled enthusiasm to nurture Barack Obama and protect the country from Hillary Clinton has resulted in the worst performance by a Democratic president in my lifetime.

I’m not actually sure that Barack Obama *is* a Democrat, to be honest.  He’s got a D by his name on the ballot but I have read Democrat after Democrat in the past few days who say that they do not feel like Democrats anymore. Whatever the party is, they feel completely alienated from it.  It is making it easier for them to feel comfortable with their third party vote this fall.  This is a party where a small group has seized control and our input is no longer required.

This is not a plea for Hillary Clinton.  I never give up on sanity returning to the party but it’s pretty clear that as long as the “neoliberalism is evil!” Democrats are vulnerable to the corrupt and authoritarian party leadership poking them when its necessary to squelch the voices of dissent, sanity will not return to the party any time soon.  Hillary’s presidential aspirations are over and were over in 2008.  She’ll move on to something else and if it turns out that she is more powerful than ever and bedevils the young, overeducated, grad student suckup guys who let their paranoia get the best of them, I can hardly wait to see it.

For the past four years, I’ve heard nothing but ridicule from these same party loyalist “neoliberalism is evil!” people who thought the PUMAs were stupid, uneducated, ugly, menopausal, working class women. And while a lot of former PUMAs let their anger take them places where Clintonistas should never go, there were a lot more of them who kept their heads down over the past four years so they wouldn’t have scorn and mockery heaped upon them.  Four years later, it is the “neoliberalism is evil!” clique and Obama faithful that look delusional and out of touch, sticking with a dying party that has gone out of its way to shed what it thinks are its losers.  Good luck to them.  No matter what happens this fall, they have managed to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the right and I want no part of that.

In the meantime, the rest of us will have to put up with the “You have to vote for Obama or the bad guys will win!” crowd freaking out for the next 8 weeks.  I am not afraid of what is to come.  As long as friends stick together and work for a better way to live, we will weather the bad stuff.  The last thing I will ever do is voluntarily surrender my principles in order to satisfy the mob.

“Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. just so a Party-spokesman might have labeled departure from the misery of the Fuhrer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery …. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. (On Fairy-Stories)”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

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Take us out, Taylor:

Tolkien Quote for the Evening

“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

Tolkien Quote of the Evening

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers

Tolkien Quote of the Evening

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit

Another Reason to Go to Washington DC

Atheists are people too.  And citizens.  And while I’m not an atheist (I’m a panentheist), I live with one.  When she told me about her non-belief at the age of 9, I told her to keep it secret from her friends, Girl Scout troop leader and grandmother.  Pretty sick, huh?  I didn’t want her to be treated differently, harrassed or be subjected to a sermon.  The girl scout troop leader was a religious fanatic.  I was so afraid she was going to slip up (and she had a hard enough time fitting in) that eventually I took her out of Girl Scouts.  Better that than send me on one of my crusades against a national organization for imposing on her conscience.

But there is one thing I do not believe in.  I do not believe that a 3000 year old document is the word of God.  No, I do not.  There are sections of the life of Jesus that I love.  I’m a big fan of Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, mostly because these books are so dang weird compared to the other books and they have a musicality about them that makes them fun to sing.

But all those stories about miracles and floods and parting of the Red Sea and writing on the wall and the Whore of Babylon riding a Great Beast?  Nope, not into it.  There’s a lot of silly laws and two stories of creation and misogyny for reasons that should not apply to the modern world.  But the biggest problem with The Scriptures is that they were written for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.  Back then, we didn’t know anything about DNA.  Now that we do, there’s no reason to favor any one creation myth over another.  Personally, I like the Tolkien creation as recounted in the Ainuindale.  Why should I prefer Genesis if they’re all just metaphors and myths anyway?  Why can’t I pick the one I like the best?

And the attitude towards women in The Scriptures is barbaric and stupid.  I don’t believe in the God of the Bible but if he did exist, why would he want today’s religions to hold women down?  From what I can tell, God can use all the help she can get.  I was baptized Catholic, loved Catholic mass, loved going to church with my grandparents, loved St. Joe’s Catholic community.  But I could never be a Catholic because of the crazy and stupid attitude modern Catholics have towards birth control and women in general.  In a time when the Catholic church is plagued by priest problems you would think that the Pope would get a clue and say he misunderstood God.  His bad.  Totally need women in the pulpit.  But no, Catholics keep hiring these hard ass guys in red beanies to make rules that only apply to half of the planet’s population.

Women are supposed to live by tribal rules in a modern world.  We’re not supposed to admit we are sexual beings.  We’re not supposed to want autonomy.  When we’re at work, we are counseled to watch what we say for fear that we might offend some guy who thinks we’re too aggressive.  Screw the outcome of the work itself, we have to make sure we don’t get fired for being too ambitious or insufficiently deferential to a guy’s tender ego.  And the religious blame this on The Scriptures.  They can’t help it, they say, that’s what’s written in The Scriptures.  That dusty old book written by the first people who mastered the art of writing and scribbled down all of the collected myths and legends they heard around the campfire.  We’re supposed to live by these scribblings and forget the world in which we actually live.  I’m sorry but that’s just f^&*ing nutz.

Here’s a question that the religious should ponder: why is it that there has been no modern book of scriptures worth following?  Why isn’t there a modern, 21st century person they can consider a new messiah so that we can dump these decrepit, anachronistic, old writings?  How come no modern book meets the criteria for worship?  I happen to like the Silmarillion.  At least Tolkien was no misogynist.  His pantheon consisted of males and females of equal stature and all of his heros married up to stronger, more heroic women.  To Tolkien, resisting temptation in an evil world is more important than the absence of evil altogether.  To be the invisible hand behind unaccountable actions was to exercise the worst kind power and evil.  And Tolkien warned repeatedly that it is not original sin but the fear of death that leads to the fall of mankind.  So, why don’t we all follow Tolkien?

The reason is pretty clear to even the fundies.  We recognize a myth when we see it in its modern form even when that myth reveals profound truths.  We are not expected to take these myths literally.  But for some reason, we are incapable of applying that truth to The Scriptures.  And this is profoundly strange because The Scriptures tell important historical stories as well that are often overlooked.

For example, the oldest section of the Bible is not Genesis.  No, the oldest part of the Bible is in the old testament  book of Judges.  It is a song of victory and revolution after the Prophetess and Judge Deborah lead the Israelites in a triumphant battle.  Yes, one of the first leaders of Israel was a judge and a woman appointed by the people.  And she was good and wise and kicked ass.  Under her leadership, before the line of patriarchal kings, Israel prospered. She was appointed because people under siege by forces foreign and domestic tend to get over their objections about whether a woman should lead them.  They look for the wisest, craftiest, bravest people they can find and sometimes, they are women. There was a time in history when a people realized they had to put aside their tribal rules and regulations in order to survive.  They choose among themselves the person with the characteristics and traits necessary for survival.  It is the essence of the theory of natural selection. Once you wrap your head around that concept, the rest of The Scriptures don’t make any sense until Jesus makes his brief cameo appearance and then disappears behind a veil of first century mythmaking.

So, where am I going with this? This country has been destroyed by politicians repeatedly appealing to the religious.  The religious, in turn, have provided a screen for the real power in this country.  The rich and powerful have used them.  They find out what makes the religious tick and then put those issues front and center in every electoral contest because they know that politicians are terrified to upset religious people.  It looks disrespectful.  They capitulate because it is easier than looking like they are testing God.  That leaves the rest of us who live in the light of reason without political champions, respect or even recognition.  We have to stay in the closet. We aren’t treated like citizens worthy of respect and equality.  We’re treated like children who won’t eat our spinach instead of rational human beings who try to do what is right, not what is written.

We can not continue to govern ourselves in a modern world using the texts of a tribal people from 3000 years ago.  There are a lot of things we don’t do in this country because we recognize them as barbaric and cruel.  We don’t burn witches, beat children in school, own slaves or prevent women from voting.  We figured out that these things were wrong and we civilized ourselves.  It is now time to put The Scriptures in their proper historical context and free ourselves from their ancient rules and regulations that no longer apply to a modern people.  Failure to do so means we will fail to evolve as a civilized society. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your belief in God.  It means your definition of God will get bigger and more awesome.  God stops being irrational, jealous, vengeful, a capricious, mysterious enigma, a fudge factor in the equation of the universe.  Or it may mean that you can navigate through the world using your own resources and with greater attention to the suffering of the men and women around you because their hardships are not always the result of sin or some supernatural plan.  Sometimes, those hardships are the result of injustice, ignorance, cruelty or just a series of unfortunate events.

Let’s put The Scriptures back on the library shelf next to the Thesaurus and stop acting like fools.

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