Urbs Not War

Urbs Not War

Just-about Reanimated Stallone as Bread Mafia Boss in Warburton’s Ad

Arriving in (class) war-torn Bethnal Green yesterday afternoon, possibly the warmest on record for April, I was struck in the face by a billboard ad featuring a just-about reanimated Sylvester Stallone and a host of other hand-gun-toting ghouls standing in a Blackwater-style phalanx beneath heavy metal typography. The product? War(burtons) bread.

Global Machine Culture.Wheat

The latest outdoor media instalment from Campaign award-winning agency WRCS would appear to be pitched at ornery inner city folks raised on that peculiar subterranean-yet-mainstream diet of violence–now worked into the degenerate and desecrated grain formerly known as wheat. A bastardisation concocted by Global Machine Culture [GMC], wheat has become the edible monoculture version of Agent Smith, viral shadow of the Matrix.

Whether the “grain” used in Warburton’s “bread” is GM or not is pretty much irrelevant. Fracking, corporate tax evasion, Blairism–take your pick from a plethora of parallels–you can bet your bottom dollar that chemical corners have been cut. GMC is certainly betting its bottom dollar on it. Am I saying Warburtons “bread”–let’s call it “edible product” is harmful to your health? Let’s not go there. GMC already has the “scientific” answers ready to roll on surface-to-media missiles that crop-dust public discussion with enumerated bullshit. Is GMC harmful to the environment? If you can answer no to that, I’d love to see your arguments in the comments box below.

But this is not so much a “green” as a “green psychology” article–if you like, a “deep eco” more than an “eco” piece.

Ecology: The branch of science concerned with the relationships between organisms and their environments.
Oxford Dictionary

Sure, it’s tongue-in-cheek, concocted by “clever”, middle class executives and “creatives” in the rather sexier environs of 60 Great Portland Street, leveraging the already tongue-in-cheek Stallone movie “The Expendables”. But what is the relationship between the residents of Bethnal Green and the award-winning Warburtons “Family” campaign? Or the Britain’s Got Talent-watching, edible-product-toasting masses who lap up the TV commercial in the ad breaks? Does thegame for a laugh messaging not rest on cultural channels of violence? Is “family” not tongue-twisted to mean “mafia”, i.e. glamourised gang culture? Is it only coincidence that WRCS’s other clients include the Army, Navy, Airforce, Artemis (The Profit Hunters) and–on balance–that benign old giant, HMRC?

Respect the Bread Warburtons ad by BBH

Perhaps it’s unfair to piss on WRCS’s award dinner chips. They’re not alone in this war business. How about BBH’s ad on the right?

Of course, it’s all tongue-in-cheek, game for a laugh, simply a reflection of modern, urban society. But whose tongue is in whose cheek? WRCS’s in Stallone’s? The clever folks at WRCS might say I’m patronising the working class, who understand the joke just fine.

Maybe we can go further then, with rape, racism, ISIS beheadings and Israeli F16s worked up in a tongue-in-cheek commercial for underarm spray, say.

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

According to the Metropolitan Police, Violence Against the Person in Tower Hamlets has risen 21% in the last 12 months, keeping up with the London-wide trend of nearly 30%.

Grab a free rag off the floor of the tube if you want examples. To be fair, the same rags print articles (juxtapose ads for Warburtons and other edible product) about 10-year old boys frazzled on hardcore porn, teenage girls bullied into anal sex, bartered between local mafias like objects in Grand Theft Auto. (What is this reporting really? Assimilation? Social lip service?)

In this light is there really any defence for depictions of violence, no matter how clever or tongue-in-cheek, in the billboard overhanging your local station, high street, park or playground? Are inner city children really that urbane and ironic? Do we want them to be?

What’s your response? Maybe like the protagonist of Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror: 15 Million Credits, the bit where he stands in front of the Cowell-esque panel and sums up his blistering polemic with the words: FUCK YOU!

It’s tempting to leave it there, to openly encourage that these billboards be defaced, torn down, burnt. I’m supposed to play the game, push my tongue into some clever, Great Portland Street cheek, let it all wash over me. Take the cash and shut the fuck up. For many years I tried to do just that. But I couldn’t, not really.

Increasingly, I don’t think you can either. Not really.

A Deserter from the Navy

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A deserter from the navy. Image courtesy Lyn Birkbeck.

The Sabian symbol for today, 22 January 2014, in which the sun is in the 4th degree of Aquarius is ‘A Deserter from the Navy.’ These symbols–one for each of the 360 degrees of the solar journey around the zodiacal theatre–are eidetic glyphs, downloaded by turn of the century psychic Elsie Wheeler. Today they are an important component of astrological analysis. It so happens that I have Jupiter, planet of faith, expansiveness, philosophy in the 4th degree of Aquarius [note: in Astrological charts, in which the 1st degree is 0-1 degress, the 4th degree of Aquarius, 3-4 degrees, is written as Aquarius 3].

Master Astrologer Lyn Birkbeck interprets this particular solar glyph like so:

Breaking Away From The Norm

Circumstances urge an outright rebellion against the status quo – especially with respect to what is generally regarded as morally unacceptable. No matter what others think, one is driven to take the consequences as the price one pays for being true to oneself.

I often find myself ‘behind enemy lines’. Perhaps, since the solstice 2012, hard on the heels of that grand establishment coda the London Olympics and the unconcealed Millennium Domish simulated Lizardry behind it, we are all behind enemy lines. We, the people, seem powerless to prevent the insane eco-piracy of fracking. The police lie. The people jerking the strings of  the multi trillion dollar confidence trick that markets itself as the economy interlinking the 8 billion people on the planet could fit on a single double decker bus. In the last 100 years–or is it 1 year, what does it matter the curve is exponential–humanity will have consumed more earthly resource than was consumed in the entire history of humanity.

3.2 billion year old rainbow serpent synapse

3.2 billion year old rainbow serpent synapse

The parade of octogenarian former television and radio personalities on charges of sexually molesting women and children continues through British courts. A 99p shop in Wales erupts into chaos when it’s half price sale ends mid-trading. An African man shows up at the scene of a mob murder to slice the arm off one of the corpses and eat it in front of the ogling crowd. And in a small room in the City of London I hold for a few moments in my hand a 3.2 billion year old octahedral crystal synapse of Pachamama, the Earth Goddess herself.

Of course, no one else there saw the golf ball-sized crystal as such. Rather, the point of this little exercise was a taste of the process by which such crystals are graded according to their shape, size and clarity–first steps in the industrial process that turns them into cut and polished diamonds.

Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent rock painting, Australia

Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent rock painting, Australia

According to various strands of Aboriginal, Amazonian and African indigenous mythology–the correspondences are documented by, for instance, Jeremy Narby in his popular book The Cosmic Serpent–the centre of the Earth is an octahedral crystal. Paintings from these distant regions depict the spirit of the Earth as a serpent chasing, or being led by an octahedral shape.

To hold something 3.2 billion years old, extracted from the Earth by a process which averages 250 tons of rock per carat [the industry measure of weight] of diamond, in your hand in a rather random room in the City of London inspires strange thoughts and feelings. This particular octahedral synapse of the cosmic serpent, valued at 296 carats, required 74,000 tons of the Earth’s crust be moved elsewhere. It’s sheer size and octahedrality has so far saved it from the process that would render it fit for consumption. The first stage of that process is to saw the octahedral crystal synapse in half.

A younger, less mortal me would have had a go. And–as the actual younger less mortal me was on more than one occasion–been fired and turned away to face my shitty little end of the global trillion dollar confidence trick that masquerades as a ‘free’ market economy afresh. A fantasy, utterly immortal me might have swallowed the damned rock and made a bolt for it. And probably gotten no further than the elevator.

The older, more mortal me, swallowed the sadness that oozed into my hands from that piece of Pachamama Earth Serpent’s brain and my judgement of those at that very moment being brainwashed into seeing it as ungraded precursor to several multimillion pound pieces of jewellery.

Despite not letting the mask slip, I was still clocked. I know I was. I could see the presenter’s conscience rise to the surface of her face, where it was quickly masked by the sort of scrunching that passes in such contexts as a smile. And as I write this now I see that I didn’t fail. I didn’t have to martyr myself through awkward questions or standing up to deliver some empassioned plea on behalf of the Earth Goddess. That would have triggered the laser beams and the steel shutters would have come thumping down.

None of that was necessary. Something in me connected with something in her. Oh Pachamama is clever! Let them have the stones from the ground and cut them with lasers and store them in bank vaults to be brought out at thick, red-carpeted junctures of the Matrix and flashed at the flashing cameras. The light of awareness is faster than flashes for it is outside of time it is the simultaneous recognition of the divine in the divine. In the end there will be no escaping it.

It would be wrong of me not to leave you with a sample of the book currently touching my divinity – The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants, by Martín Prechtel. Page 212:

Modernity’s seemingly bottomless addiction to an endless pursuit of recreation, substances, TV, or religious or scientific promises of another more anesthetized world, of having to constantly “escape” or “get away” from an everyday life of dead, demythologized stuff, and a daily insignificance in a schemeless, unstirred whole is fast creating an anti-existence based on forgetting instead of remembering, which, if it doesn’t first kill the viability of the holy ground we need to live on…we will someday not have enough reality left here on earth in our bodies to remember, much less anything to remember it with; the muscle and its reason for existing would atrophy simultaneously.

© Nizami Thirteen 2014

Acknowledgements

Sabian Symbol interpretations, The Astrological Oracle by Lyn Birkbeck.

The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic, by Martín Prechtel, recommended to me by the World’s Most Unlikely Shaman, Davina Mackail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleanliness and godliness

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Devotees making the final approach to the temple, following initiation

Saturday 26 January 2013. The streets and park beneath Sri Balathandayuthapani hilltop temple in Georgetown, Penang, throb with activity, drums and amplified mantras. I and nine other volunteers, brought together under eco-activist banner Sampah Masyarakat, brainchild of Shyam Priyah, unfold from a hired van after the four hour drive up from Kuala Lumpur. Our first concern is the parked car we accidentally scratched manoeuvring around the dark car park. The second is that the overnight tent we were promised is nowhere to be seen. And the third is how close our camping spot is to the already overflowing portable toilet block. I wonder if I have made a mistake coming here. Perhaps the others are also wondering. Shyam is asking if anyone has any Panadol. She’s running a slight fever.

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My mood worsens in the face of further little setbacks. We have one torch between us. The poles of the dome tent are broken. We give up on Shyam’s beach tent: someone can use it as a ground sheet. We decide the smaller members of the group should sleep in the van, the longer ones will have to take their chances in the park. It’s half two in the morning and we have to be up at six. We have volunteered to help clean up the trash generated by the festival.

For a few hours, I drift in and out of the music belting from the temple, which blends with the boom and clatter of drums and chants as group after group of devotees arrive at the foot of the 513 steps that climb to where they lay their kavadi offerings to the deity Murugan, spear-carrying vanquisher of Asuras, after hours of walking. I am too exhausted to crawl out the tent and watch, content to imagine timeless scenes. An explosion of India in Penang.

Dawn comes slowly. The groups dwindle, and with them the drums, but the temple music carries on, interrupted only by loudspeaker announcements. Practical information, probably, but in formal Tamil everything sounds like a mythic transmission.

Thaipusam is the annual Hindu festival commemorating the penance of Murugan, the vel (spear) carrying deity created by Siva from his own Shakti power in order to battle the Asuras. As with many Vedic accounts, tracing the story of Murugan/Karthika/Skanda/ Subrahmanya is somewhat complex. Brother of Ganesa, in India he is also known as Thamizh Kadavul, the God of the Tamils.

There is nothing much for breakfast. One of the volunteers – an Iraqi engineering student – has bought sugary muffins. In fact, we’re too tired to eat. A cup of tea would have been nice though. We raise our banner between two trees. It takes some figuring out how to tie the four eyeholes securely with only one piece of rope.

Thanks to another team operating a food waste reprocessing scheme, we are invited into what seems to be the police hut, right in the middle of the action. The banner is repositioned. Now it’s on the fence, beside the official Welcome to Penang Thaipusam sign, unmissable by anyone on their way to the temple. People are looking, wondering who we are. A Tamil man joins us spontaneously. Shyam’s sister and her husband arrive. The latter is in deep conversation with a man who later turns out to be a member of Special Branch. Questions were asked as to whether we were a political outfit. No, we’re just here to pick up the trash.

After a briefing from Shyam – separate paper and plastic from food waste; raise awareness; represent – we head out into the morning sun. The crowd is thickening by the minute. The gutters along the festival streets are choked with plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers, plastic bags and paper cups originating from a Nestle stall vowing to provide 1 Million cups for Thaipusam. Shyam wades into the queue with a biodegradable bin bag.

Reactions from the crowd to volunteers clearing up rubbish were interesting. Mostly people got the simple message. If you throw your rubbish on the ground, someone else has to pick it up. There were also dirty looks. Religion and politics coinciding to conjure an element of threat. Who are these outsiders at the festival of the God of the Tamils? Two members of our group carried placards: “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “Would you throw rubbish on the floor at home? Then why on the street?” Perhaps there were those in the crowd who felt morally high-grounded.

The “cleanliness…” message was certainly apt in the vacant lot near the beginning of the festival parade. Here families gathered, chanting vel, vel while devotees received initiations, blessings, steel spears pierced through their cheeks, steel rings hooked into their backs, from which ropes and weights were hung. Then picked their way among mounds of rubbish – milk cartons, coconut shells, bunches of bananas – to carry their burdens to the temple. Many people walked barefoot.

I can understand the Tamil Indian point of view, as it was eloquently explained by one man. Thaipusam is a hindu Indian festival in a muslim country where Indian (and Chinese) civil rights are not yet equal to those of Malay Malaysians. Apart from Shyam, and the man who joined us on the day, the volunteers were neither Indian Malaysian nor hindu. There is something of a fault line here. A hairline crack in the peaceful diversity Malaysia has managed to sustain – with remarkably few interruptions – since the country’s inception. Hence the interest of Special Branch.

We volunteers were interested in masses of people gathering for some single focus – as they do at other festivals, at pop concerts, sports events and so on – and behaving irresponsibly towards their immediate environment. As much as they are temporary crises, such gatherings are opportunities for raising awareness, where even a token effort gets noticed by many. In today’s age of imminent, irreversible human ecological impact, no activity can be condoned – or sustained – that does not take this sword of damocles into account. At one level it’s a no brainer. Mountains of trash on the ground, someone has to pick it up. If deeper questions are asked, it’s no bad thing.

Indeed what has happened to spirituality if a spiritual task is undertaken – preparation of an offering, say, or an initiation – and afterwards the stuff is heaved into the nearest river? What if a family make their annual pilgrimage to the temple – or the mosque or church or whatever spiritual locus – and eat takeaway food in the temple grounds or the park outside or the beach on the way home and stuff their styrofoam containers into the bole of the nearest tree?

We are talking of course of the compartmentalisation of spirituality. A box is drawn around behaviours deemed to be spiritual – the done thing. Outside it, Spiritual is set to off. We can despoil the park, defraud our fellow man, beat our wife. The box – the shell, if you prefer – limits Spirit, which is instantly and obviously suspect. With spirit boxed, with the genie back in the bottle, we are prone to some dangerous confusions. Religion and culture. Religion and politics. Religion and race. We can say that religion itself is a confusion.

All religions trace their roots back to the words and actions of an individual. Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad. Thousands of years later, the actions are only words. Perhaps even minutes later actions are only words. Some of those words still carry great power. But some carry a different sort of power. Divine words are powerful tools. Tempting to use them, manage them, adjust them. Inevitable that something is missed, something withers. We are dealing with husks – husks refitted with something else. Religion has been hijacked.

And with a few twists and turns, collecting trash from the bole of a tree becomes a threat.

There is a way out of this mess. I take my hat off to Shyam and other activists (in one sense many of them, in another they are still so few) who go out of their way to raise awareness. And of course there are plenty of people – at religious festivals and football matches alike – who understand that stuffing your takeaway packaging into the bole of a tree is bad behaviour. But there are still plenty who don’t.

The prevailing mindset is that the environment is some sort of innate surface, a bottomless pit from which nice things like food and diamonds magically appear, and into which not nice things can be stuffed and forgotten about. If the prevailing mindset thinks about the environment at all. The prevailing mindset is one severed from the environment, from Nature. The prevailing mindset has been hijacked.

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Shyam and team preparing for action

The way out of the mess is simply to reconnect. To rejoin the conversation with Nature. In a way, it’s a very simple thing. And when we do it we realise that Nature has been talking to us all along. The transmission never loses power because it is constant. You may have noticed words like ‘shamanism’ elsewhere on this site. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you are skeptical. Perhaps you think I am secretly referring to some sort of drug, or making a walk in the park and a breath of fresh air into something complicated.

In any case, simply consider this: everything in our bodies – our skin, hair, eyes, nails, even blood – comes from plants or from animals who eat plants, or in some cases from animals that eat other animals that eat plants. You get the idea. Everything. Tea, coffee, sugar and biscuits. Petrol. We can say that it is we humans that have, over the ages, perfected agriculture and industry that we can extract – take – what we need, what we want. Sure, we’ve been ingenious. So ingenious that we are scraping the bottom of the bottomless pit. We can drill the arctic for oil and turn rainforest into golf courses, blow up the Atlantic Ocean and race speedboats on it the next day.

Are we ingenious enough for this little thought experiment: What if all those good things – tea, coffee, biscuits – are given?

I had forgotten my tiredness, and any irritation over tent poles a few minutes into the work. It was satisfying work, which is reward in itself, but look at this: Interesting that Penang Thaipusam culminates on Jalan Waterfall. The Sampah Masyarakat volunteers ended up at a waterfall outside town, where we bathed in sun and sparkling clean water. Freely given, and most lovingly and gratefully received. That is the spirit of the conversation with Nature. Indeed, that is the conversation with Spirit.

Acknowledgements

Sampah Masyarakat

Shyam Priah, My Khatulistiwa 


 

Ex-army irvine eights

Very thought-provoking video series by Kirby Ferguson on vimeo:

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The Nature analogy is apt. Humans, plants, animals and everything in between are all “remixes” of ancestors. Exposé of the corrupt patents and copyright industry is very timely, as is the ludicrously bellicose language of gentle giant Steve Jobs. The issue these videos are getting at is attachment, i.e. identity. Which is not to say that we must do away entirely with it – a question mark as to whether we can – but that there has to be a politics of identity, which is what the first video talks about in the original manifestation of the copyright laws. A window of protection to allow the one who has been working on something, not to be ripped off. As with everything else, the true spirit of this got hijacked…

There is perhaps deeper irony lurking inside the idea of selfless copy/transform/combine dynamic of Nature: which is the selfish gene idea…

Possibly, the films are tautologous in that they select those examples of music and film which demonstrate the point. Another film could perhaps be made about ‘singleton’ plants/animals/pieces of music…but this would be ‘guilty’ of the same trick.

If art arises from the soil of the subconscious, which is a collective pool, then the inspiration is available to all. And yet there was/is only one Salvador Dali, Freddie Mercury, J.K Rowling. The self, inevitably, quite naturally attaches to the originality of the channeling. It is only by disciplined effort that we avoid falling into the ego trap of having been The One to channel something.

Everything is hijacked

Avraham Burg wrote in the New York Times:

The winds of isolation and narrowness are blowing through Israel. Rude and arrogant power brokers, some of whom hold senior positions in government, exclude non-Jews from Israeli public spaces. Graffiti in the streets demonstrates their hidden dreams: a pure Israel with “no Arabs” and “no gentiles.” They do not notice what their exclusionary ideas are doing to Israel, to Judaism and to Jews in the diaspora. In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression. [Israel’s Fading Democracy, NYTimes, 4 Aug 2012]

A paragraph from an excellent and balanced article from “a former speaker of the Knesset, the author of “The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes” and the chairman of Molad, the Center for Renewal of Democracy.”

I mentioned in my article on Rachel Corrie, the American activist who died protesting against expansionist bulldozing in Gaza, that everything had been hijacked – Judaism, Christianity, Islam. All of them for political purposes. All of them by agglomerations of worldly power seeking – in a way – to emulate true power, the power of Spirit/God/Divinity.

Going back to Shakespeare quote with which I began this blog, that of the three witches in Macbeth – “Fair is foul and foul is fair” – we can view the “fundamentalist coalition” [Burg] in Israel in exactly the same light as we can the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, and the would-be state envisioned by people like Tod Akin, that expert on female anatomy. And of course with states that pursue Democracy.

As said Joni Mitchell, “Language is a virus.” A few thousand years ago, in specific temporal, locative and social contexts, various Middle Easterners uttered various words. Some time later they were written down, exposing them to all the potential for manipulation, quotation out of context, interpretation and reinterpretation that tools like Facebook, Twitter and Facebook facilitate so massively today. Very long story short: everything got hijacked by those who betrayed those words – who abused their power. Which is one of the oldest, most karmically entangled tricks in the book. (#rape is another.)

All languages hark (distantly) back to something I will call Language. The various Books all contain reference to the Word, the Logos, the Command of God. As a shaman, I can say from experience that the world is made of this Language. The Mind always interprets through the senses. Shamanism contains, amongst other things, various methods for retuning that interpretation. The tuning varies, in a small sense, in every person, from day to day, from hour to hour, minute to minute. We experience the world differently according to mood etc. Shamanic methods allow a more substantial retuning. The aim of this retuning is communion with Nature, in other words, to hear the Language of which it is constructed.

The techniques are necessary – not as dogmatic obstacles to communion placed their by priestly elitism – but to circumvent, pass through, go beyond the normal envelope of the Mind, which has been hijacked by language (small L). There is an Einstein quote popular at the moment that expresses a similar idea:

You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.

Those heavily invested in rationality find this idea challenging – rationality does not want to cede to Rationality (Language is infinitely more direct and Rational than language).

Thinking holographically – as within, so without – what we see in the various strivings out there in the world for the Sharia State, the Jewish State, the Buddhist State, the Democratic State are the grindings of illusion, the rubric of language masquerading as Language, of power masquerading as Power – if you like, as the Dark masquerading as the Light. Which is essentially the job of the Dark.

True Power cannot be used. This is what the “submission” of Islam is talking about. It is what Jesus, Moses and all the other prophets have always talked about. Bickering over language about Power has gotten us nowhere. Or rather, it has gotten us entangled in language, which is a function not of Power but of Identity. The small power of the small self.

I have a dream. I have touched it a number of times. In shamanic ceremonies, in qi gong and meditation sessions and drumming circles. Those moments when the differences of language are suddenly seen for what they are. Those moments when we see the illusions, and are no longer illuded by them. What we see instead is a bunch of Beings. A bunch of souls incarnate, fundamentally and essentially of the same stuff.

Many reading this will know exactly what I mean. Some will smile wryly at such “hippy” dreaming. Sooner rather than later, everyone will get it. It’s not that difficult. Your mind at this point will be thinking, Ok so we play drums and get all loved up and simple…then what? Ignore these thoughts. This is the static of language, of habit, of identity.

Nothing I am saying here is new, rather it is very old. What might be new is the application of this sort of language in the political sphere. Avraham Burg concludes:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle. Every time the prime minister says “peace” the world will actually believe him, and when he talks about justice and equality people will feel that these are synonyms for Judaism and Israelis.

I empathise with this dream. With one qualification. That these old words – Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Israeli, American, Palestinian – will all have to go. They are the viruses of language, illusions of identity – personal and social – that we must go beyond in order to hear Language. Perhaps even speak it. And we shall. The accelerated strife of the world is due to the necessary rupturing of illusions. There are more peaceful ways to see through them, of course. At any rate, we’ll get through, and see that those old words all meant much the same thing all along.