Weird & Güd - A Curse for Freedom

Election Edition! (Move away from the delete button, please...)

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.

The Weird

Another day, another historical figure who achieved way more than any stone-throwing dissenter ever will is condemned for the crime of existing by the norms of their time. Unfortunately for our modern sensibilities, history is a little less concerned with adhering to the next century’s standards.

The pesky problem with history is that unlike our utopian idealsit’s real. What’s left behind is not the wish for what should have been, but the artifacts of what actually was.

History is full of bits and pieces that show us what our predecessors were really like. As we lose our minds and friends over politics, it helps stave off the sense of catastrophe to remember that the free-flowing spite online might exist in a modern medium, but the sentiment itself is ancient.

What we will leave behind for the next century to judge won’t be the righteous ideals in our minds but the messy reality of how, just like every single society before us, we failed to live up to our own utopia.

The challenge of empathizing with long-dead humans is exactly why history bores many people. What do you have in common with some robe-wearing, mostly-illiterate, definitely politically-incorrect person from a thousand years ago? Unfortunately for us, almost everything.

We’ve seen a lot of nasty sentiments expressed online lately, even from public figures who have more of a responsibility not to casually stoke mass hysteria. The way social media lets us broadcast our natural but negative inner moments of distress is new. Once upon a time, if you hated something, you hated it to your friends and family, and if they wouldn’t listen, you hated it to your god or journal.

1820: You hate your neighbor’s smug expression as his harvest flourishes and yours dwindles? Who wouldn’t. Express that hatred among your inner circle. They concur. The end.

2020: You hate your neighbor’s smug expression as he sticks an XYZ-candidate’s sign into his lawn? Who wouldn’t. Express that hatred to millions of people online who will join in and project their own hatred for their neighbor onto your neighbor and maybe enough people will project all their hatred together in this public avenue for hatred you’ve created, causing that hate-avenue to go viral thanks to vulturous media companies desperate for their next click, turning that hate-venue into a breaking story instead of an inner moment of natural negativity, which is instead gets interpreted as a cultural movement instead of a common feeling of routine disdain for your neighbor.

Oh, and your neighbor also posted about you and your lawn sign and his post is now a viral hate-venue for everyone with ABC-candidate’s sign. Repeat.

The crucial change of our day isn’t the spite for our neighbor. Considering we’ve mostly just killed or enslaved every neighbor that didn’t perfectly fit into our group, the spite for our neighbors isn’t at an all-time high historically. It’s the reason we feel that way that’s changed. It’s not the hate itself, but the public hate-venues we now have 24/7 access to that make the difference.

We’ve always hated each other, just never so publicly, personally, and constantly as we do today.

The thousands of curse tablets found in Greece alone are proof that we’ve always hated our neighbor, we’ve just never before pressed “share” on every hateful thought.

Curse tablets are really cool, but academics love them for all the wrong reasons. Sure, they’re a great way to study language, but they’re an even better way to study our inner moments of hatred.

These little sheets of lead engraved with short wishes for another person’s suffering are the ancient equivalent of our less magical, more public, but equally hateful everyday online curses. Ancient people would ask the gods for help in punishing enemies, and I use that word loosely.

The Pella curse tablet was written in the 4th century BC by a woman pleading with the gods to banish that wretched Thetima her ex is marrying. It’s these inner moments of ire that remind us how beautifully and dangerously similar we are to the ancient humans we claim to have long surpassed:

Of Thetima and Dionysophon the ritual wedding and the marriage I bind by a written spell, and of all other women, both widows and maidens, but of Thetima in particular…

and only when I should dig up again and unroll and read this, that she might wed Dionysophon, but not before,

for I wish him to take no other woman than me, and that I grow old with Dionysophon, and no one else…

But guard this for my sake so that these things do not happen, and wretched Thetima perishes miserably, but that I become happy and blessed.

File:Pella leaded tablet (katadesmos) 4th Century retouched.jpg
#Team Anti-Thetima

It brings a little comfort to my heart knowing we’ve been wishing horrible things on each other for eternity. We’re not wildly off course and rabidly hateful, we’re just slightly more literate and clean versions of the same ancient humans whose statues we topple with the same kind of hatred we believe we’ve outgrown. Let’s compare.

Here’s Docimedis having a slightly outsized reaction to the theft of his gloves:

Docimedis has lost two gloves and asks that the thief responsible should lose their minds and eyes in the goddess' temple.

Now here’s Touré having a slightly outsized reaction to a democratic election in which not every single citizen voted for his candidate, who still won anyway:

All Touré needs is to address Minerva and he’ll be the angry owner of a modern-day curse tablet.

Little has changed about our hatred for each other. We’re caught up about something that’s been around since ancient times while completely missing the most unprecedented part: we’ve never been able to express our hatred so instantly and expansively.

It’s normal to feel anger and it’s normal to dislike people. It’s not normal to let that anger direct your life or infect your view of entire groups of people. It’s even less normal to broadcast those routine moments of anger to millions of other people.

Curse tablets were buried underground or thrown in wells, their hateful contents obscured for centuries. Our modern curse tablets are published for public consumption the moment we write them.

Perhaps we should worry about the existence of our anger less and fear the way we express that anger more.

The Güd

If you’re an American, you’ve probably never been more stressed. Along with all the exciting events of 2020, we’ve held an election that’s been equally exciting in the same way a deadly pandemic is.

Will I lose friends and family? Will I have to stay inside to avoid physical harm? Will I ever be able to watch the news and see good ol’ senseless violence instead of the political or pandemic editions? Our suspense is its own form of suffering.

Things feel bad, man. The mainstreaming of politics and the 24/7 media cycle has a unique way of making our world feel like it’s constantly on the verge of collapse.

Yet, you wake up in the same bed every day. Your friends and family are exactly where they were yesterday. You occasionally enjoy a movie or music like you always have. You still have food to throw out that you didn’t eat in time. The sun still rises and sets.

If we disconnect from the virtual vortex of anxiety and anger we call the media, the ground under our feet reminds us that really, we’re kind of okay.

When as slow and clumsy a process as national politics becomes the most constantly covered subject in our culture, it’s time to admit we’re complicit in this chaos.

Politics is important and hiding out in a forest cabin isn’t always the answer (though it very often can be), but there is nothing that can happen in politics that’s so important you’ll miss it without constantly checking for updates.

We’re participating in the largest reality show ever run; it’s The Truman Show, but we’re all Truman and the media is Christof. How many stories of solely speculation or rehashed expired anxieties do we consume as breaking news? We once rallied behind sports and obsessed over celebrities; today, if our athletes and celebrities aren’t political, we denounce them and go back to refreshing our feed for the latest thinkpiece on some narrow political drama we’ll replace with a new narrow political drama tomorrow.

The problem with our daily habit of politics is how obsessed we become with the smaller things and how blind we become to the bigger things. Maybe your candidate did win or maybe he didn’t, either way, you still live in a country with free and fair elections. Was it pretty? What in politics ever is?

For the only country that tops the list as being simultaneously one of the most populous and diverse countries in the world, every day that we haven’t completely disintegrated is a victory worth appreciating.

“…There’s no more truth out there than in the world I created for you—the same lies and deceit….I know you better than you know yourself.” — Christof/CNN/Social Media.

It’s a shame the US is the butt of the world’s jokes, considering it’s one of the few countries truly putting the idea of a globalist future to the test. Sure, Europe seems more collected and peaceful, but they’ve also got some of the least diverse and smallest populations in the world. The state of California alone has a larger and more diverse population than Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands combined.

Unity is only as admirable as the difference between you and the people you join hands with.

It’s popular to hate the US and there are plenty of reasons to focus on its problems, but like most things that receive passionate hatred, there’s usually something more interesting about it than we admit.

What makes the US such an interesting country is how simultaneously odd and bold it is. Odd because it’s a baby only recently born, and bold because it’s skipped many of the major eras of world history and yet jumped straight into being a world power. Not to be sappy, but this scrappy kid of country has earned at least a little respect for its bravado.

You might be disappointed with a lot about your country, but it’s okay (and perhaps even healthy) to acknowledge there are a few reasons to be pleased with it, too.

One of those reasons was a speech given by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. The ideas he put forth in this speech are some of the same ideas even the most progressive among us still argue for today. His call for global respect of these four freedoms didn’t get much steam at first, but eventually served to rally recently war-beleaguered Americans to save Europe’s ass yet again.

The four freedoms Roosevelt defended are:

  1. Freedom of speech

  2. Freedom of worship

  3. Freedom from want

  4. Freedom from fear

At a time when fascism and communism were taking turns experimenting with just how little freedom a country could have, the US was building the democratic ethos that would pave the way for us all to be so damn different today.

Do we have problems? Definitely. But those problems aren’t solved by ignoring the times we get it right.

In some ways, the US is your quintessential Thanksgiving table—a bunch of varyingly strenuous relationships with radically different people who only stop arguing for that single moment we stop to appreciate the bigger things in life.

Freedom of Speech (1943) — from the Four Freedoms series by Norman Rockwell

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.