By his own hand


Today is Emperor Norton Day. In which Psi Upper Norton, real people in an imaginary fraternity, celebrate Joshua Norton, real man and imaginary emperor of the United States. It’s a strange week to celebrate. We’ve just memorialized and eulogized a hero of ours. A champion of mental discipline and self-insight. So do we honor an escapist? I say yes. We honor this escapist. The world had room for both of them, and the debate over whose life was more worth having, is worth having.

In this argument, the Leader of the Opposition is Neil. It was from Gaiman that I first heard the story, and was asked to consider it noble. No surprise. Everything that man writes is about What Myths Are and where in our non-myth world they are supposed to fit. He may consider myth-making the essential human trait. If the universe will not give us gods, quests, measurements and legacies, then we make them. Apes can make shelters and ants can make networks, but imagination is where we become human. And. When the world falls in, and we’re out of money, and love, and hope, what we have left is myth. Making someone who chooses fantasy over death a hero. A last-ditch defender of the human mind. Put otherwise,

That is real freedom. … understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

How you do this is the killer for me. The Son of Sam had rich set of personal myths. Turkmenbashi is a god. We’d all do better without elaborate personal fantasies, wouldn’t we? Most of us would. But Neil anticipated the question.

"Norton has shed no blood, robbed no one, and despoiled no country, which is more than can be said for most fellows in the king line."

Go back to the first link in this entry. Compare everything done with the life of Charles Manson. With Kim Jong-Ill. What accounts for the difference? Not a lack of real power. Motivated nobodies can be monsters, and their myths probably help. I say it’s empathy. Aren’t love, money, gods and tribes excuses to be with other people? Mental bridges that somewhere between making them up and using them, define humanness in a way no external force will? Joshua’s story reads like a person who knew he needed other people to live. So when the world didn’t give him any reason to love them, he made one up. So Psi Upper Norton celebrates Emperor Norton Day. In the hope that when life does not go as expected, we can all be good or crazy enough to say what Dave Wallace could not.

I am content to be what I am.

Joshua Norton (1819-1880)

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