Methuselah's Daughter

Musings of an immortal being

Tuesday, January 28

I went shopping yesterday, a normal exercise for me and anyone else who enjoys eating on a semi-regular basis. Today the bakery next to the local supermarket was baking Swedish coffee bread and the scent hit me with extraordinary force. Suddenly I was nearly incapacitated with sadness, to the point where I had to stop and sit (fortunately there was a bench) and spend several minutes composing myself.

My emotions seldom rise up so unexpectedly, but the scent of the bread brought the past in to the present so suddenly, that and a reply to a commenter a few days ago. I had been thinking of all the terrible things I have witnessed and I was being oh-so-analytical about it, rather like examining a specimen under a microscope. Then: POW!

I had been in that village for about a year, having been traded off as part of a large exchange of goods with peoples far down the coast. I was happy- I could see a good future for me as I was finally in acceptance of my unusual nature and now I could anticipate fifteen or even twenty years of life in a single spot. I remember that morning, the scent of baking bread caressing my senses, so sweet I could taste it on the air. And then the commotion, and the screaming... I dashed outside and I was so shocked to see riders- horsemen!

I turned and the slender lance took me just under the breastbone, hot pressure and the wrenching twist as the rider retained his grip, galloping past and tearing the weapon from my body, I remember tumbling over and over, arms and legs numb and useless until I came to rest against a low stone wall. Everything became detached then, I simply witnessed it through sound and fleeting glimpses of light and shadow- they killed everyone, even to chasing down those who fled without fighting. The commotion quieted, the last cries fading. Men began moving about on foot and one seized me by an ankle and dragged me in to the center of the village. Soon other bodies were heaped atop me and I could no longer see. There were sounds of fire and the receding hoof beats of the raiders as they withdrew.

It took a long time for sensation to return to my arms and legs and by then I was raging with both thirst and hunger. Once I could move at all I began to claw my way out from under the piled corpses. It was midday but the pall of smoke from the still smoldering remnants of the dwellings and barns cast a haze over the ground. I crawled to the well, but I was still too weak to draw any water so I propped myself up against it to catch my breath.


The voice startled me, even though it was so small, so frightened. I turned towards it and saw one of the young boys, a son of one of the fishermen, peering at me from over a stone wall that backed on the forest above the village. He was perhaps six years old.

“Please, water,” was all I managed to croak, my throat terribly dry, and my tongue thick.

I remember it all as if it just happened. I never found out who those men were, never discovered why they raged up the coast, killing all they encountered and burning all in their path. They stole nothing, and I never came upon them again. It was my first encounter with what I can only describe as unmitigated evil. Unfortunately, it was not my last.

Friday, January 24

A Mr. Green has written that the poor performance of France in the current unpleasantness stirring up the Middle East is largely a creation of American largess beginning with World War II. I have to admit that I never looked at it in this light; however, on reflection I find the idea is nothing new. It seems to me that this is part and parcel of the evolution of western liberalism. Remember, in an evolutionary process some lines can start out strong, then whither and die as the weight of their anti-survival traits drag them down.

In the case of France, this was a World Power of the Old Continental Europe- a nation to be reckoned with whenever any nation sought to make any sort of power play in wide swaths of the world. They handed America her independence simply to annoy the British, and in the process sowed the seeds of their own demise- the collapse of the Royaume de France in to revolution essentially eviscerated that nation’s ability to remain a world power. Unlike the United States, France descended in to the Reign of Terror that most modern revolutions spawn; rather than a Stalin or a Mao, they begat Napoleon (after some serious struggles) who proceeded to seal their fate as an essentially failed world power. That France has been able to remain the force it is today is a tribute to American charity and the social inertia that plays such an immense role in the post World War II miasma that is modern Europe.

One cannot ignore the immense psychosocial impact of the past 200 years. How many times can a once great power see itself humbled before the world without either lashing out or engaging in the soul-balm of self delusion? The major powers of Europe, both politically and culturally had always regarded the United States as an uncultured and unreliable power in the world, yet in the twentieth century it was that same uncultured and unreliable power which arrived to pull their more sophisticated betters out of the ashes of their own folly. Particularly in World War II, it was the United States, and even more so the new and frightening Communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which won the war against the evil of a Fascism that was a native son to the very same sophisticated powers. The impact of this on the psyche of Europe has been profound, and the aftershocks are still reverberating across the poliscape of the world. Those nations able to adapt remain active in the world of real events and real power. Those that cannot descend in to a state of irrelevance from where the only option is to cry out for caution and demand circumspection from those who are able and willing to act.

It is a sad fate, really, but an unavoidable reality as the world grinds ever so slowly forward.

Sunday, January 19

What happens after the war is a very good question. One would hope that the US government has put a great deal of thought and preparation in to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and social support systems, but the current situation in Afghanistan does leave ample room for doubt. Afghanistan is being left essentially to build its own path, with a moderate force of peacekeepers in the region to discourage any large-scale insurrections. The west is very interested in seeing the Afghan government evolve in to a stable democracy, but the truth is that the fate of Afghanistan is not of utmost concern. So long as it does not again become a haven for extremist reactionaries the west seems content to allow it to struggle along on its own.

Iraq is a different situation altogether. Strategically located in the middle of a most important geographic locale with easy air and sea access, it simply does not compare with Afghanistan in any way. Furthermore, Iraq actually has civic institutions based on a secular model that can be easily resurrected from the post-war turmoil. Afghanistan’s social and civic constructs were somewhat limited and devoted inordinately to maintaining a state of religious purity. There simply was “no there there” to begin with. In Iraq, assuming the west is so motivated, a new civic order can be established with relative ease.

One of the pressing issues will be what form the new government will take. As I read the accounts and speak with various other people it becomes somewhat clear that the one thing that will not happen will be a handing over of the government to opposition figures. This is very reassuring, for eschewing the easy path makes it necessary for the west to engage in a long-term effort at nation-building, a prospect which Iraq is uniquely suited for.

One of the primary positives for Iraq is that it has now and in the past been a secular society. There are strong religious institutions in the nation, but they do not run the government and have had little say in public policy for a very long time. Give the Iraqi people an opportunity to run their own affairs and it is not a forgone conclusion that they would turn solely to the mosques for leadership. Difficulty lies in the lack of a fundamental democratic tradition- for a very long time there has only been one real choice on any ballot and voting has been merely an exercise in stroking the ego of the current strong man.

Another large positive is oil. Iraq has a ready source of national income, meaning that it will not long require the huge influx of financial and material aid that other nations require. Assuming that any significant portion of the petroleum infrastructure escapes destruction at the hand of some misguided scorched-earth defense Iraq will immediately begin earning the capital it needs to rebuild on its own terms. This is a psychological advantage that cannot be overstated- they will be masters of their own destiny.

A very real danger in the post-war scenario is the possibility of other Arab nations offering aid. What this will doubtless consist of is food, building materials, and of course schools. To be more precise, madrasas- Islamic religious schools which have formed the basis of the groundswell of anti-western sentiment over the past decades. This alone is reason enough to keep other Middle Eastern nations out of post-war Iraq. It will be a delicate, but necessary point for the west to win.

Another very real danger is the destabilization of world oil markets. There will be a run up of oil prices once the war begins, but a quick ending should rapidly put an end to that. Once the west begins opening up Iraq’s oil production prices will likely fall somewhat. One can speculate what the west’s ultimate goals are in the Gulf region, however, precipitating another conflict directly on the heels of an successful Iraq operation is not one of them. If the west threatens to destabilize OPEC those nations will act, probably not with open warfare, but perhaps with a shut-off of oil supplies. Iraq’s reserves cannot take up all that slack. This muddies the future and must be avoided- the assorted theocracies and dictatorships of the region will need time to assimilate what has happened if any real progress is to be made at anything other than the point of a bayonet. The governments and peoples of the Middle East need to see a swift victory followed by a relatively peaceful occupation and a foundation of liberty and prosperity. That alone will put the proper fear in to those who would hold their peoples in thrall.

This can be done. The west can do it. The only question is does it have the will to see it through. Only time will tell.

Afterword: Stanley Kurtz has an interesting take on the effort to democratize Iraq, and why Iraq bears no resemblance to World War II Japan. He foresees a difficult, but not impossible task, simultaneously dragging the overly-optimistic and the reflexively pessimistic towards a more realistic point of view.

Thursday, January 16

Life is referred to as a “vale of tears” for a reason. Even in these times I often find myself standing awestruck as I witness humanity’s ability and willingness to persevere as daily life metes out one disappointment after another. Certainly for some these are minor matters- a promotion denied, an opportunity lost, a relationship ended. For others it is more rending and visceral- oppression, starvation, disease, and death. Yet human beings stride ever onward, indomitable in the pursuit of something better than what life offers for them today.

It is this aspect of humanity that makes me optimistic regarding the future of the race. In my unique situation I can hold any circumstance to be temporary. My life has already been unimaginably long and so far as I know it shall continue to be so. I can afford patience. I routinely defer my aspirations. How a person who can at best expect ten short decades to live a full life can then present that same sort of patience is often beyond my capacity to internalize. My perspective is too skewed, meaning that while I accept it and understand it at the intellectual level it remains one of the aspects of humanity with which I have great difficulty empathizing.

I suppose this is my loss. One major difference between myself and all those about me that I have noticed is my singular lack of creativity. Those things I do well are the result of immense amounts of practice, but originality has never been my strong suit. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that this is likely the price I pay for such a long life. It is an idea that has even been broached by writers of fiction, who often have an innate understanding of things I have learned only through long experience. My approach to difficulties consists mostly of plodding doggedly forward- perhaps the closest I come personally to the hope that sustains others.

Do not infer that this saddens me. Truth to be told I am a particularly unemotional person and I am content to be so. On the rare occasions where my emotions overrule my sense I usually end up married or in prison, and the last time it happened it took me nearly a month to dispose of all the bodies. All in all, better for everyone that I remain dispassionate.

Wednesday, January 15

What is the tipping point for war? When does a build up towards hostilities morph in to an “inevitable” conflict? I noted earlier that no war is unavoidable until it begins; however, one has to be careful how one defines war. Another writer recently wrote of the broader definition of war that includes such things as economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure backed by rewards and punishments, etc. I am inclined to agree with his lengthy analysis, and by that measure war against Iraq began more than ten years ago and has been on-going since that time. What the world awaits now is an answer to the following question: will this war finally end? Oddly enough, those opposed to conventional action against Iraq are in favor of prolonging the conflict, while those in favor of invasion support bringing this war to a close.

Friday, January 10

I enjoy living in America, and I have spent more than eighty percent of my time here over the past three centuries. Initially, it simply afforded me a perfect social/cultural jungle to hide within. As the colonies and then the nation expanded there were always new places where I could set up a life for twenty or thirty years (in one case even longer). As time progressed it became clear to me that there really was no other place to reside if one wanted to ride the edge of cultural and material advances. The United States of America is a remarkably resilient and optimistic place and as such is uniquely prepared to face the coming challenges of the new century.

In my view there is little doubt that western cultural liberalism will prevail over the next century. The only real question is where the synthesis of European semi-democratic socialism and American semi-democratic capitalist/individualism will eventually lead. That the two will combine in some way is inevitable, but the result is likely to be surprising even to me. At the moment it is clear that America’s social/economic structure is far more adaptable than that of the vast majority of Europe, as well as being more focused on the issues of importance that shall define the next two decades. Europe’s advantages in these times are to be frank, nil; however, there are things to be admired in the desire for total social justice. In the end it will be American ingenuity and drive which will bring the European ideals as close to reality as any human utopia is likely to come.

At the moment, though, there are many unpleasant tasks to be completed, not least of which is the political reduction of fundamentalist reactionaries in the Middle East. While this is currently viewed as primarily a military and law enforcement action I find myself speculating that in the future history will pass lightly over the decade (give or take five years) of conflict that begins this century and instead count as the great accomplishments of Twenty-First Century Western Civilization the reconstruction of political order in what is now mostly a cesspool of poverty, repression, tyranny and random, indiscriminate death. Let us be absolutely clear on this point: there are cultures too warped to survive without being corrected by outside influences, and there are cultures which are, at their very core, simply Evil. Not Evil in the religious sense (since even any hint of spirituality seems to give so many people hives), rather Evil in the sense that they do nothing to promote even a semblance of progress for human dignity and freedom. Evil in that they stand in active opposition to the very things which form the core of Western Cultural Liberalism: freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and oh-so-very importantly the freedom to try and to fail.

Friday, January 3

A commenter has raised a common challenge: my take on history is seriously lacking in details of the great events of the world. There were other suggestions as well, in particular relating to my recounting of recent events in my life. Finally, there was the inevitable conclusion that this is all some sort of warped fantasy. All in all, this is completely expected, and the only surprise is that it has happened so quickly.

Let me begin with history. I thought I had been clear regarding my experiences over the past thirty-five centuries. Perhaps JAE simply has a difficult time accepting simple statements, though I believe that is a somewhat unfair assessment. Let me restate: over the past many centuries I have categorically NOT been a driving force in the social and scientific evolution of mankind. I have made no great discoveries, I have fomented no revolutions, I have inspired no poets (at least, none of any renown) and I have not occupied the center of any but the smallest cultural circles. I was a slave. When I was not breaking my back in the fields or working my fingers to blistered agony I was on my back beneath some sweaty bastard who in many cases did not even know my name. It was a brutish and nasty existence during which my major concern was avoiding being discovered and burned alive/fed to wolves/stoned/drowned/hanged/beheaded or suffering any of the many other myriad inventive and extraordinarily unpleasant fates of those who raised the suspicions of peoples whose understanding of reality was based on worship of some cruel and fickle assortment of spirits and gods. Forgive me if I did not spend the first 20 centuries of my life studying up on world events so that I could play twenty questions with people who are just as predisposed to cast stones as those who would have destroyed me back in the ages of ignorance.

Next, my personal life. I will offer mea culpa on this point. Until this time I have never, never, made an effort to share my experiences with anyone outside an extremely closely held group. In a very odd way I find this exhilarating. It is as if I am confiding in a very dear friend, for the very first time in my life. I am not even sure why I am doing this- even with the precautions I have taken it represents an extraordinary breach a personal privacy policy which has kept me alive for more than three thousand years. I originally intended to merely offer commentary on world events. I did not, and still do not, care if anyone pays any attention- the counter is just my way of seeing if anyone has stopped by. It does not feed my ego in any way. Yet as I began my own private life suddenly intruded and I could not help but express those events here, and I will not stop. As to your suggestion that what is going on with my friends’ grandson is some warped seduction, I assure you it is not. This young man is in severe distress and as such he represents a grave threat to the public, and by way of association, to my very dear and trusted friends. If my intervention leads to seduction, so be it. If it leads to a decision to end his life… I have killed before, and for far less worthy reasons.

Finally, is this fantasy? Occam’s Razor demands that one treat it as such. To be completely honest, I am depending on such reasoning. I may be apparently ageless, but I am convinced that I can be destroyed. I see no need to hasten that day. Please, feel free to disbelieve.

Wednesday, January 1

And so it begins. I usually make a serious relocation only when it is time to “age out” of an extant identity- this prevents, at least to some degree, the difficulty of encountering old acquaintances in my new guise. Up until the last twenty years or so this has not been a terribly difficult process; however, the advent of computer and travel technology has made me face the reality that to continue operating as I have over the past thirty-five centuries I may be required to relocate to some less-developed part of the world, a prospect I do not greet with joy.

I am not afraid of hard living. I spent most of the first half of my life in bondage of one kind or another, often in situations where mere survival required serious efforts from all involved. Even in the later centuries the standard of living I enjoyed, while above average at the time, was usually something most modern westerners would find intolerable. It is not that humanity has gone soft; rather it is that the underlying expectations have changed. There are many people who would truly relish a return to hand-to-mouth existence. Most everybody else would die fairly quickly.

It is my experience that people resist change just enough in aggregate to keep from being overwhelmed while not causing stagnation. True Luddites seldom succeed for long – a society that turns inward and refuses to move forward is doomed to be overtaken by more dynamic peoples. Eventually they are absorbed, destroyed, or moved along by force. So, to move to some place still locked in the previous century (or even millennium) is something to be avoided. I prefer to live amongst those who delight in the future, rather than those mired in the past.