Saturday, November 17, 2012

Secret Societies: Japan, the Enlightenment, Graffiti

Awhile ago I wrote a post about similarities between graffiti crews in contemporary America (and the world) and artist's groups in Tokugawa Japan. For example, in both places the group accepted people from various otherwise disparate social groups and classes and in both cases group members would adopt a name specific to the group. I now find that 18th Century was festooned with similar secret societies. From an article in Wired:
Hundreds of thousands of Europeans belonged to secret societies in the 18th century, Önnerfors explained to Megyesi; in Sweden alone, there were more than a hundred orders. Though they were clandestine, they were often remarkably inclusive. Many welcomed noblemen and merchants alike—a rare egalitarian practice in an era of strict social hierarchies. That made the orders dangerous to the state. They also frequently didn’t care about their adherents’ Christian denomination, making these orders—especially the biggest of them, Freemasonry—an implicit threat to the authority of the Catholic Church. In 1738 Pope Clement XII forbade all Catholics from joining a Masonic lodge. Others implied that the male-only groups might be hotbeds of sodomy. Not long after, rumors started that members of these orders actually worshipped the devil.

These societies were the incubators of democracy, modern science, and ecumenical religion. They elected their own leaders and drew up constitutions to govern their operations. It wasn’t an accident that Voltaire, George Washington, and Ben Franklin were all active members. And just like today’s networked radicals, much of their power was wrapped up in their ability to stay anonymous and keep their communications secret.
Who'd have thought that the Masons are kissing cousins to the AIDS crew, or PFE, LNR, or ADHD?

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