Well, this is the week that Primavera (primus ver)—Spring—bursts forth here in Springfield. I rode my bike back from the office on Tuesday with a t-shirt on. Our maple trees came out in flower on Monday and on Saint Patrick's Day (Tuesday) they were pretty much in full bloom, not that maple tree flowers are spectacular or anything. They look like tiny red or yellow fuzzy spikes. Our forsythia will bloom tomorrow, I think, as the buds are yellow and big. The crocus flowers were blooming a week ago, or earlier.
It's Spring Break. I've been working on catching up on giving students feedback on their papers, and I've been reading—some academic stuff for papers I'm writing, and some interesting stuff I just wanted to read. I just listened to a great song on the radio driving home from a friend's home tonight. It's Airborne Toxic Event's Sometime Around Midnight.
I had a nightmare a couple nights ago where I was in the future, and people were watching, for entertainment, people being voluntarily decapitated. It was like a game show where contestants were getting their heads cut off, and trying to maintain a smile as their heads were cut off. I guess it was understood that before irreversible death set in the heads were reattached to the bodies and no permanent harm or scarring would result. I was horrified. The horror was mostly at the empathy I (as a human) was feeling for the "contestants" on the show. I couldn't understand why they were doing it. What leads to such dreams? I am a pessimist about most popular entertainment, and I suppose the dream was a manifestation of my fears about where cultural trends were headed. I think I had been considering something my father mentioned this weekend when he visited, that in some ways the Romans were more barbaric than the "barbarians" who overran the Empire, and of course one of the most famous aspects of Roman evil was their pleasure in watching public executions and gladiatorial combat. The theater of the cruel. And I'd also been reading about Maimonides and his ideas about martyrdom. He thought it was wicked to seek out martyrdom, and one was morally obliged to avoid martyrdom. He was working against the Masada Complex in Jewish culture. All that could have contributed to the dream. Or maybe it was in some way precognitive. Just tonight a friend showed me a film Frank Miller's Sin City. It featured a decapitation, and it was, I thought, presented as a form of theater of the cruel, an exercise in immediacy, savagery, and brutality to elicit strong feelings of horror and disgust at a deep emotional level, forcing the audience to reject what we were witnessing and turn away in panic at our own animal enjoyment of the violence (I didn't feel much enjoyment). But I don't know, maybe it was just an amoral artistic exercise reveling in violence. Bread and circuses. But, like my dream, there were scenes reveling in violence. In my nightmare I was horrified that people would cheerfully submit to a "game" of being decapitated. Here, a day later, I was horrified by an artifact of my culture that "entertained" by showing a hero possessed mainly by the desire to torture evil-doers.
I was reminded of that first Mad Max film where Max finds the gangster who killed his wife and child, and ties him up next to a bomb, and lets him have a saw, and tells him that he has time to saw off his limb and escape before the bomb goes off, and the murderer is begging for mercy, and the film is constructed so we are supposed to feel satisfaction, because Max is getting revenge and the criminal is quailing. And yet, if we stop and reflect, this is extra-judicial killing, itself a form of evil and murder. But evidently satisfying feelings for revenge is like satisfying feelings of hunger or thirst. It's a deep physical need. But one that does not provide long-lasting satisfaction.
Back to that idea of decapitation, I was also thinking of martyrdom. I try to read Baha'i history on almost a daily basis, and there certainly is plenty of shi'ite martyrdom imagery in the Baha'i writings. Most Baha'is know about Baha'u'llah's vision of the Maid of Heaven when he was stuck down in a dungeon, but what about Ali-Muhamad (the Bab) and his vision of the Imam Husayn's bloody head? And I do think of our modern Baha'i martyrs as heros. Many of them were modern, well-educated, materially successful persons who could have renounced their faith to save their lives, left Iran, and then rededicated themselves to the Faith once in safety. That might have been what Maimonides suggested they ought to have done. But they refused to recant, and they died, even as recently as the 1980s. I met the son of one of these martyrs, and he was not really very happy about his parent's choice. I got the impression, although he didn't actually say this, that he would have rather that his parent had followed the advice from Maimonides. And going willingly to one's execution, with a smile on one's face, that is an ideal for religious people who take faith and God's commandments seriously.
Yet, there was my dream, where people were doing this for "fun" to entertain others or prove their own extreme abilities of self control and pain tolerance. Anyway, it's odd what one will dream about. I have disturbing dreams about once or twice a week, and they usually wake me up between 5:30 and 6:30, and I can never get back to sleep after them, so I just get up usually.
Here, I've embedded a video of that song I liked so well.