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 around 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 individual person - their child, and any 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 thing. 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 simpler 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 more basic 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 would 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 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 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 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 any 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.

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