We can thank our long lost literary mentor, Ambrose Bierce, for the genesis of this colorful, extensive, and largely apocryphal word attributed by him, in his delightfully irreverent “Devil’s Dictionary”, to some equally lost Indian tribe likewise long ago consigned to a grateful perdition, and descriptive of what he describes as “a sudden disaster which strikes hard”. Being presently on the precipice of a long awaited, frightful, and yawning abyss into which the present world is being hastily catapulted, I find it a nomenclature particularly and highly appropriate for the grim juncture of affairs confronting a human race which Mr. Bierce regaled with his acerbic and mordant wit before mysteriously disappearing into the revolutionary wilds of 19th century Mexico. It was indeed the perennially disastrous and highly uncertain state of the human condition which attracted the skeptical and unrelenting devotion of “Bitter Bierce” to his literary devices which pitted the whims and largely hopeless expectations of human fancy against the cruel and inexorable workings of fate. Bierce’s personal experiences in the Ninth Indiana Infantry Regiment in American Civil War, especially his brutal experiences at the battle of Shiloh, augmented his significant personal familial tragedies to produce the hard bitten and iron clad pessimism which marked his literary output in such masterpieces as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “What I Saw at Shiloh” in addition to the humorously philosophic satire of ”The Devils Dictionary”.
With the cataclysmic geopolitical events now rapidly unfolding in the Middle East and Ukraine accompanying the ongoing international economic meltdown, and pancaking geo-engineering environmental catastrophes reaching full throttle, only the most sanguine and blissfully ignorant could fail to realize the specter of rampant, wanton destruction which is descending upon the human species. While the former remain blithely unengaged to the extent to which their capacities of discernment remain inoperative, clinging blindly to the manifold dead end distractions offered them by ubiquitous media immersion and mesmerization, others become inescapably overwhelmed by the vortices of panic and mass hysteria at the spiraling chaos. In either case we can discern the innate fallibility, the vulnerability of the unfortunate masses engendered by necessary and useful interdependence which can transform in an instant into its equally necessary concommittant-the spectacle of “every man for himself and God against all”. It is the great irony that this inevitable and distasteful conundrum with which Bierce was so conversant and unflinching in the observation of, is so long in the making, and yet appears so suddenly, irrevocably and disastrously.
“While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” 1 Thessalonians 5:3
Though Bierce, as with so many other American literary luminaries, was evidently possessed of no professed religion, it is evident that his philosophical cast of mind obviously allowed him the profound ruminations which naturally gravitate towards the metaphysical. And, as with so many of his contemporaries, his deep reflections upon the human condition led him just as naturally towards the inevitable confrontation with not only the moral dimensions of human character but the ridiculous excesses of vanity and folly which inhabit it as well. It must be remembered that during the battle of Rich Mountain, Bierce undertook the “daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade”. Such an action displays the courage and self sacrifice which in many ways speaks as loudly and convincingly as his literary gifts and more so. It is just this same deeply felt concern which informs and directs Bierce’s uncompromising vision which just as inevitably brought him into conflict with existing authority. As he writes, “We submit to the majority because we have to. But we are not compelled to call our subjection a posture of respect“ and further, “A popular author is one who writes about what people think. Genius invites them to think something else”.
It is just this “thinking something else” which necessarily informs those of us who can gain enough personal leverage to elevate ourselves above the onrushing current of temporal events to survey the past and look into the future long enough to gain the perspective necessary to understand the larger picture which comprises the full extent of our destiny, both collective and individual. As long as our vision remains obscured by the blinders which allow us to methodically and yet narrowly navigate the boundaries of the present avenue, we will remain in thrall to the limitations of convenience and certainty which safely prescribe and yet at the same time circumscribe our potential and actions often to our own detriment. Herein lies the lesson of our present crisis which is but itself a recapitulation of the same wrong turns and blind alleys which we are being led into yet again by hands leading us by reins all but invisible to us.