Democracy or Slavery

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Follow

Incident on Noah's Vineyard

Nearly Enchanted

Pale Blue Dot

Sheep and Goats

Snake Oil

Used Groceries


Democracy or Slavery

To make a contented slave,
first, you must make a thoughtless one;
you must darken his powers of reason.
To keep your slave from books,
you must be merciless in your discipline;
fear is the sibling of nescience.

If ignorance is bliss,
then bliss must also be slavery.
If so, I can only choose misery.

As I would not be a slave,
so, I would not be a master.
This expresses my idea of democracy.
Whatever differs from this,
to the extent of the difference,
is no democracy.

* * *

NOTES ON THE SONG

What remark are we aiming to make about democracy exactly?

This statement seems fairly clear to us: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy." However, this may leave the listener (or reader) to wonder, "What is a slave?" We try to answer this question with the first two verses. We begin by providing the recipe for a "contented slave": one who has been made ignorant. Further, the person has been made fearful of seeking knowledge. So, we’ve hopefully already made a clear relationship between ignorance and slavery. Democracy is incompatible with slavery. Democracy, therefore, is incompatible with ignorance.

Why set bliss as equal to slavery?

The inclination of many people might be to equate slavery with misery. So, the less obvious, and perhaps more "poetic," approach might be to equate slavery with bliss. The Thomas Gray quote ("...where ignorance is bliss / 'Tis folly to be wise.") seems very relevant. Gray, we feel, makes an effective statement by going to the extreme he does (i.e., equating ignorance with bliss). We hoped we could make a more effective statement by employing a similar strategy.

Is there a way to escape this slavery, or can we overcome it? If so, how?

Probably, the only hope we have to escape slavery is to learn as much as we can, with as much depth and breadth as possible. If so, anyone who helps deprive someone else of the ability to learn could be called a master; anyone who is deprived of the ability to learn could be called a slave.


Is there something practical to take away from all of this?

It’s likely that many of us are both slave and master, of both ourselves and of others. Those who wish to be neither, then, might contribute, to the greatest extent possible, to self-learning and to helping others to learn. This, to us, means withholding as little information as possible from children, ourselves, and others.

* * *

LYRICAL INSPIRATION

Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy:

[source]

* * *

Frederick Douglass:

During these leisure times, those old notions about freedom would steal over me again. When in Mr. Gardner's employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgot my liberty. I have observed this in my experience of slavery--that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man.

* * *

NOTES ON THE BANJO

Although the banjo as we know it derives from African ancestors, in the early nineteenth century people most often associated it with the United States, particularly with images of the South and African American slavery.

It had been brought to the New World by enslaved Africans as early as the seventeenth century, but by the 1840s the instrument and its music were transformed by white, working-class musicians who made the banjo integral to a new popular entertainment, the minstrel show. Surrounded by other blackface performers on violin, tambourine, and bones, the banjoist anchored the minstrel line. Using a slightly more sophisticated instrument than those which African Americans had built from long-necked gourds, the banjo player provided the melodic line to the plantation songs and dances that urban audiences flocked to hear.

Philip F. Gura November, 1998
Excerpted from his introduction in
America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century

By Philip F. Gura, James F. Bollman
Published 1999, UNC Press

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Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
W. H. Auden 1939

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Follow

I will try to describe for you
how I feel about you:
it's like ninety-seven suns
shining down on me.
That's when I explode,
that is to say, combust,
and drift off into space
and space is so mysterious
'til I see the light
dance across your lips.
I try my best to follow.

So, I'll confide in you my plan
to annex your hand
and fill it with my fate
and lie there felt by you
and, though love be a day,
we have ninety-seven suns.

But, love's
a thing that's been used in the past
to cut and to stab.
Why bury this with love?
We're both trapped within our skin
with hearts so full of blood
that they could explode
and drift off into space.
It leaves me so delirious
'til I see the light
pirouette again.
I try my best to follow.

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Incident on Noah's Vineyard

I love you so much, my father.
I can’t get close enough to you ever.
Late tonight, after your yayin,
I’ll look at you.
Over and over,
I will feel you,
father.

I will take this curse, my father.
Don’t put Canaan on an altar.
Callipygous valentine,
it’s I who saw you.
Always, forever,
let me serve you,
father.

Was it blood? Or was it wine?
I swear I wasn’t trying
to hurt you,
father.

* * *

From the New International Version of the Bible:

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

* * *

From the Babylonian Talmud—Tractate Sanhedrin, 70a:

[With respect to the last verse] Rab and Samuel [differ,] one maintaining that he castrated him, whilst the other says that he sexually abused him. He who maintains that he castrated him, [reasons thus;] Since he cursed him by his fourth son, he must have injured him with respect to a fourth son. But he who says that he sexually abused him, draws an analogy between 'and he saw' written twice. Here it is written, And Ham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father; whilst elsewhere it is written, And when Shechem the son of Hamor saw her [he took her and lay with her and defiled her]. Now, on the view that he emasculated him, it is right that he cursed him by his fourth son; but on the view that he abused him, why did he curse his fourth son; he should have cursed him himself? — Both indignities were perpetrated.

* * *

yayin = wine

* * *

Using the Bible to justify slavery.

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Nearly Enchanted

Everything we sense is natural:
earthquakes, hurricanes.
Life is nearly an enchanted state.

Still, I am much too firm in my
consciousness of the marvelous
to ever be fascinated by
the merely supernatural:
Allah, Yahweh.

Take it any way you like,
to fabricate such myths
desecrates the dead.

* * *

"All my moral and intellectual being is penetrated by an invincible conviction that whatever falls under the dominion of our senses must be in nature and, however exceptional, cannot differ in its essence from all the other effects of the visible and tangible world of which we are a self-conscious part. The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is—marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity."
Joseph Conrad "Author's Note" The Shadow Line 1917

* * *

"All hurricanes are acts of god, because god controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to god, and they were recipients of the judgement of god for that."
John Hagee to Terry Gross on Fresh Air September 18, 2006

* * *

"I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. "
 —Albert Einstein The World as I See It 1931

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Pale Blue Dot

1990 ce:
Voyager
transmits
the Earth
in a sunbeam.
Home.

Every "superstar,"
every tyrant king,
every pioneer,
every hopeful child,
all our joy and pain,
every confident religion
has lived
on that small world.

From four billion miles away,
the pale, lonely dot
is a grain.

There's no sign of help
in so much space....

* * *


"The Blue Marble" as photographed by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 from about 29, 000 km (18, 000 miles) away


Carl Sagan reads from his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot from the chapter "You Are Here."

* * *


the six planets Voyager was able to photograph in 1990

* * *


a wider view of Voyager's snapshot of Earth

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Sheep and Goats

We don't embody two distrinct groups:
straight and gay.
The world cannot be broken down
into sheep and goats.

Not all things are black or white.
Nature rarely deals with discrete classes.
Only the human mind invents
categories and tries to force facts
into separate pigeon-holes.

The living world is a continuum
in every one of its aspects.
The sooner we learn this
concerning human sexual behavior,
the sooner we will reach
a sound understanding
of the realities of sex.

* * *

"Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex."
Alfred Kinsey Sexual Behavior in the Human Male 1948

Although Kinsey's statement speaks directly to the sexual behavior of human males, the "we" of the song applies to homo sapiens in general.

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Snake Oil

Are you ready to make thousands of dollars every week?
You don't need any special knowledge to begin.
You can now start living your life the way you want
and work just part time while the money rolls in.
You have your doubts, but soon you will see.
Our money back guarantee!

Stretch out your withered hand; it shall be restored.
No need to bother with your doctor's lies.
The Holy One already knows what ails you so
and sees exactly where your Spirit hides.
Your past and future lives will be set free
for a minimal fee.

Stop missing out—
Get all the girls of your dreams!
Unlock the power of your subconscious mind!
These ancient talismans can work for you!
Venus will take your passions for a ride!
Only one product works: nine in ten experts agree.

If I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and receive you to Myself;
that where I am, there you may be also.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.

* * *

"Snake oil" refers to a substance of questionable medical value sold as a cure-all on little or no reasonable evidence, often by traveling confidence men. The term also refers generally to deceptive talk or actions with inflated promises to fulfill our strongest and often most unattainable desires.

Other terms for snake oil are bunk, baloney, claptrap, chicanery, flim-flam, fraud, hoax, and humbug. If you have been sold snake oil, you may have been swindled, hosed, cheated, or bamboozled.

Each verse in "Snake Oil" provides examples of promises, services and products that we believe can be fraudulent and physically, financially, emotionally or intellectually harmful.

Not all of these frauds are commonly recognized as frauds: they are often presented deceptively as ancient, sacred or tried-and-true knowledge, and they prey on our fears and our desires to be powerful, rich, loved, and eternally healthy.

The text of this song was drawn and re-worked from a variety of sources: internet advertisements for work-at-home job offers and pyramid sales schemes; literature and advertisements about faith healers, new age spiritual leaders and so-called psychic surgeons, such as Brazil's John of God; astrological horoscopes; self-help literature of a paranormal nature; a collection of tabloid headlines gathered by the late astronomer Carl Sagan in his 1996 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. The words to the final verse are attributed to Jesus in John 14:3-6 of the New Testament.

* * *

We are grateful for the inspiration given to us by composer Kurt Weill and lyricist/playwright Georg Kaiser, whose 1933 "Lottery Agent's Song" was a useful model for "Snake Oil."

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Used Groceries

Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man, the muffin man?
Do you know the muffin man?
He lives on drury lane.

Do you know the milk man?
The milk man, the milk man?
Do you know the milk man?
He took my old lady from me.

Do you know the brandy man?
The whiskey man, the vodka man?
Give me a shot o' that tequila, man
to numb these memories.

Did you call CPS?
CPS, CPS?
Did you say the words "child neglect"?
They came to finish breakin' my home.

Do you know the cocaine man?
The heroin man, the methampheta-man?
Throw me a handful of diazapam
and I won't ever get clean.

Do you know me?
Me, me?
Wouldn't you like to get to know me?
I eat your used groceries.
I eat your used groceries.

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2008 The Danish Cartoonists