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Metaphysical Boundaries

Chapter 2
Part 1
The Good, the Bad and the Worse

©05 Levite
Metaphysical Thesis
Web Published on The Media Desk

Overview and Index

      [Note: For the purposes of this paper (which is not a Christian Apologetic piece but a non-religious examination of the topic 'metaphysics') the words 'divine' and 'supernatural' and so on will stand in for any and all variations and perambulations possible for any extra-natural, non-human, spiritual, or otherwise intelligence or entity with regards to its role in the mundane world. The author’s own definition of God is best defined as ‘the uncaused first cause’ alluded to in Aristotle’s works. Thank you]
      [Further Note: No disrespect or slight of any named Deity is intended. Superior Beings of many faiths are named in this discussion and all are treated as they are presented by their followers at face value. No judgments by the author are made or intended to be inferred from this work.]

As an Academic Work In Progress-
portions of this paper may be revised at any time.
Some sections of this work deal with decidedly adult themes although those sections are intended as academic discussion, they may offend some persons who wish and are looking to be offended. You have been warned.

"Every Excess Becomes A Vice" fortune cookie version of Yoga teaching

      This will be end up being an intense discussion of an uncomfortable subject…

      But First, a very good bad example.

      The Empire was in trouble. The current ruler had allowed his own personal weirdness and taste for extreme entertainment and indulgence to take over his obligations to the State. The lower ranking officials of the realm were out running amuck taxing and fighting and draining the entire civilization of its very life's blood. Tiberius was many things, none of them being a good ruler. The Roman Senate knew, and even the slaves in the streets knew that unless the next Caesar turned the ship of state around, Rome herself was in trouble.
      They had Tiberius. When he moved on to wherever dead emperors go… They got… Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus.


      From bad to worse scarcely covers it.

      Tiberius had removed himself from government and let Sejanus, the Prefect, run the empire as he saw fit. Including turning Rome into an armed camp with legions actually quartered inside the city wall while far to the north, two legions mutinied over pay issues. Some of the reports of Tiberius's excesses in sexual matters may be exaggerated, however, if even only half are true, the aging emperor, he was in his late seventies when he died- ancient for the time, knew how to have fun. However, the intrigue, infighting, charges and countercharges in the capitol cannot be exaggerated. Executions were commonplace, the charge most often used was treason, and the only way to ensure a natural death was to stay both out of power and out of Rome. When the old man died, some say with help from his nephew, and with Tiberius's surviving offspring a young child, Caligula seized power.
      His rule started out as a breath of fresh air compared to his uncle's reign (it is possible Tiberius was both his grandfather and his uncle, seems the family tree is somewhat tangled). He brought control of the empire back to where it belonged, did away with wholesale executions, and basically put Rome's house back in order. But it didn't last long. After an illness shortly after his succession, Caligula seems to have lost his mind.
      His campaign against Britain is the most famous military invasion which never occurred. He marched entire legions around in circles and then proclaimed victories over enemies which didn't exist. Then he went home to a lavish victory celebration which only added to the costs to the empire of the expedition which proved nothing except getting the Emperor out of Rome for a time.
      Until now Roman emperors usually kept their perversions and 'eccentric' behaviors to themselves. In private pleasure palaces (literally) where select favorites of the ruler indulged in whims and fantasies. Now there was a brothel in the palace and the trials resumed on charges ranging from the old favorite of treason to some absolutely outlandish trumped up nonsense. All of which was punished by ever more cruelly inflicted death. Until finally one of the numerous plots against him came to fruition and he died something other than a natural death. And even at that there is rumor that just maybe his uncle Claudius was more than an innocent bystander who was hiding in the bathroom when the deal went down.
      For having spent less than four years on the throne (March 37 AD to January of 41 AD), Caligula became forever synonymous with the phrase "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely."

      Some straight-laced Roman historians and dry mouthed academics say that Bob Guccione's 1979 movie about Caligula went overboard in its portrayal of his excesses and obsession with physical pleasure. Not to mention his almost total disregard for Imperial matters.
      Even a brief read in a sanitized history of Rome gives one the impression that Guccione's adaptation of Gore Vidal's script didn't go far enough.
      There is no record that Caligula ever actually named his horse Consul, but there is plenty of documentation that he may have seriously considered it. And his relationship with his sister(s) even in the most sterile history will leave some eyebrows raised.
      From over two millennia out Caligula's legacy is one of disbelief and in some cases, blushes. He is one ancient ruler who does not pale in contrast to modern ones. His level of brutality holds up well to the best Stalin could muster. Bill Clinton's sexual depravity can be weighed in the balance against his and will come up far short (nobody has accused Clinton of incest at least). Even Imelda Marcos's wanton spending habits on frivolities while the peasants of her country starved doesn't hold water when you consider Caligula bankrupted the empire to pay for his pretend assault of the British Isles. At least Imelda had the shoes she paid for out of the national treasury.

      Does the fact that he was totally mad in the classical sense give Caligula a pass for his behavior? Did the Roman Emperor actually have the authority to declare himself a god (with the approval of the Senate, those who dared voted against him were assured a swift execution) while he was still alive in the tradition of the 'divine' pharaohs, even if he could deify his sister Drusilla, after she died suddenly not long after he took the throne?
      True enough, Augustus began the cult of assigning divine attributes to the Roman Emperor, but it reached its zenith under Caligula. And remained an official position, or official tradition, even through Diocletian some two hundred years later, where those coming into his presence had to prostrate themselves on the ground in front of him, under pain of death if they did not. Some later Holy Roman Emperors continued the practice in hollow mimic of the Great Caesars.
      But it is the rampant immorality of leaders such as Caligula that strike us moreso than the political intrigues of assembly line courts having nobles with hidden agendas beheaded every so often.
      We read stories about Pope John the Twelfth and his 'companions' who lived in the Papal Palace, the Lateran, who engaged in behaviors that got so bad some histories even discuss it as an actual 'bawdy-house'. The Rome of the Pope in the middle of the tenth century was morally almost as bad as the worst of times of Imperial Rome under Tiberius and Caligula.
      It is easy to understand how two relatively young men, Caligula was in his late twenties when he took power, Octavius Alberic was by some accounts as young as sixteen and most certainly no older than twenty or so when he became John the Twelfth, could find high office intoxicating and drive whatever vehicle they found personal pleasure or amusement in to the absolute extereme. But still....
      Is there something in the water in Rome that accounts for such corruption and degradation of otherwise respected offices?
      It is most likely a combination of the fact that for a thousand years civilization was centered on The Eternal City and it was the focus of historians secular and sacred.
      But debauchery was not invented there, although it could be said that our two current examples perfected the art. And it wasn't exclusive to Rome.
      King Henry the Eighth did his fair share of womanizing. The good king had multiple mistresses while married, and even tried to seduce a couple of his favorites by promising they would be his sole mistress, while he remained married to the queen whose job it was to provide the heir and a spare. Rasputin (the Mad Monk) in Tzar Nicholas' court in Moscow not only committed all the old sins with wine and women, he evidently tried to invent some new ones, including Blasphemy for Fun and Profit.
      And philandering isn't an exclusive to men in power. Tzar Catherine the Great is rumored to have had several lovers while on the throne. Estimates vary wildly from a couple of dozen throughout her reign to as many as four hundred. Eleanor Roosevelt was supposed to have sought comfort with another woman while Franklin swung between illness and the arms Lucy Mercer. Rumors abound, but it is clear that neither of them was a model spouse.

      Now the question….
      What in the name of Solomon's Palace has Eleanor's supposed girlfriend and all the rest have to do with Metaphysics?

      No problem. One quick detour to another example and some summarizing and we are on our way.

      The Biblical King David was described in the New Testament as a "Man after God's own heart" in Acts 13:22. Yet he also committed some of the same sins that have knocked modern televangelists off the air for keeps. And he even went one step further- Murder.

      The bottom line is this. Humans are Humans. We are more or less frail creatures, more apt to fail than to succeed, and likely as not, when we face temptation, we succumb to it far more often than we successfully resist it. And when we are placed in a position of power and influence, we tend to abuse that power to our own ends instead of working it toward the common good.
      All of the people named above were in positions of power and authority. Popes and Kings and Presidents and so on. Even Eleanor was the 'eyes and ears' of FDR in Europe during WWII and later she was one of the voices behind the development of the United Nations as the US's ambassador to the organization and a leader in the drafting its Declaration of Human Rights.
      All should have been held to the highest of standards.
      And all fell short in one way or another.
      And surprisingly even though Caligula and John the Twelfth seem to lack any redeeming qualities other than being good bad examples, still some good came of their times in power. The Roman Senate realized they need to have some way of checking the power of the Emperor, with decidedly mixed results over the next few centuries. And the Church came to understand that it is a tough game to play when you mix religion and politics too heavily. Something which is still being talked about today.

      Are the temptations more powerful when you are running an Empire… or does it just get better press coverage and is thereby recorded to history?
      Well in the case of a President and most of the others we've looked at so far, most likely both.
      Except in Caligula's case.
      The actual objective documentation of Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus' reign, 37 to 41 AD, is the scarcest of any of the Emperors before or after him. There simply are very few records of him and his times, and by some accounts- only two reliable sources from the period survive. The accounts by the 'journalists' of the time are invariably poison-pen type documents. And some of them admit they are exaggerating some of the events for effect. Others are loaded with opinions as to what caused his madness or the more lurid details of incest or murder… or both.
      Part of the lack of documentation is that Caligula did very little officially that was worth writing down for posterity. There was little need to record a week long orgy of sex and violence when such an event was actually commonplace. Why go through the list of charges against various nobles when the charges were invented and it was a forgone conclusion they would be executed in some new and creative way to entertain the Emperor's current circle of favorites. Who would most likely be next month's entertainment themselves.

"Would that Rome had but one neck."
Caligula. (source- Seneca 4 BC - 65 AD, written nearly a hundred years after the fact)

      We've already touched on the subject of this chapter, and it was mentioned, although somewhat in passing, in the opening chapter, but now we shall wade through it to our armpits.
      Morality. Why?

      Murder is something that is regarded almost universally as something that you shouldn't make a habit of. Killing in self defense or while involved with a war is more or less an accepted evil, a 'we don't like it, but sometimes you have to' type of thing. Yet killing in cold blood, or under false pretenses, or even for political gain, is most usually regarded as wrong. Except when you look at how some of the dynasties of the last thousand years ran, Murder was a recognized way to the top. Which then made you a target unless you knocked off everybody who was more than half-bright (for one who probably wasn't check out Claudius sometime, was he really an imbecile or did he just play one to stay alive? We may never know.) with designs on a sudden promotion.

      It is well documented that certain animals do not have sexual relations with their near relatives. Great apes, big cats, dolphins, and so on. They seem to know that that kind of thing will lead to problems down the road if offspring result from the act.
      One of the best known works of the ancient Greek playwrites Oedipus Rex by Sophocles tells of how it brought a royal household to ruin even when the characters didn't know what they were doing going in. Freud used the main character's name to title his theory about when family love goes too far.
      There are laws both religious and secular regarding incest. Generally speaking, everybody from Muhammad to Buddha and the Legal Authority of the Crown were against it. Yet there is ample evidence that what many regard as the final taboo was engaged in by many of those who live above the rest of us. To the point where inbreeding was so bad in the Royal Houses of Europe hemophilia almost became a passport to the throne.
      One of the ways King Henry disposed of at least one of his queens was to accuse her of incest with her own brother. Which had the effect of doubling the charge against her. If the queen committed adultery it was considered Treason against the Crown because of the chance of the heir not being of royal blood, incest just put a little hot sauce in the soup. Once accused, there was no defense. Much like a charge of racism, sexual harassment or pedophilia today.

      Adultery and other sexual depravity, other than incest, is thought by many to be something of an entitlement to those that move in those higher circles. In the U.S. the Kennedy men were known to play the field, even while their wives were home bringing forth more Kennedy's. It was one of the defenses used by certain TV talking heads that JFK had a fling or five while in the White House, one of those being Marilyn Monroe, so why couldn't Clinton get busy with some fat chick in a beret and maybe even Denise Rich while he was pardoning felons and bombing camel corrals?
      The classic Hellfire Club in London and its more modern copies (which we will speak of in depth later), many of which are simply pathetically thin plastic imitations, were looked upon by those in Society as a place where boys could be boys, so long as they didn't bring anything nasty home. While they were a source of a good wage and left the au pair alone (most of the time), things were OK. The Ladies of Society had their liaisons as well. Usually with someone who could be guaranteed to be discrete and leave through an upstairs window if the Master came home unexpectedly. And some of those ladies, like Claudius's Messalina, had scripts of their own which they were operating under.
      And it wasn't just the moneyed classes in London and New York or Ancient Rome who were seeking 'entertainment' outside the marital bedroom either.
      Savannah, Georgia's trysts and the New Orleans circles of high rollers are the stuff of legend, and movies. Houston is known for more than Enron and stuck up debutantes (the purity of both has been the subject of great inquiry). Even some small towns have those that do and those that know and those that smile when certain ones walk by. There was a lot more truth in the song 'Harper Valley PTA' than most people would admit too. [And if you remember chapter 1 of this effort, the song was written by that storyteller we looked at in depth, Tom T Hall.] We join said song already in progress…


Well, it happened that the P.T.A. was gonna meet that very afternoon
They were sure surprised when Mrs. Johnson wore her mini-skirt into the room
And as she walked up to the blackboard, I still recall the words she had to say
She said, "I'd like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley P.T.A."

Well, there's Bobby Taylor sittin' there and seven times he's asked me for a date
Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lot of ice whenever he's away
And Mr. Baker, can you tell us why your secretary had to leave this town?
And shouldn't widow Jones be told to keep her window shades all pulled completely down?

Well, Mr. Harper couldn't be here 'cause he stayed too long at Kelly's Bar again
And if you smell Shirley Thompson's breath, you'll find she's had a little nip of gin
Then you have the nerve to tell me you think that as a mother I'm not fit
Well, this is just a little Peyton Place and you're all Harper Valley hypocrites

HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. original release date, 1968
artist- Jeannie C. Riley. Lyrics- Tom T. Hall

      "Peyton Place", as mentioned in the song, was a book and movie from the fifties. A white picket fence melodrama about who's doing who who's not supposed to be. It was basically a soap opera which was exceptionally well done as a theatrical release. Its grandchildren are TV's current batch of lingerie and cocktails prime time soaps and of course, the aging batch of daytime melodramas.
      The book was written by a woman who cranked out quite a few 'almost shocking' books. Grace Metalious wrote several novels whose prime directive seemed to be to make the ladies that read them blush about twice per chapter. From all reports, they succeeded. And Peyton Place and its "Return" sequel were the best of the lot.
      Part of the attraction of Peyton Place was that it could be Any Place in the country, and even the world for the most part. The people in it were the archetypes and stereotypes that rang true to the lives of the people that read and watched. They knew them, or somebody like them. And while the circumstances in the stories were sensationalized, everybody knew of at least one situation that was almost as sensational in their own community.
      It was immorality on parade when everybody was supposed to be pictures of virtue and most people that could think clearly knew that was so much claptrap.
      Today's conservative popular historians and talk show hosts point to the Fifties and that decade's "Leave it to Beaver/Father Knows Best" image as the way America truly was. Evidently the housewives reading Metalious' books at the time knew better.
      The Sexual Revolution of the sixties did not spring up out of a bare field. There was plenty of fertilizer already in the ground for it to feed on, and the lives of those in power and those that wanted to be to look to for example. And looking back to our Roman Holiday examples, nothing was really new after all was it?

      While most of the citizens of the country weren't wallowing in the filth common in the various courts of the aristocracy we talked about earlier, most likely they did know which Sunday School Teacher was rumored to be doing things not talked about in her Sunday School Books.
      Real Life in the white picket fence world with Mom in an apron and lawns where dandelions were ruthlessly hunted down and exterminated was hopelessly dull. Life in the city where Ed and Ralph worked mundane jobs and the women kept up the apartment and socialized over coffee was fatally monotonous. No wonder they picked up books like these… if they weren't doing all those fascinating things, at least they could read about it. And Metalious's books were simply an earlier version of the 'tight lace bodice and flannel shirt button popping' formula romances which weigh down so many women's nightstands in middle class America today.
      It isn't that most people would even want to be involved in the kinds of things that make the 'titillation and blush' daytime talk shows so popular. It seems to be enough that they know there are people more twisted and depraved than they are.
      Everybody, well, most everybody, has some sort of kink or other. They are obsessed about this or that, or have a closet perversion they don't want their grandmothers to find out about. Sure, you are straight as an arrow with nothing hiding under your bed, and you don't think your friends and family are any different (well there was Uncle Larry that got into that mess with the interior decorator and the collie, but we don't talk about him)… BUT, if you had the chance, and the money, and it was unlikely anybody would be video taping it, there were those cheerleaders from the State College and you'd like to… just ONCE… before you die…

      So it seems to be that we expect those born into the higher castes of society to behave like so many of them so often do.
      And maybe those who end up in positions where they have extra money and don't have to get up early in the morning to be at the factory by seven get bored and find the excitement of dabbling in drugs and fast cars and the late night club scene and loud music and fancy watches and….
      And then there are those that get into the corner office and try to do the right thing, but the crowd they are now moving with is into all this and that and….

      But wait a minute.
      Why. Is. It. Wrong.

      OK. Let's dismiss for a minute that those funny cigarettes are illegal. And carousing above the speed limit can lead to diseases. And the sheer expense of staffing and maintaining a pleasure palace complete with live band and fully stocked wine cellar can bankrupt almost anybody this side of a billionaire.
      Why is it wrong to do so?

      Is there such a thing as an overriding human morality?
      Are there things that are Wrong and that you just shouldn't do even if you can and want to?
      Even if there isn't a 'controlling legal authority' is there a Controlling Moral Authority?
      If one subscribes to any of the various mainstream religions. Yes.
      If one belongs to some of the fraternal organization with a code of conduct. Yes.
      If your boss will fire you if you do things that reflect badly on the business that end up on the eleven o'clock news. Yes.
      And so on.
      Somebody or something is holding you to an ideal of how you should act and how you should speak and so on.
      But if none of those strictures apply. If you are your own boss and there is nobody digging through your sock drawer or sorting your garbage, then what? If money is no object and you have time on your hands and you can find, or buy, people with whom to indulge. Why do we still consider it immoral?

      We as inheritors of the Judeo-Christian traditions, like it or not, do consider some things simply Right and Wrong. There is an Absolute which dictates what is and is not to be allowed.
      We have based our legal standards on it, we teach it to our children and expect it from others.
      And those laws do prevail in most cultures around the world. Whether based in Eastern Religions or no admitted religion at all. Murder, rape, theft, incest and so on, are simply Wrong in societies that claim to be Civilized, and just as Wrong in some that are just this side of 'the Stone Age'.
      But why?

      Let's look at some for instances.

      If Caligula and Drusilla were both consenting adults and took precautions against impregnation, was their intimacy actually wrong?
      Well, to our sense of things. Yes. Under Jewish, and several other religious laws, yes. Even under Roman law and custom, Yes.
      Witness something that was happening in Corinth, OK, it was a Greek city, but it was under Roman law:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
First Corinthians Five, verses one and two

      The Apostle Paul tells us that this was something that the Pagans didn't even do. Now that's got to be bad.
      Imperial Rome was pretty permissive if you had money or position. And as Emperor, and even earlier in a ceremonial position as Quaestor under Tiberious, "Little Boots" - Caligula - had basically a free run of the place. But even then, incest could have gotten him at least a stern lecture, if not a death sentence.

      The local government has decreed that something isn't to be done. Let's say, the flying of kites, the keeping of songbirds in cages, whistling, or even have a window open in your own house.
      You think that the laws are ludicrous. But since the government has the police, and the militia, and the secret police, and informants, and… well, you think your own brother in law might turn you in, you comply.
      Does that make flying a kite immoral? Are you a more moral person for toeing the line and following the directives even when you know them to be nonsense? Is acting in the fear of Draconian punishment enough to make you a good person?

Time out.
      The laws we are speaking of were on the books up until a couple of years ago.
      And they were Draconian in the classic sense of the word. And by the dictionary's definition.
      Under Draco's law in Athens, Greece (about 600 BC) if you stole a piece of fruit from a street vendor you could be put to death upon conviction, even if you stole it because you were starving. Almost any infraction was quickly and severely punished
      Under the law of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 1990's you could be beaten to death with rifle butts by the militia if they thought you had trimmed your beard. Same holds true under the Saudi Religious Police today (more on that later).
Time in.

      So those good people of Kabul, living in constant fear and in solitude lest somebody accuse them of something the Talib didn't like were the most moral people on Earth.
      When the Mullah's and their Talib storm troopers seized power after the Russians pulled out, the people of the country began burying their TVs and radios in their yards and concealing their books inside the walls of their houses against the day when the fanatics would be gone. The women wore makeup and frilly lingerie under their burkahs (some had even been reported as going naked under them) yet they risked being shot in the head by the Talib if they exposed so much as an uncovered ankle.
      Most of the people of the country were not, and are not, religious fanatics. Just as today, most people in Saudi Arabia are not fanatical Wahabists. Yet that is the flavor of the country, the overall attitude of the government as the official State Religion, and the way the man on the street has to behave to stay alive and free in the kingdom. Women are property, children have no rights, and foreigners are considered infidel spies until proven dead. Does that make their Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Mutaween, the Religious Police, the ultimate arbitrator of what is to be allowed, even when it causes the deaths of innocents, right since it is the Moral Authority?

From the BBC News Service

Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.
In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.
One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".
The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".
The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.
"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.
BBC 15 March, 2002

      Legally Enforced Morality. Or Immoral Legal Enforcement.
      Sometimes it appears to be both.
      We'll get back on track now.
      What if a young athlete has more cash than he can spend by himself and three months worth of off-season to kill, and he can find willing partners who are more than happy to help him spend more money than most people make in a year on a long weekend of debauchery. Why would that be wrong, providing nobody ends up face down in the swimming pool?
      Going in on that one we pause. We qualify it by asking if they'd be using narcotics, or carding the participants to make sure they were of legal age. Then we wonder whether or not him and his friends couldn't work at a soup kitchen for the night instead of chugging imported ale. Did his team win the championship and he promised his schoolmates a blowout party when they did?
      Wine, women, and song have a long tradition, why should this be different. Are they actually hurting anybody?
      To the old Puritan blood that still runs through most of America, that kind of recreation is simply Evil. A wild and reckless drunken brawl of sex and blasting music…. And… It's a Roman Orgy!
      Well yes it is. We are back to Caligula. He wasn't really an athlete but… well… the rest of it is the same. And in his case, people did end up face down in the pool, or worse.
      The young Emperor had plenty of enthusiastic admirers, some of whom were paid to fawn at his every word, and many of those were willing to risk ending up on display if he so chose to party hearty with The Man.
      But if He was the Law, and he, in fact, was, and if He was their god, and he said he was, which was good enough for those around him… How could it be wrong?

Continued In part two
Overview and Index

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