The murderous trail of violent emotion in the modern era (Reflections on "The Age of Anger")

To be historically literate is difficult. One must work hard to avoid the boatloads of elitist propaganda, and written-by-the-victors just-so stories. As an auto-didact in the area, it has taken me a lifetime to accidentally trip over accurate and concise books about history. (Conciseness is key because it makes for a wider readership.)

Almost every historian agrees that the combined British industrial revolution/French political revolution marked a major milestone, innaugurating the modern era - and, as democracy and industrialization swept away old social structures, pretty much breaking continuity with all previous history. Until I picked up Prakash Mishra's The Age of Anger, I had a short syllabus of the history of the modern era that I thought was complete. Here it is:

1) Eric Hobsbawm's four book series, "The Age of X", where X = revolution, capital, empire, and extremes.

Hobsbawm spoke seven languages and had a prodigious memory, but he also had the ability to write engagingly about the dry dust of history. He was an unrepentant Marxist until his death in 2012 at age 95. The "Age of..." series is the best modern history around.

2. Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism"

This is the most significant political book I ever read. Writing in 1950, she laid out not only what was going on with fascism and communism; but she went back through imperialism and colonialism. (That is, she covered at least three quarters of modern history.) She described from what kinds of social situations totalitarianism arose, how it behaved, and how it controlled.

3. Morris Berman's "Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West."

This obscure book goes much deeper than Arendt's analysis of the psychology of totalitarianism. (I had the book recommended to me by a psychologist, or I would never have heard of it.) Berman elaborates the psychology of the self/other split that lies behind so much social behavior. He is very interested in the history of heresy and the identification of heresy with body practices and with women/the feminine. He offers four case studies in heresy, one of which is Nazi Germany, which he characterizes as a Manichean theology of self (Aryan) versus other (Jew).

With that syllabus, I thought I understood the modern world pretty well at the level of academic history (Hobsbawm), ideological history (Arendt) and psychological history (Berman).

Then I picked up "The Age of Anger" and found a whole new synthesis of the modern era. Here's my thumbnail of the book:

The industrial revolution created massive inequality. The losers, the superfluous people, were powerless to resist economically or militarily. But they were able to resist culturally. This led the Romantic Era, where culture and religion, myth and tribe, tried to build up solidarity among the losers. Emotion was counterposed to Reason. Unfortunately, the common emotion of all these Romantic ideologues was resentment and revenge, the call to purifying violence, the expectation of a miraculous resurrection of the defeated tribal community. Its the same "ghost dance" desperation that drives losers from 19th century Germans under Napoleon to 21st century ISIS towards violence - and towards excluding women and compromisers as "weak". Misogyny, it seems, is joined at the hip with Romantic nationalism's patriarchal tradition.

For me, Mishra has turned "the Romantic Era" from something about symphonies and novels into something about inequality and violence. By focusing on the history of emotion in the modern era, Mishra shed new light on the importance of people I knew of, but mostly didn't care about: Rousseau, Mazzini, Bakunin (the anarchist), Wagner (as a mythologist of the volk), Sorel(another anarchist), Nietsche (nihilism), d'Annunzio and Mussolini (myth making and the politics of gesture) - Hitler, Modi (naked, Messianic racism). He makes connections I was completely unaware of. (E.g., did you know that Wagner was a close friend of the anarchist, Bakunin; and that they both had to flee from Germany after the failed 1848 revolution?) He traces how the earlier Romantic ideologues either directly or indirectly influenced the later. He shows the continuity across cultures of the nationalist/tribal reaction to industrial globalization.

My personal syllabus probably helped me to appreciate Mishra's book more than the average reader, because it echoes some of my major interests. His discussion of winners and losers as the economy changes is a small slice of Hobsbawm's deeper discussion. I was able to instantly appeciate his use of Arendt's terms "superfluousness" and "negative solidarity". Finally, his discussion of the Manichean tribalism of reactionary nationalism presents many new, modern era examples of Berman's examination of the social impact of the self/other split. Another book of Berman's, "The Reenchantment of the World", discussed the impact of the atheistic, scientific worldview (the clockwork universe) on traditional religious faith and the human psychology underlying it. Mishra uses the same word as Berman, reenchantment, to describe what non-elites are longing for.

Mishra's book does a superb job of tracing the etiology of superfluous peoples' violent rebellion - from its origins in Rousseau's opposition to the Enlightenment all the way to its present incarnation as ISIS. However -spoiler coming - the book is descriptive, not prescriptive. The author documents two centuries of horror, but he offers no way out of the dichotomy that is killing us, he offers no middle ground between elitism/superfluousness and nihilism. He barely mentions that, for several decades, under pressure from Communism, Capitalism was forced to give labor a bigger share of the pie. This omission disappointed me; but if one knows before starting that this book is only history, without praxis, the book accomplishes what it set out to do.

Here are the most representative four paras that I can snip from a 350 page book:

There is a much longer history of fanatacism and zealotry in the defense of a traditional society thretened with extinction by a modern power. The first jihad of the modern era...began in Germany in 1813 against a military and cultural imperialism embodied by Napoleon, or 'the Devil' as he was widely called by Germans. Two subsequent centuries showed how the kind of imperialism that seeks to reshape a whole society, (that) makes people subordinate, morally and spiritually, and (that) often goes under the name of 'a civilizing mission', can provoke ferocious backlashes in the name of culture, custom, tradition and God...

In our own time, a brutish struggle for existence and recognition has come to define individual as well as geopolitical relations acroos the world...even in advanced democracies a managerial form of politics and neo-liberal economics has torn up the social contract. In the regime of privatization, commodification, deregulation and militarization it is barely possible to speak without inviting sarcasm about those qualities that distinguish humans from other predatory animals - trust, co-operation, community, dialogue, and solidarity. In our state of worldwide emergency, extrajudicial murder, torture and secret detentions no longer provoke widespread condemnation and shame. Popular culutre as well as state policy has made them seem normal.

ISIS...is the quintessenttial product of a radical process of globalization in which governments, unable to protect their citizens from foreign invaders, brutal police, or economic turbulence, lose their moral and ideological legitmacy, creating a space for such non-state actors as armed gangs, mafia, vigilante groups, warlords, and private revenge-seekers...

Almost all the young men involved in recent terror attacks in Europe and America have no religious education, have rarely visited a mosque. Their knowledge of Islamic tradition and theology does not exceed the pages of Islam for Dummies. Nearly all have an extensive background in petty criminality, not to mention banal but nonetheless un-Islamic levels of drunken carousing and drug taking...

----

That's all I want to say about Mishra's book. I'm still mulling over the implications of my new insights for any kind of political involvement, any hope that there are forceful political actors who are sane. Right now, I'm feeling like I should just go prepper and get as far from "civilization" as I can tolerate.

While I think things through, here are some other resources for those interested:

You can find Chris Hedges' review of the book here.

You might also find Chris Floyd's rather vulgar take on the same topic amusing. Here's a snip:

Fuck Off And Die.

This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you...

To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore -- or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth -- and the greasy mobility of global capital -- those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die -- and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.

Pay in Blood: Modern Politics Made Simple

Finally, years before Mishra wrote his book, I presented unwittingly presented an example of the dyanmic of messianic tribalism - the pre-Romantic era devolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - in a well-recieved essay (348 recs) at GOS.

Adelson and Kristol attempt the first Liberum Veto in US history

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The Aspie Corner's picture

Because as others have pointed out, a global worker revolt is the only thing that will stop this shit.

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Modern education is little more than toeing the line for the capitalist pigs.

arendt's picture

@The Aspie Corner

you call for a revolt.

Sigh.

The whole point of Mishra's book is that we need solidarity. We need solidarity to create enough political mass so that the IWW becomes a political force.

Mishra points out the tendency of anti-establishment protest to go for theatricality, grand gestures, general strikes - things that TPTB have long learned to deal with. Revolutions only happened when the ground has been prepared by the long, dull, dirty process of organizing people for the long haul - not for one glorious moment of revolution and then back to watching footie on the TV. And, given what Mishra is saying, that organizing cannot be Messianic. It has to be quotidian. It has to be about things that can't escalate into Jacobin-like bloodthirstyness. Too easy to discredit.

Does any of that resonate with you?

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The Aspie Corner's picture

@arendt The capitalists have us all scared shitless of each other for entirely petty reasons while most people on this ball of dirt live hand to mouth with no escape.

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Modern education is little more than toeing the line for the capitalist pigs.

arendt's picture

@The Aspie Corner

It really does sound like Pottersville. Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

So sad that the decent impulses have been beaten out of the American public. Too much violent garbage in the media and on the streets. Constant threats kill cooperation and kindness.

And if you actually find someone who is still being kind, chances are he/she is some fundamentalist nutcase who either believes that being a doormat in this world will win him heaven, or a phony who wants to recruit suckers that he can rule over. (Sorry, no offense to decent Christians. Its just that all I see and hear are the old style Falwells and the new style Prosperity Gospel folks. Not a Christian among them.)

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zoebear's picture

@arendt

And if you actually find someone who is still being kind, chances are he/she is some fundamentalist nutcase who either believes that being a doormat in this world will win him heaven, or a phony who wants to recruit suckers that he can rule over.

But not sure as a practicing Buddhist whose beliefs include incorporating the law of cause and effect in my interactions with friends, family, and co-workers makes me a fundamentalist nutcase either.

At any rate, I really enjoyed your essay. I was a history major years ago and you've added some very interesting books to my reading list. Smile

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Soldier: What? Ridden on a horse?
King Arthur: Yes!
Soldier: You're using coconuts!
King Arthur: What?
Soldier: You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

@arendt
a retired Egyptian General who moved here. The topic of revolution came up. He said "since the time of Christ Egypt has had 68 revolts, and what is the condition of the Egyptian people today?" This was a couple of revolts ago.

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arendt's picture

Think of this book as the ultimate (conceptual) lethal weapon in the hearts and minds of a rootless cosmopolitan Teenage Wasteland striving to find its true call as we slouch through the longest – the Pentagon would say infinite – of world wars; a global civil war (which in my 2007 book Globalistan I called “Liquid War”).

Mishra, a sterling product of East-meets-West, essentially argues it’s impossible to understand the present if we don’t acknowledge the subterranean homesick blues contradicting the ideal of cosmopolitan liberalism — the “universal commercial society of self-interested rational individuals” first conceptualized by the Enlightenment via Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Voltaire and Kant.

History’s winner ended up being a sanitized narrative of benevolent Enlightenment. The tradition of rationalism, humanism, universalism and liberal democracy was supposed to have always been the norm. It was “clearly too disconcerting,” Mishra writes, “to acknowledge that totalitarian politics crystallized the ideological currents (scientific racism, jingoistic rationalism, imperalism, technicism, aestheticized politics, utopianism, social engineering)” already convulsing Europe in the late 19th century.


Look Back in Anger Unplugged

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Wow, thank you for the book references.

I had just finished commenting on Western politics being grounded in Abrahamic (patriarchal) monotheism and thus distorted, when I saw your essay, which I will have to return to and read in depth.

Violent emotion... in our culture violence is clean, simple and purifying. I'm tempted to say we're conditioned by tv, movies, vid games, but that doesn't explain WWII. Sometimes I think I understand it, a little, but then there's a contrary example.

It takes an SOB to get rid of an SOB, I've said in the past: uprisings attract people looking for personal power and violence. There are some challenges to that dynamic: Thoreau, Gandhi, etc., but they're exceptional.

I like the idea of questioning basic assumptions in our philosophies, and building from there. However, we still need to address the immediate and real suffering of the unempowered. The EyeWW appeals, because it's a union that does not pit worker against worker, ideally at least. In the end, it's still about power and how it's concentrated or dispersed. They had and have a useful model for people taking some control of their lives; the violence was at them, not from them, largely.

But don't go prepping into that good night... preppers tend to be isolates, very much self over other. If you have to, find a cooperative community which will share, not hoard.

Thank you again for rich material.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@pindar's revenge

The EyeWW appeals, because it's a union that does not pit worker against worker, ideally at least. In the end, it's still about power and how it's concentrated or dispersed. They had and have a useful model for people taking some control of their lives; the violence was at them, not from them, largely.

Unions are one aspect of amalgamations of individuals.

The interpretation of "individualism" which I infer meant by these essays (original and linked) fails to recognize that true individualism, i.e. by a fully enlightened individual, MUST consider that we are coal beings by our very nature. A corollary to this, is that in order to function at our fullest requires empathy--the understanding of others' needs and feelings. I nowhere see mentioned in the erudite essay (which I strongly commend) see any recognition of the fact inherent in humanity, in the sense of being "humane" the absolute necessity for this specie's survival is the maintenance of the empathic glue which should bind us all together. Maybe the Devil is the reality of human imperfection--not some hostile, alien being imposed upon humanity but part and parcel of the mix of innate drives, just as hunger, thirst and sex are drives, that perforce comprise what humans, like all other species possess.

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@Alligator Ed
and the glue that binds us.

In The Naked Ape, Morris theorized that we developed bare skin to shed heat while running and chasing prey; then we used the sensuality of bare skin as another drop of the glue holding the clan together.

The clan won't work without empathy.

I don't understand what you mean by "coal beings", though. It's late Smile .

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Alligator Ed's picture

@pindar's revenge I meant "social beings".

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@Alligator Ed
I was trying to deduce a 1-letter typo, since I'm not an autocorrector. The nun's taught me to spell! /n (heh, anticipating another point, see my reply to Arendt) Back to the swamp for both of us (my totem was a frog, even if my avatar is a dog)

Empathy as a concept fits well with several comments I've made tonight, thanks.

And Arendt, please don;t think I was implying that you had made omissions. It's just that several essays tonight dovetail well, from my viewpoint, and community/cooperation was my theme. I got carried away and made some glib comments of BIG issues. Maybe someday I'll get organized enough to put them in a fleshed-out essay.

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arendt's picture

@pindar's revenge

I nowhere see mentioned in the erudite essay (which I strongly commend) see any recognition of the fact inherent in humanity, in the sense of being "humane" the absolute necessity for this specie's survival is the maintenance of the empathic glue which should bind us all together.

I thank you for covering that omission. I was just trying to give a fair picture of what Mishra said and how that related to what I already knew. The closest I came to talking about community was when I lamented Mishra's lack of a remedy for the situation, which I unspokenly assumed would include a social level other than superfluous lumpenproletariat or completely loyal tribal member.

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@arendt

Basically, I take an anthropological/zoological/ethological slant on things. Imagine a rev oh solution fully informed in economics, anthropology, statistics, behavioral science, fractal and chaos math, emergent properties, ecology, evolution, without the background images of Abraham sacrificing Isaac or crucifixions way in the back of secular minds. Spartacus and the many crosses! Talk about the purifying property of violence! These mother's milk indoctrinations show up in the weirdest places. Years after leaving the Church, I saw The Exorcist (nuns described levitating and foul language during possessions), and later that night my longish hair literally stood on end when something spooked me. I'm atheist (in the sense of not believing in a Personality), but raised strict Catholic, and sixty years later it still sneaks in: black and white pronouncements, "recycle, you sinner!" Smile , etc. Both Marks and Adam Smith grew in that stew, as did maybe 2/3 of the world now. (spelling deliberate)

How much of re-vo anger and violence comes from Yahweh smiting the unrighteous? Take that, capitalist Lot's wife! And then we have churches functioning very well as mutually supportive communities. Round and round it goes. And it's late. I'll stop babbling Smile . No offense to sincerely religious intended.

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arendt's picture

@pindar's revenge

I take an anthropological/zoological/ethological slant on things.

I must confess to a more esoteric take on personality, as my cite of Berman might indicate. The whole self/other split moment (that Berman cites) presuposes that "self" is already hardwired in our genes. There is a counter-theory which has been around since the 1976.

DANGER, Will Smith! Very deep rabbit hole ahead. You may not want to go down it. Red pill/blue pill choice.

That theory is Julian Jaynes' hypothesis of the Bicameral Mind, which has lurked in the background ever since, never having been disproven, but never having been taken seriously either. These days, I guess it qualifies as a cult. It was used as a plot point in the Westworld TV series, from which I snip this way too simple take on the theory:

In 1976, psychologist and Princeton lecturer Julian Jaynes published The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a radical detailing of mankind's ascension to a state of true consciousness. According to Jaynes, humans only developed the ability to think for themselves, consider their actions, and stand aware of their own awareness about 3,000 years ago. Before then, they took orders from voices inside their heads, which they believed to be deities. The left hemisphere of the brain would shout "jump" and the right hemisphere would say "how high?" 

Jaynes's major evidence for this separation is the stark contrast between Homer's Iliad, written by "non-conscious minds" and lacking in introspection of any kind, and the Odyssey, where characters reflect on their surroundings and act on their own volition. Jaynes believes that between the tellings of these two stories, Earth's sure-footed denizens realized the "words from the Gods" echoing through their minds were the product of their own instincts.  As you may expect, reviews for The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind were glowing and vicious -- "the bicameral mind" theory had holes, but Jaynes's narrative thrust left a community thirsty for answers drunk on possibility.

Why the Bicameral Mind Theory Is Crucial to Unlocking 'Westworld'

Dr. Berman buys the Jaynes' hypothesis and extends it, saying that in the Dark Ages people lost consciousness and became sort of bicameral again which explains the singular lack of personality and curiousity of that period. Either Jaynes or Berman speculate that the Incas were bicameral, which is why they just stood around stupidly when the Spanish showed up and slaughtered them all, because their brains could not deal with the completely novel situation and thus did not offer any voices for how to proceed.

Why is this relevant to Yahweh? Because Yahweh was a classic "voice in your head telling you what to do" (which Jaynes compares to the symptoms of schizophrenia). The voices/gods had (bicamerally) organized society hierarchically; and this had worked up until about 1200 BC, when Mycenae was wiped out by the volcano and the Assyrians started slaughering their way to empire.

Religions, such as Judaism/Yahweh, are projections of the self/other split into the political/tribal domain. They foster hatred of the other. So, I completely agree with you:

How much of re-vo anger and violence comes from Yahweh smiting the unrighteous? Take that, capitalist Lot's wife! And then we have churches functioning very well as mutually supportive communities. Round and round it goes.

What is really interesting is the case of China. The following snip is from a long treatise by a Taoist scholar, written in 2008. The first section has a detailed and complete summary of Jaynes theory, which you can read in about ten minutes. The bottom line for this scholar is that China never had Bicameral government!!!

Marvin Harris lists three factors as the essential requirement for states to appear, namely population increase, intensive agriculture to produce enough plus food, and the so called circumscription. [6] Circumscription means the emigration of dissatisfied factions was blocked in such a way that factions of discontented members of a state cannot escape from their elite overlords without suffering a sharp decline in their standard of living. The earliest states like Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece were circumscribed by their dependence on modes of production associated with fertile river valleys surrounded by arid or semiarid plains or mountains. Circumscription was the critical factor for the three civilizations, as it generated the first genuine rulers in human history who were able to control access to basic resources. To control access to basic resources enabled the rulers to control people and set up a military power to kill people. Once the rulers have the power to kill, and the first forceful authority of secondary society is established. Slavery for massive scales of productive and constructive activities was then possible.

In ancient China, such a circumscription was never available to set up any similar states. According to Wang [3], the locations Chinese lived scattered over a vast area but were mingled with minority ethical people until the Spring Autumn Period (771-476 BC). The royal clans and the peasants who lived in the capital practiced mobile agriculture at least until 1400 BC, and peasants were no doubt to practice mobile agriculture much later. As a result, it was almost impossible for the ruling class to execute strict control over its people, since the escape of dissatisfied factions was always possible. Without circumscription and the control of basic resources, the military power to kill was well balanced against each other by this super state structure of primary society. The king and his court, as the ultimate power of this super state, were the major check for any local power, but the power of the king and his court was in turn checked by the power of various vassal states. The cooperation of a few vassal states would easily overpower the king and his court.

The first social implication of the above mentioned Chinese super state of primary society was that this super state saw itself as the only government for the whole humanity.
The second social implication of this Chinese super state of primary society was that the people were left on their own. In a primary society, people cannot expect very much from their powerless leader, the headman. Similarly ancient Chinese people could not expect very much from gods. Gods were an essential part of ancient Western society, and people expected gods to play a vital role in their lives. Gods and heaven played only a peripheral role in ancient Chinese life.  


Julian Jaynes’ Theory of the Bicameral Mind and A Different Path to Subjective Consciousness in China

There is so much in this treatise that explains the totally different Chinese take on the world: the idea of civilization that can transcend the fall of governments, a society not in thrall to fictitious, vengeful gods, a fundamentally peaceful society.

I'd love to get your take on this, but I recognize that you might find it looney tunes. Feel free to say so.

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CB's picture

@arendt
when a segment of our current population will react in much the same way if they believe a threat is insurmountable. A small force can control a large population if the threat of unspeakable violence is great enough. Hitler's Germany, Pol Pot and ISIS are good examples.

We see fragments of this behavior when an individual attacks someone on a bus and the other 20 people back away in fear and do nothing to help. They simply freeze.

Either Jaynes or Berman speculate that the Incas were bicameral, which is why they just stood around stupidly when the Spanish showed up and slaughtered them all, because their brains could not deal with the completely novel situation and thus did not offer any voices for how to proceed.

The Incas were facing an enemy force who had weapons and modes of transport that were far superior to their own which created the confusion and inability to respond. The North American aborigines responded in much the same way when the Europeans first invaded. Unlike the Incas, these aborigines soon had access to the guns and horses of the invaders and learned to fight back so they managed to outlast their cousins to the south. But, in both cases, it was infectious diseases that decimated their populations to the greatest extent.

History is replete with untold thousands of situations where a superior technological force decimates a less advanced society. This is the story of the genus homo.

I would suggest that the Incas were actually experiencing a form of PTSD where:

  1. The Thinking Center (prefrontal cortex) is underactivated.
  2. The Emotion Regulation Center (anterior cingulate cortex) is underactivated.
  3. The Fear Center (anygdala) is overactivated.
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arendt's picture

@CB

First, the Aborigines are a red herring. The Abos were stone age. They had no clothes, no tools, no writing, no towns. They were illiterate, nomadic bands. They were utterly helpless and ignorant.

OTOH, the Incas had a huge population organized into cities. They had writing, calendars, temples, granaries, gold miners. On paper, the Incas should have been a much tougher nut for a hundred or so Spaniards to crack.

Next, make many assumptions?

a segment of our current population will react in much the same way if they believe a threat is insurmountable. A small force can control a large population if the threat of unspeakable violence is great enough.

You posit the Incas believed the threat was "insurmountable". On.what.basis? If the Spanish didn't attack first, then how would the Incas know how big the threat was?

Second, you posit that the Spaniards conveyed "the threat of unspeakable violence". How did they do that when they certainly did not speak the language? To kill one person as an example would hardly have been unspeakable violence by Inca standards. By the time "unspeakable violence" was clear, the Incas were already defeated. Your story has the Incas reacting to the outcome before the battle happened.

The Thinking Center (prefrontal cortex) is underactivated.
The Emotion Regulation Center (anterior cingulate cortex) is underactivated.
The Fear Center (anygdala) is overactivated.

This is nothing more than hand waving. There are at least ten subdivisions of the PFC (e.g., with names like ventralPFC, medio-dorsolateralPFC,...) Do you have a specific neural circuit in mind? Entire academic departments devote themselves to understanding the PFC, but you reduce it to this simplistic phrase, "the thinking center".

The ACC is but one part of the limbic system. To claim that it is THE emotional regulatory center all by itself is naive. Ditto for the amygdala. The limbic system has huge numbers of feedback loops with various parts of the cortex. People can feel fear and not act on it. One of the features of consciousness is that it can choose to overrule inputs from the limbic system.

You seem to have a completely mechanistic view of the human brain. This region does this and that region does that. But you speak not at all about where the consciousness that directs it comes from, whether it is the self-consicous version you argue for or the bicameral non-consciousness that I argue for. In either case, consciousness or bicamerality is an emergent, systems level phenomenon, not some Pavlovian reflex explained by picking from a Chinese menu of brain region functionality.

----

I grant you that no one can go back in time to question the Incas. But there are records from the Spanish side which state how bafflingly passive the Incas were in the face of the initial small band of Conquistadors. Now Conquistadors were hardly noted for deep psychological insights - mostly they were greedy cutthroats. So the fact that they remarked on this and it was written down speaks to the weirdness of the event.

To claim that an entire population of warriors were terrified into absolute paralysis by the handful of Conquistadors who made first contact, who walked unopposed right into the Inca capital and up to the ruler, is ridiculous on its face. No Inca made any trouble? No one tried to take weapons from the Spanish as they walked right up to the emperor? No hotheads? No heros?

Of course, if you believe that humans have always and everywhere been self-conscious, narratizing beings, then that is the conclusion you are stuck with.

modes of transport that were far superior to their own which created the confusion and inability to respond

I will grant the Incas were clueless about the ships. But once the Spanish left the coast and the ship behind, they were just riding animals. The Incas had large animals, llamas. Granted they weren't rideable; but the idea that, in mountainous country, a horse is a "far superior mode of transport" is stretching it.

Now armor is a different story. But I doubt the horses were armored. The Incas could have shot the horses with bows and arrows. But they didn't. The Incas could have overwhelmed the technically superior Spanish with a mass charge, like the Zulus did against the much more technically superior British at Islandwana - 400 years later. They could have blocked narrow defiles or passes and pounced when the Spanish were stuck at them.

Once again, the complete lack of initiative from an organized army is utterly baffling from a conventinal consciousness POV.

I do not think you have proven your case at all.

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CB's picture

@arendt
combined with absolute ruthlessness. The Inca Empire was just ending a civil war when the Conquistadors arrived which had considerably weakened the Inca Empire. At the same time, the northern territories were in constant rebellion.


Pizarro & the Fall of the Inca Empire

In 1533 CE the Inca Empire was the largest in the world. It extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south. However, the lack of integration of conquered peoples into that empire, combined with a civil war to claim the Inca throne and a devastating epidemic of European-brought diseases, meant that the Incas were ripe for the taking. Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru with an astonishingly small force of men whose only interest was treasure. With superior weapons and tactics, and valuable assistance from locals keen to rebel, the Spanish swept away the Incas in little more than a generation. The arrival of the visitors to the New World and consequent collapse of the Inca Empire was the greatest humanitarian disaster to ever befall the Americas.

Pizarro's reputation proceeded him by many years. The Spaniards first entered Peru in 1528 but it wasn't until 1532 that they actually made contact with the rulers of the Inca Empire. During those years, Pizarro returned to Panama to get reinforcements from Spain. The Spaniards continued to pillage and ruthlessly murder the natives on their march southwards. Infectious disease such as smallpox was also rapidly spreading at this same time. Each year the Spaniards encountered less and less resistance. Some villages had been entirely depopulated due to disease and internal strife.

The Battle of Cajamarca (which I presume was in reference to "they just stood around stupidly when the Spanish showed up and slaughtered them all") was a perfect example of the military tactics of "shock and awe" combined with complete decapitation of the command structure (command structure being of utmost importance to the Inca military). The response to this is fight, freeze or flight. In the Battle of Cajamarca there was a combination of all three.

Battle of Cajamarca

The 'Battle' of Cajamarca was the unexpected ambush and seizure of the Inca ruler Atahualpa by a small Spanish force led by Francisco Pizarro, on November 16, 1532. The Spanish killed thousands of Atahualpa's counsellors, commanders and unarmed attendants in the great plaza of Cajamarca, and caused his armed host outside the town to flee. The capture of Atahualpa marked the opening stage of the conquest of the pre-Columbian Inca civilization of Peru.[4]
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Battle and Atahualpa's capture

At the signal to attack, the Spaniards unleashed gunfire at the vulnerable mass of Incans and surged forward in a concerted action. The effect was devastating and the shocked and unarmed Incans offered little resistance. The Spanish forces used a cavalry charge against the Incan forces, in combination with gunfire from cover (the Incan forces also had never encountered firearms before) combined with the ringing bells on the horses to frighten the Inca.[6]:176–180

The first target of the Spanish attack was Atahualpa and his top commanders. Pizarro rushed at Atahualpa on horseback, but the Inca remained motionless. The Spanish severed the hands or arms of the attendants carrying Atahualpa's litter to force them to drop it so they could reach him. The Spanish were astounded that the attendants ignored their wounds and used their stumps or remaining hands to hold it up until several were killed and the litter slumped. Atahualpa remained sitting on the litter while a large number of his attendants rushed to place themselves between the litter and the Spanish, deliberately allowing themselves to be killed. While his men were cutting down Atahualpa's attendants, Pizarro rode through them to where a Spanish soldier had pulled the Inca from his litter. While he was doing so, other soldiers also reached the litter and one attempted to kill Atahualpa. Recognizing the value of the Emperor as a hostage, Pizarro blocked the attack and received a sword wound to his hand in consequence.[11][12]

The main Inca force, which had retained their weapons but remained "about quarter of a league" outside Cajamarca, scattered in confusion as the survivors of those who had accompanied Atahualpa fled from the square, breaking down a fifteen-foot length of wall in the process. Atahualpa's warriors were veterans of his recent northern campaigns and constituted the professional core of the Inca army, seasoned warriors who outnumbered the Spaniards more than 45 to 1 (8,000 to 168). However, the shock of the Spanish attack—coupled with the spiritual significance of losing the Sapa Inca and most of his commanders in one fell swoop—apparently shattered the army's morale, throwing their ranks into terror and initiating a massive rout. There is no evidence that any of the main Inca force attempted to engage the Spaniards in Cajamarca after the success of the initial ambush.[13]
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arendt's picture

@CB
the internal mental state of the Incas.

You are attributing a modern conscious mental state to the Incas, when the only conscious people present (the Spanish) were utterly baffled by the mental attitude and behavior of the Incas. There really is room for the bicameral explanation within the historical record.

a perfect example of the military tactics of "shock and awe" combined with complete decapitation of the command structure (command structure being of utmost importance to the Inca military). The response to this is fight, freeze or flight.

From my POV, this history is completely consistent with the Bicameral paradigm. Bicameral socieites were rigidly hierarchical. Each person heard the voice of his superior, on up the chain of command to the king/emporer/Inca. So wiping out the leadership would not merely demoralize the Incas, it would completely paralyze them. Not only are the societies rigid in hierarchy, they are rigid in behavior. No one improvises. Hence, from the Wikipedia article you cited:

Pizarro rushed at Atahualpa on horseback, but the Inca remained motionless. The Spanish severed the hands or arms of the attendants carrying Atahualpa's litter to force them to drop it so they could reach him. The Spanish were astounded that the attendants ignored their wounds and used their stumps or remaining hands to hold it up until several were killed and the litter slumped.

Once again, the history is that the Spanish were astounded by the passivity of the Incas, in the face of massive slaughter. Even people with their arms cut off could not deviate from their bicamerally-dictated behaviors. The emperor sat motionless, probably because he was waiting for a bicameral command from his own voice (which he would have interpreted as the god of the Incas). Such voice never came because the situation was too unprecedented.

Regarding the planning for the battle, one thing bicameral people don't have is deceit:

Not subjectively conscious, unable to deceive or to narratize out the deception of others, the Inca and his lords were captured like helpless automatons. And as its people mechancially watched, this shipload of subjective men stripped the gold sheathing from the holy city...raped its unprotesting women, and sailed away.

Julian Jaynes, OOCITBOTBM

They also didn't have dishonesty:

There were no thieves in Cuzco and no doors: a stick crosswise in front of the open doorway was a sign that the owner was not in and nobody would enter.

Julian Jaynes, OOCITBOTBM

Both of those Inca deficiencies are completely consistent with the Wikipedia narrative of the planning: Pizarro literally schemed and prepared an ambush. The men must have hid in empty buildings, but Incas would never do that (see above about sticks in doorways). The Incas were clueless about those kinds of tricks.

Pizarro gathered his officers on the evening of November 15 and outlined a scheme that recalled memories of Cortés' exploits in Mexico in its audacity: he would capture the emperor from within the midst of his own armies. Since this could not realistically be accomplished in an open field, Pizarro had invited the Inca to Cajamarca.[6]:172–173

The Spaniards had concealed themselves within the buildings surrounding the empty plaza at the centre of the town. Infantry and horsemen were concealed in the alleyways which opened onto this open square. Spanish infantry were deployed to guard the entrances to a stone building in the centre of the square while men armed with arquebuses and four small cannon took up places within it.[8] Pizarro ordered his men to remain silent and hidden until the guns were fired.

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I don't see how you think you have proved anything. I am talking about the mental state of the Incas. The state I'm talking about is completely consistent with the history; and contrary to your version, it makes sense out of things that baffled the conscious observers present at the event.

The smallpox argument and the weakened army argument just don't wash when it was 80,000 incas versus 180 spainiards. The guns, germs, and steel just don't explain the Incas behavior. (And I love Jared Dimond and find his arguments compelling. Its just that he is talking about conscious people.)

Can you at least take a look at the bicameral theory before you simply dismiss it (without disproving it)?

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arendt's picture

@CB

During the Hague Convention of 1899, the British delegation attempted to justify the use of the dumdum bullet by pointing to its utility when putting down colonial unrest. Barbara Tuchman writes that, "Developed by the British to stop the rush of fanatical tribesman, the bullets were vigorously defended by Sir John Ardagh against the heated attack of all except the American military delegate, Captain Crozier, whose country was about to make use of them in the Philippines. In warfare against savages, Ardagh explained to an absorbed audience, 'men penetrated through and through several times by our latest pattern of small calibre projectiles, which make small clean holes,' were nevertheless able to rush on and come to close quarters. Some means had to be found to stop them. 'The civilized soldier when shot recognizes that he is wounded and knows that the sooner he is attended to the sooner he will recover. He lies down on his stretcher and is taken off the field to his ambulance, where he is dressed or bandaged. Your fanatical barbarian, similarly wounded, continues to rush on, spear or sword in hand; and before you have the time to represent to him that his conduct is in flagrant violation of the understanding relative to the proper course for the wounded man to follow—he may have cut off your head.'"

- Wikipedia Expanding Bullets

You posit the Incas to be paralyzed by a threat they did not understand. Meanwhile, four centuries later, even more primitive people are too stupid to recognize the threat that wounds have inflicted upon them.

Again, it is the most common thing in the world for large organized groups to instinctively attack a threat. Individuals may cower. Entire armies do not.

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CB's picture

@arendt

Again, it is the most common thing in the world for large organized groups to instinctively attack a threat. Individuals may cower. Entire armies do not.

When organized leadership is destroyed or becomes ineffective, even massive armies rapidly disintegrate and fall back. Historically, entire civilizations and nations have disappeared once they lost their leadership. This is one of the reasons that modern nations, unlike those pre-20th century, now keep their military leaders far from the battlefield. In years past, killing a king or general on the battlefield meant winning the war.

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arendt's picture

@CB

When organized leadership is destroyed or becomes ineffective, even massive armies rapidly disintegrate and fall back.

When the leadership is bicameral, everything disintegrates instantly.

Can you give some indication that you understand the theory I am arguing from? Because you keep thinking you are proving something when you are not.

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CB's picture

@arendt
the idea of a bi-cameral mind.

What I am trying to say is that the fall and disintegration of the Inca Empire was not due to such a mechanism. The Empire was already tottering (internecine warfare, starvation due to farmers being conscripted as soldiers, revolts in the provinces - had already taken their toll) when the Spaniards arrived and pushed it over the edge. History has shown there are numerous instances of civilizations destroyed at the hands of another, more technologically advanced. This IS the story of "civilization" going back to the time when homo started invading other's territories in search of resources.

In 2014, approximately 1500-2000 relatively lightly armed ISIS extremists were able to take full control of Mosul, a modern city of 1.8 million people in less than a week. The brutality and viciousness of ISIS was one of the main reasons the 30,000 soldiers and police stationed there removed their uniforms, dropped their weapons and fled without putting up a fight.

It took the Spaniards 40 more years with many skirmishes and battles to finally gain complete control of the Inca lands after the massacre at Cajamarca. This shows that the Incas were quite capable of independent thought and action despite the fact that the ruler and main governing body of the Empire had been completely destroyed.

There are approximately 12,000,000 Inca descendants in Peru, 45% of total population. I'm sure that if they had possessed such a thing as a bi-cameral mind a few short centuries ago, a fraction of an instant in evolutionary time, it would still be evident in these people today and could be tested for despite dilution from intermarriage.

Here's how Pizarro was most likely greeted by thousands of unarmed people before they were brutally attacked:

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arendt's picture

@CB

I am not trying to either prove nor disprove the idea of a bi-cameral mind. What I am trying to say is that the fall and disintegration of the Inca Empire was not due to such a mechanism.

Finally, you spoke to the bicameral theory; and your response is certainly as believable as what I am saying. So, even if you weren't trying, you finally succeeded.

It took the Spaniards 40 more years with many skirmishes and battles to finally gain complete control of the Inca lands after the massacre at Cajamarca. This shows that the Incas were quite capable of independent thought and action despite the fact that the ruler and main governing body of the Empire had been completely destroyed.

There are approximately 12,000,000 Inca descendants in Peru, 45% of total population. I'm sure that if they had possessed such a thing as a bi-cameral mind a few short centuries ago, a fraction of an instant in evolutionary time, it would still be evident in these people today and could be tested for despite dilution from intermarriage.

I could make hand waving counter-arguments along the following lines, but I would be winging it. So, I only offer them for context. I could say that once the Inca was dead, all the local leaders became their own bosses, still with automaton underlings. I could say that once their was one Spanish slaughter, the bicameral minds would have examples to work from. I could make up my own just-so story. But I'm not going to.

You have helped me to recognize that trying to speak to internal mental states is a very slippery slope that can quickly lead to the kind of reincarnation BS that I mentioned above in regards to Blavatsky.

I especially like the idea of testing for bicamerality in modern populations. According to the theory, there might be a higher occurrence of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and/or oracular type behavior - such as the Brazilian speaking-in-tongues cults that Jaynes described.

In the end, I think you need to do MRI testing on live people (of which there has been some done recently that does show that right brain ((god side)) auditory cortex becomes active in schizophrenics suffering auditory hallucinations), not historical exegesis on a very sketchy record.

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I still have a hard time understanding where you are coming from on this. Let me explain.

This entire thread is about motivations and mental state, Romanticism as a mental defense against imperialism. That led to my introducing, way downthread, the bicameral stuff. It is only at that point that you enter the discussion. And you do so with a completely conventional POV on mentality, dropping propaganda tropes like "shock and awe" into the discussion. It took three exchanges for you to address bicamerality directly as opposed to simply ignoring it.

All I ask is for you to give me some motivation as to why you ignored the thread until you entered, and whether you have a military background, which might explain your choice of topic.

No disrespect meant. Just trying to process what I perceive to be poor communication on my side.

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CB's picture

@arendt
could be determined with the use of MRI testing. This testing now gives a much better understanding of the organic processes behind psychopathology. We've come a long way since Jaynes wrote his book.

The Origin of Consciousness
Jaynes uses governmental bicameralism as a metaphor to describe a mental state in which the experiences and memories of the right hemisphere of the brain are transmitted to the left hemisphere via auditory hallucinations. The metaphor is based on the idea of lateralization of brain function although each half of a normal human brain is constantly communicating with the other through the corpus callosum. The metaphor is not meant to imply that the two halves of the bicameral brain were "cut off" from each other but that the bicameral mind was experienced as a different, non-conscious mental schema wherein volition in the face of novel stimuli was mediated through a linguistic control mechanism and experienced as auditory verbal hallucination.

I believe that homo has evolved well beyond this "bi-cameral mind", if indeed it truly was a precursor to our species attaining a full consciousness encompassing a past, present and future. The bi-cameral mind theory could possibly be an explanation of the God belief found in most societies since homo started aggregating in groups larger than the family unit. Having a shared God belief (notably polytheism to account for the various auditory hallucinations) could serve to keep societies cohesive and intact during times of peace and prosperity (the times when having a larger group is not required for protection or for the seeking of new resources).

But, I would posit that a bi-cameral mind could actually be detrimental to very large and diverse societies.

My problem with Jaynes' suggestion that the Inca Empire's rapid collapse and decline was due to this society possessing a bi-cameral mind would then entail it being some sort of evolutionary backwater. The Inca Empire was comprised of well over a thousand tribes speaking 30 different languages over an extensive area from Southern Bolivia to Southern Peru encompassing 775,000 square miles of mostly rugged mountain terrain (which effectively precluded close social interactions between groups on a daily basis). The Empire was much too diverse and extensive for the existence of a bi-cameral mind. If anything, such a mind would preclude the formation of a large Inca Empire in the first place.

BTW, I believe full consciousness was developed in the primate homo since they diverged from the Australopithecines (southern ape) over two thousand millennia ago. The development of human consciousness is well correlated with the development of language. Brain imaging has shown that apes mainly think in images and less so with sound (language). The converse is true with humans. Most people need to put thoughts into words in order to express images, even to themselves. This not to say that we cannot enjoy consciousness without words - music, visual imagery, emotions are good examples. Another important aspect of consciousness is facial expression, something which is universally recognizable within primates to a great extent.

There are spectacular anomalies to 'normal' consciousness within the autism spectrum. Thinking with tones, colors, shapes, movements, etc. A red ball rotating upwards to the left with the tone of E flat could be joy - or it could be the taste of a lemon. Research into this area could be a valuable insight into what we mean by "consciousness".

Sorry if I cannot convey my thoughts properly. I'm almost 3/4 of a century old and had a small stroke which has affected my memory of words as well as the ability to construct sentences. It's much easier to respond with a link.

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arendt's picture

@CB

Nevertheless, you do very well with sentence construction and vocabulary. If you hadn't mentioned the impairment, it would never have occurred to me. I can see how that event would motivate you to know more about the brain.

My problem with Jaynes' suggestion that the Inca Empire's rapid collapse and decline was due to this society possessing a bi-cameral mind would then entail it being some sort of evolutionary backwater. The Inca Empire was comprised of well over a thousand tribes speaking 30 different languages over an extensive area from Southern Bolivia to Southern Peru encompassing 775,000 square miles of mostly rugged mountain terrain (which effectively precluded close social interactions between groups on a daily basis). The Empire was much too diverse and extensive for the existence of a bi-cameral mind. If anything, such a mind would preclude the formation of a large Inca Empire in the first place.

You know much more about the Incas than I do, and I cannot refute what you say. In future, if I talk about Jaynes, I will definitely leave out the Incas. Your description of many scattered groups seems closer to the Chinese experience (see lack of "circumspection" in one of my comments), despite the presence of mountains; and the Chinese experience led to early consciousness and a peaceful empire.

But, his main evidence for bicamerality, from Greece (Iliad, Odyssey) and from Mesopotamia and Egypt (various writings and stele and carvings) really points out how odd behavior was. Others, including Carl Sagan (Dragons of Eden), have found his general thesis of a recent switch into full consciousness to be compelling. The main problem is that internal mental state leaves very little in the fossil or archeological record.

Most people need to put thoughts into words in order to express images, even to themselves. This not to say that we cannot enjoy consciousness without words - music, visual imagery, emotions are good examples. Another important aspect of consciousness is facial expression, something which is universally recognizable within primates to a great extent.

There are spectacular anomalies to 'normal' consciousness within the autism spectrum.

Consciousness research today really has some good neurophysiological data. First, there was the accidental discovery via fMRI of the "Default Mode Network" (aka the Resting Mode Network), which is a set of brain regions that are active when we are awake and mentally doing nothing, not even daydreaming. It shows what regions keep consciousness "idling". There is a direct correlation between DMN regions and regions that are first attacked by Alzheimers, which is evidence supporting the "Type 3 diabetes" theory that Alzheimers happens because the brain develops insulin resistance and the busiest cells starve and die first.

More relevant to the consciousness we are discussing is "Global Workspace Theory", which has very solid experimental evidence. The theory was proposed by Bernard Baars back in the 1990s, but recently Stanislaus Dehaene has done fMRI experiments to confirm it. Basically, the theory says that brain regions compete, second by second, for access to the global workspace. If a region gets acceess, its information is broadcast to all other regions. The other regions then have access to this information to update their ongoing calculations. In this theory, consciousness is the stream of items that are currently broadcasting. Dehaene has done hundreds of "masking" fMRI experiments (where items of interest, which might get into consciousness, are "masked" by a stronger, following stimulus) that determine precisely how many milliseconds it takes before a mask does not work. The fMRI data shows that if consciousness is reached, the whole brain lights up (the p300 wave in EEG is a similar event); but if the event is masked, the stimulus stays within its local region and is not consciously accesible.

So, GWT demonstrates that there is no one brain region that is the seat of consciousness. Consciousness is found in the constantly reconfiguring network of broadcast connections. To me, this says that Jaynes' espousal of consciousness as "a software mode of the brain" is perfectly reasonable. Bicameralism could correspond to two separate "non-conscious" networks connected by audio hallucinations over the corpus calosum, and the idea of a shift of network connectivity/broadcast modes could explain Jaynes ideas.

The CC is key to the theory, and key to the low repute of Jaynes theory today. I suspect that brain researchers are loath to do experiments solely for the purpose of confirming/refuting Jaynes. They might fear to be labeled as crackpots. However, a few CC experiments have been done; and they do support the auditory hallucination theory.

I hear you about the idea that this all happened in time of australiopithacus (to lazy to check correct spelling). But that argument was implicit in everything before Jaynes. Its not a new argument. I've got to run for now, maybe I will say more.

If you want readable cites for Baars, Dehaene, or DMN just ask.

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@arendt @arendt
Where to start?
I'll take the purple pill.

First, thanks for such a long and interesting take on my rambling post.

TRIGGER WARNING: I may speak of someone's religion in a manner which may be perceived as disrespectful or insulting. No malicious slight intended.

One thing that made me start thinking along these lines re: monotheism was one of Mary Renault's interesting ancient Greece novels. She had a Greek describe the Jews as a strange tribe who worshipped only Zeus. And there was Robert Graves' "King Jesus"; IIRC that's where I got the concept of monotheism equalling male divinity. But there is something unique and compelling in what I think of as "desert revelatory religions": Judaism, Xtianity, Islam and probably some others I don't know about, and their sects and schisms; in other words, the Abrahamic religions. You bring up Egypt, another desert culture: that may be the prototype of them all. Consider that the Israelites left Egypt and conquered Palestine, finding Yahweh along the way. What the Abrahamic religions have in common is a single patriarchal god, and scripture based on revelations and miracles. Some theorize psychedelic plants are involved. My thinking along these lines does not extend into theories of personality or basic consciousness. I assume there is no fundamental difference of mind between the prophets and the current mass of humankind. To support that assumption, our modern T.E. Lawrence described himself as being a prophet in this tradition. His revelation (that the state of mind, the concept, of rebellion and independence from the Ottomans, that there was an Arab identity transcending tribes, was the main event and more important than blowing up rail lines) occurred when he was in a state of consciousness altered by misery: he was sick and feverish on the ground, and a camel pissed on his head. So my theory is that the desert environment presents elements which encourage altered states leading to revelation and visions.

This does not jibe with the bicameral theory you describe, because the modern European Lawrence experienced revelation and prophecy as in scripture, so there was no fundamental difference of consciousness between BC and WWI. Maybe his R&P was not the same as the ancient experience, though I think it is, or is similar. I can believe that there was some major split between the time of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but that might be simply due to different oral traditions/authors. I always thought the Iliad was incredibly boring, unending "sons-of" text, whereas the Odyssey reads like a great science fiction story. (I've read a description of the odyssey as the first sf novel. It's like a space voyage.) The sharp division between the hemispheres which might be required for the bicameralism is only that pronounced when the corpus callosum joining them is cut; then, the left hand really doesn't know what the right hand is doing. I don't watch tv, so I don't get the Westworld reference.

The mythological part of my political thinking: Here I'm on weak ground, writing from poorly-remembered material, but it was the transition into an urban culture supported by agricultural surplus that led to the overthrow of matriarchy by patriarchy; not a sharp change, but a transition. Early cultures had the Year-King, who married the Queen and was sacrificed for fertility each year. The year got drawn out to seven years, then animal substitutes were used (scape-goats), then a symbolic one-and-all sacrifice of the crucifixion. Graves posited that the resulting Kingdom of God was supposed to be the final victory of the male principle. Don't ask me for the references except Graves' King Jesus and The Golden Bough, like I said I'm working from creaky memory here.

I'd like to learn more about the Incas. I know someone who's mountain Indian from Peru; I'd love to go see. Interesting section of the Chay movie around Macchu Picchu. (deliberate sp) As far as the conquest: religious awe and superstition could account for much of the effect you describe, I think; not so much shock, but a lot of awe.

Dedicated Marksists consider the surplus-of-agriculture stage as the beginning of property and class. Personally, I have tried, and I just can't read Marks, the language is so turgid (translation?), and I'm used to reading research where it can take an hour to comprehend one page, so it's not that I'm impatient. It's interesting that both my spiel above and your citation of Chinese civilization revolve around deserts being in the environment, I think we're on to something. I'm thinking that the critical stage is the property-and-class development due to ag in both traditions leading to aristocracy, but I'm intrigued by the notion of distributed power in broadly fertile land vs concentrated power in the desert revelation lands. I've also discussed Taoism vs Confucianism with a Chinese friend; the Conf tradition asserts social order and behavior controlled from an internalized set of constraints, not coercion (which may be even more oppressive, but that's another discussion). Hah! This all dovetails nicely with my comments about distributed nodes of power in mutually-supportive cooperating communities. Again, it all comes down to power, and how it's distributed - or not distributed.

This will be the Chinese century, I think for the better. They may save the world from ourselves. ("yeah, right" says my bicameral cynic)(Cynic: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be - Bierce)

Thank you for taking time for such a long and thoughtful response. I'll need more convincing on the bicameral theory, though. I wonder if Egyptian canopic jars and Incan mummies could tell us something about differences in the corpus callosum; a bicameral brain might have an atrophied corpus. I'd also like to know and discuss more about the role of gods and demons in China. Cheers!

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@Alligator Ed

I am reading a fascinating book right now about a subject near and dear to my heart. In "The Hidden Life of Trees", the author, who for years worked as a forester, spent two decades observing and studying the different ways trees actually "communicate" with each other. One of them is through the roots where trees can actually "nourish" sick trees and "parent" young trees through electro magnetic impulses. Another way is through scent. A tree being eaten by giraffes or insects can emit a scent that will alert hundreds of other trees in the area of the imminent danger. The other trees respond to the scent by pumping a toxin in their leaves that the giraffes and insects won't eat. However, (and this is what I found so interesting) this kind of "communication" can only develop when trees are densely populated as within a forest.

It seems the old adage that there is power in numbers isn't limited to human beings. But in this case I think nature has made a strong case for humans as well. We are social beings. And as social beings we need each other to protect us from predators. The trick is in the definition of who the true predators are. I think most of us here know exactly who they are, but sadly, there are still many more out there who don't. How we figure out a way to be of one mind, like the trees in the forest, so we can alert each other of predators and nourish our sick and young, I believe can only come through empathy and understanding of each other.

(I apologize in advance to anyone if my Pollyanna-ish take on the human experience strikes them as ludicrous but the alternative is untenable for me in its absence of hope or joy).

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Soldier: What? Ridden on a horse?
King Arthur: Yes!
Soldier: You're using coconuts!
King Arthur: What?
Soldier: You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

arendt's picture

@zoebear

We are social beings. And as social beings we need each other to protect us from predators. The trick is in the definition of who the true predators are. I think most of us here know exactly who they are, but sadly, there are still many more out there who don't. How we figure out a way to be of one mind, like the trees in the forest, so we can alert each other of predators and nourish our sick and young, I believe can only come through empathy and understanding of each other.

There is a theory of political "ponerology" which is based on some statistics from social research. Crudely, about 1% of the population are Hollywood-level sociopaths (cold blooded, calculating, charming, possessing "the mask of sanity" but no human connections). Another 5% are happy to sell out to the 1% for a piece of the action. So, you have 6% of the population out there to eat you for dinner.

Because of technology, power is highly concentrated in hierarchical organizations and in the 0.01%s resources. When the bad apples get into the barrel today, they can wreck everything. The ponerology/sociopaths theory cites the 2008 crash as an example of how it works.

The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that changes in the way people are employed have facilitated the rise of Corporate Psychopaths to senior positions and their personal greed in those positions has created the crisis. Prior to the last third of the twentieth century large corporations were relatively stable, slow to change and the idea of a job for life was evident, with employees gradually rising through the corporate ranks until a position was reached beyond which they were not qualified by education, intellect or ability to go. In such a stable, slowly changing environment employees would get to know each other very well and Corporate Psychopaths would be noticeable and identifiable as undesirable managers because of their selfish egotistical personalities and other ethical defects.

Changing companies’ mid-career was seen as being questionable and inadvisable and their rise would therefore be blocked both within their original employer and among external employers who would question their reasons for wanting to change jobs.

However, once corporate takeovers and mergers started to become commonplace and the resultant corporate changes started to accelerate, exacerbated by both globalisation and a rapidly changing technological environment, then corporate stability began to disintegrate. Jobs for life disappeared and not surprisingly employees’ commitment to their employers also lessened accordingly. Job switching first became acceptable and then even became common and employees increasingly found themselves working for unfamiliar organisations and with other people that they did not really know very well. Rapid movements in key personnel between corporations compared to the relatively slower movements in organisational productivity and success made it increasingly difficult to identify corporate success with any particular manager. Failures were not noticed until too late and the offending managers had already moved on to better positions elsewhere. Successes could equally be claimed by those who had nothing to do with them. Success could thus be claimed by those with the loudest voice, the most influence and the best political skills. Corporate Psychopaths have these skills in abundance and use them with ruthless and calculated efficiency.

In this way, the whole corporate and employment environment changed from one that would hold the Corporate Psychopath in check to one where they could flourish and advance relatively unopposed.


C.R. Boddy, The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis (2011)

Bottom line: We most certainly need community. We need to know our coworkers and bosses so that we can break up the networks of sociopaths and block their rise.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@arendt @arendt @arendt My PFCs are scrawling to ingest this, meanwhile my hypothalamus is telling me to get some "real food" in my gut. Your comment to which I reply is quite apropos of the present political morass in which we find ourselves sinking--and woe to the unwary! Madame Secretary so befouled the DOS (and other organs of government) that after her relatively short tenure (on a 250 year time scale) allowed Her to abscond and claim victory while the true damage of her actions were yet to be uncovered. John Kerry, Lynch, and others were left holding the bag--as if handcuffed to them (for reasons of self-preservation) while the Mad Bomber continued along her merry way, spreading chaos, destruction and death. Rapid shifts in employment facilitate the bad actors greatly. Witness the ongoing "resignations" of Corporate hierarchy after they have raped and plundered their businesses.

Of course there are systems made of components. But as you explain correctly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Which is a large part of how such "super-predators", i.e., the psychopaths that be, have come to be what they are. At lower echelons of the hierarchy, such grandiose psychopathy, were it seen for what it is, would never be tolerated. But this assumes that those lower in the hierarchy were not also infected with the self-serving virus propelling the top psychos to power. They are a pack of rabid dogs, salivating to reach the pinnacle of power, infecting many along the way. The "culture" of corporations has largely been debased.

Is that an example of the bicameral brain? I think the theory, as per your description is just a fancy way in pseudoneuroanatomic ways, to redefine what Sigmund Freud did very persuasively in discussion of the tripartite mind: id, ego, superego.

As a conceptual basis, Jaynes' theory, as you have stated it, is as interesting a point as the Freudian triad. Neither is provable. Scientific advances have been able to shed new light on old theories, requiring them to be adapted to new knowledge. For instance the "id" may be equated to the reptilian brain, i.e., without neocortical input, operating in pure survival mode.

Of course, many ideas will never be provable. The existence of god(s) is the prime example of the unprovable. This Jayne asserts is a differentiating point between bicameral brain and shall we say holofunctional brain.

Is logical or rational provability therefore a necessity in knowing the "Truth"? While there are no alternative facts, there most certainly are alternative truths.

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zoebear's picture

@arendt @arendt

Of not only the corporate raiding that dismantled cohesiveness but was also instrumental at tearing the "roots" apart of a culture that valued loyalty and continuity.

The studies and findings you linked to are viscerally illuminating for me. In my previous life, I worked very closely with top executives in both large advertising firms and investment banks and could cite chapter and verse as to the hyper-predatory nature of what they blithely referred to as "competition" .

As a female working in traditionally subservient positions, I was not only invisible to these men but apparently considered deaf, dumb, and blind as well. They spoke about themselves and others with an almost farcical arrogance except for the fact that they meant every word of it.

Eventually, the experience of working in a corporate culture that took lessons from the massacres of the Vikings ended up making me very class conscious and very political. But the real tell tale sign for me should've been when the CEO of Goldman Sachs became a very active Democrat. Looking back now, I wish I'd spent less time in the fruitless pursuit of partisan flag waving and more time on issues I cared about. Hindsight is a bitch that way...

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Soldier: What? Ridden on a horse?
King Arthur: Yes!
Soldier: You're using coconuts!
King Arthur: What?
Soldier: You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

janis b's picture

@zoebear

Peter Wohlleben. A literal translation of his surname is 'living whole'. How apt is that!

He spoke clearly and knowledgeably about how trees transmit knowledge and feeling through their root system. Establishing roots and connectedness is essential, whether under ground or above ground. Thanks for your thoughts.

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zoebear's picture

@janis b @janis b

Between light and dark. We hear so much of the evil that goes on, and so very little of the everyday victories of humanity and dignity, we sometimes forget how influential the light in our storehouses can be.

Establishing roots and connectedness is essential, whether under ground or above ground.

As someone who works with people in the most compassionate and humanistic way, you understand exactly the true nature of our connectedness and how vital it is for our wellbeing. You couldn't have summarized the lessons of nature more succinctly.

As always, Janis, it's such a pleasure to hear from you. I'm so glad you had an opportunity to hear Peter Wohllben speak. And yes! How apt indeed! Smile

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Soldier: What? Ridden on a horse?
King Arthur: Yes!
Soldier: You're using coconuts!
King Arthur: What?
Soldier: You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

janis b's picture

@zoebear

I heard it on National Radio ...

I find your perspective thoroughly life-enhancing, so I always enjoy meeting you and your comments here.

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zoebear's picture

@janis b

Smile

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Soldier: What? Ridden on a horse?
King Arthur: Yes!
Soldier: You're using coconuts!
King Arthur: What?
Soldier: You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.

janis b's picture

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Meteor Man's picture

Much food for thought and kudos to the commenters as well. I just added several books to my wish list.

Good luck finding forceful political actors who are sane.

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"They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war." Howard Zinn

Pluto's Republic's picture

To be historically literate is difficult.

Thank you for this valuable treatise.

Did you meet Hannah Arendt?

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If it is a monopoly, then it IS your government.

arendt's picture

@Pluto's Republic

Even though she was multiply famous, both for OOT and for "Eichman in Jerusalem", I was a clueless all-American child. It took well into Watergate for me to wake up that most history was corporate bullshit.

To comment on my mention of Eichman, Berman simply does not buy Arendt's "banality of evil" argument. He makes quite the case that the Nazis were enraged, possessed, and violent about their Manichean hatred of the Jews. It wasn't mere bureaucracy that powered the Holocaust. People viscerally(in their bodies) felt hatred for the Jews and wanted to hurt them. I think he called it a "mystic ritual slaughtering". Score one for Mr. Mishra.

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A book on the Nazi -- actually Germany's -- obsession with occultism, pseudoscience, and tribal identity, goes well with the book (and context) you describe. How the Nazi vision rose out of, and confirmed, the popular resentment of modern life and defeat, that found solace in those obsessions.

Always found it unsettling in a way that nazis were big on nature, healthy natural diet and exercise, science/technology, and Hitler even spoke of after the war he'd get around to replacing fossil fuels with solar and wind energy. But all of this went on in the context of Making the Volk Great Again.

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arendt's picture

@jim p @jim p

Germany's -- obsession with occultism, pseudoscience, and tribal identity,

BUT....I would warn you that you can't just pile right into the Nazi chapter. You first have to read the introductory psychology chapters that lay out the self/other dichotomy; and it helps to read the chapter on the "gnostic response". That is, how people get magically turned on, sort of like Saul on the road to Damascus, and its plain as day that Hitler is their savior.

Berman will give you the history of all the occult movements floating around Germany, from Madame Blavatsky's Ariosophy to the Thule Gesellshaft. However, the focus is more on teasing out who influenced whom and which pieces were actually picked up by the Nazis and how Hitler kept the whole raving circus in line, as opposed to saying exactly what each little whacko group held to be "the truth". The bottom line is that it was like the back ward of a looney bin, with all these charlatans copying each other and having petty little feuds.

To me, Himmler and the SS were the craziest of the bunch. They hired this alcoholic lunatic named Willigut, who convinced Himmler to renovate that castle into an SS tabernacle and to send out expeditions (led by Otto Rahn) to look for the Holy Grail. The amount of resources wasted on these schemes probably rivaled the amount wasted by Goring.

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janis b's picture

@arendt

because of your reference to Ariosophy. Quite strange, and disturbing.

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arendt's picture

@janis b

Ariosophy is where all the Atlantean root race crap got started. That meme proliferates through the Edgar Cayce and Steiner cults.

There was more to occult wierdness than seances.

I am sorta grateful to Mr. Mishna for drawing my attention over that way. A century and a half later, people are still falling for this crap.

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arendt's picture

@janis b

A much less erudite, and therefore much more accessible, version of Berman's history of the ideology.

Thanks.

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janis b's picture

@arendt

To me, Himmler and the SS were the craziest of the bunch. They hired this alcoholic lunatic named Willigut, who convinced Himmler to renovate that castle into an SS tabernacle and to send out expeditions (led by Otto Rahn) to look for the Holy Grail.

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janis b's picture

@janis b

I am an ex-Steiner parent ... ex, largely because of some of these foundations. I hadn’t come across Ariosophy before, only Theosophy.

I never was an especially good Steiner parent. My daughter, who is smarter than me, led the way away from the Waldorf School. There were though some very worthy features of her initial education; especially the time spent just being a child.

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arendt's picture

@janis b

He objected to Ariosophy. In fact, he started his own take on the Blavatsky material, called Anthroposophy. Steiner was one of those people who was very insightful, but caught up in systematizing. He had good answers for his time to some social problems, but all this literal reincarnation stuff is just horsepucky.

I also wanted to mention that the article you linked to said that Ariosophy was not started by Blavatsky, but rather by List and Liebenfels. Her religion was called Theosophy, and I think its still around today. However, she did start all this poisonous root race crap; and many people find her to be anti-Semitic because of the race stuff.

The wikipedia article on Theosophy says it is neo-Platonism; and that squares with Berman. That is because Platonism is about ideals and neo-Platonism was a Gnostic cult that arose in the Reformation. As you might have experienced, you have to take the whole Gnostic package, which I could not stomach. If you google about Steiner, his critics call it psuedoscience.

Anyway, the history of these theologies is a tangled mess.

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janis b's picture

@arendt

Some, I agree, are also too esoteric and ethereal. Some are a little puritan and too rigidly interpreted; and therefore incompletely assimilated and unsuccessfully applied. Others are wonderful and successfully applied in the education and growth of the individual.

I did often feel frustrated by the religious element, which I felt interfered at times with the sincerity of the more universal understanding envisioned.

I think, as with most things, we as individuals do best when we harmonise the idealistic with the practical nature of the situation. Rigidly adhering to some thing is often unsuccessful.

Anyway, thank you for the opportunity to recall and think about a subject I haven’t given much consideration to in a while, and for the discussion in this essay.

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arendt's picture

His first book is the Age of Revolution. That is, anti-aristocratic revolutions and mass armies were brand new unprecedented things. The establishment did not know how to handle them. It took 25 years to beat down Napoleon and get things back under control. Even then there were more revolutions, in 1830 and 1848. Hobsbawm marks 1848 as the end of that "age".

His second book is the Age of Capital. He begins by examining the failure of the revolutions of 1848, their suppression by the authorities. He makes the point that capitalists had effectively come to be in control of governments, instead of clueless aristos. So subsequent revolutions were either bought off with phony populists like Louis Napoleon, or deflected with some slight improvements in the state of laborers.

So, Hobsbawm's narrative is completely consistent with Mishra's claim that after Napoleon, most revolutions failed and left disgruntled people being oppressed by capitalists.

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I have really enjoyed hearing Mishra talk- besides Hedges interview CSpan book TV has a great author talk. His insights in these interviews is amazing. I have AoA on my "must purchase" list. And a Barnes and Noble gift card to pay for it. But can I read it? Arendt, honestly, is this a book that someone who is just "slightly more intelligent than the average bear" can read? I got 350 pages into Piketty's 'Capital' but can't finish it. Makes my head hurt. I am smart enough to know my own limitations. But I do sense this book may be as important as any book I might read in my lifetime.

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arendt's picture

@wouldsman @wouldsman

You have to have some awareness of the Romantic era and Fascist era players I listed (e.g., Rousseau) and some awareness of the social history of the West (the East, except for India, is barely touched upon) since 1800.

But, it is not a technically complicated book, like Piketty's. In fact, sometimes Mishra repeats sentences in different chapters. There is plenty of redundancy, so you won't get lost.

In fact, I think it best to skip the 30+ page prologue, as it is an exhaustive recital of all the people and events that he will discuss at length through the rest of the book. If you start in at the prologue, you may quit from overload before you get to the book.

BTW, the pages are small and the type is large. It is by no means a "tome".

P.S. I found the hardback on remainder for $8 at a small, independent bookstore. Looks like it didn't sell well, so you might want to check your local independent store for a deal.

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History is mostly recorded propaganda. An honest delve into the subject of economic history would disclose the real motivations of political leaders, along with social, cultural etc. events.
Populations (including historians) have always been hypnotized to not see the real (economic) motivations of historical figures, events etc. All we will ever get is the cover story, which makes it virtually impossible for people to really learn what's needed from history.

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Mike Taylor

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Steven D's picture

This is one of them.

Nonetheless, I shall persist. Thanks for the education.

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

CB's picture

@Steven D
It needs to be exercised regularly or it gets flabby.

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