Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Patty's Day

RealClearPolicy editor Joseph Lawler had the following to say about this past weekend's holiday:

Each year, the days leading up to March 17th remind us of another alarming reality that wasn't obvious before social media: apparently at least half of Americans think that the holiday is called "St. Patty's Day."

Now, imagine that you were were kidnapped as a teenage boy and sold into slavery in a foreign, wild land. Then imagine that you escaped back to your homeland, and daringly returned to your captors to convert them -- all of them -- to your faith, driving out a country-wide infestation of snakes along the way, establishing yourself as the patron of that nation forever. And imagine you did all this only to be called a girl's name by millions of assholes on the internet centuries later.

That is the situation that St. Patrick, rolling in his grave, faces today.[1]

Nonetheless, what St. Patrick can be happy about is how far his Irish brothers and sisters have come in American life. More accurately, St. Patrick can be happy about how far his Anglo-Saxon brothers and and sisters have come in their treatment and acceptance of the Irish in American life. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762, initiating the very first St. Patrick's Day parade. Ironically, this celebrated tradition was started by immigrants who were considered "people of color" (and, therefore, inferior) by their fellow Americans: "In general, the Irish were seen as a separate race. They were considered members of the "inferior Celtic race" that could be physically distinguished from the "superior Anglo-Saxon race." Especially in the decades prior to the Civil War, it was not uncommon to refer to the physical distinctiveness of the Irish."[2] For example, an 1860 American encyclopedia defined the Irish as a separate race. This was not unusual: "Americans of indigenous, African, Asian, Slavic, and Mediterranean descent" were also considered "non-White."[3] Italians and other southern Europeans were also "racially positioned in a similar manner."[4] Eventually, Celts, Italians, and others were accepted as fully white.[5] As sociologists Jonathan Warren and France Winddance Twine note, "Whiteness" is "the norm against which all are measured and all are expected to fit. Whiteness does, however, take shape in relation to others."[6]

"Acting white" is a highly controversial term that I will not explore here, especially given the muddled definition of "whiteness" itself.[7] Yet, the racial discrimination against what would now be considered white groups by other white groups reveals the extremely complex history of racism and group prejudice.[8] Like most things, it is not black-and-white (excuse the pun).

Perhaps St. Patrick's Day could be viewed less as a drinking day and more as a day of reflection. St. Patrick sought to bring the grace of Christ to the Irish, despite his imprisonment at their hands. He introduced potential Irish converts to Christianity by means of their own traditions. His day can be a reminder to us all that despite our different backgrounds and past hostilities, we can all be brought together into one great whole.

And with that, I will leave you with a track from one of my favorite albums by the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy (performed by Gary Moore and Scott Gorham in honor of Phil Lynott):

1. The lack of Irish snakes had more to do with the Ice Age and less to do with St. Patrick. This is one of several myths surrounding St. Patrick's Day.

2. Jonathan W. Warren, France Winddance Twine, "White Americans, the New Minority?: Non-Blacks and the Ever-Expanding Boundaries of Whiteness," Journal of Black Studies 28:2 (November 1997): 202. See Sam Roberts, "A Nation of None and All of the Above," The New York Times (Aug. 16, 2008); Ronald Bailey, ""Non-White" Births Outstrip "White" Births for First Time, Says Census Bureau," Reason: Hit & Run (May 18, 2012); Bailey, "The Silly Panic Over a Minority White Nation," Reason (Feb. 21, 2012). "Whiteness" may be an ill-chosen word and has been subjected to controversy (see International Labor and Working-Class History No. 60, Fall 2001). Nonetheless, I find historical studies of the concept useful when discussing group prejudice in race-sensitive America.

3. Warren & Twine, 1997: 204.

4. Warren & Twine, 1997: 205.

5. It turns out 34.7 million U.S. residents have Irish ancestry, which is the second highest reported ancestry in the nation. This will most likely rise along with the increasing intermarriage rates.

6. Warren & Twine, 1997: 207.

7. For those interested in recent explorations of minorities "acting white" in an academic setting, see David Austen-Smith, Roland G. Fryer, Jr., "An Economic Analysis of 'Acting White'," The Quarterly Journal of Economics 120:2 (May 2005); Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Robert M. Beren, "An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'," Journal of Public Economics 94:5-6 (June 2010); Roland G. Fryer, Jr., "Acting White," Education Next 6:1 (Winter 2006); Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals (Encounter Books, 2005), particularly the essays "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" and "Black Education: Achievements, Myths and Tragedies."

8. For example, I asked the question previously, "If "Mormon" is considered an ethnic group, can I start calling people racist?" See Mona Charen, "The Wrong Kind of Minority," National Review Online (Dec. 30, 2011).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Honeybees and the New Paradise

Continuing with the theme of my last post, I thought revisiting Hugh Nibley's comments on bees and Eden would be appropriate:

The bee is before all creatures the sponsor, inspiration, and guide of the Great Trek. As a creature of the preexistent or prediluvian world, and all but sole survivor of the great catastrophes that desolated the earth, the bee is first to arrive on the scene and start things going again in the new world. In the first of all migrations, Adam and Eve were accompanied and guided by the bees as they moved from the Garden into the dark outer world. The bees brought with them "the primordial creative divine power"; their honey, "made by the bees of Paradise," is the food of heaven. When our first ancestors were allowed to bring some of their original blessings from Eden with them, Adam bore the olive, vine, date, pomegranate, and nard, but to Eve was given the greatest blessing, for she was accompanied by her friends from the Garden with their honey—the busy bees whose beneficent labors among the plants and trees made it possible to renew the verdure of the former world in their new one. According to one of the oldest Egyptian ritual sources, when they found the earth barren of life after the flood, the bees got to work restoring the fertility of the woods and fields while busily producing their honey and wax for the benefit of man. They were especially qualified to conduct Adam and Eve into a strange world, because they knew the place from its older times, themselves being the survivors from the other and better age.

It is recognized by scholars that, in antiquity, "honey is the ambrosial food of the gods."[1] For example, in the Jewish text Joseph and Aseneth "this food-of-the-gods tradition is anchored in a heavenly protology:

For this comb is (full of the) spirit of life. And the bees of the paradise of delight (cf. LXX Gen 3:23) have made this from the dew of the roses of life that are in the paradise of God. And all the angels of God eat of it and all the chosen of God and all the sons of the Most High, because this is a comb of life, and everyone who eats of it will not die for ever (and) ever.... Behold, from today your flesh (will) flourish like flowers of life from the ground of the Most High, and your bones will grow strong like the cedars of the paradise of delight of God, and untiring powers will embrace you, and your youth will not see old age, and your beauty will not fail ever.[2]

John Thompson's article simply connects the Jaredite "swarms of bees" with the "creeping things of the earth" in the creation story. However, the connection appears to run much deeper. Given the ancient role of bees and honey, the promised land would not be the new Eden without them.

1. Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 67.

2. Ibid., 67-68.