Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Shaman is Alive and Well
More Bull Cookies from Dex

People who claim that I'm a bum are only partly right. If "bum" is defined as someone who regularly does nothing that is regarded as "productive" or socially desirable, then everybody is a bum for at least a few hours of every day.

Yes, lawyer boy, you are also a bum. When you sleep. When you go to the bathroom. When you duck outside for your favorite smoke. When you're boinking someone, 'cause seriously, don't you have anything productive or socially desireable to do?

BUM. It's the not just the Tee Shirt

I've noticed that people who toss that epithet around tend to have some nasty assumptions about the people they describe: lazy, boorish, uneducated, uncultured, mean, dirty... While those assumptions may be accurate most times, they don't reflect well on the character of epithet-tossers. My choice words for them: cold, unfeeling, dismissive, (yes, lazy) reductionists who cannot be inconvenienced to confront the other guy's basic humanity.

Still, I've been where the epithet-tossers come from. A lot can be said about personal responsibility. After all, many of humanity's great big screwups can be traced to personal hubris. "You dig your hole, so you lie in it."

This Is All Greek To Me

Some simplistic, bowlderized examples--

Cause: someone was too lazy to begin work at a crucial part of his lifetime, say between the ages of 20 to 35. Effect: he finds it more and more diffcult to find the job he wants, as these are being farmed out to younger blood.

Cause:"I just want a little peace," said the leader of post-1920's Germany. Effect:"A little 'peace' of Russia, a little 'peace' of France. A big chunk of Poland would be nice too, while I'm at it. Nothing like the annexing of foreign countries to prop up der Fatherland's pride and economy!"

Cause: In despite of a boatload of prompting, Trojan Paris does not surrender Helen to Menelaus, Helen's proper husband. Too bad Paris seemingly forgot Menelaus's brother happened to command the thousand-ship-strong Greek Navy. Effect: After ten years of war, Paris and his brother and nephew are killed, their home city is razed, their women are sent to the slave ships. And most of the other principals involved in the Trojan War come home--

1)in body bags (Achilles, his best friend Patroclus; Ajax the lesser, Antilochus);
2)ten years delayed (Odysseus);
3)to be chopped up by his wife and her lover (Agamemnon, Cassandra);
4)not at all (Ajax the greater, and other Nameless Greeks Who Died En Route)

[Digression: Menelaus & Helen come home to Sparta unscathed. Wise old Nestor survives his long sea voyage. Aeneas, lucky Trojan bastard, gets away safely to have his kids found the Roman Empire.]


In really primitive societies, the titles of doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, priest, weather analyst and sometimes even head of state were encompassed under the blanket term "shaman." It was to him or her that the tribe turned when something was wrong with the crops or when the war council wanted the go-signal to unleash hell on deserving tribal enemies.

Harassment victims of elemental forces and other nasty denizens of the spirit world were also brought to the shaman for relief. Since the scope of the spiritual oppression encompassed areas as diverse as physical and mental illness, death, injury, familial disputes, love concerns, vermin and rotten luck, pretty much everybody in the tribe came to the shaman.

Today, the shaman has seemingly been killed off by the fact of life called specialization�. After all, you can't possibly arrogate upon yourself responsibility for the total well-being of the tribe, when the tribe's members number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. The workload alone would kill you. Check your Bibles-- even Jesus had to flee from a crowd of supplicants, and he already had several areas of specialty: medicine, education, social reform and spiritual well-being.

You can still see the shaman today, of course. National Geographic special features aside, you'll find him plying his trade pretty much everywhere. The doctor will never admit to performing shamanic functions when he comforts and treats a patient. The priest, representing a highly structured religion, will choke on his own bile before comparing himself with the shaman, the fortune teller and the witch doctor-- even if they all perform the dispensation of pyscho-spiritual wellbeing. And if you feel like dispensing with your faith in modern medicine, you can take a road trip into any of our rural or depressed urban areas to visit the neighborhood herbalist.

In my experience, you can also find the shaman in the hard-luck friend you always run to for counsel, even if you know he's in deeper doodoo than you are.

Specialization happens in all societies, but, unless I'm wrong, happens faster and on a greater scale in urbanized areas. It's a statistical thing-- more people crammed in one place means more people with highly specific needs crammed in one place. Sooner or later, the number of these people increases to the point where you can't leave their needs unadressed. Your experience as general practitioner is simply not enough and so, you're forced to abandon developing your other areas of study.You are forced to increase your skill, knowledge and experience in something more specific.

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