1000 ways to die, reading the signs of life, heaven and hell for dummies

Watch a show like 1000 Ways to die and you will quickly notice that most of the horrible hellish deaths on the show are the result, frequently, of sheer stupidity.  The correct thing to do with a show like this is to learn from it. Do not do as these people have done, lest you die a horrible painful and pitifully stupid death.. as Bismark once said, it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than from your own.

This is the beauty of reading, it is usually a sort of vicarious living. But this can be made into not only a life enhancing tool, but a life saving tool.

Reading is not a substitute for reality, but a good reader, a clever reader, can use books as an aid, along with observations of other people, and live vicariously. Experiencing the mistakes strengths and weaknesses of characters, and deriving lessons from them.

Not “taking something home” from a book is kind of stupid. The most successful people I’ve met, either materially, or intellectually, or spiritually, all had this ability. Literacy is highly under-rated.  Being literate has saved lives, it could save yours someday. If you use it correctly.

So there I was, hanging out with Khalid Bey, physicist and man about town, (and to those who don’t understand him, seemingly a curmudgeon), when he ran an interesting theological hypothesis by me yesterday.

The guy is in the habit of rhetorically and logically “socking it to me”, in provocative ways. Of challenging me and my perceptions with arguments that seem insane at first, but then forcing me into seeing the very real logical thread behind it. This particular hypothesis of his has merit to it, once you understand (*see footnote).

Khalid Bey “Kemal, I just realized. Only stupid people go to hell, and only smart people get go to paradise. Moreover I have proof for this hypothesis!”

Kemal: “Oh come on man? ” “That’s pretty offensive and an irresponsible thing to say. It’s not like it’s anyone’s fault for being stupid. How can someone be held morally responsible for lacking intellect?”

So we continued and meandered down a winding road of theological speculation, and logic, before he pulled the scripture red-card out.

He backed this statement up based on the exegeses of a few Quranic ayats (verses) in which the denizens of the fire are complaining that had they but yaqilun, e.g. used their intellect, or reason, they would not be in their predicament. The predicament in question being the rather unpleasant infernal state of being roasted alive in perpetuity.

The actual verses themselves are important, but for the sake of time I’ll post them in a later post.

The strong hypothesis and a weak hypothesis are based on this, not to go into all of the details, but let’s wrap our fingers around it for a moment. The basic hypothesis is independent of your literally believing in hell or heaven after death. It’s independent of any belief in the post-mortem continuity of your consciousness, after death.

For one, Islam states that such states do exist after your death, and it would be quite foolish to disregard this, but let’s .. for the sake of argument pretend that your consciousness is simply a set of biological and chemical processes, that rapidly start to dissolve and finally are extinguished with your physical death and decay, the fact remains that Heaven and Hell are pretty good analogs for earthly conditions in everyday life.

For some people, there certainly is an idea of hell on earth (or in Sartre’s case, hell in other people). In any case, the tendency to wind up in Hellishly bad predicaments in life may often be a result of poor planning and lack of foresight, in other words stupidity. The tendency to wind up in more pleasant predicaments, in life, may be a result of better planning and considerable foresight. Which frankly, is pretty smart.

Not always of course, there is the storm and the calm afterwards. Sometimes times of great transition in life appear hellish at first independent of all of our efforts to advert them. Sometimes life seems to just sock us in the face and “Stuff Happens.. or rather brown fecal material happens”

But often times, landing in hells on earth are prefaced by tells, signs, patterns that if we are smart enough to read we can avoid. In other words, by intelligently reading life itself, we can avoid states that would seem hellish to us. We can avoid becoming victims to horrible crimes and assaults by intelligently reading situations and places. Not always, sometimes it seems “Bad things happen to good people” but you can ameliorate the possibility of really crappy things happening to you by protecting yourself against certain risks.

Examples for this are so numerous that it would insult your intelligence if I listed them out.

Secondly, we state contend it as truth, that your individual consciousness truly does survive death, in some way, and finds an ultimate home either in a heaven like state or a hell like state, then lacking literal belief in any of this is irrelevant, because the existential state is independent of belief in it.

Unless you subscribe to one of those odd… New Age philosophies that we create reality mentally (showing a misunderstanding of what exactly reality truly is), and so after death if you find yourself in hell this is a mental prison and limitation that can be transcended by your realizing the reality of your situation and manifesting a different state, well there are logical inconsistencies with this belief system and, in any case, if you make or manifest your own reality and you manifest yourself in hell, well that’s pretty stupid now. Ain’t it?

So Hell is still for stupid people.

If – for the sake of argument – you want to dredge up the diea of transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation (which are slightly actually different things) as actual phenomenon, then “hell” and “heaven” are still analogs for states of being, wretchedness (al-shaqawa) and felicity (al-sa’adat) – so being reborn endlessly as a rural outhouse worm in a latrine, out in some rural area, in the hinterlands around Peshawar, is probably a Hellish state. And being reborn as a dot com billionaire with a harem of Ukrainian A list models at his disposal is somewhat analogues to a heavenly like state…  For some people, anyway.

I mentioned Hell on earth, and how they can be avoided.

Sometimes a collectivity can take the individual down, if you are the only clever person in the midst of a large collection of really dimwitted people, their stupid antics can easily embroil you in life endangering constant peril. So the truly clever thing is to move, if you can, or isolate yourself as much as possible from those whose stupid antics endanger you. If your neighbor likes to pour gasoline on his grass and set it on fire on warm summer days because, well, he likes it. It’s fun, then the smart thing for you to do is – lacking any way of restraining him and his behavior, if the police and municipality will not interfere, move.

Sell your house if you can and move, or take a loss rent it out to someone equally stupid and move.

Sometimes we have to choose between bad stupid choices, and ugly smart choices.

An example from history.

Our guy is sitting in Samarqand sitting sipping his sherbet and reciting a couple of Ghazzals to himself, when he notices on the horizon distantly what looks like a subtle wisp and plume of smoke. He walks outside the city walls and notices it, in the teahouse he heard rumors of Turkic hordes led by a fearsome Khan who slaughtered his way through several cities. You know from news and the like that the Emperor of Khwarezmia, Aladin Muhammad, received an embassy of Tartars representing their Khan, and to amuse himself executed them.

You heard horrible news of the Mongol reprisal on a few border towns and a few weeks earlier, Bukhara was burned and the whole population was mostly executed or sent into slavery.

You feel an omen, a bad portent, so you go, throw some rations and your inkpot and a few other things into your turban cloth, tie it round your back, tell your wives and kids to pack, quickly, you throw what you can on a donkey or two, and you all leave the city midday. The city watchman asks where you are going, and you reply you don’t know, but the opposite direction of that plume on the horizon. He says, it’s just a wisp of a cloud, you say maybe so but, this feels like a baneful day.

A few days later, in March of 1220  Genghis Khan shows up at the gates of Samarqand almost by surprise, reduces the city by siege, evacuates the entire population of the whole city, assembles them all in a plain outside the city, had all 100,000 or so of them lie down face down and the Mongols spent a night literally killing each and every single one of them, and making pyramids of severed heads as a symbol of victory.

Imagine 100,000 (give or take) human skulls in pyramids around a city utterly depopulated. Rather hellish, dontcha think?

All as a result of human stupidity.

Incidentally the story of how the family of the Sufi poet, al-Rumi, survived the Mongols is very similar to this example. His father, Baha Walad,  took his family and fled the city of Balkh, fearing Mongol invasions, in 1219, a year before the Mongols destroyed utterly Balkh, in 1220, ironically the very same year they destroyed Bukhara and Samarqand. Rumi’s family stopped in Nishapur – where the teenage Rumi met a greater Sufi, Poet, perfumer, and pharmacist,  Fariduddin al-Attar), and then his father decided to head to Rum (Byzantine Anatolia) where they finally settled.

This took immense foresight. The initial Mongol conquests were nowhere near as bloody as what transpired in 1220. Baha Walad only made a pit stop in Nishapur (where Attar himself, famously, was murdered by the Mongols soon thereafter.

This story, too, is interesting.

Supposedly Attar, an old man at the time, was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the siege of Nishapur, however someone came and offered to ransom Attar for a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol holding him not to sell him for such a small price. The Mongol, greedy for a larger sum of money, decided to refuse the silver offered for Attar’s ransom.

Later, the story goes, another person came by offering just a sack of straw to free Attar, who then told the Mongol to sell him for the sack. After all, Attar argued, that was all he was truly worth. The Mongol was enraged at being made a fool of, and promptly cut off Attar’s head.

Attar was often known for his wit. An old man at the end of his rope can afford to have some fun at his captor’s expense, after all. You’re going to die anyway, and leaving a clever story for posterity is a good thing.

Similar examples dot history and your personal life is full of them. How many people made a killing in the market only to have lost a good deal last year, and how many people with more foresight took slight losses on positions, sold, put their money in other hard assets and weathered last year’s financial fall. How many people shorted the dollar, and converted their revenue into Euros or Yuans, and then converted some of this into harder assets still.

When the writing is on the wall, getting control of your emotions and acting on small signs is a sign of intelligence that tends to avoid hells on earth..

Anyway, I had huge problems with Khalid Bey’s hypothesis, but the more I think about it there is merit.

For one, I see no moral crime in lacking intelligence, since I’m typically inclined to see natural intelligence as something innate and biological.

Some of us are born with more of it, some of us are born with less of it. But either way, all of us are morally responsible for using the intelligence we have.

He however is inclined to see intelligence as composed of multiple overlapping qualities most of which are influenced by both education and private effort. He typically views stupidity as sheer laziness.

When I look at it, he does have a point here. Now I can look at obvious cases, like mental retardation, where there are biologically hard set cognitive limits – but even here, however, he was convinced that my taking this view is somewhat upside down. We can set aside obvious pathology and structural brain damage, and look at the “normal” spectrum of human intelligence. From dull to normal to bright to genius to various types of savants.

Khalid Bey is convinced that what I think of as intelligence, and what we all typically think of as intelligence in Western societies, is simply a subset of something much larger. And far more important.

I think that people have an intuitive understanding of this, that there’s “common sense” “book smarts” “street smarts” “emotionally intelligence” and so on. Well he’d go further – that not only are there multiple modes of cognition but that the modes we primarily test for, and esteem, are just the modes most adapted to living in a highly artificial and somewhat pathological society.

There are other types of intelligence that we either do not measure and test for, or if we do only as an afterthought, that may be far more important to our long term happiness and health.  There are other ways of being smart beyond just those which many people are in the habit of thinking. Failing to cultivate one type of intelligence, and overly cultivating another type of intelligence, can result in a one dimensional character. A sort of blindness, which can endanger your life on occasions requiring more flexible usages of intelligence.

His belief is that people often ignore the real nuances to intelligence. In ignoring more subtle modes of intellect beyond conventional smartness. The reasons for this stem from their pet political and social ideologies, usually based on emotion and sentiments, and not actual reason.  Or if based on reason (and not simply back-rationalized) looked at superficially, and furthermore that many of our societies structural problems are direct results of mistaking superficial cleverness and tool-manipulation adeptness, for real intelligence in depth.

Being adept at manipulating tools, processing and manipulating superficial ideas, is seen as a sort of creative intelligence. There is some truth to this, but it is a partial picture. The social problems that both liberals and conservatives bewail, the problems that both the Right and the Left demonstrably lack real solutions for, are problems stemming from stupidity.

An intelligence that does not include a social and emotional side is a partial intelligence.

Now to you, whether anyone ignores the nuanced way in which intelligence manifests is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you take the time to find, cultivate, and hone the multiple nuances intelligences you may have. Cultivate your intellect and use it, that is relevant.

For these reasons most my objections regarding the origin and locus of intelligence and genius bore *little weight with him.  While biologically based variations in the brain’s ability to process information exist, the whole of intelligence itself, he sees as being incredibly complex, reducing it isn’t necessarily a useful thing. There are levels, of stupidity and intelligence, ranges, and weakness in one area of intelligence may be compensated for in another area…

Anyway, I’m still on the fence about his “Hell for dummies, Heaven for smarties” meme (remembering that what he may mean by stupidity and intelligence is much different, deeper, and more nuanced than what most people typically mean) – however it’s provocative enough to pull out at parties and throw at people, if for no other reason than seeing them get ticked off.

_EOF

*(Of course I was a bit out-ranked here – because I was arguing about intelligence with someone who was more intelligent than myself. The guy has a genius level IQ – while still holding to the dictum that typically high IQ individuals are simply well trained monkeys, idiot-savants – himself included he’s sarcastically say. He is rather bright, when I first met him 15 years ago he was working on a PhD in both Physics and Electrical Engineering, was fluent in 7 languages, and had  more of a mastery of Quran, Hadith and fiqh than trained theologians and Ulema I’d previously met (he can easily run circles around Dar Ulum graduates) and simply out-ranks me as far as Brain prowess is concerned. he knows more about the Halacha than most Rabbis, certainly more about Christian theology than most academically trained theologians and seminary graduates, and was better read up on cognitive neuroscience and Psychometrics than many of the professors down in the psych department.

Mercifully, in arguments, he rarely pulls the “I’m smarter than you neyh neyh” card. At first he usually plays it down and acts dumb.

Then again, eventually most people – myself included – figure this out, to some annoyance, rather quickly – which puts an odd cast on our debates…)

Reading the signs of life, and Schuon on Intuition and Intellection

Frithjof Schuon once wrote:
“…In principle, every man is capable of intellection, for the simple reason that man is man; but in fact, intellectual intuition — the “eye of the heart” — is hidden under a sheet of ice, so to speak, because of the degeneration of the human species. So we may say that pure intellection is a gift and not a generally human faculty…There is no need to develop it. Man can be saved by faith alone. But it is evident that a very pious or contemplative person has more intuition than a worldly person. ”

Intellection is one of those grand old words which meant much more than most people think. To intellect on something (“..yeah Virginia, you sure can use intellect as a verb..”) is something deeper than to simply reason over it, to rationalize, reason out and ratiocinate. Intellection includes all of this but is more nuanced, and at a certain level approaches that which the Scholastics of old used to call “intellectual intuition.

Reason and intuition are related, in fact they may be the same thing at a certain level, while being other things at other levels.

Here is something that Sidi Muhammad ibn al-Habib, one of the sages of Morocco, once wrote in his Diwan:

“Verily things are meanings projected into images.
those who understand this are among the people of discernment.”

Reality can literally be read, but only by those who know and understand signs.

You can read the world and you can read reality, but only to a degree. This is something, for example, many writers, artists and photographers understand intuitively. Many may lack some words to express the depth of the truth of this statement.

Look around you and you shall see things. These things are not dumb objects – they are meanings. Modern information theory has a way of mathematically measuring the actual information that material objects and states possess. There are implications to realizing that all things represent, in some way, information – meanings.

And you will indeed find benefit in being able to understand that you can, indeed, read the world. Literally, you can read reality.

Some people are illiterate, hence they do not know how to read the signs. The capacity is there, but they do not know how to use it.

Look. We can see, and then we can actually see. Some people look but they never truly see.

As Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes once said to Dr. Watson “You look, Watson, but you do not observe”

We can see a person. We can look into her eyes, we can witness her skin, it’s texture, where it flushes darker, where it grows lighter, the fine downy hair that the light shines through, the beauty and the flaws, the subtle movements of muscles under her skin, the facial impressions.

Or we can just look at her, and that’s it.  Just looking at her, and not gazing inside of her, are two different things. Two different experiences, of gazing into someone, and of just looking at – but not in – that person.

Look in front of you, you can observe a scene, you can breathe in, drink in, absorb into you what is front of you.

We can feel into it, and we can cultivate this feeling, this ability to feel into a scene. the interplay between objects, people walking, the buildings, the street, the light projected on buildings. You can look as deeply or as shallowly as you like, or are in the habit of doing. You can look at it, or you can try to read into it, what is going on, why is it going on, what is integrating with whom, and how?

Having words, finding words, learning words for things is important. Things are both physical and non-physical.

We are often controlled through words, influence is not bad, persuasion is not bad. But it is best to be aware of how others words influence us, persuade us, guide us, or direct us. There is guidance and there is misguidance. It is stupidity to just avoid all influences, “Ah, I’m soo independent, and so unique”

Well are you?

If you avoid all influences you are probably being influenced anyway, just in ways you cannot yet perceive.

Some persuasions, some influences, may actually be for our good. Others, however, are clearly not.

Control is not always bad, but being controlled without being conscious of being controlled puts you in a dangerous state. Sometimes it is a good thing to control people, or to be controlled by other people, when that control will prevent greater harm from us.

Any parent who does not grasp a child who is straying too far to a cliff’s edge is displaying mind numbing stupidity. There is a time to let a kid burn her hand on a stove, there is a time to realize that if she runs smack into a hot stove and suffers 3rd degree burns over her whole body, that you have not done good by her.

There is a difference between being guided to or through something you do not know, being shown another side of things that you haven’t considered before, being taken on a trip, with someone you trust, and between being coerced and controlled, through subtle or gross means. I could give you an order that you must obey, that would be a blatant control, or I can insinuate something that is not in your best interests but worded in a way that causes you not to see the downside.

“..Verily things are meanings projected into images…”

We perceive depth, breadth, textures to things, we perceive solidity but nothing truly is solid, forms dissolve, they coagulate and dissolve again. The meaning, the information providing the matrix, the grid work around which forms coalesce in the world, that is what people of discernment aim at perceiving.

Words, lovely words..

Early Arab scholars viewed the art and science of al-Balagha, basically rhetoric, as a beautifying of truth, and making falsehood ugly. That is truth is always beautiful, falsehood is always ugly, however we may not be able to clearly see the beauty of truth, or the ugliness of falsehood, because of veils over our perception.

Balagha, then, seeks to use noble speech and eloquence to make the truth plain to us and facts clear and evident, in an eloquent way that brings out and accentuates their natural beauty, while also making clear to us the disadvantages of lies, dangerous courses and situations. You can say that sophistry does something different, however, to “labis al-Haqq bil Batil“, is to say that it puts the clothing of falsehood upon Truth. It disguises it, in a cloak, in a costume, in a disguise.

Are we clothed with jackets and suits and blankets that others threw over our heads when we were young?

We carry around this pile of dirty clothes, on top of us, on top of our ideas, on top of our perceptions of reality that everyone has thrown upon us. The words we use may be laden with presuppositions that we would not naturally agree with had we arrived at them ourselves, but they are conditioned into us by teachers, TV, employers, friends, governments, organizations.

What we may know and feel deep inside, intuitively, is something that is pre-intellectual.
Some people may have the words to explain to us, how this truth we know has been subtly twisted, a little this way, bent a little that way.

What we may know deep inside as truth, may be confused, dull, dim, sometimes there are others who may be able to explain to us, and put into words, what we know and feel inside and by this help us to feel and know with more clarity.

If we do not have the words, the ability to articulate what we feel and know, it remains unclear, a feeling, urges, but it lacks sharpness and you cannot do much with it. Learning the words, from others, from books, from those who know as well as those who do not know (because observing absence can show us the outlines of what is absent. Like looking at a shadow can show us the outlines of what is projecting the shadow.

You’ve got to be able to – first to yourself, and secondly to others, articulate it. Explain it. Without this you cannot analyze it deeper, find the connections between it and other things, comprehend it and wrap your grubby fingers ’round the whole thing. You cannot go deeper. Deeper is always good.

You and I, let us look more, look deeper at this…
Being able to read the signs in the world can possibly save our lives, when the signs point to great danger.

I really fucking resent this .. in ways that I can’t even begin to state without ranting my fool head off..

“Screw you and your world
Perpetually cut with lies
I could stand the pain
For long enough
But the taste is just
Too bitter” Godflesh, “Avalanche Master Song”

Link number fucking one.

Amid Nanotech’s Dazzling Promise, Health Risks Grow
http://www.aolnews.com/nanotech/article/hold-amid-nanotechs-dazzling-promise-health-risks-grow/19401235

More links are given below.

You know, reading this sort of stuff makes me tired to even be alive. This stuff is almost as evil as that article in the Seoul Times about Chinese people eating babies.

Every bloody day, I feel like I wake up, and read more about how the whole bloody world is far more of a horror show than I ever imagined, and that I am, you are, we are all,  actually complicit in this by my ignorance and bad choices. Like we collectively are complicit. I hate this feeling. Because we were not given a choice to be informed or not.

The feeling that the whole world is a scam and we are given the choice between mutually bad options and we wake up years later realizing that most of our whole lives were liven in a dream, an illusion, or at least a very bad joke.

We only take these things seriously when they affect our personal lives, and by that time it is typically far too late. People always are like this, they only care when it hits them in the head.

NONE of this nanotech stuff is rigorously tested for safety, and there is considerable evidence suggesting that it may be very, very, bad.  And it’s in tens of thousands consumer products in the US alone RIGHT NOW. We are given NO CHOICE about whether we want to consume it, we are not even given the option of knowing it’s even in the food supply.

This causes great resentment in  me. Because we were not given a choice. Or if we were, the terms of the choice were re-worded in a way that we simply didn’t recognize.

Just another reason to not eat processed foods and buy organic as much as you can.

Great, now I can’t even eat out once in a while without suspecting that carceogenic atomic size particles are floating in my Key Lime pie. Brilliant, bloody brilliant. I love Key Lime pie.  I also like ketchup, are people so damn lazy that they need nano-stick coatings to make it easier to get the last bit out?

“..Officially, the FDA says there aren’t any nano-containing food products currently sold in the U.S.
Not true, say some of the agency’s own safety experts, pointing to scientific studies published in food science journals, reports from foreign safety agencies and discussions in gatherings like the Institute of Food Technologists conference.

In fact, the arrival of nanomaterial onto the food scene is already causing some big-chain safety managers to demand greater scrutiny of what they’re being offered, especially with imported food and beverages. At a conference in Seattle last year hosted by leading food safety attorney Bill Marler, presenters raised the issue of how hard it is for large supermarket companies to know precisely what they are purchasing, especially with nanomaterials, because of the volume and variety they deal in….”

“..According to a USDA scientist, some Latin American packers spray U.S.-bound produce with a wax-like nanocoating to extend shelf-life. “We found no indication that the nanocoating … has ever been tested for health effects,” the researcher says..”

“..Nano-titanium dioxide is so pervasive that the Environmental Working Group says it has calculated that close to 10,000 over-the-counter products use it in one form or another. Other public health specialists put the number even higher. It’s “in everything from medicine capsules and nutritional supplements, to food icing and additives, to skin creams, oils and toothpaste,” Schiestl says. He adds that at least 2 million pounds of nanosized titanium dioxide are produced and used in the U.S. each year. ..”

The rest of the links:
Nanotechnology Bringing Foods, Regulated or Not, to Grocery Near You – AOL News
http://www.aolnews.com/nanotech/article/regulated-or-not-nano-foods-coming-to-a-store-near-you/19401246?icid=main|main|dl3|link3|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aolnews.com%2Fnanotech%2Farticle%2Fregulated-or-not-nano-foods-coming-to-a-store-near-you%2F19401246&sms_ss=email

Gallery: Nano-Products Are Everywhere
http://www.aolnews.com/nanotech/article/gallery-nano-products-are-everywhere/19401385

Obsession With Nanotech Growth Stymies Regulators
http://www.aolnews.com/nanotech/article/obsession-with-nanotech-growth-stymies-regulators/19401712?icid=main|main|dl10|link4|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aolnews.com%2Fnanotech%2Farticle%2Fobsession-with-nanotech-growth-stymies-regulators%2F19401712&sms_ss=email

to reign in hell… .. and the orderly free West

A conundrum, metaphysically it is impossible to truly reign in hell.
And no one with any sense would want to.

The statement fits, whether you literally believe in hell or not, it works as a general analogy

I leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out why as fun exercise of intellection and ratiocination.

It was the late Charles le Gai Eaton who once quipped that men are only truly equal in two places, a monastery, and a brothel.

There may be an inverted hierarchy of sorts in hell, by the very nature of a hell-like condition there is no stability, no firmness. The absence of order.

On the Free West.

“I may be a peasant, but I’m a clever peasant” – John Constantine, Hellblazer

So this is likely to royally piss some people off. And this is a pity, these ideas can be debated but you might want to, well, think it over deeply a bit before letting yourself get emotionally carried away.

I might re-visit this idea in greater depth, but is it possible that one reason the Western World is so orderly and well managed may have less to do with certain genetic propensities (sure to make the HBD folk gnash their teeth) of Western populations – an idea that should be examined, whether there may be a role genetics plays, in averaged behavior of populations, but both sides of the essentialist versus environmentalist debate are prone to spates of dishonesty and stupidity in exploring the idea – and more to do with climate and feudalism.

This comes out of a friendly discourse over coffee with Khalid Bey. He pointed out, as a native of North Africa but having lived in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, the immense need for social organization in cold climes. Having visited Maine in the middle of one of the worst winters in recent history, I’m inclined to agree with this point. In near glacial environments there is no room for a lack of social organization.

Just keeping food and wood stocked, and a village’s streets clear of snow enough for the local doctor to make rounds is a feat of personal and social organization. “Home economics” acquires life and death significance when a miscalculation in drying or storing food leaves you 3 weeks short of victuals. If your fields are under 6 feet of snow and so is your roof, and you’ve improperly judged the strength of your support beams, then you and your family will be buried alive and your neighbors will not remotely be able to save you, or even notice your demise for quite some time.

Living in the far north requires certain skills of cognitive organization on both the individual level and the collective. And such collectivities will be small, due to environmental pressure. Extreme northern environments are incapable of hosting large human populations without modern technology. Eskimos display such skills, northern Mongols and Siberian populations do as well as Northern Europeans. 

Among them is a type of individualism. in small populations surrounded by environmental extremes the need for individual personal judgment is immense. This has nothing to do with abstracted ideas such as IQ, I’m talking about something more solid and tangible. It is an adaptation beneficial in some environments and harmfully deleterious in other environments. Period.

Other equally rigorous conditions require different survival skills in other climes. Living in a desert for example. Desert populations have to cultivate specific cognitive skills to survive. Your average Swede, Dane, Yakut or Eskimo would have died rather quickly in pre-modern times if thrown into the middle of the Sahara or Hadhramaut Yemen (whose name literally means “presence of death”). In fact, they still will die in modern times if caught without modern technical aids or wild-craft training for these environments. Social organization in desert areas are adapted, and people cognitively and emotionally adjust in a way that assists in survival.

More temperate climes are less demanding and this will show up in social organization.

Next, you add a second factor of feudalism.
Yes feudalism.

Khalid Bey made this point – pre Volkerwanderung Germanic Europe had modes of social organization that really weren’t terribly different from pre or barely literate village folk cultures anywhere. The only “civilization” in Europe of any appreciable level was in Greece and Italy, close to the Mediterranean sphere and thus part of a general civilization continuum that originated in the middle east, in the greater Arabian peninsula (Iraq) and down in Egypt. Gaulic peoples were certainly settled, and the Celts certainly had a high culture that in many ways rivaled or even exceeded the Greeks (the Greeks can be over-rated at times). Still, the Celts didn’t have civilization per se, or at least not in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern sense. And Northern Europeans had basically a village folk culture

There is nothing wrong with this.

If you find yourself getting defensive or offended over this patently obvious historical fact has not reflected on the nature of civilization itself. Sometimes it’s highly over-rated and is appropriate for certain modes of people at certain times, and in certain places. And not others.

Civilizations” in the sense we are inclined to see them are not always what they are cracked up to be. There is both benefit and loss in simple barbarian folk culture, and similar modes of organization, just as there is in monumental highly organized civilization.

Rome was an anomaly in early European history, and a somewhat successful one – but it was a rather fragile success. Consider that barbarian and illiterate Huns only had to knock a couple of arches out of one aqueduct to subjugate civilized Christian Rome, in a matter of few short weeks. This is an immense weakness in their dependency infrastructure. Doesn’t sound too glamorous now, does it? The very fact of their high civilization achievement, wealth, and the resulting decadence precipitated the very seeds of their destruction.

But Rome’s nucleus of organizational institutions and structures produced far more lasting effects in the sense of breeding and cultivating an somewhat orderly and well managed population, when incubated in feudalism.

Yep, feudalism.

On the basis of the small local cultures of a few Hellenic city states, during a mere blip in time of human history (though a significant blip when you look at what the Hellenes and those inspired by them did in late antiquity) it is popular for some people to beat their chests, wax proud, and to talk about the great Western culture of freedom and democracy.

Khalid Bey pointed out that historically there was no such thing, or where there has been it’s been on an absurdly small level. The myth of the Greeks giving us democracy is pernicious, stupid, and historically inaccurate. Contrast the number of free men with agency in some non-Greek non-democratic ancient civilizations and cultures, with the absurdly small elite in Athens to whom alone democracy applied.

Most Westerners throughout history were slaves, or rather serfs which, if we drop a rather absurd general mendacity, it becomes readily clear that the two concepts are not only etymologically related but are pretty close to being identical.

In Greece, huge numbers of people were Hellots. In the Roman Empire a substantial portion of the population were Slaves, or plebs who frankly lived in sub-serf conditions. Ah, and then we come to the middle age Serf, from servus and the word slave from servus, plus or minus a few transformations here and there. The underlying concept is that you had a population that was legally owned by certain individuals and families and legally bound to do work for them.

Until fairly late in history almost the entire population of England, for example, outside of a narrow clerical and warrior class, were legally property. Owned by Lords. Entire populations were given away as marriage dowries in the middle ages. Only the most mendacious could possibly pretend this state was not servitude, and slavery. If the Duke of Lancaster literally owns you and your family, you can “work out the math” in your head.

Westerners, en masse didn’t largely gain the sort of legal freedom we think we enjoy, in the West, until rather late in history. In the case of Russia, feudalism persisted almost up to the 20th century. And arguably until the 1980s if Russian communism was simply a feudalism in the folk’s name.

Serfs are slaves. Whether you like it or not.

If you were speaking Arabic, the word that would have described most, if not all, of European peasantry would have been mamluke. What’s a mamluke? Why a slave, of course.  And, in any case, urban slaves in the Arab world were treated better than even the early European Burgher middle-classes were in the late middle ages – many of whom were still legally owned by feudal lords for generations after ascending to the middle classes. For more on this, research the dynamics of the English peasant revolt for a fascinating look at this.

The term wage slave exists today for a reason.  If you step back and remove the terms, and just look at the essential reality of things, you cannot escape noticing that, in a sense, the vast majority of us, myself included, are still trapped in a soft form of slavery. If you don’t believe me then stop giving the state a good deal of your labor, in the form of property taxes, and see how quickly a tax lien is slapped on your property.

Freedom is relative perhaps, and so is slavery

I’m not making a value judgment here, obviously the system persists because it works. For some anyway.

What I am doing is saying, let’s cut out the feel good myths, the pernicious identity politic myths, and call a spade a spade and realize that we are, by and large, still slaves in many ways – essentially. The greatest mistake is mistaking a term for essential reality.

The vast majority of people can be easily fooled by simply re-naming matters.

If you change the words, change the names of a situation then a large number of people will easily be suckered by this. It is all how you phrase it. The better schooled we become, the more we become weak to this ploy because of the very tendencies to abstraction that our schooling engenders. Sometimes, it is comforting to call a spade a pitchfork.

Feudalism was an extremely well organized social management system. It is no surprise that the descendants of feudal serfs, about 90% of the West’s population, are so good at following orders in an orderly manner. Whereas the recent descendants of hunter gatherer or formerly .. less urbanized populations with limited village structures are not quite so good at organizing matters in the Western way. Look at how third worlders often drive. Or cross the street.

To be polite I will go no further, other than to point out the universal recognition of “Arab People Time” “Black People Time” and the tendency to postpone some things por la mañana. Muslim People Time is a good international compromise between the general excesses of Black Folk Time and Arab People Time..

Neither approach to life is bad, both work in their respective spheres. It is all a matter of context. I believe less has to do with genetics (or whatever genetic hereditary influences there may be are more weak tendencies) and more to do with centuries of cultural and linguistic habit.

I’ve been to England and found it amazing how orderly the English are about their queues. Even the lower classes. I was and remain quite impressed. The English habitually stand in line with a discipline exceeding that of any other race or population I’ve observed.

Maybe feudalism wasn’t such a bad thing after all, for some people anyway.

For some people, anyway. There are always winners, and losers, in history.

It is possible to argue that feudalism never ended, but simply transformed into something else less recognizable, but essentially the same.

But that’s food for another day.

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Kamal’s take on the Health Care bill

Brilliant. Maybe the tea baggers aren’t all cracked in the head.

So, the House approved an overhaul of the national health-care system, expanding coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans…

..while at the same time forcing millions more to purchase private health insurance.

Rather “progressive”, dontcha think?

30 million will get a baseline minimal barely adequate lowest common denominator degree of subsidized health care, while the rest of us are by legal mandate customers for life to a small clique of insurance companies.

I like Kucinich but in this case he simply sold out. The “health care bill” that the tea baggers were spazzing out over actually was a crock of pig offal that never should have passed.

There was nothing progressive about this bill, making all of us guaranteed customers for life, by law, to a small group of interrelated companies is pretty close to setting up a legal monopoly.

Say, if congress passed a law mandating that you have to buy a Cola (not Vimto, not orange soda, not grape, but Cola) every Thursday, for the rest of your life, irrespective of whether or not you NEED or LIKE a cola, and the one and only public, government run, Cola bottler in the whole USA has limited distribution to 50% of the population of Macon County Georgia, within specific income and age brackets, and the only other Cola players were two large corporations Pepsi Co, and Coca-Cola Co, and three other small for profit community run fair trade, organic Cola bottler collectives, in Eugene Oregon and Seattle Washington, with limited production runs of 20,000 bottles a week, well now, this means that the majority of us are forced to only buy Pepsi and Coca-Cola, by law. It is a legally mandated polite soft monopoly…

60,000 bottles of fair trade organic bottled Cola distributed to plaid wearing lumberjacks on the West Coast notwithstanding.

Yeah, it’s a weak analogy, but scratch your head over it.

Both true conservatives and true liberals have reasons to have disliked this law. I resent being a forced consumer for life, it deprives me of effective choice and agency.

It was a scam.

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