Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Born-again Boris

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THE stone had lain beside the river for an eternity, worn smooth by the wind and the pure essences of Heaven, until one day a finger of fire reached down from the sky. The stone began to glow, then swell, and finally burst open, revealing a golden male child.

The infant prospered. He found the world had changed immeasurably since his last life, but fortunately human gullibility remained the same. Although tutored in the finest academies, the revenant adopted the manner of a buffoon, since ribaldry clouded men’s minds and blinded them to his true purpose – the fulfilment of his destiny.

All obstacles to his advancement magically fell away until the moment when Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was acclaimed Serene Leader. Soon he held the island nation in the palm of his hand. At his frown, people would cease to hug one another and desist from more intimate acts. He had only to crook a little finger and his spellbound subjects would hasten back from foreign lands. ‘That Boris!’ they chuckled.

In rare moments of clarity, they would wonder where Boris the Benign was leading them. The emergency he had contrived showed no sign of abating. 

Perhaps the answer lay in Boris’s previous existence.

Do you believe in reincarnation? Get a life! Such mockery helps to explain why those who do keep it under their hats. But we are likely to be hearing a lot more on the subject in the coming weeks and months as an epic power struggle is waged over the soul of the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese insist that the choice of Tibet’s next spiritual and political leader lies with them alone. India, the Dalai Lama’s protector, has declared that only he can choose his successor. The man himself has pointed out mildly that he is only 86 and plans to live to 113 – adding the incendiary remark that he could be reincarnated in ‘a free country’. So it might as well be Llanelli as Lhasa.

What has this to do with Boris Johnson? Few can deny that he fits the definition of man of destiny. His ascendency defies rational explanation. Indolence, impulsiveness and mendacity should have disbarred him from holding high office. Yet his infectious belief that fate had chosen him for higher things has landed him in Downing Street. No prime minister of modern times – not even Churchill – has held such sway over the electorate’s personal behaviour and thoughts. Could it be that his assurance derives from experience in a previous life?

A further leap of the imagination might permit us to identify the person from whom Boris was reincarnated. By studying his former existence, we might have some inkling of whether Boris is striving to fulfil an uncompleted mission from his previous life. That might reveal what he has in store for us.

The Tibetan model for reincarnation serves as a good working guide. Investigators take into account such signs as where the Dalai Lama was looking when he died, which direction the wind was blowing when he was cremated and the visions of oracles. Search parties are sent out to find promising children who are put through a series of tests until the right one is located.

Reversing this process to find a previous incarnation is more tricky. A common assumption, embraced by many religious creeds, is that the dead person’s soul or spirit jumps straight into the body of the reincarnation. No one of any note died on Boris’s birthday, June 19, 1964.  However, Tibetan theology insists on a 49-day cooling-off period between death and reincarnation, which takes us back to May 1, 1964. No one of any consequence died on that day either.

Getting hung up on birth and death dates can be misleading, for various reasons. A safer bet is to look for similarities in the character, behaviour and, above all, the mark left on history by the once and future Boris. History will record that, transcending ‘getting Brexit done’, Johnson has created a surreal world in which little makes sense and the realities we took for granted have been turned upside down. A disorientated, bewildered society is largely his handiwork.

Tibetan divination and a clever algorithm have narrowed the search for the pre-Boris to one individual whose outrageous fantasy land was the equal of his. Step forward John Cleves Symmes, an American who persuaded millions of his fellow countrymen that the North and South Poles were giant holes, each the gateway to seven concentric spheres nestling one within the other.

Symmes, a former officer in the United States army, lectured to packed halls in the early decades of the 19th century, equipped with a wooden globe to demonstrate his Hollow Earth theory. He argued that weak refracted sunlight would make the inner earth habitable, being ‘a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men’.

Symmes was not mad. Little was known about the geographic poles at the time. He was simply following the science (sound familiar?) The concept of a hollow earth had been proposed in the previous century by Edmund Halley, the astronomer and discoverer of Halley’s Comet, to explain the different locations of the geographic and magnetic poles. The embellishment of concentric spheres beneath polar openings, which became known as Symmes’s Holes, was his unique contribution to science.

 At first sight Symmes and Johnson appear to have little in common, other than a privileged background, numerous children and a desire to enrich themselves. How to explain the 135-year hiatus between Symmes’s death on May 28, 1829, and Johnson’s birth? Tibetan lore is quite clear on this point. Depending on accumulated karma, the reincarnated consciousness can take animal, plant or even inanimate form during an intermediate stage. Symmes could in theory have been reincarnated as a banana, although he would have had a short shelf life. A more plausible candidate would be a tree or stone.

Symmes, born in New Jersey on November 5, 1780, received ‘a good common English education’ and at the age of 22 obtained a commission as an ensign in the US army. After 13 years’ service, he left as a captain in 1815 and set up as a supplier to the army. 

While contemplating Saturn’s rings in idle moments, Symmes experienced his polar openings revelation, which he announced in a circular to every institution and notable within the realm – to be greeted by gales of laughter. Undeterred, he embarked on a series of exhausting lecture tours across the country. He was not an impressive public speaker, but his persistence gradually won people over. 

Symmes’s objective was to mount an Arctic expedition. To this end he unsuccessfully lobbied Congress for funds to fit out two vessels. He outlined another expedition, leaving Siberia by reindeer sledge and following the caribou migration to the North Pole, or so he imagined. But the days of rich benefactors willing to sponsor Arctic expeditions were well into the future. 

The incessant lecture tours took a toll on his health and in 1829 he died, aged 48, a frustrated man who remained convinced of his theory until the end. Today, ‘Symmes’s Hole’ is a byword for bogusness.

One begins to discern, in this tale of grand delusion, the outlines of Boris’s purpose. It seems his aim is not to vindicate Symmes, but to give substance to the man’s vision. Whereas Symmes failed to gain official endorsement, Boris had the satisfaction of winning over the Establishment that had so derided him over Brexit. The latter’s Project Fear had taught him a valuable lesson: calling people stupid was counter-productive; they needed to be encouraged and applauded. With the constant recitation of mantras and rituals (‘Hands, face, space’; ‘Jabs, jabs, jabs, then jobs, jobs, jobs’), the populace quickly succumbed to his enchantment. Etiolated and enfeebled, they wandered around distractedly before slumping in front of their television sets, awaiting new directions. 

They awoke one day to find they had followed the Serene Leader down a rabbit hole to a sombre, frightening place of distorted realities. A course of genie-therapy soon eased their fears, permitting them to adjust to the contradictions of his daily edicts. Boris’s words took on new meanings. ‘Freedom’ meant restricted movement; a rise of infection among twice-vaccinated people shows that the vaccination policy is working.

So where is Boris leading us? What is his motive? The short answer is payback. All those years of public ridicule must have stung and caused burning resentment. Are we now experiencing a time of reckoning? What else could explain Boris’s rejection of a potent, cheap anti-viral drug, ivermectin, that could have snuffed out the epidemic? Why else would he contract drug companies to produce vaccines designed not to prevent the pandemic, but to perpetuate it and damage human organs?

For Symmes it’s all a bit late. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but not with mould growing on it. As for Boris, fate is inexorable: posterity will record that he, like his predecessor, became a byword for fraudulence.

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Stuart Wavell
Stuart Wavell is a former Paris correspondent of the Sunday Times.

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