Monday, October 3, 2016

Give Them Rest, Already

"Pie Iesu domine
Dona eis Requiem"

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Been reading through my next selection from the collected works of H.G. Wells, which happens to be a short story collection (Twelve Stories and a Dream) and first off, I must say Wells wrote rather weak short stories. His novels present a captivating initial premise in rational, expansive detail then top it off with a mid-narrative twist to really get the adventure rolling. His short stories present that initial premise, somewhat truncated, then sort of devolve into a few predictable details. No twist. No build-up. He doesn't seem to have grasped any method of rapidly increasing the tempo toward a breathtaking ending which Poe's "one effect" entails. Or maybe I'm just jaded after a century of pulp fiction has turned his once original ideas into tropes.

But anyway, halfway through the collection I run into The Inexperienced Ghost, one of the better vignettes and also containing an amusing side-note:

"Now, Sanderson is a Freemason, a member of the lodge of the Four Kings, which devotes itself so ably to the study and elucidation of all the mysteries of Masonry past and present, and among the students of this lodge Sanderson is by no means the least. He followed Clayton's motions with a singular interest in his reddish eye."

Freemasonry seems to have been, in the nineteenth century, the chief go-to stand-in for meeeesteeerious machinations beneath the veil of society, the equivalent of modern fiction and conspiracy fiction about agents double-oh-something, hidden alien spaceships and mad scientists. Oh, those oppressive, all-tracking, reddish eyes! Poe's Fortunato condescends to Montressor for his lack of knowledge about secret hand-waving. Kipling's Men Who Would be Kings unearth Masonic symbols in Kafiristan. When Joseph Smith needed some random mystical-looking bullshit to imbue Mormon long-johns, he resorted to Masonic doodles.

Of course, now we benefit from a plethora of such mysteriants beside the good old Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. The KKK, in between drunken stumbles across the decades, built up its own tangle of fantasy-themed ranks and symbols. Witches' covens, political and economic think-tanks fed by ivy-league college fraternities and sororities, the CIA and NSA and three hundred other secret "security" forces, scientologists, church choirs, whatever. You can't swing a dead language without hitting a bunch of cloaked schemers babbling in that language about protecting the mysteries of the universe.

Some are more organized and do more damage than others, but after a few centuries and millennia of their bullshit isn't it about time we recognized the only truth transcending all secretive organizations? They're cliques and tribes. They're packs, herds, gangs, cartels, armies, religions. They're in-groups which out-compete outsiders not due to any deep understanding of the workings of reality but simply because they're willing to put their collective incompetence above your individual competence. They get ahead by favoritism and group cohesion, by mindless self-promoting obedience to groupthink, not because their hidden handshakes really might summon up Beelzebub or Skynet to smite their enemies.

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