Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Angina Monologue 29

March 21st, 2016 by Vader

His Majesty didn’t come to breakfast the other day.

I found him in his easy chair in the television room, staring glumly at a chirpy she-anchor as she went over the morning’s stories, and rocking back and forth ever so slightly.

It was obvious he was in pain. He had apparently woken up and, while still in that twilight state of not-quite-awareness, had started to stretch. Which was very hard on his shoulder. And it did not help his mood that most of the morning’s stories were related in some way to the primaries.

This was also the day he was scheduled to go over the MRI results with the orthopedic surgeon. He startled me by asking me to come along. And then he startled me even more by telling the surgeon that, as he was intending to adopt me as his heir, I should be included in all discussions of His Majesty’s health care. The thought of His Majesty as paterfamilias gives one pause, doesn’t it?

The news was not good. The MRI showed that His Majesty had not just torn his rotator cuff; he had torn it spectacularly. And because His Majesty loathes physicians, and so had not had his shoulder tended to right away, surgical repair was going to be that much harder. He is now scheduled for a few weeks of physical therapy, to try to loosen up the shoulder and strengthen it for surgery; then the actual surgery to reconstruct the rotator cuff, possibly using donor tissue; then many weeks in a brace, followed by many weeks of very light exercise, then more weeks of weight training to build the strength of the joint back up. It hurts just to think about it.

I asked whether they needed a donor for the tissue. The surgeon, who has a peculiar sense of humor, commented that it looked like I had given up enough tissue already. He quickly added that the tissue is normally taken from cadavers; it is cartilage without any living cells, so immune response is not an issue. The cartilage is eventually colonized by the host fibroblasts which help build it up. The method is quite new but the success rate so far has been very good. Inasmuch as they haven’t discovered bacta on this planet, it’s probably the best we will do.

I do worry about His Majesty choking the living crude metaphor out of the physical therapist the first time something really hurts, just out of reflex. But apparently His Majesty is expecting me to accompany him to the physical therapy as well, so the therapist should be safe. (If His Majesty reflexively Force-grabs a trachea, it will likely be mine.)


His Majesty’s book club is one source of continuing pleasure in his life. They’ve just started on Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century.

Conquest has a delicious quote from Norman Cohn:

There exists a subterranean world, where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when that underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people … And it occasionally happens that this subterranean world becomes a political power and changes the course of history.

It is amazing how studying the past often gives you the power to predict the future. Oh, some things change: The subterranean world is now visible across the Internet. And this amplifies the danger, for the Internet more rapidly propagates the pathological fantasies without shining any disinfecting light on them — for the anonymity of the Internet allows that world to remain subterranean even as it is made accessible to all.

But there is surely something to be said for the greater awareness of ideas that the Internet makes possible? Forewarned is forearmed.

An odd remark for someone lacking forearms.

But no; Conquest makes a rather startling observation.

In a famous investigation of the politics of the small town of Elmira, New York, in the 1950s, the scholars concerned (Paul Lazarfeld, Bernard Berelson and William McPhee) were at first surprised by the results. The democratic process had worked very satisfactorily ion the town for a very long period. So, on theoretical principles, the researchers expected to find the citizenry well informed about political issues, with firm and clear-cut opinions. They found, on the contrary, that the majority were fairly ill informed and fairly apathetic. They concluded, after admirable heart-searing on their own part, that this was the condition for a working democracy. On the other hand, it may be urged that the instability of many of the Greek states was due to the devotion to politics of all concerned and that, to a lesser degree, this has been the cause of many of other difficulties met with in France in the last fifty years (though it has been suggested that he ideological enthusiasm of the French electorate was to some extent compensate for by the cynicism and apathy of the deputies themselves.)

From this perspective, the increased political awareness of the Internet age is doubly dangerous: It is dangerous because political enthusiasm in general is dangerous to democracy, and it is doubly dangerous because the enthusiasm is being raised through an inherently unreflective medium. Put another way, widespread enthusiasm for politics is a social disease, and when the enthusiasm is uninformed, the disease rapidly progresses to the tertiary stage.

It is Conquest’s theme, in fact, that the danger is in Ideas; and it only compounds the danger when the Ideas are unusually bad ones. But when ideas become Ideas, it doesn’t even matter if they are facially sound. It is certainty itself that is disastrous.

Of course, before Reason offered certainty, it was offered by Theology. We are fortunate to have had our nation come into being during the interval between, so that it was our good fortune to be led by men who were astonishingly well informed yet capable of admitting that they knew very little.

Religion has, of course, always been a source of despotism. Indeed, for the original despots, of Sumeria and Egypt, religion was thoroughly intertwined with government.

His Majesty paused to watch my reaction.


But I refused to take the bait, and no one has outstared me yet.


For one thing, His Majesty’s observation about ancient religion and ancient despotism is not wrong. I think that’s the best explanation yet for why God refuses to reveal Himself plainly to men. It is the uncertainty inherent in walking by faith that helps prevent religion from turning into pure despotism.

And yet your religion is founded on truth claims. Absolute truth claims.

There is an important distinction between believing there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that this truth informs one’s religion; and believing that religion has that truth fully in its possession. The latter is a statement of dogmatism; the former is seeing through a glass, darkly, but with the firm hope that we will one day see face to face.

So your religious leaders can be wrong? Then why bother with them?

Newtonian physics is wrong, and yet Apollo landed on the moon and returned.

I should not have thought that pragmatism would blend so well with religion. Then again, there’s all that Social Gospel stuff. Which has managed to become a pejorative with religionists who insist that belief is at least as important as praxis.

I admit, reluctantly, that your particular cult has worked harder than most to balance the two. But it’s an unstable balance, and already one sees your community splitting along these lines. When you have Mormon intellectuals advising a man that he can serve in a bishopric without actually believing any of it, because the important thing is the good feelings and good works, you know there is trouble brewing. And then your leadership expels said intellectual, on the admittedly reasonable grounds that he has extended this idea to preaching that the whole Church should abandon beliefs to focus on good feelings and good works. They could hardly do anything else, since the social glue provided by mere works has long been the province of civic society — which is already in near collapse. Works without faith is dead, being alone.

I would have thought an unbeliever would be very fond of dismissing faith and promulgating the Social Gospel.

I’m a despot, and a pragmatic one. I needn’t indulge in the humbug myself to recognize its benefits for a peaceful reign.

I believe in myself, or, to be more precise, I believe in my Self. It is very liberating. You should try it sometime.

Been there, done that. Bought a T-shirt.

His Majesty just cackled and reached for his book … with the wrong arm. He winced as if he had just been hit with a bolt of Sith lightning, then rocked forward slightly in his chair. He is a proud Sith (there really isn’t any other kind) and it pains him even to think of having to ask for help. I gently took the book from his hand, pointed out that it was almost time for his appointment, and helped him out of his chair.

I’m in the waiting room now as he gets his therapy. I have heard no choked screams and seen no large objects flying through the air, so I’m hoping it’s going well. Meanwhile I’m thumbing through his book, and it seems that Conquest has a keen appreciation of the bon mot. I liked this in particular:

Engels was right in finding a cooperative type of order in the general prehistoric condition of man. But the economic reductionism that makes such cooperation primarily an economic matter distorts this primitive communalism to the category of “primitive communism,”  seeing the situation as in essence the mere absence of economic classes. In fact, the economic side, even in primitive society, where the pressure of need might be thought greatest, clearly did not play this supposedly dominating role in human relationships, where family, magic and general cultural attitudes were if anything predominant. If it comes to that, even the “social” organization of the higher apes does not seem to be dominated solely by feeding habits. Perhaps Marxism comes into its own somewhere lower down the evolutionary scale.

You have to admire a man who takes obvious pleasure in carefully loading and aiming before nailing his target. It leaves me thinking that limiting the education of clone troopers to military matters was a serious mistake.

But what got me really thinking was the observation that a truly egalitarian community is apparently limited in size to about 500 persons. By odd coincidence, that’s about the maximum size of a Mormon ward. It’s also about the size of Orderville at the 1880 census, when the experiment in establishing a United Order was well under way. My own close reading of the United Order passages in the Doctrine and Covenants suggests that the Order was always meant to be practiced in individual communities of about this size.

Beyond that size, there has to be a hierarchy. Stake presidents really do stand apart, in a way even a bishop does not, because of the priesthood keys they hold. And they are advised by a twelve-man High Council, and in turn report directly to the Quorum of the Twelve. There is something profound in the transition to the hierarchical scale.

I wonder how many Mormon liberals, who see the United Order as some kind of model for a large secular welfare state, have reflected on the significance of that 500-man limit.

Comments (4)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , ,
March 21st, 2016 14:08:46

March 21, 2016

Best wishes for His Majesty’s painful recovery. It’s hard not to love the old coot, as much has he’d be horrified to hear it. (Presumably, best wishes will also be needed for his faithful amanuensis, who will have to put up with the fellow).

That is a very interesting observation about democracy. It does seem that democracy works best when it isn’t working as it ought.

That could be just because democracy is a bad system. But although I am a one half-hearted cheer for democracy guy even on my most enthusiastic days, I don’t think that’s the whole explanation.

Some things–like militaries, and police, and perhaps the vote–seem pretty pointless, maybe even toxic, until life goes bad.

Ask a Liberal Mormon
March 21, 2016

500-man? Sexist pig.

March 21, 2016

The physical therapy seems to have gone well, with both the Imperial shoulder and the therapist’s windpipe no worse for wear. His Majesty reports that his shoulder feels distinctly better, but then cynically adds that the placebo effect can be a powerful thing.

March 22, 2016

At the risk of repeating myself, Democracy is the worst of all possible systems of government. Except for all the others.

Putting your faith in a mob of average men? Well, that’s brave. It’s better than tyrants, but that is a pretty low bar.

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