A return to the Byzantine

When the Greek city states of Athens and Sparta found themselves allied against the massive armies of the Persian king Darius and his son Xerxes (Circa 460 BC), they established a narrative about the “Barbarian” people threatening Greek society. Later, the very same narrative was adopted by the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine the Great, who having converted to Christianity in 313 AD, consolidated his authority by invoking the threat of barbarian violence.

In 1095 AD, Catholic Church sponsored Crusades against the “barbaric” Muslim world came to demonstrate reliance upon Christian barbarism as state strategy, and the conflict between the Christian West and Islamic East became embedded within a cultural narrative still current in the minds of some today.

Propaganda being what it is, the use of the term “barbarian” remains valuable. Diminishing the humanity of others is a necessary component of legitimizing their elimination, converting acts of murder and persecution into righteousness. This pattern is so old as to make one wonder if civilization has accomplished anything at all.

There are those who still characterize world events as a clash of civilizations, West vs. East, Christianity vs. Islam, Democracy vs. Dictatorship, etc. For some people this feels true, and when the world was large and territorial conquest was a major focus of attention it even contained some legitimacy. As a species and a planet, however, we are well past the point when such an outlook has longterm value.

The climate crisis facing our planet renders political and territorial considerations moot; global warming knows no borders nor respects national policy. The planet is a living system operating through complex, non-linear relationships; effects build upon others, feedback loops alter assumptions, patterns change; equilibrium on human terms is non-existent. Human civilization is affecting the planetary systems, and indications are that changes ahead might result in what’s being called “the 6th extinction.”

Ironically, the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, inheritor of Constantine’s mighty Roman empire, is now one of the world’s leading spokespersons warning against the dangers of climate change, income inequality and the manipulative use of narratives justifying state violence.

Meanwhile, the new White House administration has ramped up its propaganda about barbaric Islamic terrorism. It has found itself aligned with, of all nations, Russia, where Vladimir Putin is pursuing an ideological war against “degenerates” and Islamic societies at Russia’s borders. The Russian Orthodox Church, now re-legitimized in the former Soviet Union, has helped to re-establish “traditionalist” cultural norms. Accordingly, the Trump/Putin bromance is best understood through attention to cultural events that happened almost two-thousand years ago.

America is not a Christian nation, but politically the Republican Party depends greatly upon the conservative Christian and Evangelical Christian communities for its success. This is an advantage the Democratic Party does not enjoy, and places it in a difficult position. It was recently reported that Steve Bannon, Special Advisor to the President, has deepened contacts within the traditionalist Catholic Church, cultivating Vatican bishops opposed to Pope Francis and his left-leaning policies. Bannon has openly defended his conviction that the West is engaged in an ideological war with Islamic culture, and he explicitly advocates actions and policies in line with such views. And now Steve Bannon has the ready ear of America’s President.

Make no mistake about it; an American ban on Muslim immigrants combined with constant White House propaganda about the barbaric catastrophe of imminent Islamic terror is nothing short of Byzantine.

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