Happy Birthday Harold Norse

Harold-Norse-in-1972-001

Harold Norse in 1972

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Leuctra when the Theban general Epaminondas led the Boeotian League to victory over the Spartans under King Cleombrotus I and smashed forever the hegemony of the Lacedaemonians in Greece.  That’s a lot of complicated words and history in one sentence.   I covered the importance of this battle in my post entitled “The death of Sparta” and spoke about the innovative use of echelon formation, so if you click on the title of this post the tags will link you to that post at the end of this one, if that’s your thing.

The reason I refer to Leuctra today is because of the Sacred Band of Thebes.  This was an elite regiment of 150 pairs of male lovers.  They were the best and bravest, the shock troops of the Theban army.

Plato said of them:  if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?

Which brings me to Harold Norse, a poet of the Beat movement, a homosexual who found himself entirely adrift in an age when he was seen as “queer”.  In his poem “Island of Giglio” he dreams of the Greek tolerance of one man’s love for another.  He dreamed of a world where a man could be a man outside of the very narrow confines of 1950’s Western “Manliness”, the image of man determined by the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and Senator McCarthy’s committee on un-American Activities.

In his way Harold Norse was far more of a man than most of his male contemporaries.  He fought the fight that gave permission for men to be sensitive, loving and emotional individuals.  We all benefit from that.

In the poem below Norse lays out the ways in which the culture of America of the 1950’s steals his sex and his personality. I wonder what Harold would think about Donald Trump’s desire to “Make America Great Again”?

 

I am not a man; by Harold Norse

I am not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family. I have acne and a small peter.

I am not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars. I like to express my feelings. I even like to put my arm around my friend’s shoulder.

I am not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me – the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell. Television does not dictate my behavior.

I am not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.

I am not a man. I went to prison for resisting the draft. I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence

I am not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks. I don’t get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I am not a man. I have never had the clap.

I am not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I am not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I am not a man. I do not feel superior to women.

I am not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.

I am not a man. I write poetry.

I am not a man. I meditate on Peace and Love.

I am not a man. I don’t want to destroy you.

 

 

 

 

The power of press: why Islam lost to the West

printed_quran

It is seldom that you can take an invention and say categorically that it is directly responsible for given outcomes.  But we can do this with Printing.  The invention of the moveable type printing press in Europe set the west on a fast track to development of thinking, education, technology, representative government, free market economies and a rights based legal system.  The rejection of printing by the Ottoman Empire had the effect of stagnating the Islamic world.

In the mid 15th century the Ottoman Empire was the dominant power in world politics.  A rising star.  In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.  The centers of learning in the world were Arabic; Baghdad, Damascus, Granada, Cairo.  People living in the Islamic world had better health, education, cleanliness, rule of law etc than those in the west.  In England at this time, for instance, the Wars of the Roses began, plunging the country into decades of turmoil.

Several things then happened that changed the dynamics of East and West.

Firstly Gutenberg perfected the printing press.  This technological breakthrough was rapidly copied all over Europe.  With widespread availability of bibles there was a rise in literacy and scholarship.  With access to the text of the Bible came a focus on the differences between church Dogma and the word of the Gospels.  This led directly to the reformation of the church in the West and the rise of Humanism.

Questioning the authority of the Church set in motion a rise in free thinking.  If the Pope can be questioned then why not the King?  Across Europe we see the rise of the third estate.

The Reconquista was completed in Spain in the latter half of the 15th century, defeating the Emirate of Granada.  With the fall of Islam in Spain a great wealth of knowledge was unlocked from the Arabic libraries.  Scholars found ancient Greek texts on philosophy and science.  The philosophical works by authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles etc, pre-dated Christian writings.  They approached religious matters through reason rather than faith.  The rediscovery of these works plunged the Christian world into a crisis which was exacerbated by the new literacy and widespread availability of the bible.

At the same time the scholars unlocked scientific texts by the Greeks such as Archimedes and Pythagoras, and mathematical developments by Arabic scholars such as Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi as well as learnings from the Kerala school of mathematics in India.

In the 13th and 14th centuries access to these texts was highly restricted.  A university could proudly boast a library numbering books in the dozens.  Monasteries restricted access to their hand copied texts.

With the invention of printing these works became available to a far wider audience.  Europe experienced the Renaissance.

At the same time, in 1483 to be precise, Sultan Bayezid II instituted a ban on printing in the Arabic Language.

By the time this ban was lifted, and widespread printing was made available to the Arabic world, the West had left the Arabic world behind.  By the 19th Century the Ottoman Empire was “The sick man of Europe”.

Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France ruled empires that spanned the globe.

The Arabic world continues to suffer from the after effects of this 300 year ban on printing.  In the West we need to be patient with developments in the Islamic nations.  Europe did not grasp the concept of democracy in a few short decades.  The grip of blind dogma on religion was not an overnight change.  It took centuries of scholarship to resolve.  It is amusing how many westerners expect the Arab Spring revolutions to deliver Western Style economies in a couple of years.