May 15, 2007

Knights In Armor Bent On Chivalry

It's a line from perhaps my favorite Van Morrison tune; Tupelo Honey from the 1971 album of the same name. Here's the tune set to some slideshow about some guy's family. & here are the lyrics. & for the helluvit a zydeco band did my favorite cover of this tune - they're called Wayne Toups & Zydecajun & a vid of it is here.

Oddly it seem Morrison took a form of verse structure from a bunch of Reggae artists. A lot of reggae songs (that I've heard at least - & I used to play a lot of Reggae) have a verse that deals with politics but the chorus reverts to talking about love or relationships. So somehow before speaking of the attributes of his lover Morrison throws in a verse about a political cause being destined to succeed.

"You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t keep us ’cause our eyes can see
Men with insight, men in granite
Knights in armor bent on chivalry
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee"

As to the attestations of his lady being, indeed as sweet as honey I'll take his word for it. But the verse caused me to reflect on something. Notice what he said - not just the form but the intent.

"You can’t stop us on the road to freedom" (Freedom won't be stopped)
"You can’t keep us ’cause our eyes can see" (Detainment isn't possible because they're aware of their surroundings & events)
"Men with insight, men in granite" (They have among them men of knowledge & wisdom)
"Knights in armor bent on chivalry" (They those determined to do what's proper)

& it's odd as hell that I'd find the inspiration for this post in a Van Morrison tune; a radical revolutionary was not how he was usually billed. But he seems to have mentioned the things necessary for a free people to remain so. "Men of insight, men of granite" would represent the knowledge necessary to resist subjugation while "knights in armor bent on chivalry" implies the will necessary to resisting oppression.

It's the last I wish to discuss; knights in armor bent on chivalry.

There are 3 things that keep a people free from oppression; having the means to resist, the knowledge to resist & the will to resist. Us gun nuts tend to focus on the first of that particularly helpful trifecta & take the other 2 for granted. Therein lies our error & the error of many a subjugated people.

As for knowing how & why to resist I'll leave that to some other writer, & there have been quite a few who have touched on the topic already. Of course there are scores of tomes dealing with the implements of sustaining a people's freedom so I won't delve into that right now either. So let's talking about armored soldiers determined to follow through on an ancient code.

Chivalry is an almost archaic term & the concept seems far removed from how many folks engage themselves. In fact there is (& to some degree always has been) debate about just what chivalry means, as it was never definitely codified. But there are some things that don't require a precise definition to grasp the gist of. For the sake of argument I'll define chivalry as being a combination of the most frequently mentioned Knightly Virtues:

* courage
* justice
* mercy
* generosity
* faith
* nobility
* hope

Those things were taught to me as a child & I would imagine a lot of the people who would read this had a similar upbringing. It would seem though that a lot of folks (at least in my experience) either never had that sort of education or it just never took. Or perhaps I just took those things too much to heart.

When I was around 20 I almost got into a fight. Course the way I run my mouth (being a smart ass hath its disadvantages) that's not so surprising, but this time it was different for 2 reasons. The first being that it was with a fellow I had known for a few years & liked reasonably well. The second was that I instigated the conflict.

The gist is that my pal was transporting my not-so-tall hot blonde brunette friend & I to her apartment as we were too intoxicated to drive. During the ride he started regaling us with his opinions on several women he had known recently in the most graphic & descriptive terms imaginable. The language was as base as the subject matter & I kept trying to steer him away from both, finally succeeding but not till the lady was embarrassed a bit. Under the circumstances I let things slide. But a few days later I came home & found him in my house (my friends often came & went as they pleased back then). So I jacked him up against the wall & lit into him verbally for his behavior. He was about my size (a little bigger actually) & my age so I fully expected him to escalate things into a brawl. But he didn't. Nor did he seem apologetic so I literally threw him out. A few months later he seemed to grasp his offense & seemed sorry so I let him back into the circle I ran with.

Now I never struck him but back then when you grabbed someone by their collar & pinned them up against the wall that was an invitation to commence battle. My actions constituted assault & battery but none of us would have ever thought of pressing charges. It just wasn't handled that way back then. Neither would any of us pulled a weapon over such a matter. He & I both knew where the guns in the house were & it never crossed our minds to reach for them. & yes; on reflection I could have & should have handled things differently. His transgression was most likely a result of upbringing & discussing the cultural differences with him would have probably accomplished the desired effect.

But I was 20 & a serious slight was made concerning a lady, so while my actions may have been rash they were motivated by something deeper; honor.

Another example: a friend of mine dated this guy who was a serious jerk. & I'm being very nice by leaving it at that. She knew I disapproved of him but didn't understand why until several months later when he detained her against her will & assaulted her. A few months went by after she told me what happened (& she didn't tell me until a few months after the incident happened) & I was pretty pissed about the turn of events. I ended up on the phone with a pal of mine whom I'd known since I was about 10. We grew up in the same neighborhood & had more or less a similar upbringing. So after I discreetly relayed the events to him he said in all seriousness, "Well she's always seemed cool. She didn't deserve that & I know y'all are close so tell me where the [expletive deleted] lives - I wouldn't mind doing a few months over her & you don't need to be going to jail over that [multiple expletives deleted]".

There were simply some things worth taking a risk for, even if they may seem trivial or socially unacceptable. In the first example most folks would think it's a bit over board to risk a fight with a pal over a perceived slight in etiquette & the 2nd most folks would think that the courts would be the proper avenue for correcting an assault. But the way I was raised when you see something is wrong you try to correct it yourself if at all possible. Harm to yourself or the risk of jail were not sufficient deterrents against trying to remedy a wrong.

Now it's not that I have always acted with the most knightly virtues but I've always tried. On occasion erring (as with my pal whom I mentioned having a confrontation with) but trying none the less. My failure has always been in execution, not so much in motivation.

How does this all relate to keeping a society free? Well a society is simply a group of individuals with some common traits & goals. while my examples are anecdotal & by no means all encompassing the point is that erring through action in some things is better than erring by inaction.

Have you ever seen a group of kids (say 16-20 years in age) being verbally abusive to an elderly person? If so you probably would have stepped in to defend the elderly person &/or scold the kids for such a lack of manners & sense. You'd see a wrong being committed & despite being outnumbered you'd try to set things right as best you could.

Now if that were the case throughout our society then why did we have several folks disarmed unlawfully without them offering any resistance what so ever?

I wrote about this before in a post entitled Who Wants To Live Forever.It's hard to take risks with your life &/or well being when you're fairly certain that your goals will not be achieved. It's understandable, but it won't keep a people free.

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ...And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

Most gun nuts have at the least seen the last sentence of that quote of Jefferson's. Yet in New Orleans gun owners gave up their arms. we all know why; they were outnumbered by what they perceived as the legitimate authority in the area. Dying over a legal argument isn't the best way to feed a family. But again it's an understandable action on a personal level to lay down your arms while a truly regrettable one on a societal level.

"Knights in armor bent on chivalry". Think they'd have threw down their swords at the sheriff's feet just because he said so? Neither do I. But it's much harder to put into practice a belief than it is to have that belief.

What is necessary is for a number of people to be willing to take risks in order to uphold an ideal. In the sense I'm meaning it that ideal is freedom from oppression. In Hussein's Iraq a certain amount of the populace was armed (although I seem to recall that only those loyal to Hussein were allowed arms to any great degree) yet they were oppressed. No matter how you feel about the war & our involvement at the moment you can't look back & say Hussein was a benevolent dictator. But Iraqi's lacked either the knowledge they needed in order to resist him, or the will (& possibly both) despite having the means. They lacked "men of insight, men of granite [&] knights in armor bent on chivalry". I think any in depth look at an oppressed people will show the same. Even when they knew how & why to resist they lacked people that were willing to actually risk resistance.

Perhaps it's cultural; as a people achieve a certain stage they drift away from the more confrontational aspects of life. They simply stop teaching that risk of harm or death to achieve a goal is at times a positive trait. I wrote about this a bit in a post called Hero but I fear that such is happening within the u.S.; that the idea of acting despite risks to yourself is not seen as a positive or even viable option. Hopefully I'm mistaken though.

Kim du Toit wrote of something similar in his post entitled Playing The Game, though his was directed more towards the idea of sportsmanship & manners. The same principle underlies both his & my premise though; that if we do not teach our kids (& to some degree each other) a virtue or virtues then odds are slim that those virtues will be prevelant in a generation or two. Whether it's about fair play in a game, or not speaking disrespectfully in front of a lady or taking up arms instead of throwing them down when the government agents come to your neighborhood for disarmament if we don't teach that acting on those concepts is as important as understanding them then they'll be lost. In the latter case a whole people's liberty may become lost as well.

Look at the government run schools though; standing up for yourself is usually grounds for expulsion. Standing up for others is similarly frowned upon with the preferred method of defense being telling a teacher after the wrong has been committed. Not that schoolyard brawls should be encouraged, but when you expel both kids in a fight when one clearly instigated it for dubious or immoral reasons then it's going to reinforce the idea that taking action is never a good idea. Those kids won't grow up to rallying round the old flag when tanks roll down Main Street to ensure compliance with a new take of one of Marx's ideas.

What we need in this country is to introduce our kids (& probably each other) to some antiquated ideas. Even further we need to encourage that those ideas be put into practice. Discretion in appropriate measure must accompany that education, or else we'll start having people slugging each other for calling their significant other "sweetie" in a casual manner. But we shouldn't have a society where we'll rely on the lawyers to sort things out months or years after our arms have been taken from us.

Of course it could just be me. I've never outgrown the notion that such concepts as chivalry & honor & trust were simply stories from a book of an age long since passed. I still feel a bit of stirring when I hear of someone acting on his or her principles despite great risk & I look admirably on those who seek to protect themselves & others in a good cause even if it means they use force to do so. Perhaps I'm just a kid at heart who should outgrow those things.

But if I'm not wrong in my views then if we're to remain a free people over the next few generations we'll need some knights in the latest armor bound & determined to be chivalrous in their actions. & another Van Morrison to write a tune to inspire them wouldn't hurt either.

Posted by Publicola at May 15, 2007 04:30 AM | TrackBack