Why the Fawkes Did We Just Do That?

Fawkes. Guy Fawkes.

I know it’s been and gone, but it seems fitting to write this now. Late. After it has ceased to be relevant.

In that spirit I would like us all to pause for a moment. Please. With me. Close your eyes and let us remember the true meaning of Guy Fawkes.

Um… I’m going to go with…. blowing up politicians?

Actually, the original true meaning of Guy Fawkes is something along the lines of this: Fuck Catholics.

People today celebrating Guy Fawkes with fireworks makes about as much sense as people in the year 2417 celebrating  Osama Bin Laden with paper planes and airshows. Guy Fawkes was a failed Catholic terrorist. He wanted to blow up the entire political class, start a civil war, and make England a Catholic country. He failed. He got executed. Explosive plots. Shoot outs. And torture. That’s what we are celebrating. Happy Death to Catholics Day everybody! God save the King!

This whole deal started because the King and parliament – who were quite thankful about not being exploded to death – decided the whole country should give thanks. And for some reason we’ve really liked it. Other weird traditions from that era have long since gone. Yet Guy Fawkes is one guy who has stuck with us for over four hundred years.

Why are we still doing this?

The thank-God-we’re-not-Catholic bit more or less died out in the 19th Century. We all decided to be a bit more orderly about things and stop beating people up. But you could still burn effigies of the Pope if you really wanted. Or the Russians. Or Tony Blair. Whoever you feel needs a good burning.

Then the fireworks industry got in on the on the action, using it as an annual celebration of their product. Seems we were okay with that. And entrepreneurial children also got in on the action, using it as an opportunity to sell effigies for burning so the could buy fireworks, because… fireworks.

Nowadays Guy Fawkes is morphing yet again. Governments, unimpressed by their citizens burning things down and blowing off fingers, have been moving us into an era of organized community fireworks displays. How very civilized.

And not one word about Catholics.

Yet the Guy Fawkes tale has also shot off in another bizarre tangent. Some of us quite like the idea of blowing up politicians. Ever seen that white-faced, mustachioed, smiling mask? The one beloved by Anonymous? That’s Guy Fawkes.  Those masks are film merchandise.

The film V for Vendetta, where that mask comes from, turned the whole 5th of November tale on it’s head. Guy-Fawkes-the-terrorist-fanatic became Guy-Fawkes-the-model-anarchist-freedom-fighter. Woo-hoo!  Let’s blow those fascists sky-high! Here Guy Fawkes takes on the meaning of a mad jester’s threat: if you politicians screw with us too much, we might just try to blow you to pieces. All of you! Kaboomy!

This whole fire-lit celebration has evolved rather a lot over the years.

I see little sign that Guy Fawkes will ever settle down as something coherent. Guy Fawkes is both hero and villain simultaneously. Guy Fawkes is about nothing and about everything simultaneously. Trivial and inspiring. Annoying and beautiful. You can sit at home doing nothing. You can run out and spend $6000 on explosives. No one cares. No one understands. Nobody knows what we’re doing.

Perhaps that is the secret to its success.

Any meaning or none can be wrapped around a hearty glowing core of fire, and explosions, and the vague sense that this all has something to do with politics.

That, I think, is the true meaning of Guy Fawkes. We’re all pyromaniacs. And we’re all confused.

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

A brief guide to Guy Fawkes from the BBC here.

The Guy Fawkes mask as the symbol of carnivalesque protest, on the Guardian, here.

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Will the War on Terror Ever End?

Wars are fought to be won. Yet the War on Terror feels immortal. A whole generation has come of age since 9/11, yet still no end can be seen. No end seems possible. An eternal war. A contradiction in terms?

When will the War on Terror ever end?

The harder the goal is pursued the faster it recedes. The papers are full of blood each day. Again. Again. Again. Such news barely registers anymore.

Can this war ever end?

Let us take the War on Terror at its most noble. Let us leave aside all those dark questions about oil, or American hegemony. This is the good War on Terror: a fight to defend democracy. A fight against the people who want to violently overthrow freedom, and replace it with an empire of intolerant theocracy.

In this war Democracy dominants the intellectual space, it holds the moral high ground, and it has chosen to rely on two tools above all: the law and the military.

Be a terrorist and you will get arrested. Be a nation of terrorists and you will get bombed. The aim – put every last terrorist in prison, or a grave.

Will this work?

Will the bloodshed ever end?

I don’t know what will happen in the future. But I do know a little history. Idly skimming the pages of the past, something familiar caught my eye. I feel like we’ve been here before.

Once upon a time there was another power. It too dominated the intellectual space. It too held the moral high ground. It too relied on the law and the military.

What caught my eye was a certain obscure old war fought by this power: A murderous ruler harboring evil-doers. A short official invasion to clear them all out. Early success. “Mission accomplished,” one might have been tempted to say. Then decades of war, massacres, reversals, revolts, and – if you care to use the word – genocide. Sound familiar?

That war was the Albigensian Crusade. That power was Catholicism. This was the age of the Crusades. And when you start to think about it, the fundamentals of it all, it begins to look eerily familiar.

In medieval times the great enemy of the Church was heresy. Heretics were a threat to goodness of the gospel. Heretics where a threat to power of the church. Heretics were willing to use violence. Heretics were evil. Heretics had to be stopped. Heretics were an enemy within.

Being a heretic could get you arrested. Staying a heretic could get you executed. Being a land of heretics could get you invaded.

This was the War on Heresy.

And it was brutal.

The Waldensians were burnt. The Free Spirits were burnt. The Lollards were burnt. Even the dead were dug up and burnt.

Military campaigns were launched against all the enemies of Catholicism: the Muslims in Spain, the pagans in the Baltic, and, of course, those Albigensians in France – those ones got hunted down for decade after decade after decade.

In the War on Heresy torture became permissible, executions became a necessary evil, and collateral damage was dismissed with the words, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

To pursue the heretics unto the ends of the Earth, a special anti-heresy division was created  – the Inquisition. Its reputation lives on. Noble aims got mixed up with dirty politics, and corruption, and outright sadism. The noble faith of all-loving Jesus was enforced by boots and chains.

And it worked.

For centuries it worked.

Heresy was under control.

Until it wasn’t.

The Protestant Reformation broke out. Whole countries went heretic. Many of those previously defeated heretics reemerged and fused to the new movement. Suddenly there was an ocean of heretics.

They couldn’t all be imprisoned, reformed, or executed. Not that it wasn’t tried. Millions of people were stabbed, hacked, and burnt to death as both sides engaged in decades of war, massacre, and counter massacre in a futile attempt to eliminate the other. Both failed. But Catholicism failed most. It permanently lost its War on Heresy.

The medieval Catholics never dealt with the real problem: that their own moral corruption was fueling outrage at the Church, and that universal agreement on religion is an impossibility. They fought a war of ideas, a war of morals, with a butchers knife. They lost the moral high ground. Then the intellectual space. Then their political power.

Today the heretics rule the world.

Our War on Terror is also a war on heresy. Democracy has heretics.  They are those groups of people which cannot be tolerated in a tolerant society – the people who don’t believe in tolerance. The two are mutually incompatible, just as Catholicism and it’s heretics were mutually incompatible.

The Communists. The Fascists. Now the Islamic terrorists. They are our heretics.

Enraptured by the mythos of World War Two we are snared in the belief that the enemies of democracy can be defeated with guns. World War Two made such a grand tale. It felt so final. It was our glorious crusade. We defeated Nazism because we shot all the Nazis.

But a war of ideas is not a war of guns. Nazi-style beliefs still lurk underground. Waiting. Surprisingly common.

In contrast, Communism was ultimately defeated because Communism was discredited, by the Communists. They proved themselves a failure. Now not even Communists want to be Communists.

So how will our current war against today’s theocratic heretics of democracy end?

History suggests four broad options.

One: the war will never end. Not for us at least. A bullet cannot stop an idea, and an idea cannot stop a bullet. Each bullet inspires a new convert. Each convert inspires a new bullet. This war will be waged for centuries.

Two: the war will be lost. The war will be abandoned because the war itself is what feeds the enemy. One day there will be too many heretics, and too few bullets.

Three: the war will be lost. The war will have made us our own heretics. A Christian who kills souls to save souls can hardly be called a Christian. The free who destroy freedom to save freedom are not free. Democracy will pass away. Instead we will kill Muslims because they are killing us, and Muslims will kill us because we are killing them.

Lastly – four: the war will be won. This fight will be seen for what it is: a contest of ideas, a struggle of social change, a choice between democracy and theocracy. We’ve made this choice before. The implosion of the old Crusader’s world, that all-encompassing violent repressive theocracy, is exactly the world from which modern democracy was born.

Perhaps, it could be done again?

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Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, on Wikipedia, here.

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© Under Obvious, 2017.