Cleansing Fire

Guy Fawkes Day bonfire photo by Sam Roberts, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Guy Fawkes Day bonfire photo by Sam Roberts, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I personally call the type of government which can be removed without violence “democracy”, and the other, “tyranny”.  –  Karl Popper

The casual reader can be forgiven for arriving at the erroneous conclusion that I become dreadfully morbid in autumn.  It starts subtly with my meditation on the dying year every autumnal equinox, increases through October with a number of horror-themed columns, reaches a peak on All Hallows Day, then descends into blood and fire four days later when, on Guy Fawkes Day, I always “call for a rededication of the holiday from a time to burn rebels in effigy to a time to burn tyrants in effigy instead”:

Governments need to be reminded (at least annually if not constantly) that they only hold power by the sufferance of all the people, not merely the majority, and that the overthrow of any government by a disgruntled minority is always a possibility.  I would like to see most if not all politicians and their minions paying for their power and privilege by being forced to live in a constant state of nervous anxiety; maybe then fewer would choose that path and more would concern themselves with keeping all the citizenry happy rather than merely pleasing barely enough of the population to keep themselves in office.

But those who think of all this as morbid are those who narrowly see death as the end of all that is good; I embrace a more pagan view which recognizes that all things must end, that life depends upon the deaths of other organisms, and that old, decaying things must be cleared away – sometimes forcibly – in order to make way for new, younger and often better things.  Old people must pass on to make room for new children; dilapidated buildings must be demolished to pave the way for new construction.  And old, moribund governments which serve only the entrenched and wealthy must be removed if we are to build new ones which better serve all of the people and protect minorities from oppression by both majorities and other, more privileged minorities.

When one organism consumes another, the components of the devoured (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, etc) become part of the devourer; when an old building is torn down, sometimes a portion of it (such as the slab, hearth or even sections of walls) may become part of whatever is built on its site.  And when a government is replaced, those elements of the old one which worked well are often retained in the new one (as English common law became the basis of American law).  At other times, however, the old thing is of no use at all; inedible plants are plowed under to ready a field for farming, and dynamite and bulldozers remove a condemned building.  And old governments…well, it’s certainly preferable to dismantle them peacefully, but those currently in power and those who profit by the status quo rarely allow that, and at such times more robust methods may become necessary.

Though some of us have been trying to call attention to the rot at the heart of the Western establishment for years now, we have largely been “voices crying out in the wilderness”; most people prefer to blame some bogeyman such as “capitalism”, “patriarchy” or “liberals”, or to pretend major issues are mere cosmetic blemishes on an otherwise-hale body politic, or even to deny that there are any problems at all.  Meanwhile the rulers, rather than admitting the systemic problems, prefer to treat government as a colossal game of hot potato, eternally passing the ball forward in the hopes that it will be in someone else’s hands when the music at last stops as it inevitably must.  But as the events of the last few years have amply demonstrated, the piper is growing steadily more exhausted, and will soon demand his due.  Soon we will be forced to change the way we’ve done things for the past century, whether we like it or not, and the actions of the ruling class (especially that of the US and UK) over the past few decades bode ill for that change being a peaceful one.  I think it’s safe to predict that there will be fireworks, and not of the pleasant kind.  But though fire may be fearsome and horrible, it is part of the natural order of things, and supremely efficient for cleansing decay and purifying the site of a plague.  And when the flames die down, as they always do, the ash left behind provides fertile soil for new (and gods willing, healthier) growth.

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan).

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