Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An Introduction to Eponymism

What is Eponymism? Eponymism is a simple acknowledgment, best stated thus: The recognition that all sentient beings are unique and so everyone’s core ideology should be likewise unique.

By my mid-twenties, after much reading, study and contemplation, I had rejected all traditional political, philosophical and religious ideologies. Preconstructed ideologies I labelled them. Ideologies for which their adherents had gone through no soul searching or internal debate. Why bother to make sense of the world, I thought, why struggle to find your own course when you could simply steal from someone else and pass it off as your own? And yet this seemed ridiculous to me. There hadn’t been a true Christian since Christ, a true Muslim since Mohammed, a true Marxist since Marx (and even Marx had said ‘Je ne suis pas une Marixiste’). Still, millions of people claimed to be each of these things. It was precisely that lack of internal debate in trying to make sense of your place in the world which led to a cheapening of Christianity, Islam and Marxism. You could just act as you wished and then justify your actions by finding some vague passage in your sacred text of choice and shout ‘Blasphemy’ when anyone tried to challenge you. Any ideological system which could withstand no scrutiny, I decided, should be immediately thrown into the cultural bin.

And yet at the core of each of these ideologies, and a million others like them, was a seed of something worthy and useful. Eponymism is the process of looking at what others have come up with in the past, taking what applies to you, expanding and evolving those ideas to meet your own individual needs and discarding the rest. It is what each of us does anyway, we’re just too entrenched in our own self-delusions to admit this to ourselves. Look at Christianity. We have a Jewish Rabi, by the name of Joshua, who gathers a small band of followers around him and sets off to try and reform the Orthodox Jewish Church and rail against the Pharisees for their collusion with the Roman occupiers of Judea. After his death, his twelve disciples set out into the world to spread his message, but each of them interprets his message in his own way, overemphasising some parts, ignoring others. A following begins to gather momentum in the Roman Empire, where the gospels are first written down, the apostles taking to calling him by the Greek name, Iasus, to make him sound less Jewish and appeal to the Romans, who loved all things Greek. Four of these gospels are adopted by the Romans in the fourth century, which mollified the various competing Christian sects in the empire, but which agree on virtually nothing. The other gospels that have been subsequently rediscovered agree on even less.

So, even by the time the Romans came to adopt Christianity as their formal religion (a political move), the religion has already changed out of all recognition. And now consider those people who call themselves the Christian Right. Gentiles, with bank accounts, who go to church and believe in ‘An eye for an eye’, but are as far removed from any of the principles of Christianity as it is possible to be. What passes for Fundamentalist Christianity is in fact Orthodox Judaism, the kind that most Jewish people have rejected as irrelevant and out of touch. But they cling to it, without ever seeming to notice that most of what Jesus states in the Gospels is a direct rejection of the Old Testament mentality.

Yet a lot of what Joshua/Jesus is reported to have said is good and useful and not a bad template for how to live a virtuous life. If only the vast majority of those that called themselves Christians didn’t avoid his actual teachings like the plague (leprosy would be a better simile I suppose). From this arises the need to defend with terminal intensity the thing that you believe in but don’t follow. The charge of blasphemy, at least with reference to Christianity, is bizarre, given Christ’s stated beliefs on forgiveness and turning the other cheek. I love that passage in the Gospels: “I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Cry, ‘Blasphemy’ and you only condemn yourself ("Hey buddy, we're Christians, we don't like what you said." "Then forgive me").

Rejecting all other ideologies in favour of my own, led me to the realisation that I could cherry pick from each of these ideologies. I could be all of them and yet none of them. It is a great release to be freed of the inertia of living up to other people’s expectations. History, I came to realise, begins at conception, and I had to figure things out for myself. I remember reading the introduction to the Penguin edition of Ulysses and first coming across the words of William Blake that have come to mean so much to me: 

‘I must Create a System, or be enslaved by another man’s, I will not Reason & Compare, my business is to Create’. 

Which is ironic, given Blake’s own lifelong religious fervour, but this is the advantage of Eponymism: Take what you need, what applies to you, and discard the rest (although I admire much in Blake, he is the atheist's religious nut of choice). The other great quote that speaks to this system of cultural plunder is from a true Eponymist, Henry Miller:

"I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul."

The Eponymist rejects nothing, everything is allowed, so long as it can be justified. Even the greatest monsters in history can have something to say, if it allows us to arm ourselves against their like for the future. Moreover, the rejection of any preconstructed ideology means that no section of humanity is necessarily excluded. Race, nation, religion, all become irrelevant, the Eponymist moves through other cultures as easily as a knife through butter, melting the immediate vicinity and carrying it away with him for his own purposes.

And I really do mean him, because here’s the nub of the matter. Eponymism is my ideology, it is unique to me. Even to call yourself an Eponymist is to fail to understand its one fundamental law, which is why I also call it Brian’s law, after the Monty Python film: "You're all individuals." "Yes, we're all individuals." "I'm not."  And while I honestly believe that a rejection of wholesale adherence to any belief system is the only chance of living a satisfying life, give it a name of your own (Jeffism or The Tao or Me or something). Search for answers from within, because every religious leader, philosopher, scientist and politician who has ever existed has no better idea of what’s going on than you do. Moreover, the older a system is, the more irrelevant it is. Look at the theory of gravity. Formulated by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687, superseded by Einstein in 1915. 

It is my belief (and it is just that, a belief, so judge for yourself how valid this is), that the purpose of humanity is to each find our own way, to generate random possibilities in order to move forward. Exactly the way that evolution works, but writ large across humanity. The ones that best fit, that find a happy medium between the majority, find prevalence and advance us to our next natural plateau. And then we start the process of diversification once again, separating, dividing and expanding.

Throughout history, great cultural and industrial advances have come about only when some new idea or theory arrives to blow away the old stagnant ways of looking at the world and great leaps forward are achieved as a result. From quantum mechanics to impressionism, the printing press to the internet, evolution to chaos theory, great force of intellect and personality achieved these things, and so much more, in opposition to the entrenched views of the time. With its terminal insistence on placing the Earth at the centre of the universe, the Catholic Church held Europe in a state of arrested development for a thousand years. Only with Copernicus and Galileo did the evidence become so overwhelming that the west could finally work out the mechanics of the solar system and through Newton move towards the industrial age. Dogma causes inertia, but it is no match for the power of the individual intellect. To remain part of the mouldering mass is to become so irrelevant that not even your own decedents will remember your name. I couldn't name one of my 16 great-great-grandparents and yet I can name the gay 15th century Italian artist that painted the Mona Lisa.

And there you have it: An Introduction to Eponymism. If you wish to know more you only have to read everything else that I have written and will write in the future. Eponymism is as DNA to me, encoded  into my very existence, seeping through everything that I do. You could read everything I have written and I would be very grateful if you did, because in spite of my individual beliefs I am no different to anyone else. I'm still insecure, seeking the approval of others. Just try not to become angry or paranoid if we disagree at places, you won't agree with everything I or anyone else has to say. Take comfort in your divergence. Take what you need and throw the rest away. 

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