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.

(Now 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 a 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 anything!" 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.

'Bigger than Jesus'

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 to hear your honest revelations? Or will they just see you as someone attacking their worldview and way of life?

We can see that in reality it would be very difficult for world leaders at the top of any hierarchy to give people the truth? Even if they had 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 are much bigger than any one person or group.

If we imagine ancient Egypt for instance, 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 of course. 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 truly 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 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. So we're one dysfunctional family. From time to time one worldview may overtake another. Sometimes violently, with revolution, like a young chimp taking a swing at a dominant male. Other times in a more serene and graded way, as one worldview slowly morphs and reasons its way towards another. The balance between rash child and restrictive parent always a yin and yang, ever 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."

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