Wednesday, August 17, 2011

a witch's brew

What a koan:

A wise man confronted by a throng of idiots would be well-advised to keep his mouth shut if he does not wish to be drawn and quartered. On the other hand, if he keeps his mouth shut, the carnage is likely to be even worse.

What a truly frightening thing to be in a realm where the majority live by an intransigent belief or comforting philosophy.

-- Buddhists sometimes complain of feeling isolated and disdained in an arena populated by dyed-in-the-wool Christians.
-- Those with alternative views were widely excoriated, jailed or had their lives ruined by the communist-hunters of the McCarthy era (1950's) in the United States.
-- In Russia and its satellites, individuals lived in the very real terror that there might be a police knock at the door in the middle of the night ... much as such things occurred in Nazi Germany. Alternative lifestyles or philosophies or sometimes skin colors were not tolerated.

It's scary to be in a place where the many agree ... and are simultaneously unwilling to reflect. And while the examples of history are easy to find, the small examples of an individual life are often overlooked. Where there is widespread agreement (within or without), it is time to duck and cover. LaRochefoucauld's maxim is not without usefulness: "The intelligence of the mass is inversely proportionate to its number." Whether within or without ... too much agreement spells danger because it simply does not reflect the rich reality of life.

In the 17th century, a nine-year-old girl's testimony led to the execution of 10 people in an era that was rife with a widespread belief in and fear of witches. Ten people executed. It may seem horrific in hind sight, but when you look around (or even within), I suppose there is some consolation in the fact that the death toll was not higher.

Belief is too often a bloody business.

And who carries the ax?

Isn't it the one who refuses to examine his or her own beliefs?

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