Monday, August 15, 2011

How does barbarism win?

The cause of the most recent London riots will be debated vehemently for years to come, with conclusions that will differ widely between those of different political persuasions and philosophies. Some even debate whether they should be called "riots" at all, since that word implies a spontaneous eruption of violence, while the vandalism and looting that took place on successive nights in London and surrounding areas last week may fit a different description.

What is beyond debate is that large numbers of people caused massive and deliberate destruction of property, and that some of the participants deliberately employed physical violence against other people and ended up killing them: in one case, two men drove a car at high speed into a crowd of people who were opposing the vandalism, killing three of them, and in another case a 68-year-old man who was trying to put out a fire that vandals had deliberately started was beaten unconscious by young members of the mob. He later died of his injuries.

Whatever your opinion of the ultimate cause of such behavior, it is clear that the wanton and deliberate destruction of property and the deliberate taking of human life is atrocious and barbaric. To excuse or even partially excuse the burning of shops, driving of cars into crowds, or beating of defenseless men over the head on the basis of economic inequality, high rates of unemployment, or perceived "racial" grievances is craven.

It is quite possible that stupid and oppressive policies stretching back for many decades are largely responsible for the conditions that led to the erosion of humanity underlying these despicable actions, but this possibility does not make that behavior any less inhuman. (Included in the category of possibly culpable policies are the longstanding social welfare schemes of Britain, which tend to degrade and debase men and women over time and eventually lead to infantile behavior and gnawing resentment, just as they do in the United States and everywhere else that they are enacted).

The connection to the discussion of a lost ancient civilization may not be immediately clear.

Consider, however, the fact that extensive evidence points to the conclusion that in the very ancient past, a civilization or civilization existed that (among other things) knew the size and shape of the earth, understood sophisticated mathematical concepts such as pi and phi, understood sophisticated astronomical phenomena including precession, understood subtle electromagnetic phenomena such as telluric currents, perceived the importance of harmonic sound waves and music and rhythm, could build monuments using blocks that even today we would have trouble moving, and could and did cross the oceans regularly.

At some point prior to the rise of most of the civilizations known to historians, almost all of the above knowledge was lost (or destroyed, or stamped out), although some of it survived in partial form or hidden form for centuries, and in fact some of it is still preserved in various forms to this day. While regression and loss of knowledge has taken place many times within known history, this particular loss is extraordinary in the contrast of what was known before and what was subsequently forgotten.

Somehow, we don't know how, barbarism won.

The implications of this fact of history are quite important. Since most people are not even aware that such levels of understanding were once possessed by the human race and then were lost, most people are not even aware that at some point in the past, barbarism and darkness won on a scale that is staggering to consider. The way history is taught today, most people believe that civilization and progress "won," although it experienced minor setbacks along the way. Those who teach this vision of history may be gravely mistaken.

Because we are generally completely unaware of such a catastrophic loss in the past, we are ill-equipped to even begin to ask how it happened. Judging from what we know in our own experience in modern times, however, we can guess that some of the ingredients of "modern barbarity" played a role. One of the main ingredients that appears again and again is the incitement of hatred against members of another group, whether they differ because of appearance, faith, culture, or other characteristic or characteristics. See this previous post on the violent history of Rapa Nui / Easter Island for an earlier discussion of this subject.

While the theory that the fall of that ancient civilization may have involved violence over grievances or differences of this sort is admittedly quite speculative at this point, there is some evidence that lends credence to this line of examination. The Olmecs are a mysterious and little-understood civilization that lived for a time in Central America and left behind sculptures featuring faces depicting very different ethnic characteristics, some of which are shown in this previous blog post. It is entirely possible that during the time such art was being produced, men of very different outward appearance were working together in relative harmony, perhaps based on advanced maritime trade and cultural contact.

Is it not possible that the descent into darkness was related to the collapse of this kind of cooperation and recognition of mutual humanity? Is it possible that the same sort of collapse could take place again?

While it is likely that there have always been those who would prefer to hate, fight, or even eat those who look different than one's own group (even if the difference is as minor as the length of earlobes described in the Easter Island essay linked above), the so-called "racial" or ethnic differences between people of different broad families of mankind are actually extremely superficial and have assumed an outsized role in our collective thinking since the nineteenth century due to mistaken Darwinian theories.

Wade Davis, the author of Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (also mentioned in this previous post) argues that the entire concept of "race"is a flawed relic of nineteenth-century English anthropology*. The first of the lectures in his book deals at length with laying to rest the myth of the human "races," and deserves to be read in its entirety. It is important, however, to understand how a flawed application of a flawed theory can lead to enormous, disastrous, and long-lasting consequences, as can be seen from the following excerpts that outline Mr. Davis' explanation:
Evolution suggested change through time, and this, together with the Victorian cult of improvement, implied a progression in the affairs of human beings, a ladder to success that rose from the primitive to the civilized, from the tribal village of Africa to London and the splendour of the Strand. The cultures of the world came to be seen as a living museum in which individual societies represented evolutionary moments captured and mired in time, each one a stage in the imagined ascent to civilization. [. . .]. 11.

Having established the primacy of race, and the inherent superiority of Victorian England, anthropologists set out to prove their case. The scientific mismeasure of man began as phrenologists with calipers and rulers detected and recorded minute differences in skull morphology, which were presumed to reflect innate differences in intelligence. [. . .]. 12.

But when the science in fact suggests an end to race, when it reveals beyond any reasonable doubt that race is a fiction, it behooves us to listen. We should at least hope that for once the scientists have it right.

And they do. They have revealed beyond any doubt that the genetic endowment of humanity is a single continuum. From Ireland to Japan, from the Amazon to Siberia, there are no sharp genetic differences among populations. There are only geographical gradients. [. . .]

What all of this means is that biologists and population geneticists have at last proved to be true something that philosophers have always dreamed: We are all literally brothers and sisters. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth. 17-18.
In the book in which he lays out the evidence for his hydroplate theory, Dr. Walt Brown makes the same assertion that "race" is a fiction. Unlike Mr. Davis, Dr. Brown believes that there was a catastrophic global flood some time within the past ten thousand years, and that the human survivors of that event are of necessity the common ancestors of everyone living today. Such a theory is in agreement with the findings of modern geneticists that all humanity is closely related and that superficial physical differences are the result of the "turning on" or "turning off" of very minor genetic switches, largely in response to environment. In this section of his book, Dr. Brown writes:
In this context, there is only one race, the human race. Today, the word "race" has come to mean a group of people with distinguishing physical characteristics such as skin color, shape of eyes, and type of hair. This new meaning arose with the growing acceptance of evolutionism in the late 1800s. [. . .] Race is a social idea, not a scientific concept.
It must, of course, be pointed out that inhuman treatment of other human beings based on appearance did not begin with Darwin, but has no doubt been present for millennia (Shakespeare, for one, featured this theme in several of his plays, all of them published long before Darwin was born). The point is that justification of inhuman behavior against other groups is the road to barbarism and darkness. The mistaken theories of Darwin have in aggregate exacerbated the problem.

There are plenty of people today who wish to incite grievances between "races." Many of these grievances have their basis in oppressive treatment that was itself predicated on the same flawed theories and racial conceits. It is quite possible that such issues played a role in collapses into barbarism and inhumanity in mankind's ancient past as well.

* Note that just because Mr. Davis recognizes the race-obsessed theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for the poisonous fiction that they are does not mean that he endorses the other conclusions of this blog such as the rejection of the theories of Darwin and his successors, or the belief in a cataclysmic global flood or sophisticated ancient civilizations.