DECONSTRUCTING THE WORLD
DECONSTRUCTING THE SELF
The Human Mind
The Human Being
After appearing in Indonesia around 200,000 years ago, the first Homo sapiens spread from Africa to China with their maritime culture, but instead of staying seaside (or going fully aquatic), they pushed inland (back where they came from). Those early humans have disappeared under the waves (their closest living relatives are the Bushmen of the Kalahari). Our ancestors competed with erectus and the neanderloids as they spread across the eastern hemisphere, and won (becoming the only hominid species left on the planet).
We won because we are able to adapt to any environment mentally by creating a culture specific to that particular region. Mental survival is accomplished via pattern recognition, and a culture grants its adherents another layer of complexity, which gives humans an enormous survival advantage. That advantage was the difference. The neanderloids were genetically evolving to their environments, but they were quickly replaced when competing directly with our ancestors. Cultural sentience has allowed humans to adapt to every environment (from tropical jungles, to barren deserts, to mountain tops, to the Arctic ice sheets) by creating the optimum culture for their surroundings.
Cultures evolved from the umwelt (or the subconscious of the upper mind), which deals with the mezzo-level facets of being (or the economics, sociality, politics and knowledge of the region). All of which become the greater memes of a culture (along with the macro-level religion which was needed to replace the collective unconscious). The five greater memes are each made of lesser memes (both major and minor). All of the memes of the culture are harbored in the superegos of its adherents (the tribal collective). We are all part of a collective mind, as our virtual reality and individual perspective are based on our culture.
Cultures are complex adaptive systems. They are not immutable. They evolve. They change with changing circumstances in order to survive. Cultural changes come from internal and external influences (such as technology, religion, philosophy, trade, war and even weather patterns). Change is happening within the cultures, as well as between them. These changes have created many successful memes and many more extinctions as the cultural environment has been evolving throughout human history.
The Age of Innocence
Most of human history has been spent in this era of primitive cultures. Semi-isolated human tribes in various environments around the world formed the myriad of human cultures which can be expected of requisite variety. When a living system succeeds in a variation which is novel, numerous styles are experimented with. The plethora of primitive cultures exemplifies requisite variety in our species. Although it is difficult to generalize about so many differing cultures, there are some recurring themes.
Sociality dominated primitive cultures. Politics and economics were egalitarian in nature and based on familial and social organization. Life was determined by the environment, everything from quite burdensome to quite pleasant. Their world was limited by the boundaries of their tribe and this limited scope was reflected in their living narrative.
Most of the tribal names of primitive cultures are translated best as ‘the people’ or ‘the humans,’ which does not separate them from their human neighbors like the nation-state mentality of today, but does separate them from other species. It shows how they view their place within nature, as they are not detached from nature, but see themselves as a part of it, which is also reflected in their elaborate myths.
Myths are non-rational and non-logical living narratives, where the first two people can meet other people and no one seems to notice any inconsistencies. Each myth puts that particular tribe in the best lands, at the center of the world, and important to the story of creation. Each of the tribal members becomes one of the characters in an ever-unfolding drama of tragedies and triumphs. The tribal morality, goals, family organization, social organization, knowledge and scope are found in these dramatic orations. But most importantly, the myths legitimate the culture by occupying the collective unconscious, making its memes as natural as breathing and eating.
Knowledge was dominated by technology, which was still in the Stone Age. Gnosis was the only other form of knowledge. Since they were dependent on their environment for survival, they were attuned to the workings of nature. When a shaman speaks of nature spirits and life-force, they are speaking from experience. Magick is the way to enlist them via external gnosis, while internal gnosis is exemplified by the vision quest.
The vision quest is used by the individual to get in touch with their spiritual and unconscious realms. The individual starts with a question which will focus their attention through an ordeal which can be brought about by endurance, starvation or hallucinogens. The peyote ceremony of North America and the whirling dervishes of Arabia are contemporary examples of the vision quest.
Gnosis would have problems later because the knowledge is passed on through myths. When later generations would throw out the myths as illogical and unscientific, they also threw out the knowledge gained by that system of thought. Gnosis is illogical and unscientific, but so is the world we live in. The evidence does not always fit the logical, scientific world modernity has constructed. Primitive cultures understand this fuzziness, because they live in an irrational, mythical world, which they have constructed out of their experiences living so close to nature.
The Age of Wonder
The most important technological advance in human history was the domestication of grasses (or agriculture). Grass is condensed bio-energy, and it can sustain large populations of animals, but it is difficult to digest. Cattle need four stomachs to digest the tough grasses, so humans learned how to harness the seeds, and there was enough food to support a large urban population. The valleys of the Nile, Tigres and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow Rivers were the birth places of the first historical civilizations (starting around 3500 BCE), but others have sprung up all over the world.
The first cultural paradigm shift was due to the population explosion brought about by agriculture, as the primitive cultures in these areas gave way to primitive civilizations (the first cities). Different civic systems were developed by different civilizations to accommodate their new circumstances, but each civilization evolved along the lines already in place during that particular culture’s infancy. Civilization separated humans from nature and sent us on a new path.
Knowledge changed due to the time some humans had for contemplation instead of food production, such as tool improvement and engineering. Along with agriculture, the technologies of metallurgy and architecture dominated the knowledge of this era (starting the Bronze Age and creating the Seven Wonders of the World).
Sociality, which dominated primitive cultures, gave way as the other greater memes gained strength. Some interesting changes did occur within sociality. The most important was the advent of writing, which co-evolved with economics as a way to keep track of wealth and transactions. Like anything new, writing became as varied as the cultures which developed it. Writing also sparked the formation of laws, or a written code of conduct which all are expected to obey under the threat of punishment. Although they somewhat follow the moral code of the pervading culture, laws are a separate morality enforced by warlords in order to override the various moralities of different cultures, govern commerce and dictate a culture more to the liking of those in power.
Economics was new to civilization. In primitive cultures, the food was distributed more or less equally among those in the tribe. Now there was surplus food of gargantuan proportions which had to be dealt with. The agents of economics (the merchants) would be competing for the crumbs, while warlords and priests would be competing for control of the economy over the next 5000 years. Ancient Egypt and the Aztecs are examples of the religious domination of economics (as well as the whole culture), while Mesopotamia and China are examples of political domination.
Politics was mostly dominated by the man with the best army. The tribal rivalries which would sometimes cause bloodshed evolved into the institution of war in primitive civilizations. War evolved into a vicious and hierarchical system of cultural extinctions. From petty wars to empire building, the warlords left no time for peace. They would use their wealth to gain more land, to gain more wealth, to gain more land, etc. War became glorious as this major meme seeped into sociality and religion.
Religion saw the priestcraft became institutionalized in this age, as an evolution of the shaman. The priests made themselves indispensable by controlling the rituals, ceremonies and even the living narratives which give the civilization its meaning. They had enough power from this to compete with the warlords for control of the economy and the culture. In most cases, the priests and warlords conspired to share the bounty of civilization.
Gnosis was yoked together with religion by the priests to maintain their position. Magick was turned into rituals and ceremonies which confounded the believers and did nothing for them, and the spirits became anthropomorphic gods which needed to be bribed with prayers and sacrifices. Internal gnosis was assumed by the priests alone as they became the intermediaries between the people and the gods, but they were really just charlatans. The actual gnosis was soon lost in all of the human self-aggrandizement and from the growing separation from nature.
Even with these disadvantages, internal gnosis reached its peak near the end of this period (from 1200 to 500 BCE) in India, where the yogis (monks) took their quest to the ultimate level. Through great mental effort, the Upanishadic monks attained the highest level of consciousness, a level where they claim that all-is-one. They also created a path for others to follow, raja yoga.
Raja yoga is an empirical gnosis. First, the initiates must learn to control their behavior and their habits; then they must learn to control their breathing and stillness so they will not interfere with further progress. Next, they must learn to control their thoughts and their concentration. In the final stage (samadhi), the at-one-ment is described as infinite awareness, infinite being and infinite joy. This gnosis is buried within the myths which fostered it, but it is still quite valuable if one is to fully understand human knowledge.
Around 1500 BCE, another form of internal gnosis was experienced by a priest of the Aryan invaders of South Asia. Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) experienced a spontaneous gnosis. What the yogis experience through years of meditation, some seem to experience during a vision quest. Spontaneous gnosis has been experienced by many humans throughout history. Usually, the experience confirms what the individual already believes to be real (like Julian of Norwich), but sometimes, like in the case of Zoroaster, the experience synthesizes a dilemma into something new.
Zoroaster was having problems with the gods he was serving. They were the gods of war and destruction worshipped by the Aryans who were conquering the entire eastern hemisphere with their chariots. Zoroaster saw no good in these gods, so he left his people to wander in the desert with his dilemma. While crossing a river (and probably on psychedelic mushrooms), he had a vision of the one true God, Ahura Mazda. This was the start of Zoroastrianism, the first evangelical (non-culturally specific), monotheistic religion.
Zoroaster succeeded in converting an Iranian warrior tribe himself. Eventually, most of the Iranian tribes had converted to Zoroastrianism. They would remain warlike, and the end of this era would see the rise of the Zoroastrian Persian Empire (around 550 BCE), which conquered Babylon and Egypt. But the Greeks (also Aryan), who dominated Mediterranean commerce, continually repelled the Persians.
At the center of trade between Asia and Africa was Canaan, whose culture has its own version of monotheism. The Canaanites seem to have gone from displaced warrior tribes, to a wealthy trade kingdom (Israel), to decadence, to conquered people. Yet, the Jews of Israel have survived as a culture for over 3,000 years due to their fanatical devotion to their one true God (Yahweh), their written living narrative (the Tanakh), and to their resilient culture (Judaism).
Starting in Sumeria, Egypt, India and China, and later Basque, Asia Minor, Iran, Greece, Mexico, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Peru, Khmer, Polynesia and the Mississippi mound builders, primitive civilizations came in many forms, and some of the most wondrous human achievements were built in this age. Primitive civilizations have many similar themes, but they are radically different from their earlier primitive cultures. Three primitive civilizations (China, India and Greece) experienced the next paradigm shift at roughly the same time.
The Age of Order
Humans have always been rational and logical, but until the advent of philosophy, they had never applied it to themselves. Inexplicably, reason and logic bloomed around 500 BCE. Independent of each other, humans in China, India and Greece started to examine the reality of the primitive civilizations and found them lacking any rationality. Confucius, Buddha and the Greek Philosophers each used reason and logic for different goals, but they all came up with the Doctrine of the Mean (or health and healthy behaviors through moderation). Philosophy transformed those three primitive civilizations into civilized societies.
In China, K’ung fu-tsu (or Confucius) used reason and logic to help repair the unraveling culture in China, which was starting to sink into the Period of Warring States, one of the worst times in Chinese history. In his day, China’s culture was only beginning to fray. Deliberately, Confucius created a new culture out of China’s mythical past and put it together with the new logic and reason. His new culture was based on the noble goal of educating an entire culture of chun-tsus (gentlemen-scholars) and to build a society which rewarded them. The Chinese used Confucianism to rebuild their civilization after 200 years of warfare. Later, the Confucian high culture would even convert the occupying Mongols. It still survives in China and some of its satellite states.
Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who left a life of luxury to search for the truth. He saw no order or logic in the polytheistic religion of India. First, he became an ascetic and later tried raja yoga, but they did not work for him. He finally extinguished himself by using his eightfold path. When asked if he was a god, he humbly stated that he was simply awake. The Buddha (or Awakened One) came up with his own path of philosophical gnosis, and went about India as a monk teaching it. Buddhist missionaries soon spread throughout the eastern hemisphere, but found success only in East Asia.
In India, the Buddhists were disrupting the accepted memes and this was not taken lightly by the warlords and priests who ruled through the caste system. After a long struggle, Buddhism was finally pushed out of India by the Krishna and Rama myths which support the traditional Indian memes, thus the Indian culture remains in the primitive civilization stage. Buddhism became one of India’s greatest exports though, as it has survived in many forms in many cultures (from the Bodhisattvas of Tibet, to the Zen of Japan, to the mystical movements of the western religions).
In Greece, an entire subculture evolved around the love of wisdom (or philo-sophia). The most prominent members were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They reasoned through reason and formed the core of classical philosophy, which has dominated philosophy in the West ever since. The philosophers questioned reality and then questioned the questioning. Their logic and reason became an academic discipline, which soon branched out into mathematics, geometry and science. With a new found optimism, the Greeks flirted with democracy, expanded markets, wrestled with religion, and boldly attempted to conquer the world under Alexander (bringing their new rationality with them).
Philosophy brought a dilemma to the primitive civilizations when the philosophers discovered that their myths were neither logical nor rational. Socrates was put to death for questioning the accepted living narrative. Theology was invented to deal with this dilemma by imposing logic and reason on the myths, but there are still those who can find holes in the logic caused by trying to impose order on chaos. Only certain myths would survive the imposition of logic, and the polytheistic Greek religion would not.
The Greeks had always admired the logic and rationality of monotheism, but would not accept the Zoroastrianism of their Persian rivals. Judaism offered hope, but it is an inherited religion. Also, circumcision and the dietary laws were not to the liking of the Greeks. When the most amazing event took place, the son of a Jewish carpenter with a religious dilemma had a spontaneous gnosis which would change world history.
Yeshuah bar Yosif (or Jesus) was a poor carpenter’s son in Roman occupied Judea around 30 CE. Judaism was in a renaissance with the rebuilding of the main temple in Jerusalem. Jesus knew a great deal about Judaism and Zoroastrianism, which was thriving over in Persia (the rival of Rome). While meditating in the desert with the Essenes (a hermit sect of Judaism), he synthesized the two. This synthesis was carried on by others like Paul of Tarsus, who formed the core of Orthodox Christianity.
Finally, here was what the Greeks had been looking for. Christianity is the synthesis of both monotheisms in question, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, without any of the political baggage from Persia or the familial and cultural requirements of Judaism. The Greeks eagerly converted to the new evangelical Christianity. Later, the entire Roman Empire was forced to convert, as the logical, rational and revealed monotheism of Christianity would become a theological triumph while other, less philosophical religions were swept aside with the aid of a military dictatorship.
The influence of Zoroastrian and Judaic ideas through Christianity (and later Islam) are felt throughout the western cultures. The most important idea would be individualism, which stems from the last judgments of all western religions. Being responsible only to God for one’s actions changes the way one views the world. Individualism gives the ultimate authority of one’s own reality to the individual, who suddenly becomes valuable. This radical idea allows evangelical living narrative memes to be introduced into other cultures, which spread out and bring their connected memes with them (like cultural viruses). Unfortunately, some of these memes, once dominant, revert to force and violence when threatened by the old strains (or by new ones), thus betraying the freedom which allowed them to succeed.
The other idea which came from these traditions is the divinely sanctioned separation between humans and nature. During the age of primitive civilizations, humans became separated from nature due to the fact that the urbanites no longer relied on nature for their livelihood. This separation is evident in their myths. Eventually, humans were not just separated from nature, but given the right to do with it as they please. Some truly believe that this world is not important and that it is the next world which is truly real. One can see how the priests, warlords and later the merchants would take advantage of this perspective. During this era, there would be great devastation of nature (but nothing like what would come later).
Another spontaneous gnosis would also change the world in this age. In Arabia (around 610 CE), a caravan master, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was having difficulty with the dilemma of having too many living narratives to choose from. Arabia was positioned between the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. There was also a large Jewish population, as well as the indigenous pagan Arabs. Traveling extensively, Muhammad was confronted with all of these competing narratives. In a cave in the desert outside Mecca, the dilemma was synthesized into Islam.
The warrior Arab tribes soon converted to Islam, and then set out to conquer the world in a holy war (jihad). They devastated the Byzantine Empire, destroyed the Persian Empire (wiping out Zoroastrianism as a world religion), and conquered everything from North Africa to Central Asia. After the bloodshed, the Islamic Empire was one of the high points in human history. Greek philosophy was reborn with the Islamic theology of al-Ghazali and the Jewish theology of Maimonides. Through Islam, Greek and Roman knowledge would eventually find its way back to Europe. Islam is a separate culture, but it shares the same Semite creation myths as Judaism and Christianity. The Islamic Empire was the only other culture to join Confucian China and Christian Europe to the civilized society level.
Sociality was dissected by the philosophers, and re-arranged by Confucianism, Christianity and Islam. Politically, the warlords became institutionalized royalty who warred each other endlessly during this time as well. Economics saw the spread and acceptance of the merchant class, who were able to procure some influence from the warlords and priests, and extend trade from Spain to Japan, until the Mongols came. During the 13th Century, the Mongols (and their Turkish allies) sacked Central Asia, China, India, Iran, Byzantium and Eastern Europe. Japan was spared by a divine wind, and Western Europe was spared by the timely death of a chief warlord. In the aftermath, the separate cultures became isolated and alone due to a mini ice age and several plagues.
It would seem that the two spontaneous gnosises had more of an effect on their cultures than philosophy, but it is the reverse. Christianity and Islam would not have been so successful if philosophy had not set the stage for their appearance. Once philosophers imposed rationality on their world, the mythical religion memes were weakened and replaced by the more rational monotheisms. But, philosophy asks many questions which have no answers. The Western Europeans would be the only culture to go from pondering to action, which would inevitably enable them to conquer the entire world.
The Age of Curiosity
Empirical science surfaced in every other culture before it came to the Europeans around 1500. Starting in India under Asoka (a Buddhist), it then moved east to Imperial China and west to the Islamic Empire, the Byzantine Empire and finally to Western Europe. Wherever the idea of experiment went, it was pursued at first and then persecuted when it started to question the accepted knowledge or, worse, religion. The Protestant Europeans were questioning both when science came to them. Finally, science had a place to grow.
For science to flourish, the medieval Western European civilized society was gradually reordered into a modern society with its democracy, liberty and free markets. Greek philosophy surfaced again in Europe as the Enlightenment, a humanistic subculture which would eventually replace the traditional European memes. It was unlike any previous age, as science became popular and the merchants began their ascent.
Gradually, the merchant bankers were becoming wealthy and powerful enough to exert some influence within the society, while the European royals saw an end to their power under the new constitutional monarchies, and the Catholic Church lost face because of its selling of indulgences, its Holy Inquisition, and its suppression of Galileo and Luther. The merchants began to co-evolve with the scientists, thus granting them a certain amount of freedom. With this new found freedom, the Europeans explored and investigated the world (as long as it was profitable).
Modernity spread throughout the competing European nation-states. With the knowledge they gained from science and the accompanying technological advances, they were able to conquer the whole world. Spain, Portugal, France, England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Russia all lay claim to the world. Such was their might that they only had to fight token wars before it was realized by the indigenous people that resistance was futile. This quick surrender saved the people as well as the natural resources which would soon be exploited. There is not one border in the world which was not created by a European state.
Colonization took place under imperialism, as modernity was imposed on the colonies by military and economic force. The colony’s culture was ignored in order to set up one favoring European economic interests. This was accomplished by planting one or two exportable crops at the expense of natural ones. The railroads would then link the plantations and mining sites with the closest port. The indigenous people were of little or no concern. Also, the colonies would be governed exclusively by Europeans. No information was transferred to the indigenous people to help them run their own nation or to use the technology, thus they would stay dependent on the Europeans.
When the colonizing was complete, the European nation-states became the wealthiest nations ever, which caused an increase in the funding of science and technology, creating a self-perpetuating spiral of technological advancement and wealth accumulation known as the Industrial Revolution. The merchants involved became the wealthiest individuals ever, and were now powerful enough to challenge the warlords and the priests for control of the society. They seized control of politics by replacing the royals with democratic republics, and they gained control of the living narrative by replacing organized religion with the idea of religious freedom.
For the merchants, democratic republics are easier to control than any other form of government. First, the republic takes away the threat of the warlords, who can ruin a nation with useless wars and who are able to impose their will through force. Second, it gives the populace the illusion that they have choices, which makes them less likely to rebel. Third, the representatives are usually from the merchant class, which means they are conveniently able to draft and enforce their own laws. Fourth, these representatives also seem to be easily bought, which gives those with great wealth an avenue to exert their will by influencing several of them at any given time.
All religions have been easily pushed aside by granting the freedom of religion to the individual and the freedom from religion to the nation by separating it from governance. These freedoms evolved out of the long and painful religious wars caused by the Protestant revolt from the Catholic Church. The solution in the American Constitution (and later for all western nation-states) was to let the individual decide which living narrative to live. The irony is that the merchants were able to suppress western religions with the individualism meme originated by western religions.
Once the merchants had taken control of society, much of the populace went from farmers to factory workers. Life was miserable and short for these workers, who were beginning to rebel. Socialism evolved as a way for the workers to take control of industry and gain the benefits of their own labor. There were many rebellions and revolutions. The Russian Empire became the Soviet Union in 1917 as the Communists actually overthrew their government and set up a nation-state based solely on economics. For the most part, the workers settled for labor unions and slowly menial labor was exported to the colonies.
The merchants helped create the imperialist system, so when they gained control of western culture, the wealthiest merchants (or capitalists) placed themselves at the top of the imperialist pyramid, the citizens of the nation-states of Europe came next, and then the others were left to fight each other for position. Those nation-states which fail fall to the bottom. The weak nations support the lavish lifestyles of those higher up.
Along with Western Europe, the English-inhabited America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also a part of the upper tiers. Japan was foresighted enough to see the benefits of exploitation instead of being exploited and joined the Europeans. America would eventually find itself on top of the Europeans after World War II, while the Communists of the Soviet Union tried to set up an opposing pyramid with Russia on top (which would later fail).
In knowledge, modern science has given us so much data about our world that it will take us centuries to ponder the implications of the discoveries (such as outer space, evolution, relativity and quantum physics, universal expansion and acceleration, genetics, Gaia and complexity). Modern technology has given us some of the greatest advancements in history (from toilets to refrigerators, telephones to televisions, automobiles to airplanes, and from computers to the orbital satellites which connect all these devises).
Technology also aids our scientific investigations and explorations. It makes our lives easier by doing our work for us. The human ability to use and fashion tools has come a long way in a short time. The combination of science and technology coupled with rampant capitalism and the nation-state competition (which allowed modernity to conquer the world) has not only given the West the best standard of living in human history, but it has also impoverished the rest of the world, as well as decimated our environment.
Although science dominated knowledge in the modern society, spontaneous gnosis was not silent. Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion in early America. He synthesized Christianity with the prevailing belief that the Native Americans were the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel and the idea that America was setting up a new covenant with God. Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i faith in Iran. He synthesized his Shi’a Islam with Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Modern Humanism (as well as including science). For the most part, gnosis was reduced to mere superstition during this age.
All human cultures have had their insulated, semi-isolated evolution interrupted, as modernity has brought the species together after so many years of separation. The intentions of the founders of the Enlightenment were that an enlightened, modern society would replace the repressive, ignorant, traditional cultures and all would have prosperous lives. Instead, modernity was as coercive and ravenous as it was liberating.
The Modern Europeans have accomplished many wonderful advances in science and technology, as well as political and religious freedom, but in their conquest of the globe, they committed at least five unforgivable crimes which taint all of their achievements: (1) the hoarding of their knowledge, so as to make all the rest of humanity pay for those wonderful advances, rather than sharing them; (2) the economic enslavement of their colonies which resulted from this greed to support their elevated position on a skewed economic pyramid; (3) the physical enslavement of the Africans, when the Native Americans would not do; (4) the continuing genocide against the Native Americans; and most importantly (5) the continuing environmental destruction on a scale close to an asteroid strike in extinctions, pollution and habitat destruction.
The Age of Chaos
The world changed from a modern society to a postmodern society on August 6, 1945. The atomic bomb Little Boy went off over Hiroshima Japan at 10:34 am local time, and tens of thousands of people evaporated instantly. The Atomic Age had begun. World War II was soon over, and the world was not the same. The major meme of war could now lead to a nuclear holocaust (and it almost did in 1962). We are now able to cause our own extinction (and it would take less than an hour). Like other eras, the shift into the postmodern was not instantaneous; it continues to be a gradual process.
Postmodern means ‘after the modern.’ There is no name for this era because there is no culture to give it a name. Modernity is over (but it continues to be our global culture because there is no alternative). None of the traditional cultures can become the culture for our global society because of tribal rivalries, and because they are just as obsolete as modernity. In other words, we are cultureless (which is our postmodern predicament).
Next Chapter: Our Postmodern Predicament