equality, he spoke the word as if a wedding vow(dylan)

Why We Shouldn’t Treat Supremacists and Fascists as Our Equals

What Equality Really Means (And Why it Matters)

When I was in high school, there was a kid, big enough to be called a giant, named Joe Jasper. The strange thing about Joe was this. Even though he towered over us, even though he could have been the biggest bully of all, he was impossibly fragile. Already broken inside. A kind of fear always flashed in his hooded, downcast eyes, which never met anyone else’s. His dull, almost inaudible monotone seemed to be haunted by a spectre. Today, I’d see that a kid like that was probably being profoundly abused, by a male elder, a father, a priest, maybe even a teacher — but back then, I just saw the strange contradiction of a wounded giant.

Now, this was in America, and American kids are raised from day one to scent weakness, indoctrinated early into the only law operant in America, the rule of the strong over the weak. So they lit upon this strange, haunted giant, like a ravenous pack of wolves. Every day, kids of a certain kind — the jocks, all budding patriarchs, a little preening tribe of testosterone, cologne, muscles and logos — would surround Joe, and scream at him. “Fag!” “Pussy!” “Freak!” “Dumbfuck!” “Loser!” I had only a little understanding then, an unconscious one, that they were doing it because he was their physical ideal — a giant — but didn’t live up to their cultural one, of cruelty, greed, superiority, and dominance. And so he had to be, like all false idols, destroyed. So they tormented him to destruction, day after day.

Now, something in me — skinny, frail, green hair, leather jacket — was enraged by all this. The daily public humiliation — and sometimes beating — that Joe suffered, over and over again. It made me frown, and then go volcanic inside. I’d see him when no one else was looking — a giant curled into a ball, there, under the bleachers, crying. How terrible. How odd. How sad. So I welcomed him into our motley crew of misfits — punks, artists, poets, musicians. Outcasts on an island of the damned. I thought — or maybe I just hoped — being part of a tribe might shield him. And the truth was that the guys picking on him were scared of us. Our spikes and studs and combat boots.

But it created something like an instantaneous civil war instead. There was Joe being picked on again. Now the punks were involved, too. We’d try and pull him out of the clutches of the jocks. Every so often, there’d be an epic brawl, fists flying, shirts tearing, faces bleeding, boots kicking. And the jocks would shot: “Fags!” “Freaks!” “Fucking weirdos!” “We’ll kill you, you fucking pussies!!” We’d laugh, sneer, and give them hell.

I didn’t know it then — but Joe had become something like a fault line, in our little world, cleaving sharply between the fundamental ideas of civilization — equality, freedom, gentleness towards human fragility — and those which most truly define its opposite: patriarchy, supremacy, domination, violence, the power to destroy, not the power to lift up. We were re-enacting an old war. Maybe as old as time itself. Maybe we still are — but I’ll get to that part.

“Break it up!!” We’d be called into the principal’s office. All of us they could find. Sneering punks, scowling jocks, a bewildered Joe. And the teachers would look at us sternly, and say something that dumbfounded me. “You need to respect each other. It’s OK if you don’t like each other. Everyone has a right to their opinions. Just don’t take it out with your fists.”

Something in me would erupt at that point. “Respect each other? It’s OK when they call Joe a fag and a freak? They’re the ones picking on Joe!”, I’d cry. They’d look at me, frowning with a kind of dumb pity, and reply, “Everyone has a right to their opinion. They don’t like Joe. Joe’s different. That’s OK. But you all need to get along.”

“How can we get along with people who want to hurt us?” I’d ask. “That’s your job. You’re equals. With equal rights to your opinions. Figure it out,” they’d reply.

I’d walk out, sneering. Nothing would change. The bullying, the fights, the brawls. It would go on and on. And I’d keep thinking that something was badly wrong with this idea of “equality.” It just didn’t work in practice — it only seemed to protect the strong, and turn them into predators, who preyed on the weak, a little more viciously each day. It had to be a profoundly flawed notion, this version of “equality” — one which had torn our little world apart, two halves which no one could put back together again — but I couldn’t say how yet.

Fast forward a few decades. Here we are, all of us — in my high school. The supremacists and fascists of the world are picking on the Joes. Gays, Jews, immigrants, minorities, refugees, anyone who’s weak in any way. And the liberal response is: “everyone has a right to their opinion! Be civil to them. You must treat them as equals.”

It’s exactly what my teachers said to me all those years ago — and now, as then, it’s as laughably disappointing. It only emboldens the fascists. In just a few short years, using this principle of “equality”, we’ve gone from grievance to predation — kids in camps, while we’re still told to “respect” supremacists as equals.

Only now I understand what went wrong with this idea of equality. How fatally flawed and illogical it is. Let me put it to you like this. Marcuse once said that the one thing we must never tolerate is intolerance. I think there’s another way to see that. When someone asserts supremacy, they’ve in that precise instant given up a claim to equality — and so there’s no need to treat them as equals.

What, then, should we do? Our first obligation isn’t to “treat them with respect” and “hear them out”. That essentially legitimizes and licenses their predation, just as “Fag!” “Weirdo!” and “Freak!” all those years ago legitimized and licensed the jocks making Joe’s every day a living hell. Instead, our first obligation is to shun, ostracize, deny, and reject supremacists, wherever we find them.

If they come to our restaurants, we should jeer them. If they come to our bars, we should mock them. If they come to our theatres, we should expel them. If they want to do business with us, we should refuse them. Any kind of contact whatsoever must be minimized, to the point that supremacists are as small a part of society as is possible. Does that sound harsh to you? Maybe unfair? Does it make perfect sense?

Let’s think about it. When a person or group asserts supremacy, what are they really doing? They are putting themselves above everyone else — inherently, in an iinescapable and irreversible way. I am pure in blood, genetically better — whatever, the message is that I am strong, and my destiny is to prevail over the weak. Now, at that very moment, they themselves have decided to “opt out of”, as we’d say these days, being equals. They cannot be true equals anymore. They do not wish to be treated as such — and therefore they don’t treat anyone else as such, either?

So why would we treat people who don’t treat anyone else as equals…as equals? Do you see how foolish it is? What happens if we do that? Then, as I’ve said, we license and legitimize supremacy. We make it possible for supremacists to mistreat anyone and everyone — just like my foolish teachers’ notion that “Fag!”, “Freak!”, and “Pussy!” versus “Don’t call this poor kid those names” are “opinions” with equal moral weight. They aren’t. That’s exactly how we end up with white supremacists on CNN and in the New York Times, isn’t it — and that licenses and legitimizes them, too, doesn’t it?

One is predation, and one is an expression of equality. If we are to value equality, then we cannot say that supremacy is just another valid opinion, position, or perspective. It is the very absence and negation of equality, and in that way, those who assert it have rejected equality a priori, and therefore, there is no obligation to treat them as equals — but the very opposite. To treat those as equals who have already rejected the idea of equality is to debase and devalue the very idea of equality itself.

This is the war, in many ways, the world is fighting today. Are we equals? Or am I better than you? Me, the American, me the Brit, me the Hungarian, me the Pole. Over the immigrant, the refugee, the unwashed immigrant, the dirty Muslim, the filthy Jew. Make Us Great Again! Better! The best! When worlds fall apart, people revert back to tribal hierarchies. But the problem with tribal hierarchies is that then each tribe must in turn compete for the highest position of all, so that its members are above all the others. That is why the world made no progress at all until the creation of the idea of equality — only war, in an endless cycle, forever, peasants fighting for their kings. Just like scared little boys, fighting each other, in high school hallways.

It’s an old war, isn’t it? It goes on and on. We’ve been fighting it since the beginning of time. Athens and Sparta. Caesar and Brutus. Kings and free men. Free men and unfree women. The slavers and the abolitionists. The Axis and the Allies. And on the wheel turns. It’s as old as time, this great cleavage among human beings. Between those who are for equality, and those who are supremacy.

I won’t say to you that the arc of history bends towards justice. Justice is something we get only if we’re fortunate. Joe taught me that much. But if there is to be something like greater and truer justice in the lives of men and women, then there must first be equality. Equality is dignity, respect, and gentleness for the fragility in every human soul. But it is not equating all that with supremacy, because the supremacist has already ceded any claim to be (treated as) an equal. That’s what I was trying to tell my high school teachers. Equality, therefore is, created only this way: through the obligation to reject supremacy, as much as we can, in whatever ways we can, wherever we find it, in all its forms. Not with violence, unless it is done to us, perhaps — but at least with scorn, refusal, defiance,rebellion, laughter, and grace.

July 2018

the shepherds will inherit the earth

The Meek Shall Not Inherit The Earth — The Shepherds Will.

“man carrying white lamb painting” by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Definition of meek: 1.) enduring injury with patience and without resentment 2.) deficient in spirit and courage 3.) not violent or strong — Merriam-Webster

As a child I was raised a Catholic and as such was exposed to many elements of the Bible. In particular, time was given to the Sermon On The Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth.” This is also reinforced in the Catholic teachings as one of the Beatitudes. These are the 8 blessings listed by Jesus during his sermon. Even if you weren’t raised in the Christian religion, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” at some point in your life.

I’ve always heard the phrase or saying and just took it at face value and thought nothing else of it. Recently, I was listening to a random podcast where one of the participants brought up this saying. He threw out a random line where he mentioned that it was translated wrong and the real translation makes the verse completely different. The word translated as “meek” actually was something much different and turned the phrase on its head.

This idea caught my interest and I did some quick research on my own. Apparently, there was some issue with the translation and it was creating a bit of buzz on the internet. The original Bible story was written in Greek. The original Greek word translated as “meek” was “praus” (prah-oos). Strangely enough, the ancient Greeks often used this term in regards to the military.

Odd isn’t it? Why would a military term be used to describe the word meek?

The actual term was generally used in regards to a war horse. These amazing animals were caught in the wild and were completely feral. They were broken to their rider’s will, but still retained their strength and power. This power was just focused under the control of their rider. These horses could run over 30 miles per hour, would charge head long into infantry units with spears and swords, and charge at full speed down ravines. The strength and power never left, but it could be called forth by the nudge of a leg from their rider or a quick tug on a reign. The rough translation of the Greek term was power under control.

This error is nothing nefarious, it’s just a translation that’s a bit off. Word use differs from culture to culture and language to language. It’s not unusual to have a certain word that doesn’t translate well into another language. One word may actually need a few different words in its conversion to create an accurate translation. Sometimes, it may never make proper sense.

Perhaps this section of the Sermon on the Mount was actually teaching something a little different than originally reported. Could it be the quiet and mild won’t inherit the earth after all? Maybe those who are powerful, but check that power carefully are meant to inherit the earth. Images came into my mind from things I have read as an adult that make me think this is probably true.

David And Goliath: David Was Not A Simple Meek Shepherd

David and Goliath, a colour lithograph by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)

If you’ve lived on this earth for any time, you’ve heard the story of David and Goliath. It’s the ultimate underdog story. A small shepherd boy, named David, stands against this massive soldier and defeats him. The story is mentioned over and over anytime a weaker opponent faces a stronger one. It’s a biblical story, but it’s ingrained in our modern language. It’s said over and over without even giving much thought to its source.

Nothing can be thought of as more mild or meek than a shepherd. If I say the word shepherd, you immediately think of a simple person with a staff and cloak. You can see them carefully taking care of mild animals, such as sheep and goats. The idea of Christ’s Good Shepherd may also come into your thoughts. Where a shepherd goes on a journey to find his one lost sheep and carry it home.

A few years ago, I read a book Malcolm Gladwell wrote called “David And Goliath.” It’s about misfits and underdogs and how their apparent weakness can give them strength. Gladwell examines the story of David and Goliath and sees the story misinterpreted. In Gladwell’s view, David actually has the advantage in the story. Much like the misuse of the term praus, Gladwell sees the story in a much different light.

That’s crazy, how can a simple shepherd with a sling shot have an advantage versus an armored giant?

Gladwell examines the military types that existed in the ancient world. There was generally infantry, cavalry, and ranged fighters. The ranged fighters used spears, slings, maybe bows and arrows. Its generally thought that the ranged fighters had an advantage against infantry, in particular heavy infantry. Goliath just happened to be heavily armored — so, heavy infantry.

The next thing Gladwell examines was the simple sling. When David comes to face the heavily armored Goliath, the only weapon he has is a sling. The immediate idea of this item is almost something of a child’s toy. Gladwell soon found that the sling was and is still a devastating weapon in the right hands. Some scientific researchhas shown that ancient Roman slings had similar stopping power to a 44 caliber magnum hand gun. Gladwell also found that experienced users of a sling had a range of 200 yards and could hit a bird in flight.

Discovery Civilization Video — showing the power of an Aztec sling

David also wore no armor as well. At one point in the Biblical story, King Saul begs David to at least put on armor to face the giant. David says he’s never worn armor, so it would be a disadvantage to him. This initial view of the story is that David is going on a suicide mission and through the power of God, he defeats this terrifying giant.

In Gladwell’s view, David is on no suicide mission, he knows exactly what he’s doing. David is not meek, during his time as a shepherd, he’s fought lions and wolves when defending his flock. He doesn’t plan on fighting Goliath in the way a solider would fight him. David plans on fighting Goliath in the way he would fight a wolf or lion.

David uses the superior technology of a ranged weapon. David also uses the superior tactic of range to fight the giant. As an experienced user of a sling, David could find the open spot on Goliath’s armor and land a devastating shot. Because he wears no armor, David can move quickly to keep away from the giant. David did not exhibit meekness, he demonstrated praus. In a time when his country and king needed him, David used the power within him and his skill with a sling to defeat the heavy infantry soldier Goliath and save his country.

The Nazi Invasion And Occupation Of Crete In WWII

“white concrete buildings near ocean during daytime” by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

“When you live in a place like this — small, by itself — you’re brought up to give help, not wait for it. When your neighbor needs something, he needs you. The person he knows. Not the army. Not the police. You. And if you’re not there, someday you’ll have to look him in the face and explain. The Germans didn’t know us, and they believed they could not lose. They believed they’d never have to look anyone in the face and explain. They’d never have to pay for what they did. And I believe that is why we defeated them” — Yiorgos Pattakos, Greek resistance member on Crete — Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougal

The war was going badly for the Allies. France had fallen to Nazi control and after repulsing Italian forces, Greece had fallen to the Nazis after a subsequent invasion. The British moved their troops from mainland Greece to Crete and planned to defend the island with help from native Greek forces. The Nazis had other ideas, however, they wanted the island and planned an invasion. The Germans had an interesting idea on how to gain control of the island. Due to the British strength at sea, the Germans would use an airborne invasion.

The Germans would use a full airborne assault to capture the island, spear headed by paratroops — the Fallschirmjäger. The Germans figured these elite airborne-based commandos would have no problem subduing the island from British stragglers and meek Greek shepherds. They immediately found out that they were wrong. As McDougal reports in his book, the German general commanding the operation, pulled out his service revolver and was prepared to end his own life when he heard the initial reports.

After eventually committing about 30,000 troops to the invasion, the Germans took airports on the island and officially won the battle. However, the Germans soon found that they didn’t subdue the island. A small force of British special forces, backed up by a powerful Greek resistance movement made the Nazi’s lives a living hell. The Germans would have to keep a large force on the island to keep it under control as a result.

In McDougal’s book, he describes that the Greeks on Crete called a Cretan who reached adulthood a “dromeus” or runner. A person was thought to be an adult when they were strong enough to run to someone’s aid. These shepherds and villagers were not meek, as the Nazis would soon find out. They had experience repelling invaders and fighting from the times of Alexander The Great. Sabotage of equipment and death met the Germans frequently. The Greek villagers and shepherds also hid British special operation forces at the risks of their own lives and families.

The ultimate incarnation of the Greek defiance took place when a decorated German general on Crete disappeared. This German general was on a smaller island surrounded by 30,000 fellow German soldiers and he magically disappeared. A British commando group heavily aided by Greek resistance made this possible. This group kidnapped the general and took him through the mountains for eventual evacuation. The British and Greeks tried to make it look like he was evacuated by sea, but the Germans saw through this rouse.

Major General Heinrich Kreipe

The Germans immediately dropped leaflets throughout the region. These leaflets warned the Greeks that if the general wasn’t returned immediately, whole villages would be executed and burned down. The Greeks kept silent and villages burned and whole towns lost their lives — no one said a word. The more the Germans threatened, burned, and killed, the more the Greeks on Crete resisted. The general was eventually evacuated from the island — the Nazis never got their general back.

McDougal went to the island of Crete and retraced the footsteps of the kidnappers. On many sections of their path, they literally followed goat paths shepherds would use to herd their flocks. At points, the paths they followed made no sense. Of course they didn’t make sense to a human, they were created by a goat. A goat by instinct would know the best way up a hill, it wouldn’t follow a general path as a human would see it. This haphazard trek would also make it difficult for German patrols to find them.

When Hitler invaded Crete, he imagined he’d occupy an island of meek shepherds. He never imagined such a strong organized resistance. These simple people were not meek as expected, they exuded praus and directed their power against the foreign invaders when neededThey had a lineage of fighting off invaders and were able to live in a mountainous remote island successfully. They were a strong and proud people with history, much different than the meek shepherds the Nazis had in mind.


“Blessed are the shepherds, they shall inherit the earth.”

I’m sure the meek are wonderful people, however, meekness isn’t a characteristic you would need in a time of stress. A shepherd may be thought of as a meek character with a simple staff who tends to a flock of fragile creatures. On the other hand, this shepherd will easily do battle with a lion or wolf if it approaches his flock. The sling he carries is not a child’s toy, it’s a powerful weapon that can lay low a ferocious beast.

I don’t see the meek as inheriting the earth as the original parable mentions. I see the shepherd as inheriting the earth. The shepherd may appear meek, but he’s filled with the characteristic of praus. He’s gentle to his flock, family, and village, but at the appropriate time he unleashes his power at a source of danger. This shepherd will fight lions and wolves. Sometimes he’ll do battle with a giant if necessary. On occasion, he’ll even tangle with an island full of Nazis and steal a general from under their very eyes. This shepherd is not meek, he’s the very epitome of what the ancient Greeks meant by praus.

Thank you for reading my ramblings. If you enjoyed what you’ve read, please share.

Also, I’d highly recommend Christopher McDougal’s book “Natural Born Heroes” as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David And Goliath” if you’d like to read more about the topics I mentioned.