Tuesday, December 31, 2013

St. Zeno the Hermit and the last days of the American Republic

The Battle of Adrinople was the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire.  A vast army of barbarians - an entire people, really - had entered the Eastern Roman Empire.  The Emperor Valens decided to exterminate them, in the finest Roman tradition.  He is, after all, called The Last True Roman.

But his army was not the army of Scipio, or Augustus Caesar, or Trajan.  The Goths had those new-fangled stirrups for their cavalry and rode the Emeror's army (and the Emeror himself) down.  The Goths tossed a coin - assault the impregnable Constantinople, or set their sights on Rome itself and a helpless Italia?  It actually was the easiest decision that a barbarian horde ever had to make.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

St. Zeno the Hermit was an aide de camp to the Emperor Valens, and survived the catastrophe.  The ruins of the Empire's political system caused him to turn his face to the desert, and so he went into the wilderness to live a solitary life of asceticism, meditation, and prayer.  He, like many in the end days of the Roman Empire, chose to unplug.

We are seeing that today, in what sometimes seem to be the end days of the American Experiment.  Clark from Popehat say to burn the Eternal City to the ground.  The Internet Security community says burn the Tech Companies to the ground.  Joel says that Zeno had it right, and turns his face from the Last Days to face the desert in silence:
Really, whose fault is it that I’m doing that? It’s not George Bush’s fault. It’s not Nancy Pelosi’s fault. They don’t know me from Adam and wouldn’t care if they did. The only person who is actively doing destructive things to me is me, and I’m welcome to stop. Hating on the great omnipotent “they” – and calling that a struggle for freedom – has never gotten me anywhere. It’s like bitching about the weather: Great fun, but not as useful as fixing my own roof and insulating my own walls. The weather itself won’t change just to suit me.

While passively waiting for the world to change, I’d been ignoring the one person who could have a positive effect on my life.

And so I dropped back out. To the extent possible I live as though the State doesn’t exist. It’s a greater extent than some other people might manage, because I’m happily willing to accept personal limitations that would drive normal people completely over the wall. I have the luxury of living completely alone, and thus free of compromise, and I have friends who get a kick out of being enablers. Some of them read this blog. I also have finally made a virtue of the fact that I am genuinely a maladjusted, antisocial hermit type person who has never done well in groups. If you needed somebody to climb into a space capsule and make a solo trip to the moons of Saturn with some expectation of arriving there sane, I could do that. Silence and solitude do not bother me in the slightest way. People actually pay me to be out here by myself, so I can watch their stuff.

But while hermitage is a common fantasy, it really isn’t a particularly healthy lifestyle for most people and that’s why I never proselytize. This is my kind of freedom. You go find your own***.
We see two reactions to this End Of Days: Heros and Saints.  Neither of those is easy, and so most people check out.  Better the panem et circenses than the hard, lonely slog.

But Joel is right.  Each must find his or her own freedom, even if it is as with the Knights of the troubador epics: entering the dark forest where no path leads, and where no man has made a trail.
You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else's path.

You are not on your own path. 
- Joseph Campbell
 Or opt for the circus.  The bread is free.


Old NFO said...

Good one, and thought provoking as we stare at 2014...

Anonymous said...

Enjoy the decline, right?

Goober said...

I read Joel's post and was sad. Not for him, necessarily, because he seems happy. But for the rest of us, who can't be hermits. It isn't in my constitution.

But there may come a time when it is less of a punishment than continuing to bear the burden of so many who won't bear their own, and maybe someday it will appeal to me more than staying connected.

I'm not ready to turn my gaze to the desert. I've no intention of ever doing so, if I can help it.

But at some point in time, my government will make me an outlaw. Someday soon, i fear.

They'll pass a law that i just won't be able to follow. Eventually that is bound to happen.

LSP said...

Great post -- Adrianople, what a disaster. did you know that Belisarius recovered the Eagles that were captured at that battle? They were paraded (I think) in the Hippodrome at Constantinople in the last "Classical Triumph", before Justinian.

I find that fascinating for some reason...


Graybeard said...

It's said that Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”.

While I admire withdrawing and facing the desert in whatever way and I personally would make a good hermit, having always gravitated to solitary hobbies and sports, it assumes the government won't come after you. You can resolve to "Starve the Monkeys", as Baugh says, but the government has the ways and means to pursue you or restructure society in any way they want to subjugate you. Baugh's theme is that the tax code punishes employees while encouraging self-employment. That can be changed at will. "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool!" as Paul Begala said about executive orders.

Saying no to governments usually leads to SWAT raids and your dogs (at least) being shot. With the abilities they have to track and monitor, simply getting far out of the city may simply mean you're an isolated, unsupported target.

At some point, Really Bad Things are going to happen. Like most, I just want to be left alone. Those days are gone.

Kansas Scout said...

One of your more thoughtful posts. I have been contemplating along similar lines, myself. It's like I see a fork in the road. I'm waiting for someone to start the revolution and join in or take that other fork and head to the sticks. We shall see.

Borepatch said...

Thanks, all. I'm not at all sure how this will play out.