Tag Archives: Hardcore History

Cosmos and Prophets of Doom

Carl Sagan Cosmos

Carl Sagan in Cosmos: A Personal Journey

I cried during the finale of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey last night. The use of Carl Sagan’s older, sicker, yet still passionately intoned ode to “The Pale Blue Dot” along with Neil de Grasse Tyson’s energetic and encouraging description of “The Five Rules” of skeptical thought made the perfect bookend to the series’ awesome case for science that “belongs to everyone.”

Then, when I chose a podcast to listen to this morning as I went about some errands, I guess a my inner Monty Python opted for something completely different. I chose one of Dan Carlin’s older Hardcore History episodes entitled Prophets of Doom.

Mr. Carlin told the story of the Munster Anabaptists, when for a year in the 1520’s the city was overtaken by characters we’d recognize as charismatic cult leaders preaching armed rebellion by God’s Chosen People against an evil world and the End of Days. And while it was a gripping tale, told with Carlin’s usual intensity, in the epilogue of the show, he admitting to feeling disappointed with the result because he could seem to draw no real lesson from the chaos.

He mentioned Waco and the Branch Davidians, which was an apt modern parallel. But he seemed torn over the idea of whether 16th century Europeans “could handle the Truth” of vernacular Bibles and the free-thought they inspired and likened it to a Galactic Bible brought to us by enlightened extra-terrestrials, but doled out to us as the Roman Catholic Church had done previous to the Protestant Reformation because we couldn’t handle its “Truth.” It occurred to me that I had watched the answer to his dilemma the night before.

I am NOT going to make the usual claim that the source of the madness of the Anabaptists of Munster, the Counter-Reformation, the Branch Davidians or “Militant Islam” are all symptoms of the inherit madness of religion. As Dan Carlin pointed out, secular regimes based on nationalism or other political, economic or whatever name-that-dogma can produce the same level of collective insanity.

The issue, as Dr. Tyson pointed out last night, is, as he described it, “Rule number one: Question everything, even me.” Above all, he warned, don’t trust anyone who says they have all the answers. The problem with the people of Munster or Waco or who welcomed Hitler is NOT that they were stupid or crazy, but that they were lazy. Intellectually lazy. Uncomfortable with the change and troubles of the world around them, they sought comfort in men who promised all the answers.

I cannot completely condemn the anyone for desiring the comfort of such unquestionable truths. The very notion of “Freedom of Thought” carries with it the burden of accepting the uncomfortable realities along with the exhilaration of discovery, of analyzing whether you think something is true because you want it to be or because it fits our ever-changing understanding of the facts. Facing this on-going challenge requires courage and vigilance. Carl Sagan’s famous “Baloney Detection Kit” might help as well.

So, in answer to Mr. Carlin’s hypothetical dilemma, enlightened space-faring race or not, if the Vulcans knock on my door bringing the “good news” of their Galactic Bible that  promises to solve all of my and the world’s problems, the first thing I’d have to say to them is “prove it to me.” And, if they were Vulcans, that would be only logical.



On Moving & Mortality

English: Odysseus. Group of Odysseus blinding ...

English: Odysseus. Group of Odysseus blinding Polyphemus. Marble, Greek work of the 2nd century BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I just finished a move. I went from the big (yet, admittedly lame) city to a place where one might have both a yard and a good sushi spot. But with moves come those nasty, mean little problems, such as: “I never knew you could spend this much on gas!” and “Why can’t I find a doctor with my insurance?” In a word, mundane, banal, so-dull-you-want-to-smash-your-head-in (alright, that was several words, but I don’t care!). “How did you ever manage? What makes you keep on?” I hear you ask, and I’ll tell you because I’m just a swell gal.

Audiobooks and podcasts. Actually one audiobook, Sir Ian McKellen reading The Odyssey, and one podcast, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. “Ew, well, who is Hecuba to her and she to Hecuba that she should weep for her?” I hear you sneer like Terry Jones impersonating a woman. And to you I say, “That bit was from The Illiad ya fakackta….” Anyhow, Dan Carlin’s amazing “Fall of the Roman Republic” got me through packing, cleaning, moving, and unpacking, so I will shamelessly plug him. I already had my Audible subscription and so could not follow the link he describes and get The Odyssey for free while supporting him . . . but you can here! So there’s my plug for Dan Carlin.*

And onward into mortality. What has revived my sense of wonder and poetry and kept those banal little problems at bay? Why, none other than that wily Odysseus, battered by the wine-dark sea, man of sorrows. Nothing of late has touched my heart more tenderly than his plaintive and eternally human refrain of hope and humanity through all the sufferings we mortals must endure echoing down the ages and into my Android phone.

And now . . . now as the world grinds on, pitiless, paying no mind to the troubles of men and the shortness of our days . . . now I sit down again to write. Blessed brief life, I scribble on against the end and etch my immortality in pixels.

*I know you’re a Trekkie, sir.

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