Men and movements, and machines and monuments

The book of etiquette prohibits talk on two subjects in polite society. Politics and religion. They are anathema to middle-class gatherings – be it in cosy living rooms, chic cafés or cosmopolitan cocktail circuits. But as anyone who has held a glass of bubbly or a plate of canapés in one hand, and brandished the other in rude Gallic or Anglo-Saxon gestures knows, these topics can fuel the most interesting conversations.

And God-awful fiascos for mine hostess. Nothing fuels (even verbal) fisticuffs like a good old disagreement on who created the world, which party constitutes the real political opposition in this country, or what eschatological events we can look forward to at the end of 2012… although the last of these is turning out to be a damp squib. Even the second of the items mentioned above falls into this general category, no?

Yes, dear, I AM moving on. And mind that bit of glass from the bottle I broke over that unbelieving bishop’s head, will you?

All good things start with a few men or women simply talking to each other. This breeze we call classical philosophy was probably the natural outcome of those long fireside chats that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had with each other while their wife (if they had one) did the grocery shopping. The Romantic Movement was when Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Keats, and Mr. Shelley took rambling walks in the English countryside, while their wife (if they had one) painted the Lake District or did their laundry in it. (Editor’s note: When Lord Byron joined them in their studied peregrinations, their wife wrote a bestseller on the theme ‘Three Men and a Dog in a Boat’. Guess who the dog was? I mean Byron, dears, let me get that straight before you sic the Women’s Lib on me like they did with George Gordon, Lord Byron.). Communism, by the same token, was Comrades Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin playing cops and robbers while their wife (if they had one) painted the square red, or pulled out someone’s toenails (Russian: “gulag”, from ‘give it a good old lug’.)

But you get the point. Often, as is the case, this little thing of ours (Italian, “la cosa nostra” – or Mafia, if you prefer) begins with just one man. The problem is that the good things that men start often become movements first; then progress into being machines; and finally concretize into monuments. The monument that runs our country at present – by virtue of its virile vision – was once a machine; and before that it was a movement that developed from one man’s political ideology (Sinhala, “chinthana”). The monument that ruins our country at present – by dint of its determination to dominate one day – was once a machine; and before that it was a movement that developed from one man’s pragmatic ideas (German, “realpolitik”).

See, I told you all this political chitchat would upset you! Now put that pickaxe down, will you. Who do you think you are – Lenin? Stalin? Byron? Plato’s wife? Quick, let’s do religion before the long knives are drawn, dears.

Buddhism was once one Man’s ideas before it became a movement of dharma across the subcontinent, then took on a mechanical nature as a sangha-driven engine and finally crystallized as a monument south of the strait. Christianity was once one Man’s ideas before it became a movement of charity across the Mediterranean, then took on a mechanical nature as a clergy-driven ecclesiological engine and eventually jellified as the monument of Christendom that birthed both Papacy and Holy Roman Empire. Islam was once was one Muhammad’s dreams and visions before it became a counter-movement sweeping into civilization from the desert, then taking on a mechanical character as a anti-crusading battlement and finally solidifying as a monument to ideological conquest.

Really, you have to stop sending me all that hate mail and making threatening phone calls!
Think of it like riding a bicycle. In the man stage, you don’t quite know what you’re getting into but a bike sounds like a great idea (un-enchantment). In the movement phase, all is freedom and the wind in your face while you roam the wide open spaces (enchantment). By the time the machine cycle kicks in, you plod through aching knees, bent handlebars, and flat tyres (disenchantment). At the monument apex, you’d be lucky to garner a second wind – when, years after the first love of riding has all but died, you rediscover that bikes beat plebeian buses and high-maintenance cars any day (re-enchantment).

There is a point of personal application in all this rambling (if only you will cease and desist from the verbal abuse and body blows, dears). Really! And this is it. Are you an exceptional person with a unique personality and unprecedented potential to impact your peers and surrounds? I just knew it – you are! Well, then, take great care not to let your man (or woman) stage get beyond the movement phase. Machines are good to get you from Point A to B, but monuments can hardly move. You can’t change the world for the better if you’re standing stock still by force of circumstance with your whole body encased in concrete. If ever you get to that cycle of man-movement-machine, the best you can hope for is that the pigeons don’t treat your monument too unkindly. I’d rather be a man than a monument. Any day.

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