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Friday, April 08, 2005

The Rise of the 21rst Century Medievalists

Anyone following American politics has witnessed the rise of the neo-medievalists over about the past 15 years. It hasn’t been a slow rise; it has been more like an avalanche that continues to grow in scope and intensity with every pundit who jumps on board, with every nonsense news story that is hyped to death, and with every corporate victory over the rights of citizens. The monolithic and unchallenged power of the church and aristocracy in medieval times has been replaced in our own era by corporate giants who dictate their own brand of pro-business theocracy to the faithful.

If it weren’t so frightening it would be funny to think that many in America think that we have a liberal media. The forces of medievalism have done such a great job of dissembling that they have convinced their flock that the media they control is somehow liberal. They point to something as inconsequential as a single story of questionable veracity by Dan Rather as an example of the horrors being wrought by the liberal media. This is in an era when an entire news network is dedicated to fabricating a conservative fantasy.

Two recent items in the news clearly illustrate the widening gap between those who wish to forge ahead into the new millennium and those caught in the grip of the medieval world. For weeks Americans have been told by the media that we should care about a severely brain-damaged woman clinging to life by a feeding tube. The media doesn’t remind us that we live amongst 44 million Americans with little access to health care, that we have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the western world. For the medievalists, life is more of a concept than an actual entity. A fetus or a comatose victim should be valued over a child born into poverty or 100,000 victims of genocide in Africa. Concepts can be served with slogans. Trite phrases like “culture of life” and “pro-life” are enough to convince the religionists that their side has the moral high ground. Reducing infant mortality requires action, and action requires tax dollars. Taxes are bad for business, slogans are cheap.

Americans have also been told by the TV news media that we should all care about the Pope. Everything about this man, and the “infallible” position he held, rests firmly in the medieval world, even the stupid clothes that he wore. The Catholic Church hasn’t even come around to accepting the humanizing aspects of the Renaissance, let alone anything to do with the Age of Enlightenment. Catholics didn’t like Galileo, and Voltaire scared the living shit out of them. The Church has fought bitterly against most scientific discoveries—sometimes for centuries. Catholics certainly aren’t alone among the religious in their opposition to science. It is hard to blame people for opposing a field of study that every day uncovers evidence proving that their beliefs are nothing more than fairy tales.

Our own president refuses to admit that he accepts the concept of evolution. He doesn’t appear to be a man plagued by deep thought; he simply believes what his handlers tell him to believe. These days the safe money goes with believing that God is responsible for everything and we shouldn’t bother with scientific explanations of the world we inhabit. This was the presiding philosophy in Europe during the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, an era known as The Dark Ages. Welcome back, Dark Ages. It looks like a lot of people have missed you.

I don’t see any difference between religionists who oppose the teachings of evolution and the fanatical Amish who refuse to accept such modern concepts as electricity. The Amish feel that modern innovations are a threat to their faith because the Bible makes no mention of electricity and telephones. If your faith puts you at odds with evolution, how can you come to grips with cell phones, digital TV, and Viagra?

We are now about 300 years into the Age of Enlightenment yet we are in an even more desperate struggle with the forces of medievalism than in Voltaire’s day. At least in Voltaire’s era the clerics could be excused for their blind opposition to the voices of reason around them because reason was so utterly new. What excuse did Pope John Paul II have for condemning the use of condoms in a world being ravaged by AIDS? How can so many Americans not accept evolution in the wake of over a century of scientific discoveries in that field?

Much of modern day Islam seems to be at odds with the modern world, but not to any greater extent than many Christian factions in the United States. Christian extremists seem every bit as willing to resort to violence in pursuit of their causes as the most radical Muslim elements.

Corporate conservatives in America are using the religious right to affect their pro-business agenda. An example of this surfaced in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case. Brian Darling, the legal counsel to Senator Mel Martinez R-FL, admitted that he was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans if they feigned concern over the fate of the comatose woman. Mr. Darling was formerly a lobbyist for gun rights. Remember people, choose life and aim for the chest cavity.

Corporate conservatives don’t understand irony, they certainly aren’t shamed by hypocrisy, and cynicism seems to be their overriding ethos.

This partnership between the plutocracy and the faithful is eroding the secular nature of American society. The corporate world would like to roll back the gains of workers over the past century while the religious fanatics want to return us to the mediaeval world in which the Bible supercedes the constitution.

Most of the countries of Western Europe are much more egalitarian and much more secular than the United States. They are also struggling against the forces of medievalism although the regressive forces of Islam they are fighting do not have the corporate sponsorship that American religious conservatives enjoy. Only 5% of people in the UK regularly attend church. Only 12% of French Catholics regularly attend mass. The corporate conservatives will have to find another tact to ally themselves with the masses in European societies. Perhaps corporate conservatives in Europe will foment anti-Islamic and racist sentiments to gain the support of the electorate.

The corporate political strategy seems to be this: Keep the masses ignorant, find things that piss them off, and then make like you are on their side. While the religious fanatics are mourning the Pope or standing vigil over a comatose victim, the business world can dismantle our pesky environmental codes and entitlement system. The thing to remember as all of this unfolds is that in the Dark Ages most people were surfs.

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