Friday, September 17, 2010

The Medieval Minds of the Harper Conservatives

The late Roman and early Medieval world in Europe would have seemed like a ludicrous place to anyone from this century. Life was a mixture of drudgery, religion and mysticism. Professor Robert Bartlett provides an insight in both his book and BBC series into (what we would today call) the strange beliefs that occupied even the most educated of Medieval Europeans.

The mysticism that ran through the religious lives of that age translated into the existence of strange creatures: some with a single foot, some with a face in the middle of their chest, some with two heads and, very importantly, some with human bodies and the heads of dogs.

The dog heads were so important that they were chronicled in the encyclopedias and monastic correspondence of the day. Known to live at the edge of the known world, missionaries were seeking guidance as to the religious conversion of the dog heads from arch-bishops - and the arch-bishops were providing reasoned advice.
Rimbert’s report stated that they covered their genitalia. Ratramnus interpreted this as a sign of decency and these and others attributes convinced him they were human; in any case, St Christopher had once been one and converted. Hence, Ratramnus concluded that the dog-heads were degenerated descendants of Adam, although the Church generally classed them with beasts. They may even receive baptism by being rained upon. Here Ratramnus was following in the footsteps of Augustine of Hippo, who had written that if the monstrous races do exist, they were created according to God’s will and, if they are human and descended from Adam, they must be capable of salvation. This would extend the Churches missionary obligation to the farthest flung parts of the earth and make ‘monstrous missionising’ a necessary fulfilment of Christ’s charge.
The only real problem is that no one had ever really seen a dog head. They lived outside the world of humans. But live they did, at least that was the belief of the day. When far-flung expeditions were mounted to find these strange beings, the results were, by today's standards, predictable.
He tried to ask the locals about the existence of the dog-heads and other tribes but unfortunately the only response he appears to have got is ‘we thought they lived where you came from’.
We know now that the dog heads did not exist. In Medieval times however, they were an important feature in the lives of people steeped in religion. For one thing, (probably most important), they provided a function by which the church could instill fear in the population and show progress in providing protection. By overtly studying how to convert the dog heads the religious Medieval human saw the church working diligently to reduce the threat to humans.

Sound familiar?

Kirbycairo has noticed the same thing. The Harper conservatives use non-existent crime to generate a level of fear in those who spend no time really researching the subject. Then, anything they do to reduce that crime, even though it doesn't exist, looks like decisive action to eliminate a threat.

The problem is, just like the monks and bishops who ruminated and wrote on the means to convert the dog heads, the Harper conservatives really believe there is something real to address.

They would have fit quite nicely into the mystic early Medieval society. They just don't handle reality well at all.


masterymistery said...

therianthropy writ large.

masterymistery at cosmic rapture

Dave said...

Or Cynanthropy thy name is Stephen.

Edstock said...

Thank-you. The BBC series is great! Of course, there was no link to any of the episodes, but PirateBay, and voila! Episode 1, Stephen Fry and Gutenberg's Press, was excellent.