Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandevile

I recently finished reading a very old work: The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandevile, Knight.


The work was said to have originally been penned in the 14th century, by a knight from St Albans, England, called Sir John Mandevile (or Mandeville). Though the true identity of the writer is contested somewhat. The above copy which I was reading was published in 1722.

As ever I'm always somewhat doubtful about the provenance and dating of these things, but we'll leave all that to one side and just share some of the contents :)

The work primarily reports the various routes a Christian can take to reach the Holy Land. However, after this it then gives accounts from various other far-flung places. Including India, the land of Prester John, and Tartary.

Anyways..

Page 16/17:

On pages 16 and 17 a place somewhere in the region of the eastern Mediterranean called Salathy is mentioned. A story is told of how it was destroyed thanks to a young man who slept with the corpse of his dead girlfriend.
"..all that Country was lost through the Folly of a young Man, who had a fair Damsel whom he loved well, and she died suddenly, and was buried in a Tomb of Marble; and for the great Love he had to her, he went one Night to her Tomb, and opened it, and went and lay by her; and a while afterward returned home again; and when it came to the end of Nine Months, a Voice came to him and said in  this manner .. Go unto the Tomb of the same Woman thou hast lyen by, open it, and view well that which thou hast begotten on her .. And he went and opened the Tomb, and there flew out a Monster very hideous to see, which flew about the City and Country, and soon after the City and Country sunk down."
This was the illustration that accompanied that little tale 😅


Page 21:

A short little note here. He mentions that locally Egypt is called Canopat, and in another language called Mersine.

Page 28:

Here we get a really beautiful story about a field "that flourished very strangely" near the town of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus.
"The cause is, forasmuch as a fair Maiden, that was accused wrongfully, for that she had done Fornication, for which Cause she was doomed to die, and to be burnt in that Place, to which she was led. And as the Wood began to burn about her, she made her Prayer to our Lord, as she was not guilty of that thing, that he would help her, that it might be known to all men, and having thus prayed, she entered the fire, and those Branches that were burning became Red Roses, and those that were not kindled became white Roses, and these were the first Roses that any Man ever saw: And so was the Maiden saved thro' the Grace of God, wherefore that Field is called the Field that God flourished; for that it was full of Roses."
No picture with that one sadly, but I think the words paint it well enough.

Page 29:

A short passage I thought was worth noting:
"The Saracens [Muslims] also eat neither Geese nor Swines Flesh: For they say, it is Brother to a Man"
I note it as I'm always interested in this idea that pigs have some human quality. Winston Churchill supposedly said "I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals."

Page 30:

A picture now. This one illustrates the bible story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac. I like it as you can see God, in the guise of an angel, holding Abraham's hand back. As if to say "Don't do it. I was only testing you!"



Page 59:

A little note. A city in Tartary is mentioned called Orda. I note it simply as it sounds similar Horde.

Page 74:

Here we have another picture. It's in reference to the fabled 'men with one foot'. These fanciful people appear in many traveller's accounts of the time. Alongside 'dog-headed men', men with just one eye, and men whose faces are in their torso. In fact, I think I have some more pictures later on if I recall correctly.


In the image the man is using his giant foot to shield himself from the Sun:
"In Ethiope are such Men that have but one Foot, and they go so fast that it is great marvel, and that is a large Foot, for the shadow thereof covereth the Body from Sun or Rain, when they lie on their Backs; and when their Children are first born, they look like Russet, but when they wax old, then they be all black."
Page 76:

On page 76 when discussing a part of Inde (India), near a river of the same name (which I'm guessing is the Indus that flows through modern day Pakistan), 'green' and 'yellow' people are mentioned.
".. and Men that dwell near that River are of evil colour, yellow and green."
Page 90 ..

On pages 90, 93 and 94 respectively we come to the earlier promised dog-headed, cyclopian and chest-faced men.




That last one in particular is both amusing and disturbing.

Pages 102 + 103:

On page 102 it's mentioned that the Tartars worshipped owls and the number 9, owning to stories concerning their Great Khan (or Caane as it appears in the text). -- The appearance of an owl saves him when he's hiding from his enemies. Then later a sea parts, creating a path 9 foot wide, allowing him to cross and conquer the land of Cathay.

Then on page 103 it's mentioned that four feasts are celebrated each year because of him. One on the day of his birth. The second celebrating when he was carried to Temple to be circumcised. The third is when one of his idols begins to speak. And the fourth is when his idol begins to do miracles.

Page 117:

Page 117 is a weird one - apple-smelling people.
"There is another Isle that men call Pitan, the men of this land till no Ground, for they eat nothing; and they are small, but not so small as Pigmies. These Men live with the Smell of wild Apples, and when they go far out of the Country they bear Apples with them; for as soon as they lose the Savour of Apples they die"
Page 120/121:

Finally we have some more oddities.

Giants:
"And beyond that Valley is a great Isle, where be People as big as Gyants, of 28 Foot long, and have no Cloathing but Beasts Skins that hang on them, they eat no Bread but raw Flesh, and they drink Milk, and have no Houses, and they gladlier eat Man's Flesh than other"
Women with precious stones in their eyes:
"Another Isle there is Northward, where are many evil and foul Women, but have precious Stones in their Eyes, and have such Force that if they behold any Man with Wrath, they slay him with beholding as the Basilisk doth."
And lastly this tale about men specifically giving other men the right of primae noctis over their wives. Due to fears that the women would kill their new husbands (by stinging them with serpents from the body ! ):
"Another Isle is there, of fairer People and good, where the Custom is such, the first night they are wedded, they take a certain man, that is ordained therefore, and let him lie by their Wives to have their Maidenheads, and they give him a great Reward for his Pains, and those men are called Gadlybrien: For men of that Country hold it a great Thing to make a Woman no maiden: And if it be so that the Husband find her a maiden the next night after [..] the Husband shall complain of him to the Lawyers that he has not done his devoir, and he shall be grievously punished and chastised; but after the first night they keep their Wives well, that they speak not with those men.

And I asked what was the Cause why they had that Custom; and they said, heretofore Men lay with their Wives first, and no other, and their Wives had Serpents in their Bodies, and stung their Husbands in the Yard or their Bodies, and so were many Men slain, and therefore they had that Custom to let other Men have their Maidenheads, for fear of death"
Quite the tale.

The work in its entirety can be found here:

Monday, May 17, 2021

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Apotheosis/Addendum

When I originally conceived the layout for this book my plan was that there would be no final chapter, and the book would just end with the word 'APOTHEOSIS' in the centre of an otherwise blank page. However, as people reading this blog may now be expecting some kind of final conclusion I think I should probably post something to fill the space (clicking on an empty blog post wouldn't quite have the same feel or impact as turning a nice crisp final page).



My thinking behind such an ending was two-fold. Firstly, the book starts with 'Birth', but I didn't want to end with a chapter titled 'Death'. Aside from the morbidity I felt death was covered in the first chapter - with birth, death and time all forming part of the same conceptual grouping. At least as far as the things I wanted to discuss were concerned.

Then secondly I wanted to convey the sense that humanity is heading somewhere. Where, I don't know, but some sort of ascendency to some destination. Something divine I guess. In fact, my not knowing is the reason why there would be no chapter. Even with my confidence and arrogance I can't claim to know the future. Or to know if there's some higher meaning or purpose to humanity. I can't describe indescribable God. If indeed there is a God, or something approximating to that notion.

It's simply beyond me.

What I did try to illuminate in the book though is that the many dualities or dichotomies we see in life are things that are equally needed by humanity. That is, that both aspects of these dichotomies are needed. Just as a bird needs its two wings to fly.

Be it left/right politics, cyclic and linear time, tribe vs inter-tribe, or dualities of sex and gender. It's not that one side is good and the other bad, but that both can be explored. We often see ourselves as left wing or right wing, or as this or that. However, these spectrums are things that we ourselves can move around on. At least intellectually. We don't have to pin ourselves down to the map, we can explore the whole territory. Taking flight in the process.

In fact, society as a whole, with its arguing factions pushing back and forth, is not unlike a single organism thinking its way through a problem. Contemplating within itself, deciding a course of action. Repeatedly rising and crashing like a phoenix as it gets the balance better or worse.

An Icarus aiming for the Sun of apotheosis, burning its wings. Like me earlier, daring to think I can know the unknowable.

Perhaps if we learn to understand these dichotomies better as individuals we can become better pilots of the bird. Guiding ourselves towards the light, even if we can't descry the destination.

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Chapter V - Sex

Transgender. A transit. To travel between genders. To move across the gender spectrum.

Can a man become a woman, or a woman a man? Either physically or spiritually. Would such a transition be good or bad?

We can imagine a gender spectrum. At one end extreme femininity, at the other, extreme masculinity. In the middle alchemical androgyny. By birth and biology we're all placed somewhere on this spectrum, but can we transmute to a different place upon it?


The answer is probably yes ..but with limits.

We can imagine a man. He's on the male side of the spectrum, but let's say he isn't the most manly man in the world. His voice isn't the deepest. He isn't the most muscly. He perhaps has a tendency towards the effeminate. Maybe on this hypothetical male side of the spectrum he's a three or four out of ten. A male yes, but not quite the stereotypical image of manhood.

Now let's picture that he wants to change this; he wants to be more manly, and wants females to see him as more masculine, and therefore more attractive.

Can he do this?

Well, he can change his lifestyle and behaviour patterns. He can maybe workout more at the gym to build his muscles. He could even utilise steroids and other medication. Or have medical procedures to change his body. He could probably make himself a bit more manly by doing these things. Maybe move himself up to a five out of ten, instead of a four. However, as he was born around the four mark it's unlikely he'll ever be a ten out of ten for masculinity, and to some extent he'll always be the person he was born to be.

If females view the hulking, hairy males that were naturally born out on the extreme edge of masculinity as more manly than him he'll just have to accept this fact. Frustrating though it may be. It's fine for him to try to enhance his own masculinity, likewise it's fine for him to view himself in such a way, but he can't impose this perception onto other people. Nor should he want to. As it would simply result in people giving him false platitudes that deep down they wouldn't really subscribe to.

Contrastingly we can also imagine this situation in the opposite direction. Let's envision that he wants to make himself more feminine. Or to fully become a woman. Again, to some degree he'll be limited by his natural position on the spectrum. He can do things that may move him further towards the feminine aspect, but he'll never be as womanly as a woman that was naturally born as such. With only people born around the androgynous middle of this spectrum; intersex, hermaphrodite, and so forth (let's say a zero or one on the spectrum for argument's sake), being truly able to move across the boundary. Even here though, to some extent those born androgynous will always be androgynous. Or at least closer to this androgynous middle that those born towards the extremes.

As a side note it's worth noting that as technology progresses it may be that these limits dissolve somewhat, and even greater fluidity becomes possible. However, even with total fluidity and control over your own body it should never grant you the right to control the perceptions of another.

Your fake breasts may be as seamlessly real and organic as any born of a womb, but you can't force another person to view them as natural if they don't think of them as such.

You can't control what others think of you ..and again, why would you want to?

You could even argue that offence taken at not being viewed as specifically male or female itself stems from a form of prejudice. A prejudice against the androgynous. Which sees androgyny as inherently negative, when in fact there are positives and negatives. (Once again, we have another dichotomy.)

Distinct male or female is the norm in society, with androgyny, in its extreme sense, being very rare. However, when viewing things through a more spectral lens we can see it's not quite so clear.

At the extreme ends of the gender spectrum we have alpha males and females. What we would call in meme-speak Chads and Stacys, or to use more common stereotypes: jocks and bimbos.

Though stereotypes are often crude and unfair they nevertheless often contain an essence of observable truth. Albeit in a very generalised way. The stereotype of the alpha is that they're attractive, successful with the opposite sex, physically fit (the males athletic, the females fertile) and socially confident. Added to these positive traits though there is also the negative stereotype that they're dumb. Hence the classic ditzy blonde bimbo, or the dunce-like high school jock.

Conversely, if we move further away from these gender extremes we often find the opposite to be the case. The geek or nerd isn't the most athletic or socially outgoing, but he can ace the maths test and program a computer. Again, we're talking in stereotypes here, but generally speaking scientists and academics tend not to be hulking musclebound alpha males, nor dollish wide-hipped females. Likewise in the creative arts people tend to be closer on the spectrum to the androgynous middle. Think people like David Bowie or Lady Gaga.

So we seem to have this trade off. With people that are more androgynous having a harder time socially, especially when it comes to sexual relations, yet being rewarded with a richer intellectual or creative ability. Perhaps in part due to the fact that their personalities aren't as skewered by this pull of sexual dimorphism. Giving rise to a better balance between the female and male traits, and therefore a more nuanced mental capacity.

For the majority of people the balance between such things is no doubt something close to the median for their particular sex. However, for those that are born on or close to the borderline between the sexes the negative aspects are obviously going to be especially impactful, and it's little wonder people would not want to find themselves in this position. Having to navigate a love life and a social life from this undefined vantage point.

Still though, it's not always negative, and the asexual nature of the androgynous gives rise to a creative spirit that transcends the constraints of sex. Allowing the mind to gaze towards higher things. Art, innovation and perversion blossoming from this detour.

Sex is base. The spirit is greater than the flesh. So to be unbound from sex frees the human soul and allows transcendency. Yet, at the same time, without sex there would be no continuation of life. Nor the elation and heartbreak that comes with pair bonding; or the divine inspiration that is driven by unrequited love.

Therefore we yet again find ourselves with another duality, where each side is necessary - and once again, we see this divide reflected in the political split of left versus right. The highly masculine and feminine people, who find it natural and easy to settle down and have children, tending towards the conservative - family, simple living, traditional values. The androgynous; a revolutionary force - bringing change, complexity and innovation in their wake. Yearning to tailor a natural world that feels so unnatural to them.

This is why I italicised perversion. The word perversion generally carries with it a pejorative sense that the thing being described is negative, but in fact it can be either good or bad; and it's often just a case of perspective. The laptop I'm currently typing on is a perversion of nature. Innovation being a transgression from the normal, natural way of doing things.

This is no doubt why Lucifer, or the devil, is often depicted in art and esoteric lore as looking androgynous. Androgyny being a transcendent force, transforming and challenging the established order of things. Of course, sex and gender are much more complex in reality than my simple diagram, so androgyny doesn't always correlate with sexless spirit. Also at times giving rise to what are seen as perverse sexual practices by more traditional society. Hence the evil connotations.

Again though, evil is the cause of suffering. Or a desire to cause suffering. Not simply a divergence from the norm. So perversion from normality can be good or bad. Be it sexually or otherwise. Just as preserving tradition can have good and bad consequences. The twin forces of conservatism and innovation being a brake and an accelerator on society's capacity to change.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Chapter IV - Love

Love. Those little glances and moments of eye contact. The odd awkward "hi" or "hello". The unspoken conversations, rehearsed in the mind, but harder to speak when the opportunity arises. The building tension between two people. Both knowing they're on the same wavelength, but fearing they may be mistaken. It hurts so hard because you know how good it could be. The gaze and the heart so focused upon just one person that to be denied makes the stomach sick, and living unbearable. Nothing and no one else registers.

True love is the devil, and the devil is the human heart.


Love. Be it true love, or the love a mother has for her child, or any other love, introduces a bias into the world. That loved person becomes more important than everything else in the eyes of the lover. It might be fair to treat people as equals, but it's also heartless. If ten people are dying and you can only save one it may be fair to simply choose someone at random. However, if one of those ten is a family member it would be somewhat cold and heartless to ignore that bond of love and let them die. Fair though it would be.

So here we have another dichotomy in life.

The desire for fairness and balance in the world

 vs

 The love we have for the people we're bonded with


People may go along with something that's terrible for wider society because they're worried about losing their job and not being able to pay the mortgage. That is, they put their family first. So it's not evil, but love that often spurs people towards bad actions.

As with all these dichotomies there isn't necessarily a right and a wrong. It's another duality where we must embrace both aspects and try in good conscience to strike a balance.

Let's say you're walking down the road and you have £10 in your pocket. You're heading to buy your brother a birthday present. However, along the way you see a homeless person. Now the homeless person needs the £10 much more than your brother needs a birthday present ..but your brother is your brother. You have an emotional bond with your brother that you don't have with the homeless stranger. So what is the right thing to do? Who do you give your last £10 to?

Again, there isn't necessarily a correct answer. Normally as humans we try to balance these things as best we can. We try to give 'what we can afford' to charity and strangers, whilst at the same time making sure we have enough to fulfil the responsibility we have towards ourselves and our loved ones. Your brother might be pleased to see his £10 given to a random homeless person. On the other hand it might ruin your relationship with him. Plus you naturally care more about your brother's happiness than you do a complete stranger's. So though it would be heartless to ignore the homeless person it would be equally heartless to not have a deeper care and affection for someone you're so closely related to.

We can see this dichotomy represented in the political spectrum. With 'the right' focusing on the family, stating things like charity begins at home, and 'the left' imploring everyone to forgo all possessions in the pursuit of universal brotherhood. Consequently at the negative extremes the right have a tendency towards selfishness and the left have a tendency towards dehumanising people - i.e. reducing people to numbers.

If we return to the earlier example. If ten people were going to die and only one could be saved the person on the extreme right would save their family member and to hell with all the rest. Whereas the person on the extreme left would callously condemn their own grandmother to 'death by lottery' without a second thought.

What I would do in such a situation I wouldn't like to say - it's much easier to judge other people :) The realisation that we're trapped between these conflicting desires though at least allows us to contextualise things a little better as we wrestle with our conscience.

It also helps us to balance ideals with practicalities.

Ideally we should be generous to strangers, but it isn't always practical to be generous all of the time. If you give away all your possessions then how will you support yourself and your family. This doesn't mean that therefore we should abandon the ideal and give up aiming to be generous. It's just a realisation that things are not so simple. We're balancing many desires.

It's similar with debates about 'open borders'. Ideally a world without borders would be wonderful. It's definitely an ideal to aim for. However, it's not always practical to implement. There are real world costs and consequences, and there's a limit to people's generosity. This isn't because people are evil. It's because they're trying to balance the interests of themselves and their family, with the interests of complete strangers.

Likewise though we may believe in sharing we still lock our doors at night before we go to bed. That hard border at our door or garden gate representing the limits of our willingness to sacrifice our lives and everything we own. None of us are perfect, and it's extremely hard and unappetising to completely lay down ourselves for the benefit of others. Plus, it's not just our own lives, but the lives of those people that are close to us that we have a responsibility towards.

In many ways this brings us to the laws we live by, and a realisation that all laws are practical and not truly ideal. After all, what gives someone the right to erect a border in the first place? Or to declare a home one's property?

Ideally, if we were perfect people in a perfect world, we'd simply turn the other cheek when slighted. This is the ideal that we should be aiming for. However, this isn't always practical. Again, partly because none of us are so forgiving that we're happy to just lay down and die without defending ourselves. But also ..because we have a care and duty towards others as well.

It might be noble to turn the other cheek if a robber steals from you, but what if that robber then goes on to steal from someone else? Or what if the robber stealing from you now means that your children go hungry? Is it still right to then turn the other cheek?

Once more, there isn't a simple right or wrong answer. Turning the other cheek remains the high ideal. Yet it isn't so simple, and when other practical concerns (such as your hungry children) are taken into consideration it suddenly becomes justifiable to punch the robber. Or to at least arrest him, try him in court, then send him to jail.

Ideally this should never happen, it's not nice to forcibly arrest someone then take away their freedom, but the world isn't ideal. So we make pragmatic attempts to protect our interests. Hopefully we do this fairly, by establishing basic rights that are universal to everyone - following a general live and let live principle - which are implemented in a way that's proportional. Yet even fair laws are just necessary evils. Falling short of the ideal of forbearance.

It's easy to deem things like theft and murder as wrong. At least in theory. Still though, prohibitions against such things arrive from a degree of self-interest. We want to protect ourselves and the loved ones that we are close to. So we deem the 'use of force against others' needed to implement the law as just and 'necessary'. Theft is obviously wrong, but if someone is stealing to feed their children is it so cut and dried. Likewise with laws establishing national or personal property rights. What makes something yours and not someone else's? The fact that you were there first? That you took it before they did?

Ultimately it comes back to extolling the right to defend your territory - be it the property you own, or your physical body itself - against the rest of the world. It is self-serving. That's not to say it's bad. The desire is natural and unavoidable. We just risk becoming hypocrites and misunderstanding the world if we don't recognise this natural urge in both ourselves and others. We like to think of ourselves as good and others as bad, but in reality we balance our own interests (and the interests of those we love) with our desire to be generous and to deal fairly with the wider world.

None of us are perfect, and even if we were it would perhaps still remain impossible to balance the interests of those we love with a love for the world as a whole. To view everything equally is to view nothing as special.

The world would be fair without love, but what would the world be without it.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Chapter III - Tribe

If we envision a large island; a random landmass out in the ocean. Then we people it with some blank humans - blank humans as in Chapter One, with no prior culture or history. Then we can imagine what would happen as they populated the island and developed culturally.


Over time, simply due to the geography of the island, the peoples that have multiplied and spread across this land will come to define themselves in relation to the geography. In this hypothetical example we'll keep things very simple and divide the island between north and south.

The tribes or groups living in the north of the island will naturally refer to those further south as southern, and likewise those in the south will label those to the north as northern. We see this of course in our modern world where place names will often begin with words like east, west, north, etc. North and South Dakota for example. Or words in other languages meaning the same. Similarly we'll talk about the east side and west side of places. Or call people southerners and northerners. On a larger scale we talk about Western civilisation, or the Southern Hemisphere, or the Orient (which means east, or more particularly where the Sun rises -- hence words such as orientation).

Again, it's perfectly natural to do this. The earth, and the Sun's passage across the earth, providing us with a frame of reference for where we ourselves are, and where the other people we encounter are (or where they've came from).

If we return to our simple island example we can imagine how after a period of time the people who populated this island - though originally all from the same stock and sharing the same ancestry - may split into two groups along such lines. A northern group and a southern one. Perhaps with slightly different cultures as well.


Still though, in such an example the division would remain quite vague. With the people in the middle of the island seamlessly blending both north and south. Perhaps meaning there would be a gradient of soft cultural change, rather than any hard cultural division. Much like how in Britain everyone shares the same culture and speaks English, but the accents and regional differences gradually shift as you move up or down the country.

However ..what would happen if you placed a hard border between north and south? Let's say a very difficult to pass mountain range.


With a hard border separating the two there would be much less interaction. Meaning over a long period of time the two groups of people would diverge much more. The soft regional differences of earlier now becoming hard cultural differences. With mutually indecipherable languages developing to boot.

In effect, our blank humans, spreading out across such a geography would naturally split into two tribes or nations.

This is all fairly obvious stuff of course, and doesn't really need a chapter in a book explaining it. Humans spread out across the Earth; branching off into various races, tribes and language groups thanks to distance and geography. We all pretty much had the general gist of this already.

By taking the example further though we can also begin to explain other divisions in human society. Divisions that aren't so readily perceived or understood.

In our example the mountains are very difficult to pass. Meaning not many people make this journey. However, there may be some degree of interaction between these two, now separate, nations across the snowy mountains.

So let's fast forward our cultures a little and imagine trade taking place between two cities on either side of the mountains.


With goods flowing between Cities A and B, and traders travelling back and forth.


Suddenly we now have cultural exchange taking place between these two cities, but still little cultural interaction taking place between the two nations as a whole elsewhere.

With this we can then imagine the different lifestyles a city person and a country person would experience due of this. If we look at the south; someone living out in the country - perhaps a farmer or tribesperson - would largely only experience the southern culture. It's possible they might occasionally meet someone from the north of the island, but quite unlikely. Conversely however, someone living in the city may meet quite a lot of people from north. Traders travelling to the south bringing their goods for example. They may even be a trader themselves, and may have travelled to the north at times. Perhaps even learning the language of the northern people to help facilitate this trade.

So in the cities you will get a cultural blending.

Now it's unlikely a rural person living in the south would ever meet and marry someone from the north, but in the city it would be different. A southern trader may develop ties with traders in the northern city, and as a consequence might end up marrying one of their daughters. Or they may simply meet a native northern girl whilst travelling to, or living in that city. So familial ties will develop between the two cities. Mixing the two cultures or nations.

As a result of this we find ourselves with a natural dichotomy between the largely homogenous countryside and the much more diverse cities.

This dichotomy is somewhat analogous to the dichotomy we see today between globalism and nationalism.

Of course, in our very simple example it's just two separate nations, now linked by two cities. However, in the real world it's much more complex. With many nations, divided to varying degrees by language, culture and geography, linked by numerous towns, cities and other cultural nodes. All evolving over time. The same basic underlying principles apply though.

This difference between city and country gives rise to political differences as well.

As those living in the cities are much more likely to have cultural, familial and economic links that cross national or tribal borders they naturally have a greater tendency towards favouring the things which increase this. Contrastingly those out in the country are more likely to be invested in ideas which protect the nation or tribe they belong to.

This political divide between nation and inter-nation is much like the divide in politics between left and right. It's both natural and unavoidable. Simply being a consequence of different people having different perspectives due to their personal circumstances. So as with left and right it's good to try to views things from both sides.

There are benefits that come with being at the crossroads between nations, but also negative consequences. By having a foot in two different cultures you get access to, and the benefits of, both cultures. However, there's also the danger that you may be viewed as an outsider by both cultures as well. If in our island example the northern nation went to war with the southern nation (difficult though that would be with a mountain range holding the line) there's the possibility that those people of mixed heritage in the cities would be shunned by both sides. Each seeing in the "foreign" ancestry the potential for treachery and disloyalty.

We see countless examples from the real world of this type of interplay. One comparable example is the position of Jewish peoples in European history. Benefitting at times from having ties across national boundaries, but also suffering horrendous consequences because of it. A similar manifestation is multilingual Switzerland, situated like our mountain cities, at the crossroads of Europe, between Italy, Germany and France. Benefitting from this fortunate geography, but also suffering the suspicion that gold and other ill-gotten gains are hidden away in Swiss bank accounts. A slightly different example would be global Britain. As an island situated perfectly for sea trade, and in turn founding trading outposts across the seas. Yet garnering suspicions, perhaps at times justified, that perfidious Albion is setting tribe against tribe in the pursuit of empire.

Again, all these divisions - of a humanity ultimately sharing the same blank heritage - come about naturally. As a consequence of geography, and the circumstances arising from humans interacting upon that geography. Understanding this is key to peacefully negotiating our divisions and differences.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Chapter II - Family

We can start this chapter by returning to our small family tribe out in the jungle. If we look at this small family we can see a natural hierarchy of father, mother and children. Or, if we want to simplify things even further, just parents and children.

What interests us here is the knowledge hierarchy that naturally develops in such small social structures. The parents may shield knowledge from the children to protect them, or because they deem the children not ready for such knowledge. If we take an example from the modern world to illustrate this: parents may be struggling to pay the mortgage. However, they don't tell the children about this. Partly to not burden them with the stress and anxiety, but also because the children perhaps aren't old enough to understand the issue anyway. There's also the added fact that the children, unlike the parents, aren't in a position to do anything to help solve the issue in any real way. So the worry and burden placed on them would just be needless misery.

No one tells the parents to hide such information from the children. They do it naturally. Out of a natural desire to protect the children. It's also easier too, as by excluding the children they can avoid the unnecessary drama and complications that would come with telling them. Meaning they can focus more readily on the actual problem.

In the above example I use a modern, relatable problem, but for our simpler family out in nature it could be something else - the parents not allowing the children to explore too far into the jungle perhaps, or elders not teaching the children certain skills until they come of age. Whatever the particular issue the underlying impetus for this 'shielding of children from information' is perfectly natural.

From this we can see that forbidden knowledge is something that naturally arises. Simply as a consequence of this organic hierarchy that exists naturally within the family.

"That's none of your business!" "When you're older I'll tell you." "This is just for grown-ups."


As in the first chapter, where more complex society led to more linear time, likewise here when societies grow and expand these knowledge hierarchies grow and become more complex. Though the impulses driving them essentially remain the same.

If we imagine another example, this time on a more medium-size scale, we can see this complexity.

You're a rank and file employee, working in a factory. An incident has taken place and there's a little bit of a commotion. You see all the managers go and huddle in the office to discuss what's going on. You're eager to know what's happening, so later you ask one of the managers about it.

"That doesn't concern you." comes the reply.

You're lower down the hierarchy, so you're kept out of the loop. Much like the child who wants to know what their parents are discussing, but is denied an answer.

It could be that a serious incident has taken place at the factory. It might be something incredibly dull and mundane. Either way the manager has refused to share the information.

We get a window into the sophistication of these social hierarchies when we look at the possible reasons for why they've done this. One reason could be that official company policy requires that such information is kept restricted. Conversely though there could be less formal reasons. The manager might just enjoy the prestige that comes with holding knowledge that others don't have. As it's a little status indicator or power trip. I know something you don't.

There's also the possibility that they're trying to hide something, or cover up a failing. Maybe the factory has a mouse problem, and they want as few people knowing as possible for fear it may damage the reputation of the company if word gets out. According to official rules and regulations they shouldn't hide such things, but practical concerns take over, and the fear of losing money or getting into trouble make secrecy the natural option.

With this rather humdrum example we can see how there may be numerous, often overlapping reasons for withholding knowledge. From practical concerns to personal ones.

Once we begin to reach this level of sophistication "rules" about what information can be shared or accessed often come into being too. As with the factory's official policy. The natural impulse towards a knowledge hierarchy becoming formalised, with laws now regulating the once organic practices. In a tribal society these may take the form of rituals, which like the rules must be followed. Still though, no matter how sophisticated things become, the natural impulses remain. Like in the above mouse example, where the manager ignores regulations stating mouse infestations should be publicly disclosed, in order to protect the business, and/or their own self-interest. This manager gets their prestige, status and wages from their position at the factory, and that position is intimately tied up with the factory's success. So it's only logical that the impulse of that person is to maintain and protect both the business and the hierarchy pertaining to it.

With this medium, mundane example out of the way we can then begin to look at things on the civilizational level. We can start by taking a very simple comparative overview: governments are the parent, and citizens are children. Things pretty much mirroring the basic family unit, only on a much larger scale.

It's also worth adding at this point that withholding knowledge often gets tied up with telling lies. That is: giving false information. The morality of lying aside, this is likewise quite natural. Parents will often lie to their children for various reasons. Almost always with good intentions. Be it a white lie stating how impressive a child's drawing is, or a lie about how a deceased family pet has been sent to live on a farm. Whether it's beneficial or not in the long term to tell such lies it's certainly easier in the short term, and this ease is one of the things that makes it so natural. In fact, a parent will often lazily use a lie to get a child to behave in a certain way. Instead of explaining to the child why they can't have another new toy it's much easier to just say that the store is closed.

As with the forbidden knowledge these lies scale up too as societies scale up in complexity.

Like the parents telling untruths to their children the lies told in wider society rarely start with bad intentions. They're often simply a consequence of circumstance. The manager from earlier that withheld information about the mouse infestation is only one small step away from actively lying about it. If you started to press them for more information they might simply make something up on the spot as an excuse.

Lies often snowball too of course. With new lies needed to cover up old ones. We've all found ourselves at some point in our lives in a position where little lies have spiralled out of control. Often through no fault of our own. It may be that a friend has cheated on their partner and they've used you as the excuse - "I was round so-and-so's on Friday night". You then find yourself in a position where you either go along with this lie, knowing it may well be found out at some distant point in the future. Or you tell the truth, ruining your friendship and causing an enormous social drama in the process. Again, it's generally much easier to avoid this drama and just go along with the lie. It's the path of least resistance. Though more lies may now be needed going forward to paper over this first foray into untruth.

It's very easy to get caught up in such things, then once you are, you too are invested in maintaining the lie. You're now part of a mini-conspiracy, simply as a consequence of the fact that you happened to be friends with someone who acted impulsively then tried to hide the fact.

We can only begin to imagine the cumulative effect of such little lies across society as a whole, and across years and decades as well. Millions of people, generation after generation, acting impulsively and making mistakes, each trying to hide the evidence, hoping that they can smooth things over before it gets found out. Dragging friends and family and business associates into these lies, who then also risk being exposed if this tapestry of lies unravels. Untruth interlocking with untruth, with layers of mutual interest building up around them. It stands to reason that vast webs of lies will be the norm in society rather than the exception.

Though lying is universally decried as bad people almost always think they're doing the right thing when they do it too, or at the very least that their actions are justified. So even when untruths are told by design, they're not necessarily malicious, or purposely bad. They're just the natural consequence of imperfect humans trying to negotiate an imperfect world. With things generally stemming from either bad impulses or good intentions. Or a mix-up of both.

(Though as an aside it should perhaps be acknowledged that that's not always the case every time, and just as a small minority of parents can be uncaring and abusive, so too can people in wider social hierarchies be deliberately or knowingly bad to others. Lying and deceiving with wicked or criminal intent. Though even here you could perhaps argue that these bad people, or groups of bad people, only ended up down such a nefarious road in life thanks to a similar accumulation of natural urges and accidental circumstances.)

Returning to larger social hierarchies there's also the fact that those towards the top end are more removed from those further down, and the potential effects of this need bearing in mind as well. A parent has a close, intimate bond with their child, but a person high up in a hierarchy may feel cold indifference towards those underneath them. Again, not necessarily because of any bad intent, just simply because they have little or no personal connection with those people. So simply can't have the same intense care a mother would naturally have for her child.

Still though, the parents or guardians at the top of such hierarchies will, to some degree, believe they have the best interests of the other people in the system at heart. With the knowledge withheld, or lies espoused, generally done with the belief that it's protecting wider society. That perhaps the issues may be too complex for those lower down to understand. Or that those lower down simply aren't in position to do anything about them anyway. Which may actually be true to some extent. Much like the parents at the beginning of this chapter, hiding the unpaid mortgage from their children, viewing it as being both pointless and potentially damaging to tell them.

Moving on therefore, if we view civilisation as a large family we can make two assumptions.

It stands to reason that there will be secrets in the civilizational family just as in the tribal unit.

It likewise stands to reason that ultimately the parents of civilization will not have all the answers.

So, like with the small tribal family, there will be forbidden knowledge withheld from those further down the hierarchy - strewn no doubt with lies and disinformation too. However, though there are secrets withheld the people at the apex of such a hierarchy don't have all the answers.

Again, this is much like how as children we idolise our parents, and see them as all-conquering and all-knowledgeable. We watch our fathers tinker with a car engine, or drill a wall to put a shelf up, and think; "Wow, my dad can do everything!" It's only when we grow up that we come to realise that our parents are simply flawed humans trying their best to amble through life.

It's similar with governments and other huge hierarchical systems. In fact, this is the very point of this (rather long) chapter; to show that knowledge hierarchies and lies are not only natural, but actually inevitable. With even the 'powerful' parent-like figures at the top largely powerless to change this fact.

In any social system the natural withholding of knowledge and the lies that come with it will inevitably accumulate into a worldview. Which, like the mouse-riddled factory defended by the manager, will be defended and preserved by those invested in it.

Only in a perfect utopia would this not be the case.

To explain this further we need to look at how ideas or cultural innovations become economic, and how this in turn makes them self-sustaining - even when the cultural innovation itself runs out of steam or becomes corrupted in some way.

Firstly we'll go for another simple example, and look at the economy created by a burgeoning rock band. Things start with just some people in a band making and recording music. In the beginning they don't have many fans, but as they begin to make waves their fanbase grows, simply because people like their music. This growing fanbase, who have a genuine passion for the band, then become a market place. Meaning profit can be made selling things to these people.

A tour manager can start making money organising gigs. As the gigs become larger more people need to be hired to help organise these events. Merchandisers start making money selling t-shirts with the band's image on it. A photographer starts making money following the band around, cataloguing their journey with his images. As the fanbase grows even more this economy surrounding the band grows ever further. Books can be written. Movies are made. A whole industry may spring up around this small group of people, and their much-loved music. 

As all this happens all the people in this little economy become literally invested in the band. Their careers are now tied to its success. On top of this many will no doubt be emotionally invested as well. Perhaps the photographer started out as a genuine fan, who simply started photographing them as a passion, and became lucky enough to make a living doing it. Many of the other people involved will likewise have similar stories.

So you have thousands, maybe millions of fans that are emotionally invested in the band. Plus a large number of people that are making a living on the back of this success. Many of whom are also emotionally invested too.

..so what happens when the band decide to call it quits?

Suddenly all these people are losing something they're invested in. The teary-eyed fans are distraught. The people employed or making money are now redundant or out of pocket. The ship they were all sailing upon has hit the rocks, with everyone thrown overboard.

By imagining such a situation we can appreciate two things. The first is the huge amount of pressure all these people would put on the band members to keep it going. A manager, maybe making millions, is not going to allow such a prize asset to be thrown away so lightly. Likewise the numerous emotionally invested fans and supporters aren't going to take it easily. Maybe even responding with feelings of anger and betrayal.

Secondly we can see that even if the band members do choose to end it..

..it still keeps going.

This is something we can readily observe in the world of music today. Where records continue to be sold, documentaries and films continue to be made, and money continues to be raked in whether a band or artist is still active or not. Often even after the artist has died - if not more so in some cases.

Again, this is because the fans, perhaps new converts as well as old, continue to have a genuine passion for the music, and also because those financially invested want to continue cashing in on this. If the market remains so too does the opportunity.

So the band members were able to start this cultural phenomenon, but they were powerless to stop it. As once something becomes big enough, and enough people have hearts and careers invested in it, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes self-sustaining.

Religions and worldviews operate much like this. Only the scale is much bigger, and the emotion (and sometimes anger) from those invested is much more impactful than that of an upset music fan.

Once more we can witness a similar pattern. A charismatic Jesus-type figure arrives on the scene, espousing his politics or philosophy. His following is small at first, but like with the band, it starts growing. Increasing numbers of people become passionately invested in these ideas and beliefs. These growing numbers of people likewise become a marketplace or economy, meaning others can make money catering to their needs and desires. Some of whom, like the band photographer, may also have a genuine love and personal investment in these beliefs as well.

As it gets bigger and bigger, again, it takes on a life of its own. The cultural phenomenon becoming self-perpetuating. As throngs of people now subscribe to this new creed political leaders and other important figures start paying lip service to it to curry favour with the masses. Or even fall under its spell themselves. Finally, when it becomes the dominant cultural value system it becomes the mode of thinking in that society, and anyone not subscribed to it may fall foul of those that are. Giving a further incentive for people to be seen to be promoting it. The fear of looking like an outcaste further entrenching the new socio-economic order.

Once this worldview becomes the norm it then becomes near impossible to turn the ship around. Everyone from the top down pretty much has to go along with it. At least outwardly anyway. The king or pope, deep down, may have misgivings about the Christian doctrine they're espousing, but it's simply much easier to go with the flow and outwardly pay homage to the holy relics. Just like it was much easier for the parent to tell a convenient lie to their child, rather than speak more honestly and create a big drama.

Even if large numbers of people in a hierarchy have doubts about the worldview it promotes, or know that much of it is false, they'll still more than likely go along with it - because they have practical everyday concerns. Be it personal ones, such as paying the bills and supporting their family. Or wider ones, like maintaining social order, feeding the poor, or fighting the latest war.

It's simply easier to go along with how things are than to try and change them. With the minority of people that do attempt to change things naturally becoming persecuted or ostracised by all those invested in the system. The true believers, the people whose status and careers depend on that system, and those simply paying lip service to cover their own backs, all closing ranks on these renegades that are trying to pull down the hierarchy, and by extension the people within it. Everyone hates Yoko for breaking up the band. [1]

There's also the trickier problem of what you replace a worldview with when you decide it's wrong or worth pulling down. Intellectually it may be easy to criticise a system or society, but it's much harder to create a new one, and one that works at that. Harder still even to create a worldview that divines the true meaning of life. If indeed there is one.

People tend to follow leaders that have the answers. So if as a leader you say; "I don't have the answers", there's the danger that your followers may run off and support someone who claims they do.

People often say they want 'the truth', but if the truth is that there is no truth, or something contrary to what people want to hear, will they accept that? Try going to an Islamic country and telling the people there 'the truth' that their religion is incorrect. Will they be glad of your honest revelations? Or will they just see you as someone attacking their worldview and way of life?

So is it even possible for the world leaders at the top of our hierarchies to give people the truth? If they even have it?

This then returns us to the second assumption;

It likewise stands to reason that ultimately the parents of civilization will not have all the answers.

It's easy for people today to see the various lies and secrecy in our current hierarchies and to think - "The people running the world are nefarious and evil!". Or that they're somehow hiding "The Truth".

If we look at history however, or we consider smaller scale hierarchies, we can see that this isn't likely to be the case. Undoubtedly such hierarchies will have been exploited and corrupted in various ways (sometimes in truly horrendous ways), but ultimately such systems have their roots in mundane impulses. As with the rock band's economy, or the blossoming religion, these things tend to evolve. Though there may be elements of planning and design within our systems the overall forces moving society in such a direction are much bigger than any one person or group.

If we imagine ancient Egypt, with their gods and goddesses and complex cosmology. It would be easy to witness a powerful pharaoh proclaiming such a worldview and to then pick apart the inconsistencies in the rituals and stories. To label the ideas false, then question why the pharaoh was lying and 'hiding the truth' from his subjects. However, for all the worldly power the pharaoh may have had what divine truth could he possibly have held three or four thousand years ago? The limits of travel and technology hemming him in in his part of the Middle East as much as anybody else. Sure, he may have had slightly more access to information than the average Egyptian peasant, plus some state secrets to keep from them, but hardly much more. So if he was hiding anything behind the colourful stories and monuments it was not 'the truth' but rather a lack of it. If anything he was no doubt swept up in the stories and monuments as much as anyone else, perhaps fearing the wrath of the believing mob if he dared to outwardly overturn them.

Similarly if we fast forward a few millennia to medieval Europe it would be easy to chastise the angels and miraculous stories of Catholicism as false. Accusing the popes and priests in the process of misleading their flocks and preaching deception. Again though, how much truth could these people have actually had, sat as they were in their barren castles, churches and cathedrals? Secrets, yes for sure, but the secrets - a full, complete and accurate understanding of both the temporal and spiritual worlds. Again, far from likely.

Finally, if we return to our simple tribe in the jungle. Our starting point. Let's imagine the tribal elders espousing their views about 'spirits in the rocks and trees' or 'gods in the volcano'. Now if some younger tribe member comes along and pours scorn on these irrational ideas what will the reaction of these elders be? Will they say, "Thanks for setting us straight young man, we'll disband all our long held beliefs immediately"? Or will they get angry and accuse the young man of insolence and sacrilege? -- much like the medieval church leaders (or Egyptian mobs) persecuting their blaspheming heretics.

The likelihood is it would be the latter. The status of these elders within the tribe is tied up with these beliefs. They're both emotionally and socially invested in them. To forgo them would be to forgo their very status in society. It would damage their pride, and allow for the humiliating impression that they had wasted their lives idiotically regaling the world with nonsense. It would also in a wider political sense upturn the whole social order. Perhaps leading to other problems. Real world problems, not problems simply of spirit and philosophy.

So, if we saw these elders insisting upon the correctness of their worldview, and persecuting the young upstart attacking it, would this mean they were hiding the truth? They'd perhaps be stopping the young man from searching for and expressing his truth, or hiding some of their own personal rituals and secrets, but they obviously wouldn't have the answers to life, the universe and everything. After all, they're just some folks out in the jungle. How much could they know? So, like the pharaoh, for all their magic and rituals and secrets, ultimately they are just humans. No more in possession of the answers than anyone else.

If this is the case with every other culture in every other era it seems reasonable to assume it's no different today in our own.

Our various parents at the top (good, bad and indifferent ones) trying to manage this huge family (along with their own personal lives and families). With the day to day practicalities generally taking precedence over more philosophical concerns. Often, like normal parents, fighting and arguing amongst themselves too (..as we sit in school assembly it may look like all the teachers are singing from the same hymn sheet, but in the staffroom they're all screaming and yelling at each other just like we are).

We are one dysfunctional family. From time to time one worldview may overtake another. Sometimes violently, like a young chimp taking a swing at a dominant male. Other times in a more serene and graded way. Reasoning our way through this myriad of happenstance. Either way this balance between rash child and restrictive parent is a yin and yang, always pushing and pulling at the seams of society.


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[1] John Lennon actually explained this desire to keep bands going much more interestingly than I have. Comparing his decision to end the Beatles to ending a portable, travelling Roman Empire.

John Lennon: "Everybody wants the image to carry on. You want to carry on. The press around too, because they want the free drinks and the free whores and the fun; everybody wants to keep on the bandwagon. We were the Caesars; who was going to knock us, when there were a million pounds to be made? All the handouts, the bribery, the police, all the fucking hype. Everybody wanted in, that's why some of them are still trying to cling on to this: Don't take Rome from us, not a portable Rome where we can all have our houses and our cars and our lovers and our wives and office girls and parties and drink and drugs, don't take it from us, otherwise you're mad, John, you're crazy, silly John wants to take this all away."

Monday, April 12, 2021

Birth Family Tribe Love Sex Apotheosis - Chapter I - Birth

I've never enjoyed birthdays. They've always just passed me by. Growing up I just didn't see what the big deal was. My birthday was just an arbitrary date on the calendar. What difference did it make if it was the 20th or 21st? A May or a June? I always much preferred communal holidays. Christmas, Halloween, Easter. The school summer holidays. These things had a feel, and I looked forward to them, but my birthday - as much as I enjoyed the presents and the odd card with money I never saw it as an event. It was just another day to me, and the slight attention that came with it I always found slightly embarrassing.

Why's it so special? I had to have been born some day. It's not like I've done anything special to earn this attention.

It was the same with other people's birthdays. Though I made the effort, and bought gifts, and sang "Happy Birthday", I never felt any real emotional investment. Again, it always seemed like such an arbitrary thing to be celebrating. It was a nice excuse for a party and some cake, but nothing more. In fact, the people that used to make a big deal of their own birthdays. The ones that would tell you, without the slightest self-restraint; "It's my birthday in three weeks time, y'know!". I always judged those people to be a little self-centred and selfish.

You think the world revolves around you. It's just the random day, on an artificially constructed calendar, that you happened to be born. You've done nothing special, yet you want everyone to make a big song and dance ..just for you.

However, it's only now, after all these years (and birthdays), that I finally realise it was my attitude that was somewhat wrong. I had a very linear view of time; which relegated the life and birth of both myself and everyone else around me, to a minor footnote in a much more grandiose picture. A big societal picture. That we were all simply born into, and that by its nature shrunk the moment of our births down to something of lesser importance.

What led me to finally comprehend this shrinking effect that linear time creates was a deeper understanding of an altogether different worldview; that of cyclic time, and especially how linear time seems to organically develop from this cyclic time.

This is what I'll be sharing now, here in this first chapter.

We'll start by imagining a small tribal group of people, perhaps a small family, living out in the jungle. Let's imagine they have no prior culture or sophisticated set of beliefs. They're just blank humans, living in nature, starting from scratch.

Now in this situation their understanding of time will naturally reflect the cyclic nature of their existence. The Sun travels past in its daily cycle. Night following day, and day following night. The seasons circle round. Spring passing through summer, autumn, then winter, then returning back to spring to go round again. The cycle of births and deaths predictably repeating too. A child is born, who grows up to give birth to another child, who in turn grows up and gives birth to another. The familiar journey from birth to death looping over again and again. Like the rise and fall of harvest, or the blossoming of flowers.

The individual born into such a world would no doubt measure their time in it according to their own direct experience of all this. It begins at their birth, and ends with their death. The time between perhaps measured against this cycle of seasons. Counting each year loosely as the seasons complete their cycle round.

The calendar is both natural and unique to the individual person. Existing in the now. Not placed in any wider history, other than perhaps stories from parents and grandparents, who circled through their own lives in a near-identical way. Parents and grandparents whose entire focus of life is the survival of that person - their child, and the child's siblings too of course.

In a world such as this the world really does revolve around you.

However .. once society begins to become more sophisticated things change a little. When a small family unit grows into something more akin to a large tribe this natural hierarchy of the family morphs into something more complex. Instead of just parents and children we now get wider social hierarchies. With some members of the tribe becoming more important than others.

Once a dominant tribal chief takes charge, placing himself at the helm, it may be the case that he forces everyone else to live by his calendar. He, and his family line, become the centre of attention. With your life and your calendar now playing second fiddle to his.

This may be a strange concept to grasp at first, but if we look at history it's quite a common occurrence. For instance, in Europe, before the calendar we use now came fully into vogue, years would often be measured simply in relation to the king or queen who was on the throne.

The year would perhaps be "The Third Year of the Reign of King John" for example, and had you been born in such a year you would maybe say, "I was born in the third year of the reign of King John". Not; "I was born at the beginning of my own personal calendar" -- "Five suns ago", or "A hundred moons ago" or whatever the case may be.

With such examples we can see that when a king or chief becomes the dominant figure in a society the passage of time is often then measured in relation to that person, and the lives of other less lofty individuals get placed within this larger story.

Still though, even in such a society, the passage of time remains somewhat cyclic.

Ruling tribes and royal houses are likewise families themselves. The king is born, who fathers another, who fathers another. Each child prince growing up to become an adult king. Invested with all the hopes of his doting forebears. Much like the child in the previous example. Consequently the reign of King John is duly followed by the reign of King Henry. The last year of the one king becoming the first year of the next.

So time at least remains focused on a living breathing person. In the moment. Again, in the here and now. Though it would perhaps be somewhat more formalised, and well measured and remembered, than it was in the smaller and simpler familial tribe, out in our jungle.

In fact, as the stories of ancestors, or reigns of previous kings, become better recorded, the more time, or history, stretches out. Shrinking the events of the here and now in relation. Yet still, though more extended, the perspective of time nevertheless retains much of its cyclic nature. The world is still a world of revolving themes.

What finally pushes these revolving themes into the arrow of linear time we're all much more familiar with is when a king or ancestor .. is turned into a god.

When this happens suddenly the kingly or chiefly period of life that everything else is measured against becomes eternal and endless. The most obvious example being our current calendar, measured in relation to the birth of Jesus Christ. The king of kings.

Similar to the "reign of the king" his calendar starts at a natural beginning, in this case his birth, but unlike with the king it doesn't end with his natural death. It keeps on going. As he transcends death and becomes immortal. Achieving a status within the wider culture that goes beyond the importance of any living figure.

Consequently, time ceases to be cyclic and continues on forever. At least in the minds of the people born into this worldview. Now the mere mortal is not simply born in "The third year of the reign of the king", but perhaps "Three hundred years since the birth of the Messiah". Or in my own case "One thousand, nine-hundred and eighty-two years since the birth of the Messiah" ..or "1982 AD" as we more commonly call it. Countless generations and centuries after the beginning of the calendar, and possibly an infinity away from the end. My own little cycle of life feeling somewhat puny in comparison to this grand unending narrative.

I am now a mortal measured against an immortal god figure.

..and the world doesn't revolve around me anymore.

So, we find ourselves in a world where most of us will struggle to recite the first names of our great-grandparents. Yet we can name the kings and queens, or gods and goddesses of our wider societal history. The wider culture subsuming the personal.

If you're English your great, great .. great grandfather is maybe Henry VIII. If you were born in a sister culture it might be someone else. Perhaps a George Washington, or a Frederick the Great. All of whom are Russian dolls within a much larger Christian history, focused on Christ. Who in turn is simply a "son" to a somewhat anthropomorphised "father" figure we call God.

Of course, our modern rational worldview takes things even further. Removing the relatable, human-like figure of God, and leaving us with just the empty eternity. In which we feel even smaller and more insignificant. Specks of dust, on specks of dust, on specks of dust.

In many ways this brings us back around to my original lack of appreciation for birthdays. So heavily ingrained was I in this rational, time expansive worldview. In such a worldview it was just another day. It really wasn't a big deal. If someone wanted acclaim and limelight they had to do something worthy of the annals of history. You can't be special for doing nothing ..you have to do something special. Something historic.

As much as I outwardly disdained the attention seeking of others though, deep down, secretly, I still held a special attachment to my own birthdate. It's almost impossible not to. The month, the day, the star sign even. Though I knew it was irrational I nevertheless couldn't help but attach a significance to it. That girl I like was born in the same month as me (!) -- That event happened on my birthday!

[I've even wormed my birthdate into this chapter :) ]

I just hid it, like an embarrassing crush. As I deemed it to be self-absorbed and snobbishly beneath myself.

I'm soooooo smart and intelligent. I don't want attention for doing nothing -- like a brattish child. I want attention for doing something great ..like a brattish god.

The ego demanding to be centre of attention, even in a world where man is shrunk to a tiny speck of stardust.

Again, if I wasn't so (secretly) self-absorbed I would perhaps have looked to have learned the names of my great-grandparents. Appreciating my family and the people around me. Instead of longing to place myself amongst the grand pantheon of historic names and figures. Be they gods and kings; or celebrities, footballers and rock stars.

Still, even though I'm now chastising linear time somewhat here, and its elevation of the ego. Just as I railed against cyclic time unknowingly in my youth, with its lionisation of the birthday. It's important to remind ourselves that neither of these worldviews are necessarily good or bad. They're simply different. Two complementary perspectives. So I'm writing here not to choose one, but rather to argue for the use both. Just as left and right on the political spectrum aren't necessarily good or bad, but rather just two wings of the same bird. A perspective from both sides being useful, if not essential when it comes to understanding the world.

It's also worth noting that time doesn't have to be centred around a person (or god-type figure) per se, but sometimes another myth, important event or value system can do the job just as well. In some ways we have this with Christianity, where though Christ is the focus, his figure mainly stands as a symbol for the values that Christianity represents. It likewise being the case with other religions, where gods and values are blended together in a mesh of beliefs, morals and values.

Sometimes the focus can be almost entirely secular however. For instance ancient Rome, with its calendar focused on the founding of Rome. The Republic, its values and the city itself, being the bedrock of that worldview, and consequently the reference point for everything else. Though even there the gods were never far away.

Either way, be it religious or secular, a broad, linear view of time can help foster a collective investment in a set of ideals, or a way of life. Civilisation beyond simple jungle living needs this depth of shared memory to grow and enlarge, and also to create a vision of a future different to that of the ever-recurring present.

It's interesting to note that often within this linear view we also find the political split of left and right as well. With conservatives looking backwards, wanting to preserve the way things are or were, and progressives looking to the future, wanting to create a better world. This is apparent too in religion, with the paradise of Eden rooted at the very beginning, but also paradise awaiting in the distant, or not so distant future.

Christ, the Messiah, in the past, at the beginning of the Christian calendar. Yet also awaited in the future, in the Messianic Age, or at the coming of the Maitreya. Both concepts are the same, just differentiated by time. The Messiah is a symbol of perfected man, and by extension the apotheosis of perfected human society. The same ideal, whether placed in the past or in the future. Something for man to hope and aim for ..in the here and now.

Given this conceptual jumbling of both man the individual and collective society as a whole cyclic and linear time seem quite complimentary. We can have both. Have our birthday cake, and eat it. Seeing ourselves as part of a greater whole, but also viewing ourselves as special and important. With our person in turn becoming symbolic of the whole.

We can also use our own birth calendar to root ourselves in truth. Our birthdays represent the cut off point for us as individuals, where our own experience begins. Before this personal beginning we can only rely on second hand information about events. After it we have first hand experience. So if we ground ourselves in our own experienced time we root ourselves in reality. Rooting ourselves in truth in the process. Our life, in the now, regains its importance, and ceases to shrink down to insignificance. Instead taking priority over the less reliable second hand stories from the past, or the heady visions of the future.

Yet still, contrariwise we can enjoy the wider cultural narratives we are born into, and the benefits of having such a huge depth of second hand experience and knowledge. We can stand on the shoulders of giants and be giants ourselves.

We can celebrate our birthdays, and celebrate our wider cultures too.