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Archive for September, 2011

From out of the void

From out of the void

From out of nothing did all creatures come
And Time and Chance provide their present forms ;
And all the things, both live and not, that home
Themselves in human mind, have fated norms.
So speak the seers from lofty chairs, new-found,
In places long renowned for more than schemes
That merely glance at Nature and the ground
Of Being ; seeing Earth for what she seems.
But from the spirit that belongs to Man,
Full-formed and of glad, enquiring mind,
A more reflective mood descends to scan
The World and find a  truth of deeper kind.
How comes a thing from nothing?  How come Chance,
Unaided, brings the World to great advance?

Jamie MacNab 2011

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Investment

Investment

Survey the hills of home, now bathed in light,
Whose gladness is to please the jaded eye
Of careworn soul, grown weary of the slight
Reward afforded by the dreary tie
Between desire for pleasure and its gain.
And yet, those hills ; what are they if not heaps
Of stones and dust?  And what the light? – in main
An airy nothingness.  Yet fancy leaps,
Investing beauty in the dullest dust,
And so transform the merest native Earth.
Creating things of wonder, as we must,
Is surely our appointed task. If worth
Be reckoned fair and made as kind to kind,
Then beauty’s born from aught but living mind.

Jamie MacNab 2011

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In search of the Light

You steadfast sentinels who guard the heart
Of England fair, stand ready yet, amid
The fallen of your number ; ne’er to part
From sacred duty.  Loyalty unhid.
And yet, what life have you, our standing stones,
That turn their faces to the new-born sun?
As if to capture clouds of glory, tones
Of Heaven’s colour, counting all well-won.
Does blood run freely in the veins of rock?
In hearts of stone, does deity choose to dwell?
Is spirit content in granite to lock
The forces that all ills may sure dispel?
You played your part as vanguard of the quest
That found the light and kindled us, the West.

Jamie MacNab 2011

Standing guard

Guardians

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Bright the World

Bright the World

You asked me where the light, that springs anew
Each lovely morning of the world, is born.
But ready answer had I none to view ;
My mind so misted, thoughtless and forlorn
That I was sightless to the inner ‘scape
Where sense and reason meet to make a blend
Of that which cannot else be given shape.
How oft do our inquiries sadly end !
And yet necessity impels us all
To seek illumination at its source ;
It’s been so ever since our shameful fall,
When destiny near lost its holy course.
Had insight been in darkness left, unfurled,
How seek the Love and Mind that brights the world?

 Jamie MacNab 19 September 2011

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There are few things more enlightening than to listen to what people say about themselves.  In most cases people are far too modest.

For example, there is a growing tendency in these modern times for people to think of themselves as essentially machines.  Some will openly declare as much ; while others speak of themselves as if they were but machines,- leaving that conclusion as a strong inference.  Ask someone how his eyesight works, and he is likely to reply that it is something like a video camera that registers whatever objects he happens to look at.  And his ears are like a tape recorder that registers whatever sounds happen to fall in range of hearing.

In other words, people see themselves as passive observers of the world ; the world does what it must, and the senses merely register and record what is going on.   But this way of thinking can have pernicious effects, which politicians and other clever people with ‘an agenda’ are not slow to take advantage of.

Also this way of thinking says that the world does what it likes to us ; and, being mere machines, all we can do is respond mechanically to what the world does.  Thus the world makes us what we are in the minutest details of thoughts, words and deeds.

So, we are just machines ; but the world also is just a machine, and so we are nothing more than cogs in its complex mechanism.  It is a world of causes and effects, and nothing more.  Whatever happens must happen ; and there could not have been an alternative, except by chance.

And yet, when people reflect more deeply on their relationship with the world, they are not convinced that everything is mere mechanism ; in particular, they have feelings that they themselves are more than just machines.  They feel that they have the will to act somewhat independently of what the world is doing ; they feel that they have the power of making real decisions ; they feel that they have the ability to perceive the world, and act upon it, in their own ways.

If it is true that we can perceive the world in our own way, then at least one interesting conclusion arises : that the world is becoming as we make it.

But, it will be objected, How can our perceptions of the world affect the world itself?  How can our consciousness (which is non-material) affect the world (which is material)? Surely consciousness and matter are different kinds of substance ; therefore, how can they affect each other?  How can they act and react upon each other?

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In a sense, everything is history.  For example, when I look at an object such as my computer screen, I am aware that I see it not as it is but as it was a fraction of a second ago ; this is because it takes a definite length of time for it to be neurologically processed and to be presented to conscious awareness.  When we move away from that kind of example towards more everyday awarenesses, to thinking about what to have for breakfast for example, things get even more historical ; if I decide on cornflakes, then where does my liking of them come from if not from pleasant memories of breakfasts past?

In a sense, then, while the arrow of time is always pointing forward, our sense perceptions of the world are always pointing backward.  It is as if Nature made us to feel more comfortable to look at the past rather than the future.

And in a sense, everything is spiritual.  For, even though I can persuade myself that I am looking at a material thing as I gaze at the computer screen, the moment I start to think about it, it becomes entirely a phenomenon of consciousness ; i.e., not material at all but spiritual.

These thoughts and others like them were crossing my mind as I enjoyed reading the history of the events following the Norman conquest, from the time of King William himself to King John.  I was conscious of enjoying that period of history as a purely spiritual pleasure ; for there is no way I could possibly enjoy it as a sensory one.  I might have imagined what it is like to be clad in heavy chain mail on the Sussex Downs ; I might have imagined what the weight of a swinging sword or mace might feel like ; I might have imagined the pain of taking an arrow-hit in the eye.  But there is no way that I can experience these things that are long in the past and beyond hope (or fear) of repetition.

“How wonderful life must be for the historian, I thought, living one’s subject entirely through one’s imagination!”

And imagination is but one short step back from its alluring cousin, fantasy.  “How comforting it would be,” I thought, “If the nobler Anglo-Saxons had never allowed themselves to become embroiled with those ghastly Normans and French!”

But then, history is history, as they say, and the events cannot be realistically imagined as being different from what they actually were.  All ‘what if’ scenarios are mere fantasy.  Perhaps that is why so many students of history see their subject as elaborate lists of dates, names and deeds ; nice and safe lists with little margin for error.  But surely this is not history at all ; it is  little more than chronology.

So, perhaps that is why they also like to have each item in the list tagged with the opinion of their teacher ; in the belief that this somehow adds veracity to the content of the list.  But such opinions are so often conditioned by the political opinions of the teacher, which always contaminate history with modern ideas alien to the age being studied.

Of course, history is bound to contain large amounts of historians’ opinion, but I do not think that this is what it is really about.  For, surely, no subject is worthy of study unless the student is in some way in love with the subject being studied.  And what is being studied in ‘History’?  it has to be simply people.  So the first requirement of an historian is to love people and, from that, to desire to know what they did and why they did it.  The ‘what’ is easy enough ; that is the bare menu.  But the ‘why’ is where the recipe is ; it leads to the kitchen where the tale of entire nations and civilisations is cooked up.

History is a tale with many story-lines, therefore with as many aims ; but apparently without an over-arching plot.  In 1066 nobody in England had the faintest suspicion of a Hanoverian monarch.  History has many chronologists but not an all-knowing author.

And yet there are patterns in history, which suggests something about human nature.  And the patterns do not lead to mere repetition of events, which suggests that human nature is changing.  For example, in general, the farther back we go, the more violent are the methods of government ; and this suggests that we are moving in a direction where force as a method is giving way to persuasion.  And violence, of course, is the outcome of ways of seeing the world and of ways of thinking.
Therefore, it seems to me that history is the tale of the evolution of human consciousness.  It is a spiritual tale.

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