Archive for social commentary

Gender, Hierarchy, Civilization & Collapse: A Few Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by jtoddring

 

What did Sumeria ever do for us? Invented writing, our concepts of time, irrigation, cities, created the first literature…little stuff like that.

Sumeria predates ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Biblical times, though it was a completely forgotten civilization until very recently. The civilization spanned roughly 3,500 years, between 5,500 BCE & 1,750 BCE.

Remember, modern Western civilization is a mere 400 years old. Just a baby, by comparison.

The Sumerian civilization, mythology and writings inspired the book of Genesis and Homer, for example, and provided one of the primary the seedbeds for Western civilization, such as it is. Unfortunately they also invented or co-invented war, empire, conquest, ecological degradation, class division, hierarchy, plunder and inequality. Crappy stuff we’re still living with today. 

They did uphold gender equality, however. Mind you, this seems to indicate Eisler was wrong and Bookchin was right: hierarchy spreads as a corrosive social model that comes to infect everything, but it does not necessarily begin with gender. 

“Even so, the culture had been struggling to retain its autonomy ever since the Amorites had gained power in Babylon. A shift in cultural influence, evidenced in many respects but, notably, in the male-female ratio of the Mesopotamian pantheon, came with the rise to power of the Semitic Amorites in Babylon and, especially, during the reign of Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE) who completely reversed the Sumerian theological model in elevating a supreme male god, Marduk, over all others. Temples dedicated to goddesses were replaced by those for gods and, even though the goddesses’ temples were not destroyed, they were marginalized.

At this same time, women’s rights – which were traditionally on par with men’s – declined as did the great Sumerian cities. Overuse of the land and urban expansion, coupled with ongoing conflicts, are cited as the primary reasons for the fall of the cities. The correlation between the decline in the status of female deities and women’s rights has never been adequately explained – it is unknown which came first – but it is a telling detail in the decline of a culture which had always held women in high regard. By the time the Elamites invaded c. 1750 BCE, the Sumerian culture was already deteriorating and the [invading] Elamites simply finished the process.”

   – Joshua J. Mark, Ancient History Encyclopedia 

Hierarchy, inequality of class, empire, war, conquest, pillage and plunder, and ecological destruction: all of these things existed in Sumer alongside gender equality, it seems, and gender equality both in terms of cultural values, religion and mythology, and in practice. Therefore, we have to conclude that gender imbalance is a severe social, spiritual, and moral problem, but the evidence seems to indicate that it is not the root of all evils that it is sometimes presented to be.

That being said, when gender imbalance begins, society rapidly spirals into ever deeper problems, because the fundamental balance between agency and communion is destroyed; until the society finally collapses, or rediscovers a balance.

Sumeria was well on the way to collapse, regardless of external threats, exactly as with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Internal imbalance always brings internal decline, and finally, either an eventual renaissance and rebirth, or the collapse of the civilization.

“Sumerian was well established as the written language by the late 4th century BCE and Sumerian culture, religion, architecture, and other significant aspects of civilization were as well. The literature of the Sumerians would influence later writers, notably the scribes who wrote the Bible, as their tales of The Myth of Adapa, The Eridu Genesis, and The Atrahasis would inform the later biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden, Fall of Man, and the Great Flood. Enheduanna’s works would become the models for later liturgy, Mesopotamian animal fables would be popularized by Aesop, and The Epic of Gilgamesh would inspire works such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

The concept of the gods living in the city’s temple, as well as the shape and size of the Sumerian ziggurat, is thought to have influenced the Egyptian development of the pyramid and their beliefs about their own gods. The Sumerian concept of time, as well as their writing system, was also adopted by other civilizations. The Sumerian cylinder seal – an individual’s sign of personal identification – remained in use in Mesopotamia until c. 612 BCE and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. There was literally no area of civilization the Sumerians did not make some contribution to but, for all their strengths, their culture began to decline long before it fell.”

   – Joshua J. Mark

Their civilization began to decline long before it fell and actually collapsed. Then as now. History is repeating.

We must regain the balance, in multiple ways, or we too are headed for collapse.

“When I observe the ruts in a road, I am compelled to think, how much deeper the ruts in the mind.”

– Henry David Thoreau

But as Thoreau said, it is never too late to give up our bad habits, or our old ideas. Remember: “There is more day yet to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

JTR,

May 19, 2020

Post-Script:

On a comic note, for comedic relief, note this. Trump must have been advising the Sumerians on wall construction. Something was clearly amiss. The futility is amusing, in any case. Decline and collapse was due to internal factors, not external threats. But it surely is a Homer Simpson moment to build a wall, and not even get the basic concept right!

“The Sumerian civilization collapsed c. 1750 BCE with the invasion of the region by the Elamites. Shulgi of Ur had erected a great wall in 2083 BCE to protect his people from just such an invasion but, as it was not anchored at either end, it could easily be walked around – which is precisely what the invaders did.”

Wow. Is that how historians will look at us in 4,000 years, presuming humans are alive on Earth by then? Ending our civilization with one big, “Doh!”

Oh, Marg….

 

Critical Reading:

Rianne Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade

Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom

Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom

Ronald Wright, A Short History Of Progress

Wade Davis, The Wayfinders

David Suzuki, Elders’ Wisdom

Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self

Allan Wallace, Choosing Reality

Noam Chomsky, Year 501

Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions

Henry David Thoreau, Walden and On Civil Disobedience

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Kindred Spirits & “Civilization”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by jtoddring

Thinking about questions of human society and what is “civilized” or “civilization” makes me realize again how much I agree with Chomsky, Gandhi and Thoreau. They have all been deeply critical of what is called Western “civilization”. It also makes me think it’s time to read Vine Deloria Jr. All of them seem like definite kindred spirits to me. I take that thought with a great deal of comfort.

JTR,

May 18, 2020

The end of civilization? I’d like to see its beginning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by jtoddring

 

Civilization? Technology does not define it. Morality does. That makes all empires uncivilized, because they are based in conquest, plunder, mass murder and theft.

Amazing… Scholars still talking about the Roman Empire as civilized and civilizing… By what definition? Because they had sewers? I agree with Gandhi, Western civilization, “would be a good idea”. 

An otherwise thoughtful historian writes typical gibberish, which is universally accepted in Western civilization (sic) as matter of fact, common sense, and informed opinion:

“Wolfram points out that no other nationality, such as the Celts, seems to carry as much emotional and historical baggage as the Goths. They are either traditionally blamed for the destruction of the civilization of the Roman Empire that plunged western culture into a “dark age” or as heroes who refused to bear the yoke of Rome submissively (best exemplified in the figures of Athanaric, Fritigern, Alaric I, and Totila). It is entirely possible, however, to see the Goths as both these entities. Recent scholarship presents a view of the Goths which is more balanced than the either-or view, which has defined them for so long. The historian Philip Matyszak writes:

Until recently it was automatically assumed that Roman civilization was a Good Thing. Rome carried the torch of civilization into the barbarian darkness, and after the unpleasantness of conquest, Rome brought law, architecture, literature and similar benefits to the conquered peoples…There is now an alternative view, which suggests that Rome became the only civilization in the Mediterranean area by destroying half a dozen others. Some of these civilizations were as advanced as Rome’s, or even more so. Others were developing, and the form they might have finally taken is now lost forever. (9)

Since histories have relied primarily on Roman sources to present the history of the Goths, these people are frequently equated with the concept of the “uncivilized barbarian” or the “noble savage”. In fact, they were neither. As Wolfram points out, their history cannot be claimed as that of the ancient German people nor of the Slavic people nor of any people presently living (74-75).

The Goths entered history at a pivotal moment in the decline of the Roman Empire and played their part in that drama. With the empire gone, they ruled over two great kingdoms: one of Odoacer and Theodoric the Great in Italy, and the other in France (that of Theodoric I).  In Totila, the last great king of the Ostrogoths, they produced one of the most brilliant military leaders in history, a match for the legendary Belisarius of Rome, known as the “Last of the Romans’. With Belisarius’ victory, the history of the Goths ends.”

It is therefore difficult at first to determine exactly what the legacy of the Goths is to the modern-day world until one realizes that, without them, there would not be one. The kingdom of Odoacer preserved the best aspects of the Roman Empire and that of Theodoric the Great maintained that preservation. Western civilization continued after the fall of Rome, an entity that was disintegrating daily and would have fallen anyway even if the Goths had never set a single boot on Roman soil; it was the Goths who preserved the light of western civilization, even as they helped to topple the empire that had given rise to it.”

(From Joshua J. Mark’s, The Goths, though it could be almost any standard issue text)

See notes above. Think again. 

Preserving civilization? What civilization?

Again, I say:

The end of civilization? I’d like to see its beginning.

JTR,

May 18, 2020

Social Psychology & Meditation On Death

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2020 by jtoddring

“We are born for action…I want us to be doing things…I want Death to find me planting my cabbages, neither worrying about it nor my unfinished gardening.”

   – Michel de Montaigne

How perfect is that sentiment and that view, expressed here by the great French philosopher of the Renaissance! And hilarious! Montaigne sounds like Thoreau, with his Earthy wisdom…or a Zen master…or Chuang Tzu! But that is not how most people live. And there’s the rub. That is the problem.

Montaigne said of fear, “There is no emotion which more readily ravishes our judgement.” That would seem to be the best explanation of our current mass social psychology: the great majority, including most of the otherwise thoughtful, intelligent, and emminently sane, are temporarily incapable of rational thought, due to panic and intense fear. That is to say, temporary insanity has descended upon them.

Montaigne echoes all the sages: when you meditate on death, you can face your mortality, and hence, conquer the fear of death; and when you conquer the fear of death, you thereby conquer all fear of life – and it is then only that we begin to truly live.

“To practise death is to practise freedom. The man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Michel de Montaigne

Yet, the great majority hide from death, and thus hide from life – and their secret fear makes them easily misled, easily manipulated, easily ensnared and enslaved, easily irrational and confused, as well as perpetually filled with a secret, unconscious, perpetual anxiety and fear, no matter how cleverly masked or disguised.

“No wonder that they often get caught in a trap. You can frighten such people simply by mentioning death… And then, in the midst of pain and terror, God only knows what shape their good judgement kneeds into!”

– Michel de Montaigne

JTR,

April 12, 2020

Further Reading:

The Essays of Montaigne: Of Fear; and, To Philosophize Is To Learn How To Die

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: 1-2, 17-20, Chapter 4: 5-6, 13

Walden, and On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Divinity School Address – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Soygal Rinpoche

Introducing Buddha – Jane Hope

Chuang Tsu – Jane English translation

The Tao Te Ching – Jane English translation (no others compare)

Tao: The Watercourse Way – Alan Watts

The Way of Zen – Alan Watts

The Book – Alan Watts

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Dialogues With Scientists And Mystics – Renee Weber

Dreamtime and Inner Space – Holgar Kalweit

Choosing Reality – Alan Wallace

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley

What Survives? – Gary Doore

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

Brave New World, and, Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

 

Will Ferrell does a mock music video of gangster rap – and it’s a scathingly hilarious critique of the genre

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by jtoddring

A musical commentary, followed by social and political analysis, followed by hilarious spoof rap videos, and more

This is scathingly funny. Will Ferrell does a mock music video of macho gangster rap.

Man, how I despise that music. As Rage Against the Machine said, “So-called rap’s a fraud.” Worse, most of it is disgustingly offensive, as well as hollow and noxious.

The majority of it is macho, sexist, hate-filled, poser pablum that screams insecure, status-seeking, pre-teen angst and a desire to be “big” – in all the wrong ways, and with nothing to say and nowhere to go but down.

Bob Marley would roll in his grave. Angry and misguided, emotionally disturbed twelve-year-olds with an attitude problem could be forgiven for liking this music, but that’s about all. Only new country and death metal can compete with such sleazy, aggressive, pretentious garbage for the “first into the sewer” rankings.

At least new country is simply vacant, vacuous and vapid, overly commercialized twaddle and wallpaper music, worthy only of playing in elevators, and for a maximum of fifteen seconds, but as unoffensive as it is bland and banal, like a harmless old shoe – death metal and gangster rap are psychologically disturbed and disturbing, and morally bankrupt.

Give me old-school R&B, jazz, blues, soul, reggae, classic rock or classic country, gospel, classical, funk, punk, scat, ska, swing, big band, folk, Latin, electronica, chant or even opera, but spare me that macho rap crap shite!

*

And for the more serious-minded, here is some social commentary to accompany the musical commentary.

Musical tastes aside, there is something to be said about the influence of music – and particularly, music that expresses and generates a violent, aggressive attitude – and how such messages are likely to affect human behaviour, with the result of increasing violence in society.

Violent crime has been declining for decades, but fear and hysteria are at record levels. The media has a great deal to do with this. But in any case, violence in society is still, of course, a very serious concern; and violence in the United States, in particular, is far above the level of other major nations, and needs to be addressed. And violent music, media and video games are likely to have far more to do with this than guns.

In the US there is great hew and cry about gun control, but the obvious facts, or what should be obvious facts, are either overlooked or simply ignored. The fact is that Switzerland and the US have the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, along with Yemen; but while the US has one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder, Switzerland, with similar levels of gun ownership, has one of the lowest rates of violent crime and murder. Clearly guns are not the cause of violence. Something in the culture of the United States is causing high levels of violence.

Getting rid of guns, even if that was possible, would not end the violence. The US government tried to ban and prohibit alcohol, but that did not stop the flow of alcohol – it simply caused organized crime explode, and caused violent crime to explode as a result.

The US government has tried for decades to eliminate drugs, with its infamous, “War On Drugs”. But that has not stopped the flow of drugs. All it has done is to repeat the patterns of prohibition, causing gang activity and organized crime to soar, and with it, the violence that comes in its wake.

A war on guns would be as utterly ineffective as the prohibition of alcohol or the war on drugs, in terms of stopping the flow of guns. And aside from that most critical point, guns are not the cause of the violence – a culture of violence is the cause of the violence.

Evidence links the decline in exposure to lead poisoning with the decline in violent crime in the United States, and this should give us a major clue: when people’s brains, bodies, hormonal systems and nervous systems are being disrupted and poisoned by toxic chemicals in our food, air, water and environment, serious psychological problems, from mild depression to violent, homicidal impulses, are one part of the result. So a war on pollution would be far more effective, more rational and more sane, from all the available evidence, than a war on guns.

More people are murdered with kitchen knives, blunt objects or bare hands than by guns – people will find ways to harm or to kill, whether or not guns are available. What must be addressed are the causes of violent impulses, not the manner or form of their expression. This should be obvious, but the obvious is routinely being missed at present.

What is causing violence in society, and high levels of violence in American society? Could soaring poverty and inequality, frustration, desperation, and a resulting and very understandable and predictable rage, be a large part of the answer? Of course it is.

“We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity,
and it is about to explode.”

– Amnesty International

The problems are sociological, and cannot be fixed through technocratic means. The “law and order” ideology will not solve it. In fact, it is making things worse, as prison populations soar, repression and militarization of the culture becomes normalized, brutality becomes accepted as necessary, and the cycle of a culture of violence perpetuating itself, continues. The culture is severely out of balance, and it is causing a small minority of people to do desperate and terrible things. Repeating and intensifying the same failed methods and responses is a recipe for continued failure, and escalating social disaster.

But people are only now beginning to be willing to look at the underlying, deeper issues; and most are still focused on the mere surface of things, and are utterly distracted, beguiled and bewildered, propagandized and deeply indoctrinated. This has to change. Inequality must be addressed, or violence will rise beyond its already high levels. Band-aid solutions will not work, and will not do.

As Bob Marley said,

“Everyone is crying out for peace,
None are crying out for justice.
But there will be no peace,
‘Till there is equal rights, and justice.”

Senator Bernie Sanders and many others understand this. If we want peace, then we must sow justice and equality. And if we are to succeed in that effort, then we must make war on Wall Street; and peacefully, but boldly and firmly, transform the system which benefits the richest few, at the expense and tremendous suffering of the great majority; end the reign of the corporate oligarchy of the billionaire class, and restore and reclaim democracy, and return the power to the people.

And maybe while we are making war on poverty and inequality, we should also look at music, television, film and media which make it seem cool to be violently aggressive, narcissistic, egotistical and machismo.

I’m not saying censorship is the answer. Freedom of speech is essential to a free society. Censorship, like prohibition, is not only useless and ineffective, but also dangerous, and produces far more harm than good. But we do need to look at what kind of messages the media, and the music and film industries, are pushing out in mass production into the culture of modern society. And a great deal of it is simply toxic sludge.

We need to create a culture of peace, to replace the culture of violence which, to a large extent, exists now. Courage and strength are shown and measured by compassion: not selfish and narcissistic, puerile pretension, self-inflation, aggression, hate, and egotistical parading of infantile grandiosity – be it from Donald Trump or gangster rappers.

Who shows real strength, who deserves the greatest respect? Certainly not thugs or wanna-be thugs threatening to “cap your ass”, or baring their asses in some other adolescent show of macho bravado. It is people like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Rosa Parks and others, and musicians like Bob Marley, who show the courage of compassion and love, who deserve our greatest respect, and who show the greatest strength.

There is a time for ferocity, but if it does not come from compassion, and is not guided or channeled wisely, then it is hollow posturing at best, or worse, and far more common, a self-destructive flame that is blinding,  burns all it touches.

Music is powerful, as are films, TV, video games, the internet, and the media in general. We should think about what we subject our minds to, and our children’s minds as well.

And artists and media workers should think about what they are producing. Their role should be to inform, inspire, unite, uplift and empower; or if it is simply entertainment that is being produced, then it should at least not be mental poison. We would be infinitely better with silence, than with that.

But music is one thing – systemic injustice, violence, extreme and growing inequality, and clearly fascist tendencies among the presently ruling corporate elite, are quite another. And it is this second set of concerns that should trouble us. The music is more a symptom than a cause of the real problems we face, although it is sometimes a little of both. It may be of some concern, but the latter, second set of patterns, is simply disastrous and intolerable.

We can change the station, change the music. But far more importantly, we should be willing to change the system – because the system is broken, and it is corrupt, as everybody knows.

J. Todd Ring,
October 28, 2015

Warning: The following videos are not for little ears.

Will Ferrell: Step Brothers – Boats ‘N Hoes

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post/async/embed/dialog/?source=6&url=%2FWillFerrelll%2Fvideos%2Fvb.169242926568179%2F250702351755569%2F%3Ftype%3D3

And of course, Everyday Normal Crew – from the Live As Fuck Tour

And on a more serious note, here is some rap with a message – and a soul:

Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine: Lyrics

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rageagainstthemachine/wakeup.html

And the de-classified documents quoted in the song, Wake Up:

“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pin-point potential trouble-makers, and neutralize them” – National Security Archives

https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/mlk-document-friday-through-counter-intelligence-it-should-be-possible-to-pinpoint-potential-trouble-makers-and-neutralize-them/

A sinking world, and sane responses to it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by jtoddring

My country is sinking like a rock (for reasons of corporate oligarchy, neoliberalism, corporate rights agreements, and an addiction to oil revenues and the politics of a resource extraction-based economy, and the thorough corporate domination of the political process), though the great majority of my fellow citizens do not realize it, lost in a stupor of denial as they are (I can think of twelve countries in the Western hemisphere which are either moving in a positive direction, or at least showing some fight – and Canada is not one of them); and so too is the greater part of the world descending, and rapidly so, into a morass of injustice and ecological suicide, to say nothing of concerns for freedom, human rights and democracy, (as well as a pervasive malady, and an epidemic, of economic fundamentalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism being the primary, and reigning, quasi-religious orthodoxies, along with other forms of ideological and even “scientific” fundamentalism, which are widespread, and far more influential today than their mirror image, which is religious fundamentalism, and an even worse epidemic of illusions of powerlessness, as well as an epidemic of apathy, denial, conformity, and undue and excessive, and frequently mad obedience to power) with only a handful of countries as the exception. How am I not to be distressed, if not anguished, and even furious, or all of the above?

All of the greatest minds and greatest spirits have echoed the same thoughts about the modern world. As David Suzuki has recently said (paraphrasing from memory), “There has never been a better time for being scared and angry….. We should get mad as hell, and then fight like hell.”

Where is the fight in us? And why should we be ashamed of being distraught with a world that is on a collision course with both tyranny and collective ecological suicide, as well as being steeped in war, violence, rampant injustice, inequality, poverty and a culture of voyeurism, vicarious living, materialism, consumerism, and a pathological aversion to the real?

As the great sociologist Erich Fromm said (again, paraphrasing from memory), “Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.” “The fact that there is neurosis [or psychological strain and distress] is a good sign. It is a sign of a healthy individual, an individual that is still struggling to be fully alive, and by necessity, is struggling against a society that wishes to turn him or her into an atomaton.”

As the saying goes, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs – you’re not paying attention.”

Calm is good. Heart-break for the state of the world is natural. And action is vitally needed – and urgently so.

Let’s see more action, and the heart-break will fade into a memory of times past, and lessons learned.

JTR,
October 7, 2015

Essential reading:

(A few among many other great books that could be included in such a list)

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Matt Stein

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Ancient Futures – Helena Norberg-Hodge

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin Was No Crackpot – Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, June, 1997

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

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