09/28/14

Nuke Me Nuke You

 

NukeBlast

If you are thanking you’re lucky stars for being born in a commonwealth country such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand because, according to the release of The Economist – Intelligence Unit’s, “the best cities to live in the world” report, nine of the top eleven are in these countries, be glad and grateful. Based on stability, healthcare, culture, environment, and including such things as education, what type of crime is prevalent, levels of censorship and availability of good quality housing and goods, the top ten cities to live in the world are Melbourne (Aus), Vienna, Austria, Vancouver (Can), Toronto (Can), Calgary (Can), Adelaide (Aus), Sydney (Aus), Helsinki, Finland, Perth (Aus), and Auckland, New Zealand.  Such places are also some of the most expensive places to live in the world.

If you would like to gloat for awhile, please, I didn’t. Because in reality, no matter where one lives, many find life is a struggle most days, especially trying to keep ones sanity intact. But if you are jumping around and fist-pumping, the following article should perhaps not be read at such a time.

It is a piece that formed in my head August 6th, the day of remembrance of Hiroshima, and I started thinking about some research into radiation sickness I had been doing, my knowledge and research over the decades of the accuracies of World War II, and not the Hollywood version, and how in a heartbeat, everything could change, because a few countries have nuclear power in both warheads and reactors, with most of the reactors run past their forty year life-spans. So if you do not need distraction from your distractions, or your bubble popped, the following might be a downer. But then as stated, it could all shatter in seconds anyways.

Such a looming threat though should only make us more concerned into making each day count, for ourselves and those around us and within our communities, and to be aware of such threats, and most importantly, allowing ourselves to talk about such things. If you are going to venture forth and read further, next time you have to vote, think about to whom you will be bestowing upon such a right and who you are hiring, and that your concerns will be acknowledged.  It’s supposed to be our voice, not theirs. And if being the eternal optimists, to remember it is not too late to stop nuclear madness.


 

In the final months of World War II the States were in the process of becoming the new and dominant world empire, since the British Empire had torn her guts out over the course of two world wars and had roared its last hurrah. As for those still alive who actually think Germany would have stormed North America, and we’d all be speaking German are delusional. They could not even take Britain. As for the Japanese, they had no interest in North America, there plan was to delay the Americans, while they took control of the natural resources in Southwest Asia. They felt they had only about a year to sixteen months to take what they could, before the industrial might of the States would produce enough to stop them. They were correct. On a side note, if the American carrier fleet was not at sea the day Pearl Harbour was attacked; the Japanese might have had a few more months’ leeway, at the most.

All over the world, many countries were shaken to their cores, on their knees retching after the previous years of war. Some countries lost a generation of their population, especially when the majority of deaths in World War II, by far, were civilians. All together, including deaths from war-related disease, famine, and in captivity, 85 million people died in World War II, nearly four per cent of the world population at the time.

Military deaths totaled 22 to 25 million, the remainder, 55 million, were civilians. It was what war would become in the 20th century. Drop bombs on cities. Where destroying another’s industry, was deemed far more important than nearly exterminating entire populations. And as the war went on, the bombs became only bigger, and more and more civilians felt their wrath.

In Nov 44’ the Americans were close enough in their island hopping to begin fire-bombing Japanese cities. The majority of Japanese homes and businesses were made of wood and paper. It was a turkey shoot.

By March 45’ a typical bombing raid over Japan had escalated to operations such as Operation Meeting House, carried out that month, where 279 B-29’s, flying at an average altitude of about 2100m (7000ft) above Tokyo, would drop 1665 tons (3.3 million lbs) of incendiary bombs, mostly 230kg (500lb) cluster bombs, which would explode at about 659m (2250ft) releasing 38 napalm carrying incendiary bomblets.  The effect was total destruction.  Forty square kilometers (15.8 sq mi) of the center of Tokyo disappeared in firestorm tornados.  Twenty-five per cent of the city ceased to exist. Over 280,000 buildings and homes were destroyed.

At the time, Tokyo was the most densely populated area in the world, with about 103,000 people every 2.59 sq km (one sq mi). And while there is an array of estimated deaths, with such a density, logic would dictate that it was probably much worse than the estimated 90,000 to 150,000 deaths, and over 200,000 injured.  It would become the single most destructive bombing raid on a civilian population in history, more than even Hiroshima and Nagasaki, four months later.

By June 45’ sixty-seven cities had been firebombed in such a way, with over half a million civilian dead, untold numbers injured and burned, and over five million people homeless.  In contrast, and if you do not include the 9,500 members of the US Merchant Marine who died, the States lost only 2,500 civilians over the course of the entire war, while the Soviets lost over 19 million.

After breaking the Japanese military code in 43’ the Americans had been listening in on Japanese communications, and after June 45’ were receiving a lot of traffic concerning the Japanese perhaps surrendering.  Though officially the Japanese, like Winston Churchill, continued to give word that they shall never surrender, behind the scenes steps were being made towards peace.

The Japanese Islands were surrounded, with nothing going in and nothing coming out. Forty per cent of the urban areas of their largest six cities ceased to exist, with the guts of what remained of their industry totally devastated. And having lost nearly five per cent of their population, over twenty-five per cent of both their army and navy, millions injured, and cities no longer existing, there was no doubt the Japanese were losing the ability to continue or even defend their homeland.

Their last ditch effort kamikaze and banzai attacks, expending men, aircraft, and ships were their last gasps. It’s getting desperate when after losing one of the heaviest and most powerful armed battleships ever made, the Musashi, in Oct 44’ during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, sunk after absorbing seventeen bombs and being torpedoed nineteen times, the other, her sister-ship the Yamato, would steam out with a full complement of crew (3,332 men), and a full payload of ammunition on a one way trip to Okinawa in April 45’. The Americans were on her like a pack of wolves, and after eleven torpedoes and six bombs had crashed into her, she keeled over, her magazines exploded and scattered what was left of her into dust and pieces.  Of the crew there were only two hundred and eighty two survivors.

The Japanese and the Americans, also knew that Russia was on its way, with the Trans-Siberian railway running full out since the defeat of Germany in May 45’, as Russian troops and material were being priority posted to their east coast in preparation for the assault on Japan. The Japanese also knew that if the Russians were to assault them, Stalin would not worry about how many of his soldiers died to take Japan.  And no matter how well they defended their island, the Japanese people knew they would no doubt be nearly exterminated. As it turned out, over the coming months the Americans would give a shot at doing the exact same thing.

The Russians had already beaten the other Allies to Berlin, now their intentions were on beating them to Tokyo as well. This was something the American leadership could not accept. So in typical American logic, to speed up any peace negotiations, they decided to obliterate even more Japanese cities and force them to surrender to America alone. Further deciding to drop nuclear bombs instead of conventional bombs, and call them funny names like Little Boy and Fat Man.

But proving karma can very often be a bitch, after delivering parts and enriched uranium for the Little Boy atomic bomb (destined for Hiroshima) to Tinian, in the North Mariana Islands, the heavy cruiser, USS Indianapolis would continue onto Guam, leaving there on July 28th 45’ and steaming for the Philippines.

At ten minutes past midnight on the 30th, the Japanese submarine I-58 would put two torpedoes into the Indianapolis, and a mere twelve minutes later three hundred sailors would go down with her, while the remaining nine hundred went into the water. Four days would go by until by chance, a PV-1 Ventura, patrol bomber on routine patrol would spot men adrift. Doing a flyby, all they could do was to drop a life-raft and a radio transmitter and get the word out. Later that day a PBY Catalina arrived on scene, and against orders landed on the open sea, picking up fifty-six survivors. Thereafter, the destroyer Cecil J. Doyle would show up and begin coordinating the rescue. Within twenty-four hours, six more destroyers would show up to assist.

While nearly nine hundred went into the water ten days previous, by Aug 8th, when the search was called off, only three hundred and seventeen would come out. The sinking of the Indianapolis is the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the US Navy.

Meanwhile, on August 6th Little Boy had been put together, armed and loaded into a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named the Enola Gay. Named by its pilot, Paul Tibbetts, Jr, Enola Gay was his mother’s name, who he honored for her support and strength when earlier he had given up a medical career to become a military pilot. So instead of healing and caring for people, he could instead drop bombs on them.

Before this mission the Enola Gay had practised by participating in the fire bombings of Kobe and Nagoya, two of Japan’s most populated cities. To simulate dropping an atomic bomb, they dropped five-ton pumpkin bombs. Similar in size and shape, as well as ballistic and handling characteristics, they proved to be nearly as destructive, carrying 6,300 lbs of explosives each.

On August 6th, Tibbetts and a crew of eleven would take off from Tinian, and soon rendezvous with two other B-29s, The Great Artiste, carrying instrumentation, and the Necessary Evil, to take photos, because they still did not have any idea how it’d go and how destructive it would be, nor did anyone know anything about how radiation affected humans. They were like babes in the woods thinking they were explorers.

Hiroshima was selected because of the three possible choices, the weather was sunny and clear, which was excellent for the Americans because they wanted to take pictures and see what these atomic bomb things could do. Little Boy was dropped from 9,470m (31,000ft) and detonated at about 600m (1968ft) above Hiroshima, which at the time had a population of about 350,000. Though considered very inefficient, with only perhaps 1.7 per cent of its fissile material (140 lbs of uranium) fissioning, it still created a blast equivalent to sixteen kilotons of TNT (14.5 million kg / 32 million lbs).

One square mile of Hiroshima’s center disappeared, with resulting fires destroying an estimated 12 sq km (4.4 sq mi) of the city. 80,000 people would die, with more than 70,000 people injured and mostly burnt. Nearly 70 per cent of Hiroshima’s buildings ceased to exist.

The Enola Gay was 18.5km (11.5mi) away by the time they felt the shock waves from the blast. Looking back, pilot Tibbetts would describe what he saw as simply “that awful cloud.” It was undoubtedly the moment when some say that the possibility of the apocalypse was passed from the so called gods’ hands, and into our hand.

02/7/13

The Age of Myth – Chapter Four

Cro-Magnon, the first anatomically modern man, began to move into Europe about 40,000 years ago, with the skeletal remains of one of its population, found in the cave Pestera Cu Oase, in Romania, and radiocarbon dated to 37,800 years ago. They had broken away from the main group of Homo sapien survivors of the eruption of Mt Toba, 30,000 years previous, who had come out of the Ethiopian highlands and had replaced survivors of the earlier species, Homo erectus, throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And though they had also made their way to Australia and the Far East, the majority of the Cro-Magnon population lived around the lakes of the Mediterranean basin, which was not a sea yet, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Eastern Mediterranean. They had become highly specialized hunters and gatherers and had developed speech, and soon, their own languages, while the environment of wherever they had ended up on the planet would dictate the race of human they would become, with random mutations in our DNA providing the basis of variation.

Moving north Cro-Magnon began to run into the Neanderthal, who would eventually be pushed to the edge of their world, with the last few Neanderthal tribes’ remnants found in Western Spain and Gibraltar. Before Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal population was perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 individuals, living between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains and though the Neanderthal species would perish, it was not their complete extinction, for many were undoubtedly assimilated into the newer species. Some theories suggest the contributing factor in the Neanderthals demise was simply, “when limitless imagination replaced robust physiques.”

Just recently, Swedish archeological geneticist Svante Paabo completed mapping the DNA of the Neanderthal and found that many people today, except for most all African descendents, have about 3 to 5 per cent of their DNA in common with Neanderthals. Interestingly, but then considering the harsh environment in which the Neanderthal lived, the genes we share with them are all in the parts that make up our immune system.

With the demise of Neanderthal, the Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 years ago) began and represented a gigantic step forward in our species consciousness and abilities.

Illustration by Zdenek Burian Early modern-humanCro-Magnons were taller than other Homo sapiens and the earlier species, with a more erect posture, prominent nose and chin, lower brow ridges and unlike the Neanderthal and Erectus’ backward sloping skulls, had a rounder skull, with a more vertical forehead. Thus a bigger brain, which was crucial, considering being stupid usually got you killed, while ingenuity and intellect was needed for survival. And with a higher forehead, more muscles formed in the face, with more control of eyebrows and forehead skin, which aided in communication.

They wore clothes of softened leather sewn with bone needles and thread from an animal’s gut and wore lots of necklaces, bracelets, and amulets made from shells, flowers, teeth, and bones. Their quilts were animal pelts and they often lived in pit-huts, similar to North American natives’ tepees. During the winters they would live in semi-permanent settlements, usually in narrow valley bottoms or caves, while over the summers, and using lightweight, portable tents, they would follow the herds of their prey. Their campsites contained oil lamps and hearths that were very complex in themselves, with much forethought made every time they camped. For instance, each tent would typically face the east, to catch the morning sun’s warmth. They had developed many tools which could work bone, antler and hides. They had darts, harpoons, fish hooks, rope, eyed needles, and hunted with spears and javelins. Unable to store or keep food they were typical hunters and gatherers, constantly on the move.

Over time, family size groups of these earliest modern humans, perhaps ten to twelve individuals, would grow to thirty to forty people. With the group replenished most often with arriving males from other tribes. Eventually leaders would arise within these larger groups and were either dominant males and females or elders who held wisdom in the form of the collective memories of the group. Their basic, isolated way of primitive life began to change and would evolve into the hierarchy system, and because the populations of many areas had grown, for the first time groups started coming into closer contact with each other, intruding on each other. But at the same time the increased interaction between groups also meant the sharing of ideas and exchange of raw materials.

A leader and other strong members of the group would become the most active in protecting their particular group, as well as settling any squabbles within their own group and between others. This is the time many believe early man began to fight each other. Mostly for two reasons, to establish dominance in a group or to establish territorial rights over a particular piece of ground. But if fighting ever did break out, very rarely did anyone die.

As to the individuals with psychopathic natures, which does not necessarily mean violent, but individuals who would attempt to steal, cheat or bully were suppressed by a consensus process amongst the tribe, which had the power to ostracize, banish or even kill. Any psychotic behaviour had to be controlled, because to survive, the cohesion and stability of the group needed cooperation amongst its members to exist. Only after farming was developed, thousands of years later, would psychopaths no longer be held in check and would rise in power, right up to the present day.

Though over time the whole life of a tribe would revolve around its leader, these earlier humans had become more co-operative hunters, and the leaders of these ever growing groups found out that often times dominant authority had to be curtailed somewhat to retain the loyalty of the group. Each member was just as strong as the next, with the dumb, weak and frail rarely surviving into adulthood. Even the children, who of course were not passively entertained by video games, television, their phone and movies, would spend their waking hours actively doing something, such as talking, playing, learning to hunt, and helping out in gathering. Constant interaction with nature and each other, they had much more childhood stimulation and activity than most children today, which promoted mental development, confidence and better health.

Having to get along with more and more people within the group, as well as with other groups, a leader could not be feared so much anymore and instead, had to get everyone on his or her side by getting them to want to help him or her. Eventually as the populations grew, with everyone having their say, leaders had to become just another member of the group, because they could no longer command unquestioning support, obedience and/or influence. But with the groups growing into ever larger populations there was still needed an all powerful figure who could keep the group under control and over time there came the invention of a god.

Early modern man did not fear nature or feel helpless against it, but instead made the forces of nature into things with whom they could associate with and even regard as equal. They all thought very independently and yet were never intimidated by each other’s intellect, and did not feel submissive to anyone or anything. There were few illusions and most all instinctual impulses they would have, never disregarded the relationship of any other individual to them. These early peoples focussed more on living in equilibrium with their environment. Assured that their existence in the world was the same in the past, and would be unchanged in the future.

Symbolic behaviour would become ever the more prominent and was linked to animism, humanity’s oldest belief system, the belief that natural objects were conscious forms of life, and that they affect humanity. They viewed the forests, mountains, oceans, even the wind, as spiritual forces, and displayed a reverence for the natural environment. They believed a soul or spirit existed in every object, living, as well as inanimate and that in a future state, an object’s soul exists as part of an immaterial and universal soul. These early beliefs were based on instinct, emotion and intuition. Most tribal religions, even today, are different in form and ritual, but all seek to explain the mystery of life by insisting that nature is animated by spirits. Though these early peoples began to have supernatural beliefs, they did not serve to justify any central authority, transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. Nature and humans were to be respected equally and would live in complete harmony with one another. Humans at this time did not feel separate from nature that belief would arise later with the first civilizations.

But the ego was rapidly developing, along with language, the first signs of abstract thought, finely made tools, the concept of fishing, and the understanding of bartering. Anthropologists, through ethnographic research studies of hunter-gatherer societies suggest that with some tribes, individual status was based on how generous a person was who has acquired wealth, while other groups remained egalitarian and non-hierarchical societies, sharing their food and materials. Art and jewellery also became prevalent, as did game playing, music and ceremonies for their dearly departed.

Besides the development of more complex hunting strategies, sophisticated planning, and social structure, certain aspects of a human’s life became more sacred, such as births, deaths and the passage to adulthood. Symbols and rituals became more elaborate. And as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades and drilling tools evolved, so did art, with the first signs of art appearing in fossil records, 50,000 years ago, in Africa. The earliest known cave paintings, found in France, are dated 34,000 years ago and picture rhino, bison and horses, done in black charcoal and red ochre. A lion-headed figurine carved out of a mammoth tusk found in Germany, is from the same time. In Czechoslovakia, fired clay figurines and woven baskets have been found dating back 27,000 years, and proving music was also evolving, a bird-bone flute found in France is 23,000 years old.

These early peoples lived in an age with no reason, and relied on their feelings to make any decisions. With much of what they thought about each day driven by their emotions. Any problems were dealt with instinctively, thus quickly. Other problems would evolve when, much later, humans would first start experiencing reason. Reason was still thousands of years in the future and really did not last very long when it did arrive, since today we have already abandoned it and replaced it with ideology. Besides, when we cut off our feelings and ignore our gut feelings, only then does decision making become difficult. And as we have now come to realize, life is all about decision making, in fact, to somewhat prove the point, though our brains only makes up about 2 per cent of our body weight, the electrochemistry within it, when working hard on making a decision, will burn up a fifth of the food and oxygen we consume.

What was also evolving was our social behaviour. Most humans were still intimately connected to the rhythms and signals of the natural world and lived and responded instinctively. Life was still a routine of searching for food, getting along with our band members and accepting levels of power to the physically stronger, the more attuned or the group as a whole. Whatever accepted hierarchy, the constant tragedies, challenges, and difficulties of daily life were without reflection. With no ego, there was no jealousy or greed, or temper tantrum because something didn’t go one’s way. But over the next hundreds of millennia, certain individuals began to grow restless with the challenging daily routines of life. When someone died, they began to ask why and then wonder how the death could be avoided in the future. More and more individuals began stepping back from their automatic responses and started examining the full scope of existence and looking at the big picture. Aware that life endured through cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons, lifestyle, food sharing, division of labour, and cooperation became more important to one’s daily life. Where once the tribes were relaxed in their daily lives and everyone knew their place, they began to be afflicted with the concept, which we are still trying to figure out today, of simply how to get along with our neighbours. It was the birth of self awareness, and lead humans to understand the important need, not only of physical survival, but of the need for psychological survival as well. To be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated within social worlds which would became incredible more complex.

As mentioned earlier, the first signs of art appear in fossil records dated 50,000 years ago, in Africa. By 30,000 years ago, when art was becoming more prolific and we began to decorate things more, there was the rather sudden appearance of a symbol set painted on the cave walls throughout Europe. Whether it was developed somewhere else or was a local phenomenon but used materials that did not survive over the millennia, or we simple haven’t found yet, we do not know.

Anthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found that, while surviving examples of the earliest art was of animal and human imagery, by 30,000 years ago a core set of 19 symbols, with distinct shapes began to appear in Europe and eventually outnumber any imagery of either animals or humans. These geometric signs would be repeated over the next 20,000 years, with the same symbols moving across the earth with the expansion of humans. The same symbols would also be found in Australia, first inhabited by humans 50,000 years ago. Over the next millennia these original symbols would rise to 26 distinct shapes, the same as the English alphabet.

The numerous evidences of fertility figurines, cave painting and petro-glyphs shows the importance symbolism became in human development, especially with language and writing. Symbolism allows the mind to see intuitively – to see what is not directly visible in the material world. It is what engages the right side of the human brain, while the left side of our brains is bound by rational or linear thought, like language and writing. And this is why the first written languages were developed out of hieroglyphs, which is basically art that is inseparable from the script that goes along with it.

No matter where hieroglyphs have been found, they are all very similar, even the Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs in particular, though separated by an ocean. In most of these places the script was used for inscriptions covering tombs, temples, obelisks, and sculpture, then would eventually be written on papyrus, bark, or paper, for ritual and sacred text. The first written language would be developed by the Sumerians, more than 5,000 years ago, to keep track of goods and materials.

These Middle Eastern and Egyptian scripts were eventually replaced with a new form of hieroglyphs, known as “popular script.” The Phoenicians would then spread these first written languages, which included signs for the consonants, all over the Mediterranean, where they would eventually be adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Over the next couple of centuries, the script would evolve with Greek letters to write the Egyptian language, and then during the Roman era, a Greek-based alphabet called “Coptic” appeared, and would become the dominant alphabet of Europe. Though hieroglyphs would remain the most widely used scripts until 392 A.D., at which time the Holy Roman Church would ban all non-Christian worship, and hieroglyphs immediately began to disappear.

The oldest language known is the Khoisan, in Southeast Africa, which is made up of clicking sounds, and is probably more than 50,000 years old. Up to this day the Niger-Congo region has more than fourteen hundred languages, 25% of the languages in the entire world. Cautious estimates suggest that more than 10,000 languages eventually existed globally. While over half of the six thousand languages currently spoken, are unlikely to survive the next 100 years. The Pueblo natives of North America believe different languages were created “so it wouldn’t be easy for humans to quarrel.”

The Upper Palaeolithic period also represents the birth of modern man, and specifically his mind. Physically, a Cro-Magnon standing in a crowd today and dressed, you would be hard pressed to pick them out. Same build, same mind, which is why symbolism was as important then as it still is today. Because, though we hate to admit it, humans are a biological species, being operated by a large brain, which has separate right and left hemispheres in the cerebral cortex, which we call today, right brain and left brain. We have possessed such a brain for over 40,000 years, yet today we apparently use only about 10% of our brains. As to the other 90%, is it that we have forgotten how to access it or is it the parts we haven’t yet reached?

In fact, the biochemical processes of the mind are also closely linked to our health, emotionally and physically. Mentioned in both, Eastern philosophy and the Old Testament, is how important the brain is to our immune system, and that the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, glands, liver, lungs, kidney, and heart are all connected, with much control of the brain resting with the organs. It is why there are intense, emotional and spiritual aspects of serious illnesses, and why if you grow up believing showing emotion is a sign of weakness you are sick a lot and have a shorter lifespan. It shows that besides the importance of being honest with others, we must also be honest with how we feel ourselves.

The right brain is totally in the present, and is voiceless, speaking through symbolism, instinct, and dreams. It deals with spatial and abstract relationships, and the subconscious. It cares about compassion, integrity context, peace, love and being supportive. It focuses on our similarities and the big picture that all humans are connected. While the left brain talks a lot, and which is what we have become.

We mange from the left, because it is logical, thinks linearly and literally, and is where our intelligence lies. It judges, punishes and deceives, living in the past and the present. It focuses on our differences and is critical of those unlike ourselves, thus is the root of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar. Today it keeps us busy in our day to day lives, yet no matter what awards of our society it achieves, it never makes anyone truly happy or satisfied. It loves routine and running on automatic, dreading having to shift gears. The left brain defines our boundaries of who we are and understands language but has a problem with its limitations, compared to the gut feelings and intuition of the right, which remember has no voice. And this is the trouble we find ourselves in today, because the reality of life is it is not just logical, it is also emotional, with symbols, words, texting and tweeting, too often holding us back in describing what we should instead be sensing and feeling.

The peoples of the Upper Palaeolithic period minds evolved gradually as did all things human, especially their social worlds and day to day living, though it was undoubtedly hardly felt by each generation, for it was a naturally slow process. Unlike today where instead of natural progressions lasting thousands of years, they now speed by seemingly on a weekly basis. It’s no wonder why mental illness has become the number one affliction of our species, with day to day living becoming all about simply being a good consumer and how to afford it, and that we are much more than just a biological species. Far from it we boast, unbelieving.

However, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology have taught us that organisms, which we are one, do not and cannot evolve because they need or want to, that natural selection cannot create mutants to serve its purposes, and that inheritable variation is random, with any genetic variation arising or not arising strictly by chance. Before the advent of modern transportation, not so long ago, human populations were scattered all over the planet and had very little contact with each other, thus we rarely exchanged genes. Over the course of human history, through random changes in the genome and natural selection, our species has developed many different traits, such as skin color, eye shape and immune systems. And even though such genetic diversity differentiates each individual from every other person in the world, most of our genes are not segregated among the traditional races of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. Thus our shared genetic heritage unites us all as one species.

Meanwhile, humanity slowly made their way through their ever evolving lives, still believing they were a part of nature, which genetics proves they were, and not above it as we believe we are. While at the same time the earth was also naturally progressing and forever changing, not caring about whom or what lives on its mantel.

After taking tens of thousands of years to cool down, peak glaciations of the last great ice age was reached about 18,000 years ago. Much of Europe, Asia – down to the Himalayans, and North America –  down to approximately the mid point of America, was covered in glaciers more than 3 km high, while Antarctica had crept northward and brushed upon South America. The temperatures near the ice sheets had fallen by at least 15.5 degrees C (60 F) and between 21 and 27 C (36 – 48F) in the tropics. The sea levels had dropped to 130 m (425 ft) below modern levels, exposing thousands upon thousands of square miles of the continental shelves of all the continents. In some areas these gently sloping gradients would have had our present shorelines, dozens of miles out to sea, while the edges of these shelves drop off very quickly, in fact the edges of the continental shelves are the highest and most extensive escarpments known on earth, with their average drop being 3657 m (12,000 ft) and in some cases, 9140 m (30,000 ft), straight down. The Bering Sea was a dry land, the Mediterranean’s basin a group of lakes, the English Channel a vast dry valley, and the Indonesian Galapagos united in one vast land of mountains and valleys. Today’s Venice, Italy, was about 200 miles from the nearest shoreline, while the Atlantic shoreline of North America was at least 60 miles to the east of where it presently is today. But then the glaciers began to retreat, the ice began to melt and the temperatures began to climb.

According to the latest research, and the most distinguished geneticist, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, human gene frequencies; the gradual change of a character or phenotype in a species over a particular geographical area, show that there were three areas of human expansion during the Upper Palaeolithic era. One was centered on the Sea of Japan and its archipelagos and expanded out along the shorelines, and by boat to the western coast of North America, starting from the Solomon Island group, then out over the Pacific Islands. Eventually becoming the ancestors of many west coast North American native peoples, most notably the Haida Gweii. They also migrated back into Southeast Asia.

Another group was centered over Northern Eurasia and Siberia. This group migrated south and to the east over the Bering land bridge into North America. They would be the ancestors of the Clovis and all the other peoples who would eventually inhabit North and South America.

The third expansion came out of Arabia and the Middle East area and moved into Europe, the Mediterranean and northeast Africa. There is debate over whether Cro-Magnon had expanded along the ice age shoreline of Europe, Greenland and then south along the North American east coast.

Many of these migrations would soon cease though as the ice continued to melt, and would have left many groups of peoples isolated. Within 5,000 years after peak glaciations the world’s sea levels rose 20 m (66ft). The great glacial lakes in North America, which were once massive sheets of ice, began to flood off the continent and about 11,500 years ago, according to fossil remains of coral beds, there was an abrupt rise in sea levels of another 24 m (79 ft) and once again the earth’s surface was changed, and all the species upon its surface would have to adapt along with it to survive, with many sites of human habitat flooded over, as the Mediterranean continued to fill and the shorelines of most of the continents were disappearing beneath the water. More and more, groups of people had to move to higher ground, leaving behind what culture they did have, to the rising seas. Though these transitions often times took generations, in the northern regions, changes were more drastic, in that from a glacial environment it was becoming forest, the land being exposed by the retreating glaciers would have been compressed flat by the immense weight of the ice as it slowly crept northward, and had ripped out huge gouges in the earth, which today, are the fjords of northern Europe, Hudsons Bay and North America The ice melting also would have exposed seasonal rivers and lakes, with great forests arising over the now barren lands. By 13,000 years ago the tundra-glacial hunters were being replaced by Mesolithic forest and coastal hunters and gatherers. And with new technologies such as the bow and arrow, they began to devastate any big game still remaining.

In North America much of the north and central regions became grass land. And with a north-south corridor opening up through the melting ice sheets, and the Bering land bridge slowly disappearing, another wave of peoples began to fan out over the continent. They would become known as the Clovis people.

The North American natives, the Northern Paiute, of present day California, Nevada, and Oregon have an interesting legend, about their ancestors who had come from the north, “Ice had formed ahead of them, and it reached all the way to the sky. The people could not cross it . . .  A Raven flew up and struck the ice and cracked it. Coyote said, “These small people can’t get across the ice.”  Another Raven flew up again and cracked the ice again. Coyote said, “Try again. Try again.” Raven flew up again, broke the ice, and the people ran across.

The first wave of humans had migrated down the western coastline earlier, as far south as Santa Rosa Island, off the Californian coast. The bones and remains of “Arlington Springs Man” were found there, and are dated to 13,000 years ago. At peak glaciations 18,000 years ago, the four Channel Islands, that lay up to 26m (42km) off the state of California was one big island called Santa Rosae, and was only five miles off the coast, not so isolated as they are today, separately. The earliest documented settlement on the Queen Charlotte Islands of Canada’s west coast, has been found to have been used more than 11,000 years ago. Coinciding with sites found on the east coast of North America dated to about the same time.

Though they were not the first, nor the last humans to reach North America, the Clovis people thrived from about 14,000 years ago. North America before this time was much the same as Africa as far as mega-fauna (large mammals) goes, with many species. From herds of mammoths and horses, to lions, cheetahs, camels, and great grand sloths, North American Llamas, musk ox, giant beaver, short-faced bears (bigger than grizzlies), American mastodon, giant bison, and saber-tooth tigers roamed the landscape. But after peak glaciations many of the bigger mammals weighing more than 40kg (88 lbs) began to die out. Though the ice age itself was the cause of thousands of extinctions of creatures, humans entering the scene would have a profound impact on these animals.

Over the last 50,000 years, thirty-three of the largest mammals in North America have become extinct. Many of these species, as well as the Clovis peoples themselves, would soon disappear and become extinct 12,900 years ago. Some scientific evidence has suggested that a swarm of comets roared through the atmosphere at that time and broke up into hundreds of fragments, hitting North America like the pellets out of a sawed-off shotgun. The effect on the climate was sudden, as a huge dust cloud expanded outwards. In less than two years the temperature dropped -7 C (18 F). And within a couple of a hundred years after the devastation from the initial impact, changes in the environment and the hunting capabilities of the Clovis people, fifteen species of the largest mammals could not adapt or survive, and soon went the way of the dinosaur, and were no more.

More recent and perhaps more accurate data suggests that indeed the earth cooled at this time in what has been named the Younger Dryas, though it was not due to a meteorite but actually a cooling period caused by an abrupt change in the complex of the global climate. The same thing was happening in Europe and by 15,000 years ago the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, European Hippo, Irish elk, cave lion, European Jaguar, cave bear, hyena, steppe bison and the interesting elasmotherium, which were similar to a Rhino but with longer legs, all became extinct. The elasmotherium 2 m (6 ft) high and over 6 m (20ft) long and upwards of five tonnes, had a single two meters long horn, was a fast runner and had teeth similar to a horse. But soon the hunting prowess of humans alone decimated most all these animals and with most of the larger game gone, smaller forest animals, such as deer would replace them.

Meanwhile the Indonesian landmass was becoming a group of separate islands once more, with New Guinea even more isolated, and the Australian continent was turning into a desert, with most all of the big game once there already driven to extinction 20,000 – 30,000 years previously by the first archaic inhabitants. The descendants of these first inhabitants of Australia would find themselves ever more isolated in a barren land, nearly devoid of animal life.

The people of the Japanese archipelago would become perhaps the first sedentary people in the world, with the Jomon period starting at least 16,000 years ago. They seemed to have been very skilled coastal and deep water fishermen. Pottery found in Japanese archaeology sites have been dated to about 15,000 years ago. There are theories that these seafaring people had made their way around and along the edge of the glaciers that protruded down from the Bering land bridge, before it had melted back northwards, and had extensively explored down the west coast of the North American continent.

All this expansion of populations of humans covering the earth’s landmasses would have a profound effect on the future of all living things. Population would become an issue, as well as the un-evolving needs of food and water, and the new primary quandary of our species, how do we get along.

 

 

Image – An artist’s conception of an early modern human. Credit: Illustration by Zdenek Burian.

http://www.stoneageinstitute.org/

 

 

01/20/13

A Stream of Prophets – Muhammad

“As-salamu’alaykum” (May peace be upon you), the greeting of Islam taught by Muhammad.

 

 

 

The prophet Muhammad, whose full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was born in Mecca, Arabia, in 570 AD, where he would spend the first fifty-two years of his life. He was the son of Abdullah, a poor merchant of the Banu Hashim clan, of the powerful tribe of Quaraysh. His mother was Amina. Muslim tradition adds that Muhammad was also a descendent of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Orphaned at six, he was raised by his grandfather and uncle to become a merchant. As a child he was known as al-Amin, “the honest and trustworthy”, though much like Jesus before him, Muhammad’s teen years go unrecorded. At 25 he married Khadijah, a rich widow, fifteen years his senior, who also so happened to be his employer. They would have two sons and four daughters together. During his life Muhammad would have an estimated nine to thirteen wives, but never while married to Khadijah. His other marriages were for either political or humanitarian reasons, such as alliances or compassionate moves regarding the widows of those killed in battle.

As the years slipped by and working as a trader, he started to be drawn more and more towards spiritual contemplation and would often go on long walks alone or sit within a cave and meditate. By 600 AD he began to receive revelations from a god who called himself Allah, claiming to be the one and only God. These initial revelations then stopped and nothing was heard for three years, until a day came when Muhammad received a message from the angel Jibril (Gabriel) insisting he recite (Iqra) everything that would soon to be revealed to him in visions from Allah. Over the next twenty two years he would receive many messages through many visions. Each vision and message became the surahs or chapters which would eventually make up the Qur’an (Koran). Because Muhammad was illiterate, he had to recite each surah often, to commit it to memory, which made him appear to be a very serious, highly moral and aloof character. Muslims commemorate this event, Muhammad’s first experience of divine revelation, as the “Night of Power” (Lailat ul-Qadr). It is said that after these first revelations Muhammad worried that people would think he was either possessed or deeply distressed mentally. Nonetheless he stayed the path exhibiting extreme devotion.

The faith of the Qur’an would become the foundation of Islam; “submission” to God. Islam also means peace. Followers of the faith are Muslims, “ones who submit” and believe the Qur’an to be Allah’s own words and not that of any human being. Muhammad’s achievement of having memorized the words of their one god, in its entirety, is viewed as Muhammad’s greatest miracle. His messages were called the “Seal of the Prophets.” Muslims today still believe that in memorizing the Qur’an as a sign of achievement; In fact the Qur’an is the most memorized book in history.

The first surah of the Qur’an is universally incorporated in the daily prayers of all Muslims; “In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. All praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, the Only Owner of the Day of Recompense (to reward). You (alone) we worship and You (alone) we ask for help. Guide us to the Straight Way. The way of those whom you have bestowed your Grace and not (the way) of those who have earned your anger, nor those who went astray.”

During Muhammad’s life, each tribe had its own pagan god; each perceived as being protectors and spirits and who were associated with sacred trees, stones, springs and wells. But the recited word of Allah commanded that these idols and shrines be destroyed. This alone made Muhammad a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of Mecca, as they had become wealthy on idol worship. Also disturbing them was that Allah’s message was being delivered to humanity as a whole, not one race or class. Muhammad also began to preach that the rich should give to the poor, which provoked even more hostility, especially in Mecca, which was an important financial center. The first religious duties Muhammad would claim were; belief in only one god, Allah; ask for forgiveness of sins; offer frequent prayers; assist those in need; reject cheating and love of wealth; be chaste; and, as was the common practise at the time, stop killing newborn females. After these declarations, the persecution and abuse upon Muhammad and his followers began in earnest, with most Meccans ignoring and mocking him in equal measure. His earliest converts were mostly brothers and sons of wealthy merchants, people who had fallen out of their tribe’s favour as well as poor and unprotected foreigners.

In 620 AD, Muhammad would take a night journey (Isra and Mi’raj) with the angel Gabriel. Astride the winged horse, Buraq, they flew from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, surveying the land from above. Soon after, both his wife Khadijah and his uncle died and the now fifty year old Muhammad losing his position and income was quickly reduced to poverty. He spent his days making more converts from the pilgrims to Mecca, many of whom were from the agricultural oasis of Yathrib. These people were familiar with monotheism, as there was a large Jewish community.

By 622 AD he and his followers were no longer tolerated in Mecca. And as rumours of assassination plots against him increased, the people of Yathrib offered Muhammad and his followers’ sanctuary in their town and felt Muhammad could assist them in arbitration in the many feuds among the tribes in the area. Muhammad was a well known and respected arbitrator, dealing with many practical disputes about the simple ideology, “My community will never agree in an error”; interpreted to mean that the consensus of the community is a source of moral and legal authority.

Muhammad gathered his people making their way the 338 km (210 miles) trek to the town that would soon be called Medina, “city of the prophet.” This migration would be called the Hijira, and marked the beginning of the Muslim era. It was at this point that Muhammad felt he and his followers had been persecuted enough. From being a poor prophet, despised by his community, moving to Medina was the next step in his becoming the leader of a community governed by Islamic law.

Muhammad would soon form the “Constitution of Medina” (Sahifat al-Madinah), a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib, his fellow Muslims who had followed him from Mecca, and Jews, Christians and pagans. This constitution was the first forms of government established in Islam and brought much inter tribal fighting to an end. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community, the Ummah, which would be presided over by the Caliph (head of state). Though having a religious outlook, the Constitution also included practical considerations, as well as preserving the legal forms of the old nomadic Arab tribes. The large, wealthy Jewish population did not accept such a constitution since they believed instead in Judaism Mosaic law. They also did not believe Muhammad to be of the race of Adam. They and the Jewish tribes, such as the Banu Nadir and the Banu Qaynuqa, were soon banished to Syria without their property.

Eventually all of Medina was converted to Islam, while Muhammad and the original Muslims from Mecca began acquiring wealth and power by raiding Meccan caravans and fighting skirmishes against them.

In 624 AD, with the revelations from Allah continuing to flow through him, Muhammad, on his knees and facing Jerusalem praying heard Allah whisper to him to turn and face Mecca while in prayer. The same year Muhammad was granted permission from Allah to go to war against the enemies of Islam and the process of conversion or the sword began, and would last eight long years.

The war brought their enemies to their knees and were either immediately converted by reciting the first surah, or were killed right there as they knelt. The Muslims were victorious in their first battle against the Meccans, but at the next at Ohod, Muhammad was severely wounded and his forces retreated.

Two years later in 627 AD Muhammad reversed the situation and seized Medina and took control of Mecca. By their surrender Muhammad was recognized as chief and prophet of Mecca. Islamic myths tell of his bravery in battle and his leadership. He was revered for killing many and converting many more to Allah’s ways. The Muslims then ransacked and destroyed all the idols and images from Mecca’s temples. This anti-idolatry was reflected in the fact that after Islam became established as an organized religion, the representation of Muhammad or Allah in art became strictly forbidden.

In 630 AD, at sixty years of age Muhammad would rule over not only Medina and Mecca, but soon all of Arabia. Though at first many of the Bedouin tribes disagreed with Islam and refused to give up their independence, they eventually established a code of virtue and ancestral traditions. Muhammad allowed them to do this, but only after getting them to sign an agreement, where they would have to pay zakat, the Muslim tax.

Besides guiding all areas of Muslim behaviour, Muhammad’s revelations also brought forth obligations which were essential to the lives of Muslims and to the values of uniting Muslims into a community. The outline of these obligations was called the “Five Pillars.”

The first pillar was Shahadah, the basic creed of Islam which is the confession of one’s faith in God and the prophet Muhammad, “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Saying this aloud before witnesses was the only requirement to become a Muslim.

The second pillar was Salah, the ritual worship performed five times a day by kneeling while facing towards Mecca. It was the time to focus the mind on God. The breaks were excellent times, over the course of one’s day, to reflect, stretch, with set cycles of bowing, standing and sitting, and relaxing while breathing deeply.

The third was Zakat, the giving and caring for the poor and needy. Assistance to the poor was based on one’s accumulated wealth and mandatory for all Muslims who could afford the tax, which was about two and a half percent of one’s earnings. As well as helping the poor and needy, all Muslims had to help in assisting in the spread of Islam.

The fourth pillar, Sawm, represented the time to atone for past sins and to reflect upon those in need through fasting and prayer during the month of Ramadan (Arabic calendar). From dawn to dusk each day of Ramadan, one did not eat nor drink.

The fifth and final pillar was Hajj (Pilgrimage) and was where every Muslim, at least once in his or her life, had to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Besides the Five Pillars, Allah also required that each Muslim show moral behaviour and devotion. These five pillars remain as the cornerstones of Islam.

To Muhammad, religion was not a private or individual matter; it was the religious, intellectual, economic, social and political pressures of the day. Islamic philosophy would become the search for wisdom (Hekma) through the views of life, the universe, ethics and society, and over the next few hundred years’ Islamic literary, scholarly and scientific works would have a profound impact on societies everywhere.

The people of Muhammad’s generation knew about Christianity, which had become the Roman Catholic Church, while Judaism they had known about for even longer and viewed it as a religion strictly for the Jews. The idea of God that Muhammad presented to his people was that the Jews misrepresented the Old Testament, turning the universal religion of Abraham into an exclusive, race-based, nationalistic system. He felt Islam to be a revival of the pure religion of Abraham that even Adam followed in the beginning. But this time, the “chosen peoples” lineage was the Arab offspring of Ishmael, first son of Abraham and Hagar, instead of the Jewish offspring of Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah. Many scholars believe Muhammad took Judaism and Christianity and simply created an uncorrupted version.

In 632 AD, ten years after Hijira and the migration from Mecca to Medina, Muhammad finally united all the tribes of Arabia into an Arab Muslim religious entity and undertook his last pilgrimage to Mecca. Eventually making his way to Mount Arafat outside of Mecca, he gave his “Farewell Sermon.” He told the large crowd travelling with him that they were to not follow pre-Islamic customs and that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor is there superiority of black over white and vice versa, except by their devoutness to Allah and their individual good actions. He abolished all blood feuds and disputes and for all old pledges to be returned, as solemn promises of the creation of the new Islamic Order.

After Muhammad returned from his pilgrimage to Mount Arafat, his health began to fail him and he soon died, at the age of 62 yrs, in the home of his favourite wife, Aishah. Right up to his death he continued doing his own household chores, as he had always done, including preparing the food for meals, sewing and mending his own shoes. And though a prophet, Muhammad was also very much a man of his time and enjoyed the finer things in life as well, such as the pleasures of the dining table and the division of spoils after his many battles. His wives appreciated the fact he offered them dialogue, he listened to them, took advice, debated and argued. His tomb lies in the mosque at Medina. Within ten years after Muhammad’s death, Muslims would conquer Mesopotamia, Persia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

Muslims believe the Arabic of the Qur’an is the finest form of the language and as a document it is indeed the Arabic language’s masterpiece. They also believe the word of Allah can never be effectively translated and is only authoritative in and inspired by the Arabic language. After Muhammad’s death the Qur’an was checked for accuracy by the scribe Zayad Ibn Thabit under the authority of Caliph Uthman with the holy scripture of the Qur’an written in about 651 AD. The Qur’an lies at the heart of Islam; it is the Word of Allah, the fundamental source of guidance for Muslims and is treated with the utmost respect. Muslims believe Muhammad’s message is the true, final and uncorrupted word of Allah and they believe that all other scriptures are fabrications and altered by humans to become simply, described doctrine and formulated statements.

There are 114 surahs (divisions or chapters) of varying lengths contained in the Qur’an; with many similar stories from the Bible, in particular, Noah, Abraham and Moses, with Jesus an especially important figure. In fact, Moses is mentioned more than any other individual, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Adam and Eve are also in the Qur’an, though Eve is not blamed for their disobedience and Allah forgives the pair. Muslims believe that Noah was the first prophet and Muhammad to be the last. Other surahs in the Qur’an covers all aspects of life, including governance, foreign relations, inheritance, marriage, transactions and civil restitution, among many other aspects of religious worship and social life.

Islamic law was written over the first three centuries of Islam, using both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the assembly of traditions, acts and sayings of Muhammad, which covered such aspects as personal matters and secular law. Islamic law, from both sources combined, sought an ideal order for society. Islamic social reforms that came into being at the time improved the status quo, especially when it came to social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women and children. Islam also denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy and established that one could seek a career not just by having family contacts, but according to their talents.

Much like Judaism and Christianity, the Qur’an tells of a Day of Judgement, where everyone will be rewarded or punished for their actions in this life, and of a Resurrection of their God, whether it is Yahweh, Jesus Christ or Allah. Within Islam, life is a trial with no reincarnation or Son of God; personal accountability is with Allah alone. On the Day of Judgement, Allah will raise all humanity to life. Each person will be told a chronicle of their life, of the deeds they had performed, whether good or bad. It is believed that this accounting would show what was actually important in one’s life. Those who perform good works, who are generous, pray religiously, seek forgiveness of sins and fear Allah, would go to Paradise, which Muslims believe to be above both language and human comprehension. Those who believed they were the reason for their own good fortune and never sought forgiveness, or ignored others because they felt they were beneath them, would be cast into Hell. The description of Hell, as written in the Qur’an, is known to be among “the most terrifying ever committed to paper.”

Muhammad was blessed with numerous descendants, which as in life would create many squabbles, quarrels and pretenders claiming they were blood linked to their dynastic and hereditary principle. Also, much like other religions, Islam is divided into two main sects; the majority of Muslims are Sunni, the others are Shi’ites, who predominate Iran and Iraq. Their antagonistic behaviour towards each other is rooted in each group having their own theory as to the legitimacy of Muhammad’s spiritual and political heirs, as well as each having their own versions of Islamic law.

The Sunni’s believe the unity of the Muslim community is more important than the pedigree of its leader. They feel Muhammad never appointed a successor and that political leaders (caliphs), who are chosen by religious scholars, represent the legitimate succession. Sunni’s also believe in a very limited scope of human free will.

Shi’ites meanwhile, believe Muhammad did name a successor, his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, and that his descendents were the rightful leaders (Imams) chosen by Allah to oversee the Muslim community. Believing their leaders are hereditary is the 2nd largest group of Shi’ites, the Ismaili sect, who believe the Qur’an has two meanings, one being the apparent and the other a hidden meaning, known only to them.

Islamic tradition separates the prophets of their people into two groups. The direct messengers of Allah, who received divine revelation, were called the Rasul, “bearers of the word.” This group of prophets included, Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad. The other group of prophets were non-divine human beings called the Nabi. Their task was to bring forth the word of Allah and preach the avoidance of idolatry and sin. Islam tradition says Allah sent Nabi messengers to every nation and that collectively more than 124,000 have been sent all over the world.

Extreme Islamists today have hijacked the contemporary belief that Islam is, and have made it a “convert thru conquest”, by using terrorism, radical movement of religion and spirituality through their own interpretations, much like the extreme Evangelicals from the West have done with their God. This happens because a problem with Islam, as well as other religions, is often their scriptures lacks context. Thus there is always bound to be many diverse interpretations of the facts or substance of their scripture.

Case in point, one of the surahs deals with Allah’s belief in jihad, which Muhammad recited as meaning the struggle against oneself. To abandon oneself to lust, greed, anger, cynicism or to forget one’s accountability to Allah, is to abandon jihad. To make a conscious effort to develop temperance, generosity and trust in providence, and to remember one’s eventual reckoning, is to wage jihad. Muhammad maintained that jihad is the work of a lifetime, with the enemies being self-centeredness and willingness to build one’s life around material comforts and pleasures. It was also important that while on jihad, a Muslim was to not inflict pain or damage to a fellow human being. It would not be until centuries later that extremist fundamentalists would use military action and terror and associate it with jihad, leaving a fifteen hundred year old message totally misinterpreted. Another case in point is the recent belief that when an extremist suicide attacker dies for his God, he will go to Paradise and into the arms of 72 virgins. This belief is nowhere stated in the Qur’an. What is stated explicitly and without exemption is the forbidding of suicide in all situations.

The parts of the Qur’an known as the “satanic verses” came to be when Muhammad was trying to conciliate some Meccan polytheists who wanted to continue worshipping some of the older deities. He soon had a vision which told him to allow these polytheists to worship other gods. He later admitted that he didn’t agree with such an allowance, but had been fooled and under a spell of the devil at the time. He was known to have many revelations with outcomes such as this that suited short-term needs of his people.

Though Muhammad could not read or write, was human and not without sin, he was however, a living commentary on the Qur’an. He cannot be regarded as the founder of Islam as Muslims believe Islam has always existed, but Muhammad was seen simply as being the final revelation, an instrument which Allah used to spread his Word of God. Even in the Qur’an, Muhammad is only mentioned four times and is not addressed by name, but in the second person.

As determined by the Islamic calendar, which is lunar based, the holiest month for Muslims is Ramadan, in the 9th month. Therefore within the Gregorian calendar Ramadan is honoured in a different month each year. It is a time for purification, to forgo all indulgences and a time for reflection of life and past misdeeds. From sunrise to sunset of each day during Ramadan a Muslim cannot smoke, eat, drink or have sex. One must read the Qur’an start to finish, reinforce their basic personal discipline and show gratitude to Allah.

In summary, the main points of Islam include the sole sovereignty of Allah, the sinfulness of worship of an idol, for fear it could lead to idolatry. That Islam is no one person; it is a belief, a faith, the certainty of resurrection with the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell, and the divine vocation that Mohammed was the prophet that god has spoken through.

Islam today is pervasively involved in the conduct of its social patterns, military, worship, communities and governments, where Islamic law does not distinguish between matters of church and state. Most Muslims of the world today are not necessarily Arabians, as Islam, much like other belief systems, has become a global faith religion, not a regional or Middle Eastern phenomenon, despite current perception. Allah’s faithful now number over a billion worldwide.

Though Islam states that there is no difference between men and women in their relationship with God, with identical rewards and punishments, traditional Islamic law authorizes severe repression and submissiveness of women. Men are deemed more valuable, with the reason being,  the different religious laws for the sex is biological and sociological in nature. Muslim conservatives say that both genders must have a different role in society with the only criteria being their devotion to God, while Muslim social reformers argue against traditional laws towards women. Whether perceived injustice to women is according to Islam religious doctrines or culture, it is an ongoing dispute within the religion. Many Muslim women of today are attempting to reconcile tradition with modernity by becoming more active in their lives, with outward modesty and demure. Though prejudice is blind, in many Muslim countries women have come a long way on their road to equality. In Iran today 60% of university students are women. The biggest change that has allowed positive change is the simple fact that 70% of all Muslims live in Asia and not Arabia, Iran or Iraq, with the majority of Muslims living in cities of multi-traditional, multi-racial, multi-cultural and mostly secular, modern nations.

Thirteen hundred years after Muhammad, another prophet, Mahatma Ghandi, would read two volumes of Muhammad’s biography, trying to understand how Muhammad could have earned such respect and importance to millions of Muslim lives. “I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.”

 

 

12/26/12

The Borborygmus that is Palestine – An Essay on Apartheid

Chapter 1

The first time, the area between what was Phoenicia (today – northern Lebanon and Syria), and Egypt to the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, was clearly called Palestine was by the Greeks in the

5th century BC. Though Palestine had always been there and has been called many other names. The region was among the earliest to see human habitation, animal domestication, agricultural communities and civilization.

The descendants of earlier peoples, such as the Kebarian culture, who lived in the area from about 20,000 to 12,000 years ago, were the hunters and gatherers, the Natufian, who created an Eastern Mediterranean culture which would be the first to implement the concepts of agriculture; originally developed to feed their livestock, and the first cultivation of cereals, specifically rye. The Natufian dominance lasted from 14,500 to 11,500 years ago. One of its settlements, now called Jericho, is the oldest inhabited city in the world. It lies near the Jordan River in the West Bank.

The next peoples were the Canaanites, a mix of many tribes, whose languages and cultures would be influenced by the civilizations of Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Phoenicia, Minoan Crete and Syria. Later, the region would be controlled by the Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks and Romans.

About 4,000 years ago, other groups of people began to arrive from the Aegean Sea region of Greece and Turkey and mix with the tribes of Canaanites and over the next couple of centuries, the many tribes of Palestine would become collectively known as the Philistines. Many of the people of Palestine had by now inhabited the area for over eight thousand years and were living predominately within small city-states and while the area was once covered in cedar and pine forests, over the centuries it had been nearly stripped clean by various empires, specifically the Ancient Egyptians, and the area had become a barren, eroded, hilly country with few and limited resources, nothing but a narrow ribbon of land squeezed between desert and sea, as little as 65 kilometres (40 miles). It also possesses the saltiest body of water on the planet, and the lowest point on its surface, that being the Red Sea, at 412m (1352ft) below sea level.

At about the same time, around 1900 BC, in Upper Mesopotamia (present day Kurdistan and Northern Iraq), an Ur, of the tribe of the Chaldees, and descendant of the ancient Sumerians, began to have visions, and a voice in his head telling him of a new promised land to the west. The voice told him that his tribe were the chosen people, and that they would have to toss aside their devotion to their numerous pagan gods and believe in only one god, which the Ur called El. After the death of his father, this Ur, forever known as Abraham, gathered up the few small tribes of the Chaldees and left their ancestral lands forever. Already being somewhat of a nomadic people, they migrated out of Mesopotamia, constantly wandering about in search of water and grazing land for their flocks of goats and sheep. Making their way through Syria and Jordan, they would eventually end up in Egypt, where after only a few years would be banished for “indifference” to the pharaoh at the time, Nebkaure Khety IV. They gathered their flocks and headed into the Sinai wilderness and onwards to the land of Canaan, which they entered for the first time, eventually settling down in Hebron, about 30 km (19 mi) from Jerusalem, in about 1850BC.

Both very elderly by now, Abraham and his first wife, Sarah, had never been able to have children together, though Abraham had gathered many wives. One of them, Hagar, had given birth to his first son, who had been named Ishmael. Sarah, now well past child bearing years became spiteful and talked Abraham into banishing Hagar and Ishmael from the tribe. It is said that with a heavy heart, Abraham banished them both into the Arabian Peninsula. But Hagar and Ishmael survived, with folklore and oral traditions recognizing Ishmael as the founder of the Arab nation.

Abraham had continued to have visions and spoke with his god El often, who one day told Abraham that Sarah, though very old, would produce a son as a “gift from God”, in his appreciation of Abraham’s obedience and discipline. Sure enough Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son whom they named Isaac. Still jealous and resentful of  Abraham’s other wives, Sarah became ever more protective of her son’s inheritance, and once again talked Abraham into banishing another favourite wife of his, Keturah, along with the six sons she and Abraham had together. This was also carried out, and Keturah, her sons and a small group of supporters headed out into the Arabian wilderness, where they would eventually become the ancestral tribal leaders of the Midian, in north-west Saudi Arabia. where 3,000 years later, the prophet Muhammad and Islam would be born. Dying in about 1830 BC, Abraham and Sarah were buried in the cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. A Muslim mosque marks the spot today. Abraham would become the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Isaac meanwhile, would lead his father’s tribes into becoming the Hebrew.

It is said, that this is the point in time where the seed of hatred began between Arab and Jew and would accumulate, and cause all the future confrontations between them, even up to the present day in the Israeli-Arab conflict, where they wish each other to be erased off of the planet. Four thousand years of resentment and loathing caused by, basically, a family feud and what particular god each family believed in.

 

Chapter 2

Meanwhile, Canaan at the time was inhabited by dozens of tribes, split between nomadic herders, and farmers huddled around springs and wells. Most all of Canaan’s city states would grow up either on or near a well, where eventually walls would be built to protect the precious water from the goats and sheep of the herders. Because of this and either times of unrest, famine or drought, the herders had to often immigrate to surrounding areas to feed and water their flocks and themselves, or just as often becoming enslaved and relocating as refugees or slaves.

With one of the first civilizations in the world, the Sumer of Mesopotamia, disappearing into history and the Egyptian pyramids already more than 800 years old, many tribes in Canaan, including the Hebrew would end up in Egypt, as slaves, farmers, herders and craftsmen.

The Hebrew tribes emigrated, perhaps enslaved, to Egypt a couple of centuries after Abraham’s death and would stay for two hundred years. Over the generations the majority of them in fact did quite well, with many arising to respectful positions as craftsmen, traders, scribes and advisers to the Egyptian Royal Courts. One of the Hebrew, Moses, had been raised by the pharaoh’s daughter and had become a prince of the Royal Court, as well as a respected military commander. But after killing an Egyptian for beating a slave, Moses headed for the hills. Over the next few years he became a herdsman and wandered the hilly desert country as a nomad. Meeting other Hebrew herders and their small clans, Moses came to learn that the Hebrew people were descendants of Abraham, the patriarch with whom their one god had formed a covenant. Growing up reading and writing various texts and languages, he had studied ancient Sumerian, Ur and Babylonian tablets, which told epic stories of great floods and described the laws of the earlier Sumerian people. Linking oral traditions of Moses’ ancestors and earlier cultures, along with these readings, he began to discover his own roots and the origins of his own people, as well as enhancing earlier ideologies into the narrative which would become the concepts of Judaeo and Christian traditions. He also began to have visions and a voice in his head, which also spoke to him through his staff, rocks and burning bushes. Moses was told that he should lead the Hebrew back to their promised land. The voice in his head introduced himself as Yahweh, the only one true god of the Hebrew.

Around 1400 BC, Egypt entered a time of environmental and economic collapse, which coincided with one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, the Santorini or Thera eruption, which destroyed the Minoan civilization, and effected most all the populations of the Eastern Mediterranean area. It was at this time that Moses would return from his self-exile and then lead the Hebrew tribes out of Egypt.

After leaving Egypt, the Hebrew would spend the next fifty years wandering about the Sinai wilderness. Moses explained to his people that Yahweh not only promised them their land around Hebron, but all of Palestine, and that it was their divine right. But they could not enter their promised land until the generation of people that had come out of Egypt with Moses, along with their ungodliness behaviour and attitude began to die off and a new generation could emerge to carry out their god’s will. And sure enough, soon after Moses died the tribes of Hebrew would swarm out of the hills of the Sinai and sweep across Palestine, bent on war and conquest. The earlier aspects of their faith – extinction of will, passive meditation, mournfulness, mysticism, and the softness of the Sun of Abraham’s time, would not do. To achieve victory they now needed their god Yahweh to become a fierce and jealous god of vengeance with an “eye for eye” brutality. And he did.

Palestine was inhabited at the time by many powerful and prosperous kings, in strong walled cities surrounded by agricultural communities, the population a melting pot of tribes, including the Ishmaelite, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Midianite, and Qahtanites, with much of the population still living on lands where thousands of generations of their ancestors had lived, hundreds of centuries before Abraham.

But over the next four hundred years, the Hebrew would pillage, raze cities and towns to the ground, and beat much of Palestine into submission. Attacking the peoples that had always lived in these lands with the modus operandi; after conquering a farm, village or city, every man, woman, child, and domesticated animal, be put to the sword. It worked. By 900 BC many of the original inhabitants of Palestine had been killed, displaced or assimilated into the surrounding populations, losing nearly all of their distinctive and vibrant cultures. Eventually the loose confederation of Hebrew tribes would unite to become a nation themselves. Samuel, a religious judge, was appointed the king of the new united kingdom of Israel. With Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin proclaimed king and war-leader soon after.

 

Chapter 3

The still being written books that would make up their bible, the Torah (Old Testament), gave birth to their distinct religion, which they called Judaism and themselves, Jews. From the beginning they placed themselves apart from all other humans and religions, by making Judaism only for their race and no other, and very unique at the time, they only had the one god. Though the Torah speaks about tolerance, this attitude of Judaism would foster racism and the Jewish people would from then on become persecuted for such beliefs.

In about 600 BC, the Babylonians would invade Palestine and Israel, and then return to Babylon with nearly half the Jewish population in tow as slaves, though many would return over the next decades, with many having worked once again as scribes and advisers, and studied in the greatest libraries in the world at the time, in the greatest city of it’s time Babylon. Soon after returning, the books that make up the Torah would be copied and edited a few more times and eventually became the collection of books it is today.

Less than five hundred years later a greater Diaspora would occur when the Romans, having already conquered and attempted to subdue Palestine, would squash the rising of the Jews fighting against the oppression of Roman tyranny and the Jews would leave Palestine en mass. During the hostilities and rebellions, a Jew called Jesus was crucified, and nearly a hundred years later another new religion would come into being, centred on both, the Torah and the teachings of Jesus, and be called Christianity. At about the same time the Diaspora had run its course and very few Jews were left in Palestine after 100 AD.

Over the next 1800 plus years, the Palestinian people would be controlled by the Byzantines, the Sunni Arab Caliphates, the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Mameluks and Ottomans. During the “war to end all wars” in 1917, the British captured Palestine and Jerusalem from the Ottomans-Turks and were awarded a mandate to govern the region in 1922, though revolts by non-Jewish Palestinians were a continuous thorn in their side, the way they carried on about wanting rights and such things.

In 1920, the League of Nations reported that there were 700,000 people living in Palestine, with 80% being Muslim, including small groups of Arab Bedouin and peoples of mixed races. There were some 77,000 Orthodox Christians, who also spoke Arabic, and other minorities of Latin and Greek Catholics, while the Jewish population was about 76,000.

From about 100 to 1850 there were always only a handful of Jews in Palestine, by the end of the 19th century perhaps a couple of hundred, but after the persecutions in Russia and especially after World War Two and the holocaust, the Jewish people began to return to Palestine in greater numbers. By 1948 the population of Palestine had risen to 1.9 million, of whom 68% were Arabs and 32% Jews. The intolerance, racism and hatred each race held for each other, and the British, escalated and continued unabated until 1947, when the British had had enough and wished to terminate the mandate.

The United Nations General Assembly recommended partitioning Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and a resolution that the city of Jerusalem be designated a Special International Regime. The Jewish leaders agreed while the Arab leaders did not, and the day after the establishment of the State of Israel was declared in 1948, civil war began before the sun was up. More than 700,000 Palestinians had to flee or were driven from their ancestral homes and would be never allowed to return. More than 110,000 refugees made their way into Lebanon, the rest into Jordan, Syria and Egypt, while in the three years after the war, about the same number of Jews would immigrate to Israel from surrounding Arabian areas. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948 would last for nine months with over 15,000 deaths and many times more causalities. When the smoke cleared, Israel kept all the area given to them by the UN, took control of almost 60% of the land that was given to the proposed Arab state, including Jaffa, Galilee and territories in the West Bank and captured West Jerusalem. Jordan captured the remainder of the West Bank and East-Jerusalem, while Egypt took the Gaza Strip. No Palestinian state was created.

The heart of Palestine has always been Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. During its long history, Jerusalem has been completely destroyed, twice, withered under siege 23 times, attacked over 50 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The place may be the shrine of the three main religions but the stench of violence, hatred and intolerance that pervades over it forever lingers. Even today, the status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nineteen years later, during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel would capture East Jerusalem and then annex it, though the international community rejected this annexation as illegal and consider East Jerusalem a Palestinian territory under Israeli military occupation. Israel refers to Jerusalem as their “undivided capital” even if no one else does, and though all branches of the Israeli government are located there, Israel’s commercial capital city is Tel-Aviv. Today there are more than 720,000 people living in Jerusalem; 465,000 are Jews, mostly living in West Jerusalem and about 250,000 Palestinians, mostly Muslim and mostly living in East Jerusalem.

Besides East Jerusalem, the Israelis would also capture the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Overall, Israel’s territory grew by a factor of three, gaining at least 300 km in the south, 60 km to the east, and 20 km in the north. And though the Camp David Accords of 1978 would return the Sinai to Egypt, Israel would keep the rest, for as US president John F. Kennedy stated years earlier, “Israel was not created in order to disappear, Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”

Israeli casualties numbered about 800 killed, 4,500 wounded, 15 captured, with 46 aircraft destroyed. In contrast, Egypt alone had 10-15,000 killed or missing. All be told, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq’s casualties were over 22,000 killed, 5,000 captured and untold numbers of wounded. They also lost hundreds of tanks and had an estimated 452 aircraft destroyed. For every Israeli who was killed, 27 Arabs would lose their lives. But then as proven 3000 years ago when the Israeli’s first conquered Palestine, they are very adept at killing fellow human beings and would ever become more proficient at it as time went on.

 

Chapter 4

The Palestinians, now led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), were devastated, with over one million Palestinian Arabs placed under Israeli military control in the newly captured territories. The PLO would relocate its headquarters to Jordan, already home to thousands of Palestinian refugees. During the war 300,000 Palestinians had fled from the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan, Egypt and other Arab countries, while in the Golan Heights about 100,000 Syrians also had to flee. The end of the Six-Day war launched new Israeli policy to secure their captured territories through the process of creating permanent settlements. Dozens of villages were destroyed, both as punishment and to chase away those who lived there. In a few cities a third of the homes would be razed to the ground, evicting thousands of Palestinians. In the Jericho area alone, over 70,000 Palestinians had to flee; altogether, over 25% of the population of the West Bank were either forced and intimidated to leave or fled voluntarily in panic and fear. Though a few months later Israel announced that it would allow the return of these refugees, in reality perhaps 16,000 were allowed back.

The PLO, founded in 1964 by Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader and President of the Fatah political party (founded in 1959), would grow in importance and strength after the Six-Day War, with Arafat spending much of his life fighting  for Palestinian self-determination; “where a state has the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status, with no external compulsion or interference so long as such rights are based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, with no concern as to how the decision is to be made, or what the outcome should be, whether it be independence, protection, some form of autonomy or even full assimilation.”- Geneva Convention.

The PLO’s ideology would further embrace the concept and political strategy of what would become known as Sumud, meaning “steadfast perseverance” or “firm and unwavering,” through the understanding of the nature of “logical argumentation of oppression and resistance.” There are two forms of Sumud. The first is “static Sumud” which is passive and defined as the “maintenance of Palestinians on their land.” The second is “resistance Sumud” which is much more forceful and whose aim is to seek ways of building alternative institutions to resist and undermine the occupation of their lands.

By September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan felt he was losing control over his monarchy with the influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, and moved to suppress the militancy of Palestinian organizations operating within his borders. Thousands, especially Palestinians, died. By July 1971, the PLO and thousands of its fighters would be finally driven out of Jordan. They would flee to Southern Lebanon, joining hundreds of thousands of fellow Palestinian refugees from the war in 1967.

By 1975 there were over 300,000 refugees in southern Lebanon, with the PLO creating a state within a state, which caused a demographic imbalance within Lebanese society and its democratic institutions. With the PLO’s arrival, fighting along the Israeli-Lebanese border escalated. The PLO would align themselves with the Lebanese National Movement, a coalition of Muslims, and Arab nationalists and leftists who opposed the rightist, Christian, ancestral Maronite-dominated government of Lebanon, and before too long civil war broke out in Lebanon which would fulminate for ten plus years. Eventually Iranian-supported Shi’a militant groups from Syria would also join in on the fighting.

In 1982, with the civil war spilling over its border and concern over Syrian influence of Lebanon, Israel invaded southern Lebanon. Initially Israel’s objective was to push the PLO forces back 40km (25mi) to the north but after attacking the PLO, Syrian, leftist and Muslim Lebanese forces, they found themselves occupying all of southern Lebanon. After surrounding the remaining PLO and elements of the Syrian army in West Beirut, the Israeli’s laid siege, killing upwards of 5,000 fighters and civilians. Under a truce and International peacekeeper protection, Arafat and the PLO were allowed to relocate to Tripoli and within a few weeks of fighting, Israel’s forces would defeat most of the Palestinian militants left in Lebanon. By 1985, with continuing international outrage over Israel’s role in Christian led massacres of Palestinian refugees, as well as the Israeli population’s disillusionment with the war,  Israel would withdraw to a 10km (6mi) occupied strip of South Lebanon.

The 1982 Lebanon War lasted but a few months while the actual conflict would continue on in seemingly tit for tat skirmishes up to the present day. The human cost of the war was typical for this holiest of lands; either 368 or 657 Israeli’s killed versus 9,800 Syrian and Palestinian combatants, along with perhaps 16,000 Lebanese civilians, with over 30,000 wounded.

The resistance movement of Islamic militant groups, such as the Shi’a and other Palestinian guerrilla forces, would consolidate with the Shi’a political party, Hezbollah, and the Lebanese party, Amal, and with remnants of the PLO, would carry out guerrilla warfare against Israel over this tiny occupied strip of southern Lebanon for the next 18 years. Though by the early 1990’s, the Palestinian organization’s political and military infrastructures in Lebanon, which had taken 15 years to build, ceased to exist. The Lebanese civil war abated in 1990 when Syria would establish complete dominance over Lebanon.

The Palestinians, in their ongoing struggle for national liberation and an end to the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would continue to fight and retaliate up to the present day, countering apartheid and the Israeli “defence forces” might and technology, with everything from armed attacks on Israeli soldiers, police and civilians to suicide bombings, launching rockets and mortars into Israel, kidnapping of soldiers, shootings, assassinations, stabbings, stoning and lynching to non-violent actions such as civil disobedience and resistance, mass protests, general strikes, graffiti and barricades.

To counter the Palestinians wrath, the Israeli’s created their “Iron Fist” policy. A policy devoted to erasing any idea of Palestinian nationalism whatsoever. A policy “founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation,” with an “all-pervading element of humiliation.” Over a six year period in the eighties the Israelis would arrest more than 120,000 Palestinians. By 1990, one Israeli prison alone, in the Negev, held about one out of every 50 West Bank and Gazan males older than 16 years. Israeli tactics also included seriously curbing Palestinians movements, with checkpoints and enforcing a strict curfew in certain areas. This was accompanied by economic integration and increasing Israeli settlements such that, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank alone, nearly doubled from 35,000 in 1984, to 64,000 in 1988, reaching 130,000 by the mid nineties. With both sides guaranteeing that all future generations of both Muslim and Jew would grow up with continuing anger, racism and hatred towards each other just from the daily stress of potential conflict.

 

Chapter 5

Since 1988, when the Palestinians put forth their “Palestinian Declaration of Independence,” three-quarters of the world’s countries recognize the West Bank and Gaza as being the State of Palestine, except by the United Nations, Israel, the United States, Canada and a few other Western nations. To this day Palestine has more ambassadors around the world than Israel does. In 1993, for the first time face to face, Israel would meet with the PLO, the representative of the Palestinian people, in what would become known as the Oslo Accords. It provided the creation of a Palestinian interim self-government, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), who would be responsible for the administration of the territory under its control. The Accord also called for the withdrawal of Israel from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Main issues such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, and security was not discussed and neither the Oslo Accords nor the 1995 Oslo II Accords, promised Palestinian statehood. As to the Gaza Strip, Israel would finally get around to withdrawing their settlers and military presence in 2005, though maintained control of the airspace and coast, while they continue to systematically set up illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The Oslo Accords also declared that the West Bank territory to be divided into three separate areas and administration divisions. Area A, covering about 18% of Palestinian land and 55% of the Palestinian West Bank population, would be under the control of the Palestinian Authority and include most of the major Palestinian cities, the PA would also be responsible for security control. Area B covers 21% of the territory and about 44% of West Bank Palestinians and is mostly  rural communities, under Palestinian civil administration and joint Israeli security control, while Area C is under complete control by the Israeli’s and includes all the areas they have established settlements. Today Area C encompasses more than 60% of Palestinian territory, yet only 4% (about 150,000) of the Palestinian population live there because they face severe restrictions on planning, building and accessing services and the area’s natural resources, with 70% of the area off-limits to Palestinian construction and a further 29% heavily restricted. Israeli plans call for less than 1% of Area C to be for Palestinian development.

There are now about 350,000 Jewish-Israeli settlers who live in Area C, with about 15,000 added every year. As of 2010, there were 192,000 Israeli’s living in settlements in East Jerusalem, with a further 100 settlements not officially recognized by Israel and which are illegal under both the Geneva Convention and even Israeli law, but none the less have been provided with infrastructure, water, sewage and other services by the Israeli authorities. In 2011 alone, Israel demolished more than 560 Palestinian structures, including 46 rainwater collection pools, in Area C, instantly making more than 1,200 people homeless. Today more than half a million Israel settlers are living in enclaves within the Palestinian territories. The consensus of the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab league and the majority of legal scholars, hold that all Israeli settlements on the West Bank beyond the Green Line (the demarcation line set out in 1949) are illegal under international law.

The eventual conclusion for Area C, according to Israel, is for all the Palestinians still living there to move to Areas A and B, where it will be easier to contain them, a’la Gaza. But truth be told, they need the land for their ever growing population. Make no mistake; Israel’s number one concern is its maintenance of its Jewish demographic majority. Indeed much of their policy making is based on the threat of non-Jewish population growth, immigration and water rights. While the key issues we are told through the media are mutual recognition, borders and security, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and Palestinian freedom of movement.

The governments of Palestine and specifically Israel are placing incredible pressure on the current stress levels of their populations and environment, especially considering how small the area is and how densely packed their cities are. Including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, Israel covers 22,072 square km (8,522 sq mi), with a population of 7,933,200 people as of 2012 and is the 34th most densely crowded country in the world. 78% are Jewish, (nearly 6.2 million), 20 % are Arabs (just over 1.4 million), while the remaining population is listed as “others.” In contrast, the Palestinian territories cover 6,220 sq km (2400 sq mi) with a population of an estimated 3.8 million people, including the 1.7 million living in the open air prison called the Gaza Strip, with 10 to 11 million Palestinian refugees, scattered in nearby countries and around the world.

In comparison, the largest island on the west coast of North America is Vancouver Island, at over 32,000 sq km (20,000 sq mi) with a population of 759,366 people. An area larger than Palestine and Israel combined. Most Vancouver islanders live on its southern tip, in the 13 municipalities which make up the Greater Victoria District, an area covering 2,341 sq km (903 sq mi), though metro Victoria actually covers only about 696 sq km (268 sq mi), with a combined population of just over 340,000 people. The Gaza Strip meanwhile is only 41km (25mi) long, 6 to 12km (3-7mi) wide and a total area of 365sqkm (141sqmi), one-sixth the size of the Greater Victoria district, but with a population of 1.7 million.

Though many attempts have been made for a Palestinian state, with the reasonable and logical solution of a two-state solution, the fighting is seemingly never ending, whether conducted by regular armies, paramilitary groups, terror cells, secret police or individuals. Not only do the Israeli military and Palestinian freedom fighters loathe each other to the point where they view each other as not being human beings, their societies despise each other as well, even though, according to a number of polls taken in 2007, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians prefer the two-state solution as the means to resolve the conflict. An independent Palestinian state living alongside an independent Israeli state is a great idea, the most logical for sure. But with only about 3.8 million Palestinians still existing by surviving in the present day territories and Israel bulging at the seams with its ever growing population of  7 million and need for land, water and resources, I sadly see why the Israelis do what they do, which causes retaliation and ever more hatred. I am sure they would love to just go for it all and erase the Palestinian people off the planet by however means and then just move in. And then after another decade, their population growth and need for resources and water would dictate they expand even more, maybe Lebanon or Jordan or even Syria would be next.

 

Chapter 6

The most significant threats to a two-state solution are the Israeli settlements within Palestine, the number of Palestinian refugees, and as mentioned, water. First off, the enclaves that Israel sets up in occupied territories are populated with “settlers” we are told. The word bringing up thoughts of families made up of good and hard-working folks, moving into the frontier to create a life for themselves, a just, empathic, tolerant and law-abiding people, simple homesteaders. While in reality any “settler” who decides to move onto land that is not theirs, and which was only recently vacated of its native population through incitement and cruel violence would have to be psychotic. Each “settler” knows very well what environment they are entering and are no doubt very well prepared, supported and armed. Then after moving in they often wake up in fear of their very own survival. Not a place for a family or a “settler,” but as already mentioned, in May 2012, over half a million Israeli settlers illegally live on Palestinian soil. To-date Israel has ignored nearly 100 UN Security Council resolutions calling for them to withdraw to pre-67’ borders. In May 2012, 27 ministers of the European Union condemned the escalating incitement and settler violence. Israel paid them no mind.

In 2008, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, determined that; the segregated road network in the West Bank, with 500-600 checkpoints throughout the territories; the continuous construction of separation walls of monolithic proportions; the expansion of Israeli settlements and restriction of growth of Palestinian towns; the discrimination in granting of services, budgets and access to natural resources; blatant violations of human dignity; and the ethnically cleansing underway in Jerusalem is “reminiscent of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Today there are approximately 4.7 million Palestinian refugees, 1 .5 million of them living in refugee camps, scattered throughout, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. Most were born outside of Israel, but are the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees who had to flee in 1948 when their land was given to the Israelis. Israel, above all else, is a country which lives in constant fear of the Palestinians returning to their original lands en force. But this would not be allowed to happen because realistically, two to five million Palestinians returning to Israel would be the end of Israel.

As to water, Israel receives most all of its water from two large underground aquifers, both running under the 1948 boundary, the Green Line, and into the West Bank. Israel consumes 95% of the output of the Western Aquifer and 82% of the North-eastern Aquifer, not leaving much for the millions of Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza. In 2012 it was reported that the 450,000 settlers living in the West Bank used more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians who also live there. Because of climate change, where in 2012 the Jordan River ran at its lowest level in recorded history, water will become much more an issue in the near future, not only for Israel and Palestine, but for many areas of the planet. Globally, wars over water are already being fought, with many more just around the corner, for as the population of the planet escalates each artificially distinct society of the one species of man will want to be the lone survivor.

The estimates for people killed between 1948 and 2009 in Palestine vary from 13,000 to 30,000 though these numbers are even more inaccurate when taking into account the true civilian death toll, which most always seems just a guess and/or afterthought, and the unknown hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths from landmines and explosive remnants of war. After reading multiple lists and numbers, it seems the “official” death toll, from direct conflict between Israeli and Palestinian for the fifteen years between 1987 and 2011, and attributed to either Israeli military operations, artillery shelling, rocket attacks, search and arrest campaigns, barrier demonstrations, targeted killing and settler violence, is 8,096 Palestinians killed, 1,633 of them under 16 yr s, with 1,514 Israelis killed, 147 of them under 16 yr s. More recent estimates determine that altogether, deaths from the Israeli-Arab wars from 1945 to 2010, exceeds 92,000 people.

 

Chapter 7

Then there is the Israeli controlled ghetto, the Gaza Strip; 41 kilometres (25 miles) of beach, 6 to 12 kilometres (3 to 7 miles) wide; with a 11 km (6 mi) southern border with Egypt, a 51 km (32 mi) western and northern border with Israel, a population of 1.7 million Palestinians and a 3.2% growth rate, the 7th highest in the world. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but remained in control of anything or anyone going in or out of Gaza, whether by air, land or sea. In the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, the Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization Hamas, garnered the majority of votes and by 2007, after scrapes and skirmishes with the Palestinian political party Fatah and the Palestine Authority, held control of the Gaza Strip. Israel, United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, countries that do not include Iran, Russia, Turkey and several Arab countries. Hamas was freely elected by the majority of Palestinians in Gaza to be their government on a platform based on their reputation for brutal honesty and that they are averse to corruption. Ever since, the Israeli’s have carried out a systematic, collective punishment on Gaza’s population while pretending to focus on the lunatic extremists that live within. While in reality Israel is creating terrorists faster than they can kill them, with their treatment of all non-Jewish people in Gaza about the same as South Africa’s treatment of non-whites was.

Daily life for a Palestinian living in Gaza is often made up of being harassed at checkpoints, imprisoned arbitrarily, denied clean water and sanitation, induced malnutrition and stressed of air bombardment or ground invasion that could happen at any time. Most of the population are permanently mentally scarred, living each day with the sound of either, jets, helicopters or drones overhead, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. There are no safe places in Gaza.

In June 2005 there were 3900 factories operating in Gaza with over 35,000 employed, by June 2007 only 195 factories were still operating with 1750 employed and only at 25% to 50% operating capacity. That same year Israel banned most all imports and exports and suspended 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations. In Feb.2008 Israel reduces electricity it sells to Gaza by 10%. The month before, knowing  a person  needs a minimum of 1200 calories per day to prevent a humanitarian crisis; Israel subtracts 8% to adjust for the “culture and experience of the Gazans” by intentionally allowing fewer trucks and supplies in to meet that need. While in the West, a Burger King Triple Whopper is 1,240 calories alone. In 2010 Gaza’s unemployment rate was 40% with 80% of its population living on less than $2.00 a day. Imports such as pipe and other building materials, which are being destroyed each time the Israelis strike, but which Israel deems could be used to make weapons, are banned.

In 2008-09, the 1st Gaza War, which the Israelis called “Operation Cast Lead” was fought and lasted three weeks, with over 1,400 Palestinians killed, including 930 civilians, and  9 Israeli deaths (3 civilian), 4 of which were from friendly fire. Of the Palestinian deaths, what sort of stands out is the seemingly intentional targeting of its hospitals and ambulances, with 17 health personnel killed and 26 injured, with a total of  29 ambulances damaged or destroyed by bombs or crushed by armoured vehicles. Emergency vehicles were often denied access to sites until it was too late to save the wounded, and then once they received clearance to enter, the Israelis would fire upon the site for the second time. Altogether 48% of Gaza health facilities were directly or indirectly hit by shelling.

Later that year, in Nov. 2009, a panel of international jurists, all veterans of human rights investigations in Sudan, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia, along with a detailed UN sponsored investigation which confirmed human rights abuse, came to the conclusion that war crimes were being committed by both Israel and Palestine. The United States immediately condemned the decision for failing to absolve Israel of any responsibility and blocked the United Nations from investigating.

The 2nd Gaza War,” called “Pillar of Cloud”, a “defensive action” by the Israelis, was fought from Nov. 14th to the 21st, 2012. It started weeks before, with Israel indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians in several isolated incidents, including the deaths of a couple of youths out kicking a ball around, and then began in earnest after they assassinated the chief of Hama’s military wing. Gaza retaliated, duh. Israel stated that their aims were to stop such indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza and to disrupt the capabilities of extremist organizations operating within Gaza. Hamas declared that they, being victims living under violent occupation had the right to defend its people and respond to Israeli attacks. Indeed, the Article 1 (4) of protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention states that even a non-state, such as Palestine, or “any state or people under oppressive occupation, has the right to resist and use force to pursue the right of self-determination.” To suppress such actions goes against the Geneva Convention, UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Though in this case, and once again, The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and other Western countries supported Israel’s right to defend itself, even though Israel is the oppressive occupier.

The Israeli military struck over 1,500 targets in Gaza, none being surgical in nature, for with Gaza being so dense, even one grenade takes out many and damages much. The strikes paid no heed to collateral damage such as actual people, targeting houses, apartment blocks, civil institutions, police stations, farms, the Islamic National bank, and numerous offices housing Hamas government ministries. Also hit were media outlets, suspected rocket launch pads, cache sites and Hamas command posts. The bombardment of Gaza was by air, land and sea, with the sky abuzz with drones, helicopter gunships and jets. Many neighbourhoods were reduced to rubble, displacing more than 10,000 Palestinians. In eight days of fighting, over 160 Palestinians would be killed, 90 of them being civilians, including over 30 children. An estimated 1,300 to 1,500 Palestinians were injured. For the population it would have been very hard to even just think clearly under such conditions, let alone survive through the trauma of each day. It has been estimated that the majority of the 1.7 million people and nearly all the children in Gaza suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).

At the same time, Palestinian militant groups fired over 1,400 rockets into Israel, with another 142 falling short and exploding within Gaza itself, killing Palestinians. Of the rest, 875 rockets fell in “open areas”, 58 actually hit urban areas in Israel, and more than 302 were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. All told, Palestinian rockets killed four Israeli civilians, three of them in a direct hit on a home, two Israeli soldiers and an unknown number of Palestinian civilians. Israel announced afterwards that there were 21 Israeli’s injured by shrapnel, 28 injured during alarms and in the rush to hide, and more than 200 Israelis treated for anxiety. Since 2007, when Hamas came into power, up to Dec. 2012, the total number of Israelis killed by rocket, mortar or anti-tank fire from Gaza- 56, the number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli fire over that same time- 3,054.

The Palestinians in Gaza have no army, air-force or navy, nor airport or seaport. Their fighters consist of approximately 10,000 al-Qassam (Hamas) militant brigades, 10,000 other security forces and about 8,000 extreme Islam Jihadists. Israel had their entire Southern Command participating as well as 75,000 reservists prepared and ready to go on a moment’s notice. The deadliest weapon Hamas possesses is the longer range, 75km (46 mile), Fajr-5 rocket with an explosive payload of 175 kg (385 lb), the Israeli military prefers to strike back using their own MPR-500 advanced-penetration precision-guided bomb, which carries an explosive payload of 900 kilos (2,000lbs); and then there are the physical characteristics of the area, in that Gaza is only 365 sq km (141 sq mi), while Israel is over 20,000 sq km (7,900 sq mi).

Israel’s new toy, the U.S. backed Iron Dome missile defence system, consists of five truck-towed batteries of radar-guided interceptor missiles which engage only when rockets threaten populated areas of Israel and often will fire two interceptor missiles at once. Each battery costs about $50 million, each missile $62,000, while the estimated cost of one short-range Qassam M-75 rocket built in a Gaza workshop or garage, about $800. Israel has plans to eventually have 13 batteries in its Iron Dome system. During Pillar of Cloud they shot off about $30 million worth of missiles. But with overwhelming American support, in vast amounts of money and arms from their industrial military complex, Israel sees no reason to quit in its goal to become a colonial empire and fortress in the Middle East. In fact, besides the $3 billion per year the U.S gives to the Israeli military machine, two weeks after Palestine was recognized as a non-member state in the UN, the United States agreed to sell Israel $647 million in munitions to make up for what Israel expended during the eight-day Pillar of Cloud ravaging of Gaza. The deal included 6,900 precision bomb kits and 10,000 bombs of various kits. It is generous of the States, the three or four of the richest corporations in America will become even richer. Hell, weapons manufacturers and NRA (National Rifle Association) lobbyists in the States are making billions from their own population alone, not including the trillions that American weapons manufacturers and security companies are making and have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. With no iota of concern for such things as deaths, especially children, it is simply the cost of doing business.

During the Pillar of Cloud operations, 35 Palestinian children died from Israeli bombardments, of armaments mostly made in the United States. Five times the number of all Israeli deaths combined, which included no children. Meanwhile the United States has killed 168 children by drone attacks in Pakistan since 2006; another 231 children killed in Afghanistan in the first 6 months of this year alone, and another 921 children killed by US air strikes against insurgents in Iraq; in Yemen the numbers could be higher. While at home they are just as proficient. There have been 16 mass shootings in the U.S. just this year, leaving 88 people dead, including the 20 children killed with a military semi-auto in Newtown, Connecticut, where some of the children killed were shot up to 11 times, at point blank range. If one were to add the other 400 children in the US under the age of 15 who die from gunshot wounds each year and the tens of thousands of adults shot and killed, one could say the NRA and America’s leaders are responsible for killing more Americans in one year, than their enemies, real or imagined, even bin Laden, had at any time over the past twenty years. As it is, a gun kills someone in the United States every 20 minutes; twice the death rate of AIDS. In Duval County, in Florida, there have been 100 murders by guns in the past year, more than all of Britain, a nation of 63 million people. As one can see, wars don’t kill Americans, Americans kill Americans.

 

Chapter 8

While in Palestine, over 53% of Palestinians are under the age of 18, growing up in basically concentration camps, with limited access to necessities like running water, food, electricity and education. Their daily lives are filled with the pressures of persecution, brutality, hatred, coercion and injustice, each child trying to deal with the stress from the ever potentiality of conflict, bombardment, and/or extinction of their race. It is estimated that over 92% of Palestinian children are coping with some sort of trauma, while the cloaking smell of revenge, oppression and death is quickly erasing their dreams of peace and security in their future. They are of a generation who are becoming numb to further pain and suffering. A generation of children who not only have abandoned hope for a better life but who also have had their dreams taken away from them, a life where common sense and compassion do not exist any more.

Other ways Israel is defending itself, before, during and after the latest Gaza War, include the concepts – since 70% of Palestinians in Gaza live on fishing, their fleet is limited to fish only up to 4.8 km (3 mi) offshore, instead of the Oslo Accords guaranteed 32 km (20 mi) limit. Often fired upon, the fleet is totally blockaded from leaving the beach at least a couple of times per month, though for only 2 to 3 days at a time, with the Israeli’s knowing full well if such blockades go longer than 4 days, people in Gaza would start starving to death, and people would complain. As it is about 80% of Palestinians in Gaza exist on food aid, with an anaemia epidemic running out of control. Another reason for the 3 mile limit could be because 5 km (3.5 mi) off Gaza lies a natural gas offshore drilling rig, which in reality should be a Palestinian drilling rig.

After a ceasefire was reached in the latest hostilities, Israel seized 35% of the agricultural land in Gaza, as a “buffer zone.” Any Palestinian farmer who gets too close to the newly erected fence is shot without warning of any kind. Israel also seized aquifers and seawater desalination plants which is quickly turning much of Gaza’s water supply into a health hazard, though many areas of Gaza have had no running water for years, while current and escalating restrictions have created such a breakdown of sewage infrastructure, that within ten years, Gaza could very well be not fit to be lived in. Another technique the Israeli’s employ is, in areas of Palestine and Gaza under night time curfew, anyone outside after dark is shot without warning, and then regardless of who they are, is listed as a terrorist. And lastly, Israel controls the Gaza economy, what little there is left, by occasionally withholding import taxes. What it all means is that Israel has dehumanized their prey, just like all true killers do. And yes, Palestinians dehumanize, retaliate and become killers as well.

This is not saying all Jews and Muslims of Israel and Palestine are psychotic serial killers, far from it, but when Israel states they are defending themselves by punishing an entire population and occupying Palestinian territory is simply wrong and immoral. In reality much of the violence and overwhelming suffering  in Israel and Palestine is not created by the general population, but rather by fanatic extremist jihadists that Hamas cannot control, and other groups, such as the out of control and vicious Jewish settlers, whom Israel can’t or won’t control, and its racist military. And though both sides have committed great immoral transgressions against one another, Israel is much more capable in the killing department. Israel is by far the strongest military in the entire Middle East, in fact, the 2012 Global Militarisation Index, put out by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion, listed Israel as the world’s most militarised nation, followed by Singapore, Syria, Russia, Jordan and Cyprus. Israel also has one of the world’s highest standards of living and is heavily supported by the fading superpower, the United States. The Gaza Strip meanwhile is but an oppressed, impoverished ghetto with a weak government barely in control, making it through a complete and total blockade, living one day at a time, alongside a few thousand madmen.

While Israel and its Pillar of Cloud defensive operation was blitzkrieging Gaza, with Hamas and other Palestinian groups continuing to retaliate and fight for their independence and freedom, the Palestinian Authority was preparing for the upcoming meeting of the U.N., where it would be put to vote whether or not to give Palestine, United Nations “non-member observer state status”, and confirmation its state includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. You’d think this would no doubt force the resumption of a peace deal and get both sides talking as grown-ups should, abiding by international laws and values of humanity. But after decades of trying to negotiate an agreement with Israel to stop annexation and settlement in the West Bank and though they have, by as much as they can control, cooperated on many levels with both Israeli and American security forces, they have never even come close to getting an agreement or even initial dialogue with Israel for a formal two-state settlement. With Israel it is never going to happen, because it goes against its manifest destiny vision of a “Greater Israel” which includes all the Palestinian territories.

Before Pillar of Cloud, the Palestinian people were very aware of the upcoming UN decision, the Palestinian Authority had been working on it for decades, trying their best to stay off the angry road Israel strutted, and to instead pursue state status at the UN by adopting the non-violent, diplomatic and multilateral approach to gaining their freedom and dignity back, while at the same time trying to control the often foreign, gathering of lunatic extremist groups within their own population, and withstanding the extreme oppression of their people by Israel.

Preparing for the forthcoming UN decision, it was reported that the Palestine Authority, the military wing of Hamas and several Israeli civilian peacemakers were close to creating an agreement for a long-term ceasefire, while the world contemplated their hoped for status in the UN. For one reason or another, this was proving difficult to reach, but a short-term ceasefire agreement was being agreed upon. But just before such an agreement could be signed, the Hamas military’s leader was assassinated by an Israeli jet launched missile that bulls-eyed his car, as he drove downs a busy street in Gaza. Pillar of Cloud began soon after.

Eight days after the Pillar of Cloud Israeli assault on Gaza began a cease-fire was reached, negotiated by Egypt’s fundamentalist president, Mohamed Morsi. Then eight days after that, on Nov 29/12, the UN’s General Assembly met in New York City, 65 years to the day since Palestine was first partitioned by the UN. One hundred and eighty-eight countries of the world participated in deciding whether Palestine would be elevated to a “non-member observer state.” Of these, 138 nations, including the European nations France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland voted yes, 41 nations, including Britain and Germany abstained, while only 9 nations voted unequivocally no – Israel, the US, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Federated State of Micronesia; which the US is wholly responsible for their defence,  the Pacific islands, Marshall and Palau; also influenced by the US, which provides both with defence, funding grants and access to social services, and another Micronesian nation, Nauri, the world’s smallest republic covering 21 sq km (8.1sqmi), with a population of just over 9,000 people. Also located within the Micronesian group of islands is Wake Island, the US Air Force base, airfield and missile facility.

 

Chapter 9

Another recent UN resolution, approved by a vote of 174-6 with 6 abstentions, called on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) “without further delay” and open its nuclear facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Joining Israel in the negative vote were once again, the United States, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.

The NPT was a treaty signed in 1970 aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. As of 2012, 190 parties have joined, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the United States, Russia, France, the UK and China. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement in history. Not in the NPT are India, Pakistan, and North Korea, with all three having openly declared they do indeed have nuclear weapons and have openly tested them. Israel stands alone, admitting nothing behind an opaque curtain. At the same time they demand that other Middle Eastern countries do not, under any circumstances, develop nuclear technology.  Estimates of Israel’s nuclear capacity range from 75 to 400 nuclear warheads, capable of being delivered by intercontinental missile, aircraft, and submarine. Israel most worries about Iran and its nuclear program, originally started and financed by the US and other Western European countries in the 1950’s and ending with the Shah of Iran’s exit in 1979, at which time the Iranians themselves continued any development and research. Israel worries of the Iranian rhetoric about wanting to erase Israel off the planet, while in reality if Iran ever did develop a weapon, somehow tested one, and then fired off a couple at Israel, they would, within seconds, be taken out themselves, entirely and completely, seriously, not a win-win situation. But then when has madness made any sense.

Though Palestine still cannot vote at the General Assembly, becoming a state rather than an entity does allow them other benefits such as membership in other UN agencies and organizations like the International Criminal Court (ICC), which scares the bejesus out of Israel. The fear that Palestine will bring forth a case over the illegal annexations and construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and/or the attacks on the West Bank and Gaza and/or war crimes, is one of the main reasons Israel and its supporters were adamantly against the General Assembly’s passing of the resolution. Palestinian officials have since stated that they have no immediate intentions to take such a road.

After the vote was taken, the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the representatives of 188 countries; “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, settlements and occupation.” He also spoke about the need to resume negotiations with Israel and called the successful resolution the “birth certificate of the reality of Palestine,” at the conclusion of his speech the seated members of the UN General Assembly rose to a standing ovation, while those who voted against stayed seated and became invisible. It is clear that the Palestinians are trying to “create momentum for progress and credibility for legal and political solutions.” For beneath the hatred, oppression and persecution, the Israelis and Palestinians themselves are the ones who have to start listening to each other and find a way to live side by side. But for any negotiations to work Israel and Palestine, must start abiding by the laws of nations and humanity itself, and to know, like any human, we are or rather should be, held accountable for our actions. Their disgust for each other, the extreme ingrained insecurity they both possess, and plainly show to the world, and how both of their hypocritical scriptures have somehow replaced sorrow, compassion and empathy with hatred is beginning to wear thin with many fellow inhabitants of the earth. Collective disgust towards Israel and Palestine is accumulating the world over, unfortunately history has proven the next step is most always, more and more people will simply stop caring.

The countries who voted against the UN resolution were livid. US lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican voted that they would cut-off aid if the Palestinians used their new-found status against Israel in any way. Palestine I am sure is well aware of the cost they will be further taking. In 2011 Palestine was granted membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in retaliation Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority, which is always in financial distress, with the US following along and withholding millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, as well as cutting off their financing to UNESCO entirely.

Canada announced angrily that they will take “retaliatory measures against the Palestinians for forcing the statehood issue onto the world stage.” Though not revealed, the most obvious option would be for them to suspend aid to the Palestinians, even though on the Canadian Foreign Affairs website it states that, “Canada believes that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must fully respect international human rights and humanitarian law which is key to ensuring the protection of civilians, and can contribute to the creation of a climate conducive to achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement.” The tongue in cheek was well hidden, considering both Canada and the US have no qualms about looking the other way whenever Israel decides it should defend itself.

Israel declared that, “The Palestinians unilateral step at the UN is a blatant and fundamental violation of the agreements vouched on by the international community.” The next day they announced their plans to unilaterally build 3,000 new homes/enclaves within the area of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, called the E1 corridor, the illegal settlements would for all intents and purposes permanently slice the West Bank in half. As if human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law are not unilateral enough.

Both the US and Canada had to back pedal a bit. Condemning the move, they called Israeli ambassadors in to have a little chat. But Israel would go on to remind the world that “no matter the symbolic political games the UN General Assembly wishes to play, Israel alone controls the land, water and air of the Palestinian territories and will not waver on their intentions to permanently annex all three” and that the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip will continue. A few days after the UN resolution passing, Israel would confiscate over $118 million of tax revenues that they collected for the Palestinian Authority for the month of November, stating it was to offset continuing Palestinian debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Chapter 10

Israel’s tone continues to clearly show they have no intentions of allowing talks about any peace process and seem to be literally dead set against one. The arrogance of Israel’s ethnicity and religious beliefs has blinded them. They continue to be oblivious to many aspects of the realities of human behaviour, such as when people realize that they are a part of the problem, only then do they tend to then become a part of the solution, and that those who gain the greatest opportunities and accomplishments in life and society are those who master the “we.” Or further, that the most respected leaders’ minds work selflessly, with mutual respect for mutual benefit, and understand that influence only begins when a person or population feels they are being listened to and that they are understood. They also understand that compromise is rarely win-win, because rarely are both sides truly pleased, but that creative cooperation most always leads to success. Proving such realities have been thrown to the side of the road years ago, not only in Israel but nearly everywhere else in the world as well, especially in the US and Canada, an Israeli government minister declared during the attack on Gaza, that Israel should “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages,” and when a popular Israeli model admitted she had prayed for the welfare of the people on both sides in the conflict, she was accused of being “an enemy of the state.”

As to Hamas, which combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism, it is the bee in Israel’s bonnet. Israel may not agree much with Hama’s ideology and policies, but terrorizing an entire population is not the remedy for such a situation, especially considering that, though deemed terrorists by Israel and her allies, in reality Hamas devotes 90% of their estimated $70 million annual budget to social, welfare, cultural and educational services. Most of their budget comes from Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries, Muslim charities, Palestinians living abroad and which is the ire of Israel, they receive about $20-30 million from Iran. But since the situation in Syria started in 2011, Hamas, the majority of which are Sunni-Islamic, have distanced themselves from Shia-Islamic dominated Iran due to their support of the Syrian dictator al-Assad. And in the past couple of years it seems their disposition towards a more central-is tic decision making process is growing rather than diminishing, with the rhetoric of their founding charter calling for the destruction of Israel slowly changing and becoming old news. They have recently stated that they would promote a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and accept a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Israel would rather this fact not be broadcast too loudly, once again totally ignoring the fact a two-state solution is the only answer.

The people of Palestine, and no doubt most decent Israelis, wish for peace and to simply just getting along as neighbours should, where the citizens of each have a sense of shared values. They obey the laws and act peacefully within their society, which hopefully possesses a certain degree of equality, and where unrealistic fears are diminished so that racism and abhorrence to a fellow human being’s existence passes and empathy moves in and embraces. Instead of comparing the best of one’s own ethnic culture to the worst of another, Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew must somehow wake up and realize they are both of the same species, with the same needs, wants and desires, with the majority of each other’s populations innocent.

The problems lie with the hateful, egotistical and ambitious elite at the top pulling the strings and playing games. Living within a realm where there is no differentiation between politics, religion and business, for they are all but engines of consumerism, with the industrial military complex making the majority of the money by influencing government leaders to continue to seed their populations with fear, anger and insecurity. As the collapse of the international economy continues and climate change escalates, in droughts, flooding, the decline in crop yields, rising food prices and dwindling fresh water, the elites become an ever more secluded group, living within protected enclaves and fenced compounds gorging themselves on nothing but the best and lots of it. Meanwhile enraged populations the world over have become even more enraged as their societies break down. To keep the current inequality and severe imbalance in place between the haves and the never-will haves, the new paradigm of “modern warlords awash in terrifying technologies and weapons,” is turning many countries in the world into fascist police states, where freedom is lost and replaced with security.

Will Israel’s diplomatic, financial and military supporters continue to ignore, seemingly with near disdain, international law and basic human rights and continue funding Israel’s apartheid-like ways? As a Canadian I can say that though Canada has stated they will support Israel in its defence, whenever it goes on the offensive, it is a decision made by the Harper government of Canada alone. I and my fellow Canadians were certainly not asked of our opinion, much like also not being asked our opinion of how embarrassing Canada’s behaviour and attitude is at every international meeting that is dealing with climate change or how proud we are of being awarded the “Dodo Award” from the international environmental community.

If Israel, with its extreme nationalistic Zionism as its official value system, which opposes the assimilation of Jews into other societies and makes a key legal distinction between “Jew” and “Non-Jew”, continues unabated the end game is a Greater Israel that is erased of all non-Jewish peoples and settled by the Jewish people alone. Much like South Africa’s original intentions under their official value system of apartheid and which also made a key legal distinction but between “white,” “coloured,” “Indian” and “Black.”

 

Chapter 11

Today Israel stands at a crossroads. One road leads to the above. It would be a violent road. Each step it took Israel would be increasingly at odds with civil society and then, hopefully, with other governments, as it takes over Palestine, expelling and killing every non-Jew in their path or who resists. Devastating sanctions would be made against Israel, much like what is now done to Syria, North Korea and Iran. In reality such a thing happening, as in Israel fulfilling their “destiny”, would involve so much maniacal violence and ethnic-al cleansing that peoples and countries would be unable to support them and not just stand aside and allow it to continue. At least one can only hope. Because the question remains, will enough people finally stand up, ignore the 24 hour news cycle, and demand their will upon their leaders to have the courage to do what is right for humanity and not for corporate, soulless entities?

Another road for Israel, which would also lead to violence and further bloodshed, is the road of not trying to exterminate the Palestinian people outright, but just take complete control of all Palestine. This would still create a Greater Israel, but the Jewish people could become a minority very quickly, just by the birth rate alone, and this goes against all that is Zionism. The entire area would become palaces, Jewish enclaves and city-forts, ghettos and the largest concentration camp ever, all on complete security lock down, with a population densely packed together like a Gaza Strip on steroids. Hatred, racism, revenge and intolerance would continue dripping off of people, as it does today, generation after generation.

The only solution is two distinct and separate countries living beside each other, just like the rest of the world does and for the most part quite peacefully. Security would be easier to establish and each country would then be judged on its own intrinsic worth and not by how much violence each one could inflict on the other.

Sadly, this will not happen, no matter how much the Palestinian Authorities become recognized and go about their quest for the right to self govern themselves in their rightful lands through the courts of international law and the United Nations. Because the Israelis continue to elect right-wing fanatical governments who still feel they need to strut around like the typical bully, and who have become both, very predictable and ever the more isolated. But then being imaginative and willing to engage in dialogue has never been one of the Israeli’s strong points. They also do not understand that in the reality that is war, even when you win, on many levels you lose. Indeed, I’m sure to many people all over the world who might care or have even heard of the Arab-Jewish conflict, Israel and Palestine have become yet another pair of bad actors, in an often repeated bad film where everyone knows how it will end and everybody dies.

While the Israeli, American and Canadian leaders were condemning Hamas, who were being merciless bombarded “hopefully back to the dark ages” in the latest Gaza war, not one of them realized that the true threat to Israel comes not from tiny, impoverished and oppressed Gaza but from the policies of the Israeli government itself. The holocaust of the Second World War we are told should forever be remembered so that it will never happen again. Yet it has happened many times since, from Cambodia to Rwanda to Serbia and to the Sudan, and it is what is happening in Palestine today, just not so quickly, but more apartheid-like, so nobody notices as much.

When Israel, and the few remaining countries in the world that support them, say the Palestinians should just go back from whence they came and allow a Greater Israel state to be created, there is a serious disconnect happening, while the words – delusional and ignorant – spring to mind. Because where the Palestinians came from is exactly where they are living now and therefore, there is nowhere else for them to go. So either the occupation ends and a two-state agreement is signed or everyone should just step aside and allow the Israelis to continue to immorally ethnically cleanse the territories they illegally occupy to the very point of Palestinian extermination. Then let the world condemn them for their actions, and at the same time allow the Palestinians the right to fight for their lives, their land and their existence by all means possible. Would they then be condemned by the world for their re-actions? The stench of unmentionable horrors each side would inflict on each other would bring outsiders into the fray, especially religious and corporate psychopaths. Then the supposedly holiest place on the planet would continue to be one of the most unholiest and nothing but a black hole of violence and hatred, while the rest of the world stands on the sidelines and watches. And then after the dust settles we’ll tell ourselves that we must remember what just happened and never forget, lest it ever happen again.

“Elites Will Make Gazans of Us All”,   Chris Hedges

It’s mostly punishment…. Testimonies by Veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces from Gaza and the Occupied Territories, Oded Na’aman

Ten voices on the Palestinian bid for UN membership, CBC News

 

 

12/2/12

The Age of Myth – Chapter Three

In review, since discussing the development of language, speech and social progress waylaid the timeline of the evolution of humans somewhat, hundreds of thousands of years before such things as Homo sapiens, Homo erectus had gradually made their way up the Great Rift Valley and out of Africa. Around 400,000 years ago they would be joined by another group of humanoids slowly making their way out of Africa, Homo neanderthalensis, who instead of spreading out through the Middle East and Southeast Asia as Erectus had done, the Neanderthal would make their way their more northwards, in the direction of North Africa, Europe and central Asia.

The Neanderthal’s adaptations were a low brow skull, which was much larger than Homo erectus, and were slightly taller, shorter limbed, barrel-chested, strong, thick bodied and possessing incredible endurance. The reasons for such adaptations were because the Neanderthal became a cold-adapted people, surviving, often times, in a harsh and brutal environment upon an extremely cold landscape.

With no material comforts to speak of, they travelled in small bands of perhaps a dozen in number and were scavengers, hunters and gatherers. And though early humanoids are deemed by our present society as dim-witted cavemen, the realities of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is the punishment for stupidity was more often than not death.

With the land used jointly with other bands, they never really had any permanent place of residence and would move about seasonally. There was no economic specialization except by age and sex for everyone had to help out and forage for food. They survived with no laws, police or treaties to resolve conflict, were egalitarian, with no formalized or hereditary leadership and no distinction of a lower or upper class. Leadership was informal, based on character, personality, strength, intelligence and hunting skills. Indeed they fought, but there was no such thing as war. If fighting ever did break out, very rarely did anyone die. It was all about showing threat signals like posturing, yelling, and basically creating a scene, much like most all other animals, and as soon as the enemy has been subdued or has walked away it ceases to be a threat.

Considering the dangerous world in which early species of humans lived in, their social world existed entirely on the relationships within their family, indeed most all small bands of early humans would only encounter perhaps a couple dozen or less fellow humans over their entire lifetimes, with each band living in solitude for sometimes hundreds of generations. And though they had no slavery, luxury goods, architecture, nor real language, they were highly resourceful, organized, social and intelligent humans. For indeed what has truly driven human, and primate, brain evolution more than other norms is the complexity of our social world. It still does, though today at a much quicker pace than the normal rate of evolution of our social worlds, which was tens of thousands of years.

Tens of thousands of years, time which is hard to fathom and incomprehensible in its vastness. Especially to us today when we think we have advanced, and evolved, so incredibly much in the past 100 years. There are many I’m sure who believe they and their world around them have advanced and evolved in leaps and bounds just in their own generation, on many levels perhaps. But then there are also many humans today still living in hunger and a dirt shack or cave, if they are lucky. It is hard to get perspective when talking about eons of years, especially when a human generation, the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring, is about 35 years. So to further confuse, ten thousand years represents over 285 generations.

Though having no formal speech yet, the Neanderthal communicated using eye contact, body language, tone and other forms of non verbal communication, and most specifically and important to their survival, by being intuitive and acting by instinct. They might have been able to sense the energy levels of all living things for all we know. Perhaps squat in the forest or upon the tundra and sense things on the wind, listening for a distant sound, smelling the air, the feel of the ground, looking up and studying the sky, clouds, and the position of the sun and moon, noting the behaviour of their fellow humans and the animals around them, sensing the differences and changes in the earth’s energy levels and of each other. Which we can still do today, but such senses are now controlled by others, numbed and dumbed down, or taught to be ignored and not trusted.

But even with such senses, life was still very brutal. Most all Neanderthals never made it past thirty years of age. They hunted large, dangerous animals so they had to work as a group and have a plan, especially since this was before the bow and arrow, and since they had not yet grasped the concept of projectiles, thrusting was the norm, not throwing. Their injuries seem to point this out, with most being to their arms, torso and head, because they had to get up real close to their prey en mass and start stabbing. Four out of every six Neanderthal skeletons found show many of the bones deformed by disease and injury, and perhaps exhibiting that the Neanderthal possessed empathy, many of the skeletons found had injuries that showed signs of healing, which means the lame and crippled would have had to have been taken care of, fed, protected and helped to move by others. They also gave special treatment to their dead in their burial, with the earliest known burial sites dating back 100,000 years.

About 170,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens would begin to drift out of Ethiopia. With a straighter forehead and smaller brow ridges than Neanderthal, they were equally robust, strong, solid and slightly taller, with the oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found in Ethiopia and dated from 196,000 years ago. Homo sapiens would slowly spread out and as they migrated out of Africa, like all the others before them they would encounter previous human species and rather than destroying them into extinction, most times they were simply assimilated into the newer species.

The warmest time before the last ice age was 125,000 years ago and is known as the Marine Isotope Stage 6.  The planet was covered with coniferous, temperate, deciduous, and rain forests, but also, especially in Africa, much larger deserts. The sea levels were 6-9 m (20-30 ft) higher than modern times while the world’s conditions had begun to deteriorate. Much the land became uninhabitable, forcing the humanoid species still in Africa to migrate. The Neanderthal would settle in Central Asia and Europe, the Archaic Homo sapiens and remaining Homo erectus in Asia, around 90,000 years ago, and after taking over 35,000 years to accomplish it, Homo sapiens sapiens would also finally make their way out of Africa. They would move into the Nile valley, Sinai and the Middle East, with Homo sapiens fossils found in the Middle East and dated from 92,000 years ago.

Ninety thousand years ago the planet began to cool and over the next thousands of years, with the temperature continually dropping and the environment changing, the evolvement of humans continued its snail’s pace advancement. As with social progress, most evolutionary advancements took tens, and in many cases hundreds of thousands of years. The planet Earth also continued to evolve and change, though it had not a care in the world for social progress, the life forms living on its surface or their feelings. And as it often happens, nature makes itself known in not as so subtle means but with changes that are more dramatic, instant, and many times, having a much more profound effect on all things on its surface than anything we humans could ever come up with, though today that could be debated.

According to a theory proposed in 1998 by Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Illinois, and which today is a much respected explanation for many of the paradoxes of the evolvement of all living things, the super-volcanic eruption 71,000 years ago of Mount Toba, in present day Sumatra, Indonesia, would alter the dynamics of human evolution drastically.

Mount Toba is accepted today as being the earth’s largest volcanic eruption. For context, when Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, erupted in 1883, 11,000-12,000 people were killed instantly; eventually an estimated 36,417 people would also die. With an ash cloud covering about 200 cubic kilometres, the explosion immediately destroyed over two-thirds of Krakatoa Island, sent out an enormous tsunami, and caused the worst global famine of the 19th century.

Sixty-eight years earlier in 1815, and also in the Indonesian archipelago, Mount Tambora exploded with four times the energy of the eruption of Krakatoa. Its explosion could be heard over 2600 km (1600 miles) away. If it had erupted in Vancouver, British Columbia it would have been heard in Mexico. Killing 71,000 people, Tambora is the deadliest volcano to date. A ring of smoke and ash 600 km (370 miles) outwards from the mountain’s summit cloaked the land in total darkness for over two days. The pyroclastic flows travelled 20 km (12 mi). The eruption column reached the stratosphere. Thick ash fell for a couple of weeks while the finer ash stayed in the atmosphere from a few months up to a few years. Before the explosion, Mount Tambora was approximately 4,300 m (14,100 ft) high, after the explosion it was only 2,851 m (9,354 ft) high. Tambora is the largest observed eruption in recorded history.

About 70,000 years before Tambora, Mount Toba erupted, instantly hurling up a sulphuric ash cloud which covered at least 800 cubic kilometres (500 cubic miles). It spread northwest across India blanketing some places by as much as 6m (18ft) deep, and because its location was only two degrees north of the equator; it would have made the dispersion more global. For an eruption’s plume to reach the stratosphere and blanket the entire world with its ash, it would have to be at least 10 km (6 mi) to 50 km (30 mi) high. Mount Toba’s plume reached twice this height. A highly reflective sulphuric acid haze enveloped the earth for six years and a volcanic winter descended over the earth. Sea temperatures cooled, with the global temperature dropping by at least 6C (9F) in the first few years. This cooling period lasted for perhaps a thousand years, with the temperatures colder than even at the peak of the next ice age that was to follow. It likely caused the complete deforestation of SE Asia. How much of Mount Toba disappeared in the explosion? Mount Toba is now called Lake Toba, 100 km (62 mi) long and 30 km (18 mi) wide, 505 m (1666 ft) deep at its deepest and at a surface elevation of 900 m (2953 ft), it is the largest volcanic lake in the world.

The populations of Europe and Northern China were nearly completely eliminated. It is estimated that the planet lost 60-75% of its populations, with the extinction of all human species except for Neanderthal and Homo sapiens. Survivors found relatively safe havens in isolated pockets, mostly in tropical, equatorial Africa and Northern Europe. The human species, as well as many other species of animals, were decimated. Supported theory and genetic evidence suggests that only perhaps 10,000 adult humans survived, maybe less; this is an estimate of ancestors, not of total human population. Isolated human populations that eventually died out without descendants may have also existed in numbers but cannot be estimated by geneticists. Wherever on the planet early humans and other animals lived dictated if they would perish or survive, and rather quickly humanity was thrown into a population bottleneck, which is perhaps the reason people look so different today. A population bottleneck is when a large population is broken up into smaller groups, and causes a “founder effect”, where small, new populations begin to appear and through genetic drift, inbreeding, and local adaptations produces rapid changes to that group’s gene pool, creating similarities only amongst that particular group, with low genetic variation. This is followed by an eventual rapid population increase, innovation, progress and migration. Genetic evidence suggests that all humans alive today, despite apparent variety, are descended from these small populations that survived the eruption of Mount Toba, estimated to be anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs of humans.

As genetic studies have proven, all humans today are descendants of a woman in SE Africa, called Mitochondrial Eve, around 140,000 years ago; mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from one’s mother, with Y-chromosomal Adam, (from one’s father), added to the gene pool about 60,000 years ago. This can be seen in the native population of North America, in that of all the thousands of humans that had migrated there more than 15,000 years ago, only 72 descendants’ lineage has moved on into modern times.

As with all biological bottlenecks, the remaining, separated and isolated group’s development would bring about significant changes which enhanced human fitness, the ability to survive and reproduce. The survivors of Mount Toba’s eruption, once the climate and other factors permitted, began to fan out from Africa and elsewhere. Travelling in small groups they became ever more isolated from one another and would evolve separately. Some would cross the Red Sea, which was not much of a sea at the time, into the near-East, and from there moving along the exposed areas of the continental shelves. With an ice age underway glaciers had formed, crushing the forests and all that lay before them as they slowly crept along. While both, the temperature and the sea levels continued to drop. Obstacles such as the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel would be easier to cross because they were valleys, with perhaps a river running through them and scattered lakes strewn about the valley floor, same for the Black Sea.

By 65,000 years ago the glaciers had covered about 17 million square miles, with the polar ice caps expanding over the globe, covering much of present day Europe, Britain, Canada, and parts of Asia, including the Himalayas. By 60,000 years ago bands of humans had made their way along the shorelines of Arabia, India and South-East Asia and by 40,000 years ago, some of them had made their way to Australia, others into North-East Asia and China. With Australia and New Guinea always having been isolated by water, even during an ice age, evidence suggests early Australoids were the first to develop some form of boat building.

By the time before or after peak glaciations of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, other groups had finally made their way into the American continents, and as the ice melted would become separated from the main race and develop in geographical isolation as well, becoming American Indians. These groups of people would eventually spread southward to South America reaching the last place on the planet to be colonized by humans, Cape Horn, around 8,000 years ago.

When the first explorers reached this most southerly point of South America and the islands of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which is separated from the continent by the Strait of Magellan, they were shocked to find that there were four separate peoples that inhabited these islands and that each group looked different from one another and that they spoke two different languages. It is still a mystery how these original peoples had got there, and from where.

Besides the original Negroid race of human species, the people that had made their way to the north would become the Caucasoid and the ones who ventured into Asia would become the Mongoloid. By 45,000 years ago these three races could be defined as the main races of humans and would attain nearly complete specialization in their respective environments. The early inhabitants of Australia had developed from an earlier, less developed race in isolation from this specialization of the main races and became the Australoids. Thus, from human variation through physical adaptation to their climatic conditions, the races of mankind would form.

In the northern regions, with less and weaker sunlight, humans would eventually become more pale, though the actual process would take about 20,000 years. Our biological body takes vitamin D from the sun’s energy to aid in the proper growth of bones. Living in the northern latitudes where there is less sunshine the skin has to lighten to let more sunshine through. Just like people in equatorial latitudes who get sunshine nearly all the time and whose bodies, needing protection from UV rays, secrete melanin, the body’s natural sun screen, and which we all have, into the skin to darken it. The differences between the races are very much “skin deep”, with the most recent adaptations to our species occurring about 20,000 years ago, and include the parts of us that interact with the world around us; skin colour, immune system, and metabolic changes due to the digestion of unique foods, amongst each race. And because we are one species, originally evolving in Africa, this ensured that racial and ethnic groups were and are biologically equivalent, no matter where they ended up on the planet.

Human genetics prove that any racial superiority is a myth, because intelligence is not a single trait; it’s a huge entourage of abilities. Each race has an ancestral environment that favoured a different set of talents, with each race best adapted to their unique environment. We are all fundamentally different, thank god, and regardless of where one is born, each and all individuals are deserving of the same rights and opportunities. Every one of us brings different strengths and talents to the table, and this is why the most democratic, invigorating, and creative places on the planet are multi-racial cultures.

Some 40,000 years ago, a more complex human culture had spread and sustained itself in Africa, then Europe and Western Asia, and by 30,000 years ago social change had reached south east Asia and Australia. It was the dawn of consciousness, with modern human behaviour slowly emerging, in different regions at different times. Besides changes in human behaviour within a more complex culture, one of the more significant things to alter human history also emerged about 40,000 years ago; now having a larger size brain, the human mind, along with its ego, began to unfold itself.

According to Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), there are two functions of our brain that make up our unconscious mind, the Id and the super-ego, and along with the ego, which is our consciousness, are the three divisions of the mind. Though some of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories have largely been marginalized today, mostly because most of his subjects were rich, middle-aged, aristocratic, pent up women, his concepts of libido, drives, the unconscious, and his ideas that we repress or bottle up our feelings, and that our family relationships when we are children determine our adult relationships, have made important contributions to neuroscience. Though the actual benefits of intensive psycho-therapy have been controversial in the past; seeking clues into the unconscious roots of disorders today experts report that such therapy can be effective against chronic mental problems such as anxiety and depression.

Freud believed the Id is the uncoordinated, instinctual structure of our ego and includes selfishness and the need for instant self gratification. It is unconscious and represents the mind of a newborn. It consists of our basic drives, such as food, water, and basic impulses. It is where our libido, the instinctive drive to create comes from. It is amoral, egocentric and ruled by the pleasure-pain principle. It does not have a sense of time, is completely illogical and infantile in its development.

The super-ego is also mostly unconscious and is the organized part of our personalities. It contains our individual ideals, spiritual goals and our conscience. It always strives to act in socially appropriate behaviour. It is what controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt, and allows us to fit into our society in socially acceptable ways. Through symbolic internalization of the father figure, male or female, and cultural regulations, it becomes a part of our personality and conditions us to conform to society’s expectations. The super-ego maintains our sense of morality and prohibits us from cultural taboos.

The super-ego and the ego are the products of the state of helplessness of childhood; for we are born ego-less and have no distinct being, apart from the world around ourselves. This lasts until we are about five years old. At which time our ego and libido begin to develop. What Freud would call the Oedipus complex, the unconsciousness, repressed feelings and ideas we have that are centered around the desire to please the parent of the opposite sex and ignore the parent of the same sex is either, rapidly repressed or not, by how powerful the Oedipus complex was. From about five years onward, by the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling, and reading, as well as how deeply the repression of the Oedipus complex is, the stricter the super-ego will be over the ego, in the form of having a conscience or an unconscious sense of guilt.

The ego acts according to the reality principle. Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality. Because the Id’s drives are usually unrealistic, instant and short-term, and most times filled with grief, the ego seeks to please these drives of the Id in realistic ways that will benefit long term instead. The ego separates what is real and organizes our thoughts and tries to make sense of them. It also tries to make sense of the world around us and is modified by influence of the external world, reason and common sense. The ego will become defensive if the Id’s behaviour conflicts with reality, society’s morals, norms and taboos, or other individuals who believe in these rules of a culture and expectations.

Many of our problems today are because everything is moving too fast. Where once changes in our social worlds would take thousands of years, generations or decades, today there is simply no time to reflect and ponder. As to our minds, our self-gratification via consumer culture is travelling at an ever quickening pace which is not a problem for the Id. It can easily keep for it does not understand time, while the super-ego is being ignored and left behind in the dust, with the ego simply along for the ride.

After 40,000 years the ego has decided today to be more loyal to the Id than the super-ego, which makes it dysfunctional. Thus, here lies our current state of affairs. The norm has become instant self-gratification of all our desires. We are completely defined by our culture, while early humankind’s culture was the family and there was no time other than the present. Early humans might not have had much of a personality, but they were living in the moment, emotionally, like a child in many ways with nearly no ego to speak of. But as time marched on and became civilized, the ego began to gloss over the fine details of reality to minimize conflicts with the Id, while only pretending to have any regard for reality. Because the super-ego is always watching the ego, it has been punishing it with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority. To overcome the beating it is taking the ego fights back using denial and displacement; transferring the focus of an emotion to something else, intellectualisation; where reason is used to block out any emotional stress or conflict, regression, fantasy, control, or dissociation; splitting off from main body of consciousness, and in some cases; hysteria, suppression and substitution.

The main two functions of our brain, the duality of the id and the super-ego and their interactions, could have been the basis for religion being invented a few thousand years ago. The sum total of all the sacred scriptures, of all the organized religions combined, is basically about two gods, good versus evil, though in reality and hidden behind some bushes, they are really talking about the two sides of who we are, our nature and the mechanics of the mind; the representations of the human soul.

Within most organized religions there are usually two gods, one being a benevolent, pure in thought, righteous, just, honest, who possesses grace and is humane, kind, and compassionate, promises hope and an afterlife, and is capable of establishing a new heaven and earth. This god is usually all-knowing, an infinite spirit, without limitations, eternal yet everywhere and all-powerful, in other words, a human of good character.

The flip side is of a malevolent god, who is filled with intense, often vicious ill-will, spite and hatred and is selfish, highly jealous and immoral, who grows proud, and desires to be God, who has a flawed ambition, is greedy, egotistical, self-satisfying, who is known as a tempter, accuser, murderer, liar, and a enemy and who is related to inhabitants of bottomless pits, dragons, destruction, ruin, fire, violence, racism and hell; basically a hindrance on society, and an asshole.

Both of these gods are not dwelling in a heaven or in an underworld, or standing towering over us, they are not supernatural beings to be feared and to worship, they are actually residing within each one of us and are the functions of our minds. Earlier humans inherently knew the authority to create and destroy, to either reject or punish, to demonstrate both ecstasy and terror, love, and hate was theirs alone, and understood the responsibility of it and how one’s actions affected others in their group. Organized religions would take this authority and responsibility away from humanity and would become the authority itself, to dictate its own perceived morality and beliefs.

What has changed the most since organized religions took power over us, within the formation of civilizations, is in our personal and collective unconsciousness. Our collective unconscious is the deepest level of who we are and is the accumulation of inherited experiences, while our personal unconscious is the reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed over the millennium, meaning we now live almost totally embedded within our mentally constructed realities, our minds filled with continuous streams of thought and fantasy. It is interesting that of the world’s religions and their concern over our hearts and minds, Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism and Zen, all place much importance on getting past such mental behaviours of the ego and its refusal to live in the present moment and instead try to understand the truths behind them through meditation and reflection, while Western religions and cultures believe that a state of continual mental distraction is just the natural order of things. But before we get too carried away yet once again, we must return to the discernability of 40,000 years ago, and the birth of modern man.

 

 

Photo: Neanderthal man – Dna-humans-genome

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/06/neanderthals-dna-humans-genome

 

 

 

 

11/12/12

The Age of Myth – Chapter Two

The Great Rift Valley of Africa runs 5,600km (3,500miles), from the Red Sea and Ethiopia in the north, south to Lake Victoria where it splits off, and from Uganda continues south as far down as present day Mozambique. The Great Rift is where two plates of the earth’s crust are separating and is also where our human ancestry seems to have begun.

The earliest traces of man have been found in the valleys of Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Plain. The Olduvai Gorge itself is a 30-mile long gash in Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain. The area is considered the primary host of all other cultures. Why this is so will be explained as we go.

Evidence of the earliest Humanoids has been found and dated from 4 to 1.6 million years ago in Tanzania, 700,000 years ago in Java, and 420,000 years ago in China. From sites found in the Olduvai Gorge in Africa and elsewhere, these early peoples favoured lakeside camps, rock overhangs and caves for protection from predators and the weather. Their camps were most always near water availability, like rivers and lakes, and close to herds of game and vegetable foods. They would stay in each camp for a few days or weeks before moving on to better land. Many of these sites also contain bones of smaller animals, species less powerful than these early humanoids.

Hunting seems to have been more running down and grappling their quarry to the ground, with scavenging the more important means of getting food, with their weapons most often being made out of wood. These early humanoids were opportunistic hunters, picking over carcasses from predator kills and gathering wild vegetables. At the time, the larger animals were kept at a distance and avoided, for they were not afraid of man yet, indeed to many of the larger predators, early man was inconsequential and often the prey.

These early humans were bipedal, had an upright posture, a high vertical forehead and rounded skull, were about 1.5m tall, and became the species, Homo erectus. For when earlier species had first moved out of the trees and the forests and onto the grasslands they had begun to walk upright, to see over the grass. By about two million years ago, Homo erectus had spread out over Africa, Asia and Europe, with their descendants thought to be the first humans to use fire.

From watching fellow creatures they would eventually develop memory and foresight, and by mimicking the behaviour of the other living things around them they would assimilate such things as trapping; from the spider, basketry; from birds, burrowing from rabbits, dam building from the beaver and the art of poisons from snakes. These early peoples did not think themselves as being different from the rest of the animal world. With no language, they grunted and squawked like everyone else. From copying the other creature’s diets, mostly fruits and vegetables, to watching how they would get their food and how they would store it, they became very adept at exploring their surroundings and keeping a memory of which plants, insects and small animals one could eat and which ones were to be avoided. Their reality was a world of animal, vegetable and human spirits interacting with each other. They could not tell the difference between material and immaterial, imaginary or real, animate or inanimate. With no idea of self, there was little difference of skills, and having no idea about the concept of surplus there wasn’t much difference in status distinction between each other. The sensations that bombarded them daily needed an immediate response, so life was lived very much in the moment with not much thought about past or future. One’s life was determined by one’s actions to what was happening at that moment, at that time.

Because of their intimate connection with the earth, they expressed great care for its well being, for they believed that they were simply one part of the earth’s body and did not distinguish themselves from everything less in nature, thus they did not possess the sense of self, only the concept of their groups survival. Their culture consisted of a father, mother, siblings and extended family members, perhaps a dozen individuals, whose only concern was each day’s survival as a group.

Everything in nature represented a spirit or demon, depending on whether looked at as friend or foe, with animals and trees considered human but simply in another form. And because they did not see themselves as finite mortal beings they did not believe that people died, but rather they went to sleep and their spirit entered a netherworld and/or parallel existence. As to birth they also had no idea, they did not make the connection that sex had anything to do with the birth of a child, instead believing a spirit would enter a female’s body and then be brought forth, with a baby thought of as being half spirit and half human, who remained in contact with the world it came from until which time it grew up and then, sometimes over years, would have to pass through various rites of passage to become a part of the community. Because having too many babies would prove to be a hindrance to the tribe’s survival of having to be always on the move, a woman could only carry one child at a time and until that child could keep up on its own to have another was no doubt forbidden. Biology took care of this issue; women would breast feed their child for two full years, thus enabling suckling to be the contraceptive technique that it is, by repressing the menstrual cycle. The average reproductive cycle of most of the women, over an average life span of about thirty years, was perhaps 10-15 children, though of course we do not know an actual fertility rate.

The evolution of all species is all about natural selection, with many similarities in all living things. For example, creatures known as vertebrates – having a backbone – all share the five digits, skeletal structure of a hand. This appears not only in humans but also in apes, raccoons, cats, bats, porpoise, whales, lizards, turtles and a plethora of other creatures. Dolphins are able, as we are, to call each other by name. At the same time it is curious why many male mammals, including humans, have nipples. All animals share the same basic bodily functions and feelings, such as pleasure, pain, breathing, eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping, the drives to find a mate and procreate, birth, and death. For humans especially, history has followed different courses for different peoples because of different environments, not because of any biological differences between the peoples themselves.

The fact of the matter is, all humans have the same facial grammar; everyone smiles the same, frown the same, uses the eyes to convey cognition or flirtatiousness the same. A laugh is a laugh, anywhere on the planet and when one is angry, everyone knows they are. Don’t you find that human beings are very good looking people when they smile, and so disgustingly ugly when angry? But it’s much more than that, for instance, when people smile, the mouth doesn’t convey the whole truth. A true smile appears in the eyes and it’s no wonder the majority of a human’s muscles are in our faces, which seems to prove how important expression is in inter-personal communication. Then there is the tilt of the head, arch of the eyebrow or where the eyes are looking when communicating that further convey what one is thinking and trying to say or feel. Without eye contact we never truly know what someone is saying because we are not getting the whole story. The eyes are truly the windows into our soul. Even people that don’t understand what each other are saying can look at each other and communicate more than words could possibly describe. In Donald E. Brown’s excellent “Human Universals” he finds that there are about 400 specific behaviours that are invariant among all humans, with the facial expressions of basic emotions truly universal, and shared by many other animals besides humans, whether it is anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise or contempt.

About 150,000 years ago the evolutionary pace quickened when our skull and its contents evolved to the point where we became able to plan more for specific projects or definite purposes. At about the same time the development of speech and a symbolic system of language began, which allowed future cultures a much quicker way to share ideas that enabled them to cope with their environment. As language became more complex it allowed the ability to remember, transmit, and exchange information much more quickly and it allowed for such knowledge to be passed on through the ages, where myths through oral traditions would form, though it would not be until 50,000 years ago that language and culture would really begin to change who we were and who we would become.

Language would eventually give us the ability to create worlds of memories and life histories, and unfortunately, it would make us self-conscious. Before language we could only live in the moment and react to the shifting patterns of our environment, but language brought us the awareness of oneself, in terms of what others expect; humans who sense they are being evaluated and perhaps sensing a negative attitude towards themselves become self-conscious. While being conscious is being aware of oneself and subjectively experiencing each moment and having memory control; where we can think of something and then replay it in our head to examine what we had just thought. Yet we cannot both, think of something and also be self-consciously aware of what we are thinking. Conscious experiences also include inner feelings and thoughts as well as being aware of self and others. Other animals are simply conscious and not self-conscious at all. Yes they are highly intelligent and very aware of the world around them, but they do not look inward and observe the process of consciousness at work. They are not self aware, nor have imaginations, independent will or a conscience, because they are programmed by instinct, genetics and/or training.

There are many views on the origin of language. While it is true that all animals communicate in some way, human language would eventually become associated with the human way of using symbols and speech, while human nature is thinking, feeling and acting, which all humans have in common. Some views state that language is an extension of speech, which all humans have within themselves, with reason the most primary characteristic of human nature. Some believe language developed first, before reason, perhaps explaining many of the negative aspects of human communication. Others believe language and reason co-evolved. While still others believe that reason was developed out of the need for more complex communication, when more sophisticated social structures came about by the gains made by language and/or reason. It is surmised that more sophisticated human behaviour and basic speech both appeared about 164,000 years ago in southeast Africa, beginning with grunts and clicks, with language then evolving at a pace with cultural growth.

Speech evolved from non-verbal mood vocalization signals such as a cry of pain, a scream or a laugh. Other nonverbal forms include the expression of silence, hugging, touching and looking into someone’s eyes. Non-verbal communication is all about tone. While the tone of one’s voice is how the earliest humans signalled one another, speech brought cooperative exchange of information and allowed early humans to refer to objects in their environment. Non-verbal vocalization signals are still very important to us in being able to communicate; in fact they are everything, no matter what the media technology toys of our age tells us. When we cry out in pain, anyone listening can usually tell how severe it is; though with speech we now also add a few choice words along with the cry of pain, adding expression to the experience. Tone of voice is also the reason one can travel to another land and not knowing the language of that part of the world, can still get a reaction and communicate with other animals, even pets, which live there.

The evolution of speech was also connected to the development of the human vocal tract; it’s development allowed a far larger range of sound and the ability to speak more quickly. Our speaking rate has always been connected to the brain, which needs the body to take a breath about every five seconds. The earliest humans that began to speak could say maybe four to five words in five seconds. Today we can get off twenty to thirty-five words in five seconds, in fact a typical human today has a speaking rate of more than two hundred words a minute; three girlfriends chatting could raise this rate exponentially.

Language and speech would alter our brains. In order to operate, the brain needs to understand the inside world of the body and a view of the world outside, to act intelligently and make decisions. Before speech and language the brain relied on the senses. The sense organs would see, feel, hear, and taste to build a consciously experienced picture of the outside world. Sensations such as hunger, pain, and thirst told the brain what it should do to satisfy the demands of the body and because early humans operated on mostly instinct and intuition, the brain allowed rich areas of knowledge to surface in the conscious plane, which early humans would envision, and then do the images that were presented.

Among all animal species we are the only ones who tell stories. Living by the narrative in our communication is important to us because by listening to each other’s stories we are given to needing each other’s companionship and inclined to intimacy, affection, relationships and sociability. Language and speech would indeed change the way we lived and how we were to evolve socially, but at the same time it was when, ever so slowly, we would begin to lose focus on the present moment.

An animal’s mind operates by perception, recognition, simple thought association and environment, and is led by being aware of the moment, much like early humanoids but with language the human mind began operating not only by perception but also with memory, imagination, and more complex habits of thought such as inner-driven attention and self awareness. As humans we are responsible for our own lives, with our behaviour a function of our decisions, not our conditions. The traits of behaviour which sets humans apart from other animals’ starts with self awareness and the ability to think about our thought process, and possessing an imagination, where in our minds we can create other realities. We also have independent will; the ability to act based on our self awareness, and finally we have a conscience, an inner awareness of right or wrong, which we gain from internalizing the moral standards of behaviour of the social group we live in.

Meanwhile, the original groups of perhaps a dozen humans eventually became nomadic bands, basically large family groups of about 25-30 people. Living as hunters, gatherers and foragers, each group would need about 250 square miles (400 sq. km) to support itself. A small band would only have to travel a few miles every couple of weeks, or maybe led by the full moon, move to a new campsite about every four weeks. Most of their travels were just moving back and forth to familiar areas according to the season. In fact for over 95% of our human existence we have lived this way, as foragers and on occasion, hunters. We lived off of what the earth gave us, within daily and annual routines that matched the rhythms of the changing seasons and progressions of each day. Time would be measured only by the sun, the seasons, and the generations.

Most of these early hunters and gatherers diet was made up of nuts, fruits, edible roots, shellfish, insects and eggs, and were dependant on knowing which ones could be eaten and where to find them. To survive they had to depend on their intelligence and knowledge of the land and nature. When available, meat was a welcome addition to their diet whether by spearing big game, snaring small animals, scavenging carcasses left by bigger predators or from fishing. At first they would have had an easy time living off the land; most groups would have been able to gather the food they needed that day in only a few hours.

Beginning with simple wooden clubs, hunting and tool kit technologies would develop further when small game could not sustain the growing populations. These advancements in technologies allowed early humans to go after bigger game. Like the earliest tools, they were still often made from stone, but now would become finer and lighter, with the sharp flakes, broken and chipped from stone, and being used not only for hunting but also for cutting and sawing. As far as hunting, early man found that they could literally walk up to many of the larger animals, for they were not afraid of man. Though during the first million years of our evolvement, early humans were nowhere near being the predator they would one day become. It would take thousands of generations for the larger animals to develop the sense to run or attack when they see or sense a human. As early humans found ever more lethal ways to kill, scavenging was less needed and with the advancement of their tool technologies they were able to start processing the meat and using more of the carcasses such as the skin and bones, to further their advancement along even more and ensure their survival.

Instead of being centred on and preoccupied with oneself and the gratification of one’s own egotistical desires, early humans were more altruistic, where they were unselfishly concerned for and devoted to the welfare of their family. The group needed to be organized and work as a group; even in the pairing up of certain men and women into stable and perhaps loving couples for the better survivability of the child. But then most all animals possess this trait, where the behaviour of an animal, though it might not be exactly to its advantage and perhaps is life-threatening, benefits others of its kind, most often its family. While making up simple tools took a great deal of thought, testing and refinement and was a turning point for human’s evolvement, learning how to get along with our fellow human beings would prove more difficult.

With language and speech, the human ego began to develop and time began to take over our lives. Our thoughts eventually became only concerned with the past and the future. We would begin to rely on our past for our identity and sense of self, while we looked to the future for our fulfilment. This state of consciousness brought forth fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger into our lives, while our cultures and environments would form whom we have become today, shaped personalities, with our brains filled with a continuous stream of thought. But we should not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Early humans were formed from interaction between only a few people, mostly all family members, the surrounding environment, and their unconscious mind; where the mental phenomena of feelings, perceptions, intuitions, thoughts, habits, and desires, exist. Being an exploratory species by nature, as their populations grew and enough room to forage became intruded upon they would have to move more often, with generation upon generation slowly making their way farther out of Africa.

By about 400,000 years ago, Homo erectus had been joined by another species of humanoid, Homo neanderthalensis and between them had spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Around this time another species would also evolve and enter the mix, Archaic Homo sapiens. Then about 170,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens would arrive on the scene.

First appearing in Ethiopia, these more modern humans slowly replaced all the other populations, while language, speech and more sophisticated human behaviour began to appear, and evolution, brain size and myth would take another slow step forward, though self awareness, lives filled with an almost constant state of mental distraction, and such things as an ego, were still thousands of years away.

 

 

 

 

10/30/12

The Age of Myth – Chapter One

“They must find it difficult . . . those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority.”   G. Massey, Egyptologist.

 

The basic truths of human nature are the principles within us, which are the natural laws of the human dimension and include fairness, integrity, human dignity, service, and potential. These are the guidelines for human conduct. We all possess these truths and are creatures subject to all the basic laws of animal behaviour, because morality was inherent in humanity long before we achieved reason.

Too many of us think we are above these biological controls. That somehow thousands of years of genetic legacy is now beneath us because we think we have evolved so much, just in the past few hundred years, that we now reside above all those who came before us. Yet many people today are living unfulfilled lives because of such grandiose new motives and self-conceited ideas, which try to make us seem to be so much more than just a biological species. Our day to day lives get acted out, but it often seems something is missing, yet many of us feel we are more powerful, more innovative, smarter, and more financially well off than every other creature on the planet that has ever been. Our attitude has changed to where we now feel that reflecting on the past as being somehow offensive and hurtful. Meanwhile our character, the spirit within us, is being replaced by personality. We think we are growing and developing, but find ourselves ever the more disappointed and frustrated. We stopped listening to whom we are sometime in the last century and have become ignorant to our human nature.

Even before civilizations and organized religions, we knew that to attain love one must give their love to others to know what love is. That one could only be creative if they shared their creativeness with others; that only through the act of giving of something could one experience having; and to kill a fellow human being was wrong, no matter the reason. These are the fundamental truths that have guided us but are now being held suspect, by fear, faith, consumer-capitalism and even ourselves. Slapping one’s knee and shouting “I knew I shouldn’t have said that!” or “I knew that was going to happen” are cop-outs. We ignore our gut instincts and allow them to be shaped by others. Reality is we are an exploratory species now living in sedentary tribal groups, which stultifies our growth because our cultures and religious beliefs follow rigid patterns of behaviour and thought, thus restricting development and only promoting more needing and wanting. Such suppression of our fundamental urges is what is currently eating away at our souls and making us physically, mentally and morally sick. So much fear, spin and doubt has been cast into our hearts and minds that it keeps us illiterate functionally and spiritually.

Civilization has become a consumer and corporate world, with many religious beliefs continuing to hold onto the premise that their God is a supreme being who created the world in six days and who is to be feared. If indeed this is the case and that creation was the final goal, why was it not reached right away, all at once? Why was perfection not realized at the beginning? It could be because God is not a supreme being at all but instead is simply a word representing the definition of life.

If the adage “by our nature we are moral beings” is true, when did it all start to go askew? Perhaps when we stopped listening to the basic principles within ourselves and instead focused on the voices in our heads. Many believe, everything started to get confusing at the dawn of civilization and the invention of writing, five thousand years ago. It was a time when the human ego and the ability to view oneself apart from nature began to develop even more, where our mental processes started to separate from instinctive ones. Communication and dissemination of knowledge became symbolic and took the form of myth; though within these myths lay absolute truths concerning the processes of the natural world.

A myth is not always a lie, it also expresses something fundamental about how we perceive the world and human life as it really is. It also communicates to us our values and how we should live in the world and finally, myths show how we do in fact live in our worlds, through our lifestyles. Prominent anthropologist Clifford Geertz, formulates that a myth, in effect says “we live (or ought to live) the way we do because the world is the way it is. And because the world is the way it is, living as we do (or ought to) is uniquely satisfying and fulfilling.”

With civilization and the written word we became citizens and workers, and our villages became cities. And because politics, art, religion and even history are conscious, self mediating processes, they each dwell between the realms of spirit and life, idea and reality, just like our personal worlds do.

Pre-history, before the written word, is where our cultural origins are found, through science, archaeology and oral traditions, and is where the collective cultural heritage of all of humankind lies. Up until the mid 19th century some believed the Bible’s version of the world to be about 6,000 years old. By the end of that century the first humans were believed to be about 100,000 years old. Today, according to modern scientific archaeology, natural sciences, geneticists, and geology, and using radiocarbon, radiation exposure, and potassium argon dating techniques, we emerged in East Africa at least 2.5 million years ago, while the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, with the first life-form appearing on its surface within a billion years.

The dedicated work of anthropologists; studying humanity and it’s culture, archaeologists; systematically studying the lives and cultures of ancient humankind through the use of scientific and controlled techniques, physical anthropologists; studying the evolution, behaviour and biology of humankind and geneticists; opening up new doors nearly every day concerning what we are made of, where we are from and that we are all related, have all combined in teaching us much of our collective past, and with the laws of association and superposition, are revealing many truths of our history. Like Newton, Da Vinci, Hugo, Galileo, Einstein and all the others that came before and since, they believe that the importance of seeking truth is not in the divinity, but rather in the belief of the supremacy of direct knowledge over faith. What has come more into the light is the importance of culture as the distinctive adaptive system used by humans to evolve. It is humankind’s way to adapt to our varied environments, instead of being rigidly held in check and suffering.

All animals, including humans, adapted to their environments through biological evolution. If it adapted it survived, if unable to, it evolved into a new species, moved away or died. With humans, culture is the traditional system of belief and behaviour that is understood by an individual. Culture is both, our own version within a social group and the version shared by everyone collectively as a group. When animals die, their experience dies with them, with humans, when we die our experience continues on in our culture. The ongoing phenomenon of culture usually changes very slowly over time, which is what has allowed us as a species to adapt and evolve. Today, culture has reached such a fast pace that we, as a species, are finding it ever more difficult and confusing, because we can no longer adjust or keep up to it.

Though the strides in scientific, psychological and social disciplines in the last ten years have been incredible, we should be moving quickly to retrieve what knowledge we may find of our past before we continue to blindly, and at an ever quickening pace, “pave over paradise” amidst a global climate crisis.

In the first century AD, the most valuable library in the world was in Alexandria, in the north central part of Egypt, on the delta of the Nile River. It held more than half a million papyrus scrolls, in several temples which contained much of the wisdom and science of the previous thousand years, including the works of the Egyptians, Babylonians and the writings of the Greek philosophers. A Christian bishop entered these greatest of libraries and put them to the torch, destroying everything, because he thought himself to be expelling paganism. From 16th century Catholic missionaries destroying all records of the history and cultures of the peoples they exterminated in the Americas, to today’s industrial activity, road construction, urban sprawl, strip mining, deforestation, archaeological looting, bulldozer, crane and plough, we are erasing untold truths and more comprehensive knowledge of our past. In 2001, the Taliban destroyed two statues of the Buddha, both more than 38 meters tall and carved into the side of a mountain, nearly two thousand years ago, at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. It seems curiosity about our past will always outstrip our ability to find out more as time goes on, and more is lost.

Archaeology in the past few decades has made some truly “worthy of belief” discoveries. Advancements made via technology are opening chapters of history that we did not know about, with archaeology finally reaching depths that we have not reached yet, raising new answers of what we know of our past. This is why history is important. If we forget or not try to understand what the past tells us, it has been proven time after time, like a big carousal, we will continue to make the same mistakes.

The Achilles heel of archaeology is that only a tiny fraction of all organisms leaves fossil traces anywhere. Most fossils of Hominoid specimens come from sediments dating back a few million years ago, but in many areas where fossils may be, their access and discovery are blocked because of the continuing movements and cracks of the earth’s surface. There is also much evidence hidden beneath dense plant growth, forests, jungles, and man-made structures, and considering that at the height of the last ice age, 13,000 years ago, sea levels were about 350 feet lower than today means many traces of human presence is deep underwater. Finally, there is the reality that anything from the past, if it wasn’t a rock, has dissolved back into the earth.

As to human fossils, they give us evidence of size, proportion, and muscular development. Studying fossils has given us an understanding of the three most important phases of human evolvement; walking upright, a mandible thumb and increased brain size. What they cannot give us, and is based on an informed hypothesis, are facial features and how they thought, which is the most important to us.

To understand the evolvement of humans spiritually and culturally, one has to look back farther than when we first became citizens of civilizations, back to when we were still small families of hunters and gatherers and eventually farmers. Back to a time when the wisdom we desperately crave today, was ripe and fertile. Back to where everything that happened and existed was born of the same energy. Life was moment to moment, where a human being was not separate from creation but one with it and held great respect for nature; where life was brutal but not necessarily portrayed as such, for it was life. Back to the time before the development of the human ego, where a newborn child, a flower and a shiny rock still brought smiles to our faces and we were not criticized for doing so, nor did we feel guilty.

To be continued………..

 

09/9/12

A Stream of Prophets – Jesus

The biographical sources of Jesus’ life are mainly the four gospels of the New Testament; Matthew, JesusMark, Luke, and John. As well as other books such as the Gospel of Thomas, one of fifty-two texts included in the Gnostic Gospels. It has been estimated that all the books combined account for anywhere from six to forty days of Jesus’ life. He is estimated to have lived from about 6 BC to 31 AD.

The books of Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar in their content, though the fourth book, by John, is different in its approach. The book of Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience showing Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, an aristocratic, rightful and legitimate king born to a wealthy family in Bethlehem who descended from David and Solomon. According to Matthew’s story, upon his birth Jesus was visited by three kings bearing gifts and writes of Jesus as being a powerful and majestic sovereign.

The book of Mark, the shortest of gospels, portrayed Jesus as performing as many as eighteen miracles and being a servant, constantly serving others. The book of Luke was written for a Gentile audience. Luke was the only Gentile disciple and a Greek doctor, who portrayed Jesus’ family as poor carpenters who moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in the poverty of a manger. There he was visited by three shepherds. Luke portrayed Jesus as a meek, lamb-like saviour. While the most theological of the four books, the book of John, deals mostly with the actual nature and will of God, as revealed to people.

The focus of all these books was that Jesus was the Son of God, the Father and that they are addressed to the world at large. They also paid more attention to conversations and teaching than the earlier written books of the Torah (Old Testament). The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written over the course of two different time periods, with the first books appearing from about 66-74 AD, thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and the others written from 132-135 AD, more than one hundred years after his death.

The Gnostic Gospels meanwhile were found in 1945 at Jabel al-Tarif, a mountain of honeycombed caves in Upper Egypt. Written around 50-100 AD, the fifty-two texts include the book, Gospel of Thomas, which suggested that Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus and that Mary Magdalene was indeed Jesus’ wife for he “loved her more than all his disciples.” The books also included, Book of Phillip, Testimony of Truth, Gospel to the Egyptians and the Apocryphon (secret) of John. Many of them contained the same sayings from the New Testament and the four gospels, but in different contexts, perhaps suggesting other dimensions of meaning. The Gnostic Gospels, as well as others attributed to Jesus’ followers, are called cryptic translations, with the originals written in Greek, the language of the New Testament. Many of the Gnostic gospels, though written about 1500 years ago, seem to be copies of even more ancient manuscripts of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and Zoroastrians.

While history suggests that Jesus could also have been Jesus of Nazareth, a Zealot, much like many young men at the time, rebelling against Roman rule, persecution and oppression. The countryside at the time swarmed with gangs of disciples. Unemployed, they would sometimes enter the Roman policed cities and fight against the tyranny of the Roman puppets, the Judean Kings and their harsh control of the populace. At the time of Jesus, most all people hoped and desperately needed a saviour. And perhaps a Jesus of Nazareth, through doctrine written decades after the fact, could be transformed into a being the people still so desperately needed, a Jesus of Christ.

Jesus is vaguely mentioned in the writings of Roman historians, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josepus, as well as some anti-Christian Hebrew writings. But the historical Jesus we know very little about, though he was known to be literate, nothing was written down when he was alive, much like Socrates and Confucius and  many other prophets up to this time, Jesus spoke to disciples who transmitted orally and in later in writing, the wisdom that was preached.

Jesus’ sayings, teachings and symbolic acts were seemingly ironic, in that the intended meaning of many of his words was often in direct contrast to their usual sense, much like the Bible in its entirety. It is filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Thus we have no way of judging the accuracy of either form of the communication, especially considering the fact that after the Bible was put together at Nicaea in the 4th century, no one but a few could even read it. It would be more than a thousand years later that it was translated and printed and finally read by people outside the church- a mere five hundred years ago.

In Bethlehem, Judea, at the time of the winter solstice, when the three stars of the constellation Orion reached their ascent and lined up brightly to form its belt, Jesus was born as the first son of the virgin, Mary or Miriam, of the tribe of Judah and descendent of David; and wife of Joseph, a carpenter.  A poor family making the best of hard times, left to their own devices with faith in their fate. Jesus would become a disciple of John the Baptist and charismatic reformer of spirituality.

Before his birth, a rumour had made its way across the land of the coming of a messiah. Driven somewhat by Judaism, the tale also became a dream for many as the reality of the time was of oppression, civic and social persecution and intermittent rebellion. Where only a few hundred years before, the Babylonians ravaged the lands and peoples of Judea, now it was the Roman Empire’s turn for supremacy of the Middle East.

The dream for a rightful king to appear and deliver the people to freedom brought much hope. King Herod, the king of Judea at the time, who was appointed by the Romans heard the rumours and announced the persecution of all innocent new born children. Joseph and his family, with many others, were forced to flee to Egypt and upon their return years later, moved to Nazareth. Jesus is believed to have followed his father’s trade and became a carpenter. At twelve he was known to sit in the square and endlessly talk, argue and discuss with the scribes who gathered there. Jesus accepted spiritual responsibility by becoming a student at the synagogue like every other Jewish boy. Although young he seemed to be already aware of his unique relationship with his spirituality. For the next 18 years, nothing is known of his life, until his baptism at the hands of his cousin, John the Baptist, a cousin to his mother, in Jordan. This rite gave Jesus the first divine intimation or hint of his life’s mission. John himself was known as a prophet of the one God and through visions was given the task of preparing the people for the way of the Lord. John preached far and wide about reaching salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Judea at the time of King Herod’s reign was filled with cruelties and atrocities, for he was a man overcome by jealous fears with the backing of the mighty Roman Empire and the Jewish Sanhedrin, a high court of 70 men who met in the great Temple, in Jerusalem. The authorities in Rome allowed the Sanhedrin to pass any sentence under Jewish law except the death penalty. Jerusalem represented the central government and its large administrative cabinet was the centre for all business and trade in the region. It was also the religious capital. In Jesus’ day the population of Jerusalem was about 250,000 people, with most its people speaking Aramaic. There were many markets with shops, stalls and restaurants, but away from Jerusalem and beneath the covers of society, there was much infighting and feuding, with mutually destructive strife and rebellion.

Away from the big cities, the wealthy class of rulers and officials had bought up all the land and oppressed the poor. Family farms disappeared and were replaced with huge estates, with the people having to hire themselves out as farm labourers. Slums appeared first in the villages and then within towns and cities, with the bigger and better homes of the rich usually built on large estates on the outskirts of a town. Within each community, the poor suffered tremendous hardship and tyranny. Thus when prophets such as Jesus, cried out against all the injustice and inequality, the people listened and began to believe in the hope for a saviour to save them from the drudgery of their persecuted lives.

Around 6 AD, Judas of Galilee began a highly militant revolutionary movement called the Zealots. When Jesus began his own ministry years later, the Zealots had by then assumed a prominent role in Palestine affairs. Palestine had been split into two provinces, Judea and Galilee, with Judea under direct Roman rule. Heavy taxes became the norm with much torture and a climbing suicide rate. But to many, these Zealots were revered for their activities against the oppression of the Romans. Jesus was still a child during this time, but it is conjecture that this time covered the eighteen years of his life which has gone unrecorded. We have no way of knowing who or what his influences were growing up. We do know however that when Jesus reappeared in historical accounts, the situation in Judea had become critical.

The rebellion would escalate until 66 AD, when the whole of Judea rose in revolt against Rome, albeit futile. Within four years Rome defeated all the rebel forces that fought against her and occupied Jerusalem razed the city and sacked and plundered all the temples. The fortress at Masada would be the final nail in the coffin for the Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora of the Jewish people began. They scattered to countries far and wide, feeling in exile. While the blossoming new religion of Christianity arose and within only a few hundred years became the Roman Empire’s official religion.

When Jesus reappears he is being baptised by John and afterwards Jesus felt so full of the Holy Spirit he would spend forty days in the wilderness alone, wrestling with doubts and fears, but was successful arguing against numerous temptations, even from the devil himself. In one of these temptations, Jesus rejects the traditional Jewish role of the militant Messiah who was to raise the Israelites to world domination by the sword. Besides showing moral character, Jesus’ rejection of this temptation would have a dynamic effect, for it showed the conception of the Messiah in a new light and with a new power, not evident before.

Upon his return from the desert, Jesus gathered twelve disciples around him; Peter, Andrew, Thomas, James the Less, John, Jude, Matthew, Matthias, Bartholomew, Philip, James, and Simon, as well as his companion, probably his wife, Mary Magdalene. He encouraged them all to go out and preach that which he was to teach them; only the positive and pure contents of the Old Testament and that his teachings were for all men equally, no matter the race. They were to go out and tell the people that the kingdom of God was at hand. The goal would be to provide hope and create a believing community. He was a very charismatic individual and seemed to carry himself confidently often using human and earthly analogies to explain spiritual and eternal concepts and moral issues, teaching that man’s true battle lay within. He warned people against careless talk and blasphemy against their God and that all of God’s children were to correct one another, to pray for one another, and to forgive one another. This demanding focus on others was very radical for the time.

During one of their journeys across the land of Judea, they eventually made their way to Nazareth, where Jesus, who still considered himself a Jew, as did all the apostles, entered the synagogue. Many elders were in attendance, and as Jesus entered he was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah, which he immediately opened and told all who gathered that, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are down trodden and to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.” Finishing, he handed back the book and sat down. At first, you probably could have heard a pin drop. All eyes were upon him, no doubt some mouths agape, for here was a man proclaiming he alone to be the prophet of their God. The silence was soon enough broken as they then began to argue against him in rage, a cacophony arose. But word began to spread of this man, Jesus.

He was once asked by a lawyer, “Which is the greatest commandment of all?”, he answered that there are two commandments on which all the laws and the prophets are based, and that is to love thy God with all your heart and soul and, secondly, to love thy neighbour as thyself. He undertook at least two other missionary journeys through Galilee, where he is said to have performed many miracles, including the miraculous feeding of the five thousand by blessing a scant number of loaves and fish. He spoke revolutionary words at the Sermon on the Mount, where he emphasised love, humility, meekness, charity and service to God.

This Sermon began when those who had gathered around him, some from as far away as Decapolis, Jerusalem, Palestine, Syria and Jordan, became many, and he began to speak of many things in detail as he stood above them on a hill. He spoke about ethical living, about not seeking revenge for injury, but forgiveness of wrongdoers, about going beyond the minimal requirements of law and courtesy, in order to show true generosity of spirit. He blessed the poor, those who mourned, the gentle, those who sought righteousness, the merciful, and the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who had been persecuted for the sake of righteousness in their lives. He told them he was not there to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them. That, whomever commits murder shall be liable, those angry with others for no reason shall be guilty, and those who called a fellow person good for nothing or a fool, shall be guilty; that you shall not commit adultery, nor make false vows, speak the truth even if it is simply a yes or no response that is only needed. Give when asked and do not turn away from someone who wants to borrow. That one should love thy neighbour as well as their enemies, and to pray for them. To not practise your righteousness before others simply for the sake of being noticed by them and when you give to the needy there is no reason to blow your own horn.

When praying, Jesus stressed the need to pray in private and not bring undue attention to one self, to “go into your inner room and when you have shut the door, pray to the Father in secret and the Father, who sees in secret will repay you. And when you pray, pray in this way – Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

Jesus talked about not amassing material things or “treasures of the earth”, “for they decay and rust and thieves will break in and steal them”. Gather instead, the goodness of one’s heart. Not to worry or be anxious about life, one’s body, what one wears or what one eats and drinks. Who, he asked, can add even a single hour to his day by worrying. He spoke that one should not worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And not to judge others, for you too could be judged. Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open for you. Do to others what you would have them do to you and to be leery of false prophets.

Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount by saying that, for those who understood the messages he had spoke and who would go forth and practise such values and norms in their daily lives were wise and would be like those who build their homes on solid rock. While those who listened but have no intention of living in such a way were people who build their homes on sand.

The essence of the Sermon was trying to get people to believe in the things their god once held sacred and important, without the militancy that had become so much a part of it. With the New Testament not yet written, the majority of the populace followed both the written and oral traditions of the Torah and were ruled by a hateful, revengeful and jealous god. Jesus was speaking about the opposite.

Of course when the ruling Sanhedrin and the militant Pharisees heard about the Sermon they thought it to be rebellious with dangerous implications, especially in keeping the populace controlled. Though Jesus had only visited Jerusalem once or twice, the Sanhedrin already knew him as being a religious and political troublemaker who had gained a reputation for healing, for exorcism and for challenging the religious authorities. On an earlier visit to the temple in Jerusalem, people had gathered around Jesus, so he decided to sit and talk with them. The priests suddenly brought in a woman, saying to Jesus that she had been caught in the act of adultery and according to their laws should be stoned. Jesus ignored them at first then said, “He that is without sin among you, let them first cast a stone at her.” One by one the accusers left the temple. After they had gone Jesus asked the woman, “Where did they go, has no one condemned you?” “No” she answered. “Then neither do I condemn you”, Jesus declared, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Such actions would beget much resentment amongst the Jewish elders.

They were especially offended and insulted that Jesus appeared to possess an insight to reality and the fatherhood of God. They were also disgusted with the fact that he ate and drank with the castoffs of society and taught forgiveness, compassion, and humility. The idea that God was closer than they had been led to believe, disturbed them.

After the Sermon, Jesus and his disciples began to feel the pressure from the authorities and had to seek refuge in the Gentile territories of Tyre and Sidon. There Jesus secretly revealed that he was the promised Messiah and that their God is one who cares for his people in this life and prepares them for their next life in heaven. Jesus held five great priorities as the central roles in a Christian’s life and stressed that he would not ask anyone something he would not do himself. The priorities were: a life of Surrender to God; a life of Service; a life of Obedience; a life of Communion, where God’s laws and expectations are not just for the Jewish nation, but are for all of God’s people; and a life of Witness, to be courageous in their convictions and emphasising that personal commitment matters most, whatever the cost.

Then came a day where he gathered his closest disciples around him and told them that he must soon die and that they would not believe him. Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, Jesus realized his destiny and resigned himself to the likelihood that he was going to be wrongfully put to death. He calmly continued to be seemingly in control of every situation, while his disciples were perplexed and dismayed.

Jesus then made his way to Jerusalem, a week before or after the Festival of Passover Feast, which commemorated Moses leading the Hebrew tribes in their escape from enslavement in Egypt. It was held on the 15th day of Nisan (Hebrew calendar), represented by March and April in the Gregorian calendar. It was at this time that Jesus and his disciples sat down together, to break bread for the final time and talk, discuss, argue and whisper. Fifteen hundred years later an Italian, Leonardo Da Vinci would give us his depiction of this gathering in his painting, The Last Supper.

Later betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, Jesus was arrested and deserted by his followers. His disciple Peter denied Jesus three times in court, and he was tried without proof by the Sanhedrin, for blasphemy, for claiming to be the son of God and condemned for practising sorcery and leading Israel astray. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate also questioned Jesus, not about blasphemy, but of treason for his claim of being the King of the Jews. Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate found no fault with this and passed Jesus off to King Herod, who taunted Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.

This condemnation of Jesus took place at the time of Passover, where each year at this time, the people were allowed to decide freedom for a prisoner of their choice. Pilate asked the crowd if it should be Jesus, but it was an angry crowd and they shouted for the release instead, of the assassin Barabbas. Jesus refused to defend himself to Pilate or to the crowd, which was becoming angrier and more insistent. The earliest texts of the New Testament stated that Jesus was then handed over to a Roman guard for crucification. Later manuscripts had him being handed over to the Jews, “so that they might crucify him”. Pilate finally condemned Jesus to death on a Roman cross between two thieves, in public. At his end Jesus was at first suffering, crying out in despair, “My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me”, soon though came the words of resignation, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and finally, near his end he whispered, “It is finished.”

He died and was buried. Three days after his death it is said that he arose, made several public appearances and then rose aloft and into space, where he would continue to provide leadership to his followers. It is believed that, as well as being murdered for perceived heresy against the laws of the time, the spiritual corruption of society and the oppressed way, in which people were treated, he also died for humanity’s sins.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is commemorated each year at Easter, the most important religious date, on many religions calendars. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, established the date of Easter as being the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon (14th day of a lunar month), following the spring equinox, on or about March 21st, which varies the date of Easter between March 22nd and April 25th. Easter represents the day Jesus was resurrected, having died three days earlier on what is known as Good Friday. Besides Easter, the spring equinox has also been known for millennia, as the time of re-birth and/or awareness; the time when the seeds of the crops begin to sprout from the earth. The Roman calendar associated the Ides of March, a festival that celebrated the planet Mars, with celebration and military parades, to be the middle of the month of March 15th, the day Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, and the day the Christians celebrate the Passover. The spring equinox is also the first day of the astrological year and the first full day of the sign, Aries.

Even though Jesus’ ministry only lasted approximately three years, his disciples continued to spread his word of peace, love, compassion, purity, worship and service to God far and wide, and a few would soon write of his story and teachings. By doing so they would elevate a man, Jesus of Nazareth, into the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, represented by Jesus Christ, and upon this they would build his church.

Interestingly enough, considering our social ills of today and on through the millennia, one third of all the parables and one sixth of all the words recorded as being said by Jesus and what topics are addressed, the most often in all scripture relate to our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. And yet, most Christian societies today are associated with militarism, interest paid for the use of money, gross inequality and violent assault upon the environment.

The often used symbol for Christianity, a fish, is not from the Bible calling the Apostles, fishers of men; it is because the letters of the Greek word for fish, ichthus, stands for the Greek phrase, Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Saviour). The symbol of the fish first appeared in Christian art from about 100 AD and was used as a symbol of Jesus and the newly baptised. As to the known “seven deadly sins” mentioned in Christianity, these were first compiled long after Jesus’ death, around the year 600 AD, by pope Gregory I, and are pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth.

After Jesus’ death, the continuing Roman persecutions only helped in strengthening the new belief among the people that he, now called Jesus Christ was the messiah, and that he had died for them. By the Fourth century, in Nicaea, the present day city of Iznik, Turkey, Christian theologians edited Platonic metaphysics and transcendences of spiritual and ideal characteristics into their theology and decided which books would make up the Bible. Soon after, Christianity became the Roman Catholic Church, and the official religion of the Roman Empire upon Emperor Constantine’s conversion.

Meanwhile the Gnostic gospels and hundreds of other documents were banned and denounced as blasphemy and heresy, with the writers of this material deemed as heretics. While in fact, a heretic is from the Greek word, gnosis, or knowledge; through observation, experience and insight.

As Christianity became an officially approved religion, possession of books became a criminal offense with all copies burned or destroyed. The Christian bishops, who were once victimized by the police, now commanded them. Penalties handed out for misbehaviour escalated and it was announced that there would be no salvation for anyone outside the church, while whoever argued with its teachings and principles was declared a heretic and expelled, or worse. The New Testament was translated into Latin, which hardly anyone could read and a few hundred years later the paranoia and cruel aberration escalated into an era of violent persecution, which today is known as the Inquisition.

The books that became the New Testament perceived the many Christian prophets as being individuals inspired by God, through the Holy Spirit to deliver a message about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But one of the problems with Christianity, as well as with Islam, is that Jesus, along with Muhammad, were both misinterpreted as the final prophets, while in reality there were many who came later, from all different cultures, all over the world.

 

 

 

 

Photo by James Shepard

http://www.flickr.com/photos/biblevector/

 

 

06/12/12

A Stream of Prophets – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

 

Socrates

Born in Athens, Greece, in 469 BC, Socrates would live his whole life there, dying in 339 BC. His parent’s names were Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. He married a woman named Xanthippe at a young age and would take part in three military campaigns: Potidaea (432-29 BC.), Delium (424 BC.) and Amphipolis (422 BC.), where he distinguished himself for bravery, remarkable endurance, and indifference to fatigue, climate and alcohol.

He did not participate in politics but instead felt guided by his “inner voice” which led him to the study of philosophy and to the examination of moral attitudes and assumptions with his fellow citizens, notable politicians, poets and gurus of that time. He once called himself simply the midwife for the opinion of others.

Socrates, as well as other Greek philosophers, lived in a time of continuous warfare, paranoia and tyranny. Though the city-states of Greece began to embrace democracy, every aspect of one’s life was believed to have been controlled by dozens of different gods.

Leading up to Socrates time, Athens and Sparta had joined forces in 479 BC, to bring an end to the Persian Wars and over the next 50 years Athens grew the stronger. But after the Peloponnesian War, which ended in 404 BC, Sparta emerged as the foremost power in Greece. Sparta reigned supreme until 371 BC when they were destroyed by the army of the Greek city-state, Thebes, led by Epaminondas. King Phillip II (359-336 BC) defeated the alliance of Athens and Thebes in 338 BC.  The whole of Greece was then under Macedonian rule. King Phillip’s son, Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) invaded Persia with campaigns that spread Greek culture and philosophies to Egypt, Afghanistan, India, and the Persian Gulf.

Although Socrates himself never wrote anything down, founded no schools and had no disciples per se, he would become one of the great figures in ancient philosophy. He may not have written down his ideas, but did develop them through dialogues and discussions in Athens streets. He argued that one must pursue the truth through rational enquiry. But as Plato and Aristotle after him, the pupils were mostly young aristocratic men. Their discussions, lessons and teachings would forever change the Western world’s beliefs.

Socrates is responsible for the shift of philosophical interest from speculations about the natural world and cosmology, to ethics and conceptual analysis. This shift away from the religious view that society expressed God’s will, to where people began to see society as the product of natural forces, would accumulate over the years and by the end of the Medieval era in Europe, seventeen hundred years later, would evolve into positivism, the path of understanding based on science. What is known about Socrates came from three very different sources. Aristophanes a playwright, Xenophon, a soldier and by far his most brilliant associate and pupil, and who was the best and main source, Plato.

Socrates’ discussions and the arguments he used became the “Socratic method”, which was to ask for definitions of familiar concepts such as justice, courage, and piety and to elicit contradictions in the responses of those of whom he discussed these issues and thus demonstrate their ignorance, which he agreed that he too shared. He taught that man should always feel the need for a deeper and more honest analysis of their everyday lives.

Rather than upholding a status quo and accepting the development of immorality within his region, Socrates worked to undermine the collective notion of “might makes right”, so common to Greece and elsewhere during this time. In solving a problem, the particulars would be broken down into a series of questions. Finding the answers would gradually give you what you were seeking.

Socrates often admitted his wisdom was limited to the awareness of his own ignorance. Socrates believed wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance and those who did wrong knew no better. He believed the best way for people to live was to focus on self-development rather than the pursuit of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is Socrates’ reliance on his inner voice, which the Greeks called his “daemonic sign” and that he would know only when he was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics. In Plato’s dialogue, “Phaedrus”, we are told Socrates considered this inner voice to be a form of “divine madness”, the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry, mysticism, love, and even philosophy itself. He believed this internal guide’s good opinion was worth having and should be heeded, and that the conscience is what makes us behave when nobody is looking.

Another curious trait of Socrates was that he absolutely refused to say anything that he was not morally sure about. In conversations he would often suddenly stop talking half way through a sentence. He also brought up the idea that knowledge might just be a matter of recollection and not of learning, observation or study.

The two most important points of his teachings were firstly that conscience is innate, and that our inner sense of what is right or wrong, good or evil originates from our intellect, our mind, rather than through experience and is inherent in our essential character. It lies within our soul. Secondly, the opinions, principles and beliefs of the faithful can easily be out pointed and satirized by those who at the onset will take their preaching at face value.

Despite claiming death defying loyalty to his city, Socrates’ pursuit of virtue and his strict adherence to truth clashed with the current course of Athenian politics and society. The city officials did not agree with him teaching the youth and aristocratic young men of Athens, his “troublesome speculations,” and discussing theology and philosophy. This unpopular activity contributed greatly to demands for his conviction for crimes against the state.

In many ways, Socrates’ beliefs were a paradox. He had no dogma and believed in the soul’s immortality, yet at the same time accepted the possibility that death may bring the annihilation of the consciousness. And although he bestowed and admitted ignorance, he also taught wisdom and cared for the soul. He would argue relentlessly. Someone would assert their position and Socrates would refute it; forever questioning.

Though much progress was made in the conquest for knowledge, including the physical and human challenges of man, in Athens, during these days of the first democracy, the situation began to turn and sour with the military overthrow of Athens in 404 BC.

Socrates’ position as a social and moral prophet began to offend the courts. Eventually he was charged for “godlessness”. The court considered him to be unsound because of his advocacy of free thought and unrestricted inquiry, and for his refusal to give assent to any dogma. If he affirmed the charges, the judges told him he would face lesser charges. But Socrates knew his life to be forfeit so he replied that death did not scare him. If death was either perpetual rest or the chance at immortality or to finally be in communion with the people that had gone before, he was fine with that. This insulted and angered the judges, as Socrates had somehow used their own beliefs against them. They quickly condemned Socrates to death, for “spreading unwholesome scepticism, impiety and corrupting the youth.” Found guilty, he turned down an opportunity to be smuggled out and escape, and at seventy years of age he was sentenced to die by drinking hemlock. The trial of Socrates and his judicial murder would be seen by many as representing the greatest moral defeat which the restored Athenian democracy inflicted upon itself. Much like biting off one’s nose and thinking you are saving your face.

Plato

Plato was one of the most important philosophers and mathematicians of all time. He was born in Athens, Greece, in 428 BC and would die peacefully in his sleep 80 years later, in 348 BC. His father was Ariston and mother Perictione. As a boy he was praised for his quickness of mind and modesty, with his youth a mix of hard work and love of study. Plato was instructed in grammar, music, wrestling and gymnastics, by the most distinguished teachers of his time. He also attended courses in philosophy, and before meeting Socrates, he became acquainted with Cratylus (a disciple of Heraclitus, a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher) and the Heraclitean doctrines, which surmised that all objects are in harmony between two units of energy, an ebbing and flowing, which Plato did not agree with.

Plato was a pupil and associate of Socrates and would one day be the teacher of Aristotle. Any political aspirations he may have had withered when his friend and mentor Socrates was condemned to death in 339 BC. Plato recorded many of Socrates teachings and philosophies in three dialogues; the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo.

After Socrates’ execution, Plato and other philosophers, including Euclides, took temporary refuge at Megara. From there, Plato travelled widely in Greece, Egypt and the Greek cities in southern Italy and Sicily. He returned to Athens in 387 BC and founded the Academy at Athens, the first of, soon to be, many philosophical schools. It was here that Aristotle would later study and which would become a famous centre for philosophical, mathematical, and scientific research. Plato would preside over the Academy for the rest of his life.

Thirty-five dialogues and thirteen letters have traditionally been ascribed to Plato, and what became most prominent in the middle dialogues was the idea that knowledge is recollection, the immortality of the soul. Specific doctrines about justice, truth, and beauty immerged in his Theory of Forms, which refers to his belief that the material world, as it seems to us, is not the real world, but only a shadow of the real world. Ideas about the differences in the material world, the particular objects of perception, opinion, belief and the timeless, unchanging world of universals are the realities of the world and should be the true objects of knowledge. The debated theories of universals lie within the realm of metaphysics and are the characteristics and qualities that particular things have in common. The three different types of universals are; the types or kinds of a thing, the shared properties of certain things and the relationships of each particular thing. As to the belief of a divine, universal God, Plato opined that a universe abandoned by God would feel like the disorderly motion of a boat upon the sea.

Also included in Plato’s middle dialogues, through the words of Socrates, were his ideas of a political utopia ruled by philosopher kings, a visionary state with societies having a tripartite class structure which corresponded to the appetite, spirit, and reason. He saw it as the structure of the individual soul. Each part of society stood for different parts of the body, symbolizing the castes of society; the Productive, the abdomen, represented the Workers – labourers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, merchants, farmers, ranchers, etc. This corresponded to the “appetite” of the soul.

The Protective, the chest, represented the Warriors or Guardians; individuals who were adventurous, strong and brave, especially those in the army. This corresponded to the “spirit” of the soul. The Governing, the head, represented the rulers or philosopher kings; those who were intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom and who were well suited to making decisions for the community. The Governing corresponded to the “reason” part of the soul but whose numbers were very few. Plato used this model to conclude that the principles of Athenian democracy, as it existed in his day, should be rejected, as only a few were seen as fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato believed reason and wisdom should govern. As he put it:

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,… nor, I think, will the human race.”

Plato described these “philosopher kings” as “those who love the sight of truth” and supported his idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine, because both sailing and healing are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. He believed that the Republic (Athens) needed to address how the educational system should be set up within the Republic, and how it should be structured in order for it to produce these philosopher kings. The philosophic soul, according to Socrates had reason and will and desired unity for virtuous harmony. A philosopher king needed a moderate love for wisdom and the courage to act accordingly; for wisdom is knowledge of the good of humanity and the right relations between which all exists. Interestingly, Plato’s “philosopher kings” were seen as living communally, sharing everything and owning nothing.

Concerning states and rulers, Plato had many interesting arguments. For instance he asks which is better ‑ a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant? He argued that it would be better to be ruled by a tyrant, as there would be only one person committing bad deeds, than exist within a bad democracy, where all the people would be responsible for such actions. According to Plato, a state which is made up of different kinds of souls would progressively decline from an aristocracy (ruled by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honourable), then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), then into a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by one despotic person), and then start all over again.

Plato’s influence was especially strong in mathematics and the sciences. For instance, he helped to distinguish the difference between pure and applied mathematics by widening the gap between arithmetic, now known as number theory and logistics.

As a whole, Plato’s philosophy has had an incalculable influence on every period in subsequent history and tradition, and alongside his greatest pupil, Aristotle, he affected thought and belief through the Hellenistic period, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Plato died in his sleep at the age of 80, after spending a lifetime asking what lay beyond the deity-ruled world he lived in, and seeking the possible realities within the spiritually of man.

 

 Plato (left) and Aristotle

Aristotle

A Greek Philosopher and scientist who lived from 384 to 322 BC, Aristotle is known as one of most important and influential figures in the history of Western thought. Born at Stagira, a Greek colony on the peninsula of Chalcidice, Aristotle was a son to a court physician to the third king of Macedon, father of Phillip II and grandfather to Alexander the Great. After his father died, Aristotle was moved to Atarneus, in present day Turkey, where he was taken care of and schooled by a relative, Proxenus.

In 367 BC he moved to Athens, where he became a student and eventually became a teacher at Plato’s Academy. Here he stayed for 20 years until Plato’s death in 347, after which he began a 12 year journey that took him to Asia Minor, including Atarneus, where he would marry a friend’s niece, Pythias.

In 342 BC he was appointed by Phillip of Macedon, to act as a tutor to his son Alexander. For seven years Aristotle taught the thirteen year old Alexander all the disciplines, from mathematics to philosophy. When Alexander went on to become known as Alexander the Great, Aristotle returned to Athens. It was now 335 and near the temple of the Greek god, Apollo Lyceius, Aristotle opened a school for the children of the elite, which he called the Lyceum. There he would teach for twelve years.

His students and followers would become known as the “peripatetic”, from the Greek word for the columns of Greek architecture fronting the school and because whenever Aristotle would teach a class he had a restless habit of pacing back and forth and up and down, which a similar Greek word means “walking all about”.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC there was a strong anti-Macedonian reaction in Athens and Aristotle was accused of lacking reverence to the gods. Not wanting to end up like Socrates before him, he moved to the Greek island of Euboea and within a year died of natural causes at the age of 62.

His writings represented an enormous encyclopaedic output covering every field of knowledge; including logic, rhetoric, and psychology. His thinking and studies covered man and his environment as they existed, rather than what they were thought to be.

Aristotle’s terminology, “natural philosophy”, was a branch of philosophy which examined the phenomena of the natural world, and included fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences. For Aristotle, “all science is either, practical, poetical or theoretical.” By practical science, he meant ethics and politics; by poetical science, he meant the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he meant physics, mathematics and metaphysics. Most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle’s metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He performed original research in the natural sciences including biology, botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.

Everyone during this period believed the world to be flat, except for Aristotle, who came to the conclusion, by simply looking up during an eclipse and seeing that as the earth’s shadow began to appear on the moon, that the shadow of the earth was curved and since a sphere is the only shape that casts a circular shadow from any angle, Aristotle argued, the earth must be a sphere. One hundred years later, followers of Aristotle, began to calculate the earth’s size, with one of them, Eratosthenes, calculating the circumference of the earth to be about 42,000 km or 26,000 miles. Todays accepted circumference is 40,075 km or 24,901 miles.

In the study of physics, he defined the five elements: as fire- hot and dry; earth- cold and dry; air- hot and wet; water- cold and wet; and Aether- the divine substance that made up the stars and planets. Each of the four earthly elements had its natural place; the earth was at the centre of the universe, with water, air and fire lying in their respective places beyond that which was believed to be the center. With disharmony in the natural order of the elements there was a self-righting shift- requiring no external cause. This shift saw bodies sink in water, air bubbles rise, rains fall and flames rise in air. The heavenly element Aether had a perpetual circular motion.

Aristotle believed spontaneity and chance related to causes from effects different from other types of cause. That chance is of accidental things and creates things that are spontaneous. But spontaneous does not come from chance. Aristotle’s conception of “chance” is related to “coincidence”. If one’s intent is to go out to do something expecting a certain result but another result takes its place, it is by chance, and is rare. It was an incredible concept for that time; that when things that continuingly keep happening, with the same result each time, it is not by chance.

Another and more specific kind of chance, which Aristotle called “luck”, can only be applied to humans, as it lies within the sphere of moral actions. According to Aristotle, luck could only involve choice, and as only humans are capable of deliberation and choice, his theory was; for what is not capable of action, cannot do anything by chance.

Further to causes and effects, Aristotle theorized there to be four main reasons for anything happening. The four causes were; material cause- the material that something is made of; formal cause- its form; efficient cause- what sets something in motion, and final cause- the purpose for which anything exists, including everything that gives purpose to human behaviour.

As to the human psyche, Aristotle thought every human has three souls. The vegetative soul is shared by all living things, the sensitive soul we share with all animals, while the rational soul is only inherent in humans.

His work as one of the earliest natural historians, has survived in some detail, and reflects on his research in his books, History of Animals, Generation of Animals, and Parts of Animals. These observations and interpretations placed the rational soul in the heart, rather than the brain.

Aristotle taught that the virtue of an entity is related to its role and purpose in life. An eye is only a good eye in so much as it can see, as the proper function of an eye is sight. As Aristotle reasoned that a human must have a function, possessed by no other animal, he concluded that this function was the activity of the soul. He identified the highest level of the soul as Eudaimonia, the contentment and happiness felt living a good life. To achieve this, one must live a balanced life and avoid excess. Aristotle believed that to have balance, one must exist between the two vices- excess and deficiency. To follow this middle path one needed ethics. With ethics based on, virtue informed on reason, which he called the Golden Mean. He felt them to be the highest good in which humans could attain, with reason being a human’s prime faculty. Aristotle also believed politics should be a branch of ethics.

Aristotle considered epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, unrestrained poetry and music to be imitative, each different based on appearance, form, and manner. He felt music imitates rhythm and harmony, whereas dance imitates rhythm alone, and poetry uses language. These forms also differ in their object of imitation. Comedy, for instance, is most often a dramatic imitation of humans in trouble somehow, while tragedy usually emulates great people. They also differ in their manner of imitation ‑ through narrative or character; through change or not, and through drama or no drama.

Twenty-three hundred years after his death, Aristotle remains one of the most influential people who ever lived. He invented classical logic, pioneered the study of zoology, and left every future scientist and philosopher in his debt through his contributions to the Scientific Method, which stressed that the approach to scientific investigation must be through direct observations and that theory must follow from fact.

Similar to the other Greek thinkers, Plato and Socrates, both the seat of government and the priests did not agree with Aristotle’s teachings and for years attempted to oppress him. But he saw the end game and thus, in his final year Aristotle headed for the island of Euboea, taking refuge in the town of Calcis.

In the 1st century BC, Andronicus of Rhodes edited the bulk of Aristotle’s unpublished material, including lecture notes and student’s textbooks and published Aristotle’s far ranging original systemized and sophisticated work. These works had an enormous influence on medieval philosophy, Islamic philosophy and the whole Western intellectual and scientific tradition, and most specifically on humanity’s consciousness. The philosophies and studies of the great Aristotle, Plato and Socrates make them true prophets of humanity and nature, with each one simply asking how and why.

 

 

 

Socrates – “Image Editor”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/11304375@N07/

Plato/Aristotle – Ben Crowe

http://www.flickr.com/photos/croweb/2836992031/

 

“The School of Athens” or “Scuola di Atene” is a painting by the Italian High Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio and painted between 1510 and 1511, in Vatican City, Apostolic Palace. More than 1800 years after their deaths, Plato (left) is holding the “Timaeus” (Leonardo da Vinci) and Aristotle holding the “Ethics”.

 

 

03/11/12

A Stream of Prophets – Buddha, Confucious and Lao Tzi

Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha “the Enlightened”

Siddhartha was born into the Shakya clan of a wealthy family, who ruled in Kapilavastu in the foothills of the Himalayas on what is now the India-Nepal border. He lived from about 563 BC to 483 BC. Siddhartha was destined to a luxurious life as a prince and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built especially for him. His father, King S’uddhodana, wished for Siddhartha to be a great king and shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. As the boy reached the age of 16 years, his father arranged his marriage to Yas’odhara, a cousin of the same age. They soon had a son, Rahula.

For the first 29 years of his life, Siddhartha lived a life of luxury as a prince. His father ensured Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, but Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life. At the age of 29, while sneaking out of the compound and roaming the streets, he was confronted with the realities, seeing an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic, or holy man. Upon returning to the palace he realized the narrow focus of his existence so far. With this new insight he renounced his life, left the luxuries of the court, a beautiful wife, a son, and all earthly ambitions, and became a holy man. Seeing the old man, a sick man, and a corpse created in him a view that life was governed by suffering.

He began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After six years of experiencing a life of intense spiritual searching and extreme physical disciplines, and while seated under a Banyan tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, he vowed never to rise until he had found the Truth. After 49 days meditating, and at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment. From then on, Siddhartha was known as the Buddha or the “Awakened One.” Buddha can also be translated as “The Enlightened One.” Often, he is referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”

After reaching enlightenment, with no more desires or passions, Buddha felt free to make his exit into Nirvana, the state of peaceful bliss achieved by the extinction of individual existence and by the absorption of the soul into the supreme spirit. But instead, he postponed this move, in order to show the way to all beings of consciousness. Buddha was a charismatic and masterful public speaker and founded the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation after his Parinirva-na or “complete nirvana”. They made thousands of converts. Of his disciples, Sariputta, Mahamoggallana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha comprised the five chief disciples.

The masses of the time believed that the ultimate spiritual reality was the human soul, while Buddha held that there was no such thing as a human soul but that the psychic aspect of human nature was merely a flow of broken and interrupted mental states. The Buddhist cosmos was defined as an outer visible world. With forces that operate within it. These forces were represented by all the gods, great or small, and mapped out in concentric diagrams upon sacred art called a Mandala, a spiritual teaching tool to assist in the pursuit of an enlightened state. Every element, force or divinity in the universe corresponded to an aspect of the human personality and physiology and that an awareness of these links between the inner and outer worlds brought special insight to a prophet. Buddha thought that the perfect way in life was through contemplation and the route to avoidance of suffering lay through rejection of selfish desires. He believed all beings possess enlightenment. With some blinded to this fact. His belief, which became known as Buddhism, was not a new religion, but a radical development of Hinduism. It emphasised liberation from delusion and distorted human perceptions, such as desire, anger, and ignorance. He was against the cast system of Hinduism, which determined one’s social standing from birth, dividing everyone into four main classes. Those of the upper casts included the Brahmins, or priests; then Kshatriyas – warriors and rulers; Viasyas – traders and minor officials; and Sudras, the unskilled workers. The lowest cast, the Pariahs, were referred to as the “untouchables”.

During the last 45 years of his life, Buddha travelled the Gangetic Plain, which is now known as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern Nepal. He taught his doctrine and discipline to a diverse range of people, everyone from nobles to outcasts including street sweepers, criminals and even many adherents of rival philosophies and religions.

The Buddha responded to criticism of his beliefs with calm and clear explanations of his doctrines and, where necessary, corrected misunderstandings which gave rise to the criticism. His demeanour was calm, unflustered and polite. Often smiling in the face of criticism and urging his disciples to be the same. Though Buddha craved solitude to reflect and meditate he made himself available for anyone who needed him ‑ for comfort, inspiration or guidance in walking their path. Indeed, the most attractive and noticeable thing aspect of the Buddha’s personality was the love and compassion he showered on everyone, regardless of who they were. It seemed these qualities were the motive of everything he did.

His teachings became known as the “Four Noble Truths”, which stated that life is suffering and disappointing; that suffering results from selfish desire for pleasure and profit; that to escape suffering one needed to turn from selfish desire; and in following an “Eightfold Path”, one needed to seek the right understanding, purpose, speech and conduct and to follow the right way of livelihood, effort, awareness, and concentration. A daily prayer of Buddhism issued at the end of each day reads, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Each of us must strive to wake up, wake up. Take heed. Do not squander your lives.”

Buddha taught the importance of meditation as well as the moral precepts, seen as expressions of one’s own actual nature, not standards derived from any external divine authority. Buddhists are not to kill, steal or act in an unchaste manner. They do not speak falsely or take intoxicants.

Buddha also taught that nothing is permanent, that no form endures forever, and no single, perceived manifestation fully expresses the supreme reality. A blade of grass is not simply a blade of grass, but a combination of many small components. He believed in “dependent origination”; that any phenomenon exists only because of the existence of other phenomena in a complex web of cause and effect covering time past, present and future. Because all things are thus conditioned and transient, they have no real independent identity. He called this, the “rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture” and that teachings need not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and praised by the wise. They included the Anicca – all things are irrelevant. Anatta – the perception of “self” is an illusion. And Dukkha – all beings suffer from all situations due to an unclear mind. He believed that a human being does not make his appearance in this world once only, but forever to be reincarnated, until Nirvana is reached.

Buddha taught the “middle way”, between the life of a householder doomed to countless rebirths and the celibate life of extreme asceticism, which seeks the right goal, but by the wrong means. The goal is Nirvana – indescribable peace. One who attains this is enlightened and no longer reborn or subject to karma. At death they enter Nirvana. In Buddhism, Karma is the quality of intention in one’s mind every time a person acts. This quality, rather than outward appearance, of the action determines the effect. Moral actions result in happiness and worthiness, while immoral actions generate unhappiness and unworthiness.

The key to Buddhism is that existence is necessarily miserable and the only path to Nirvana is through diligent devotion to Buddhistic rules. Developing the right kind of self-discipline offers a pathway out of delusion and towards true awareness. “ Neither abstinence from fish and flesh, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in a rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to a god, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.” Holding on to what does not actually exist will only lead to suffering.

Buddhists reject the idea of a separate god that is somehow set apart from everyday experience. Buddha taught that some Hindu gods do exist, but they do not have any control over daily human life, but instead they are subject to the same universal laws that humans must observe. The path of Buddhism is the singe-minded pursuit of an individual’s spiritual goals, not the establishment of new concepts of a god. He stressed the virtues of truthfulness, loyalty, learning, moderation in food and drink and believed in a modest, regular life. Too much of anything creates imbalance. He considered war to be the greatest evil and urged negotiation and compromise rather than violence. Buddha considered a prophet’s work on earth as helping the people master the important, yet mundane tasks of life such as remaining human in a world fast becoming increasingly hostile to human values and not simply all about creating miracles.

Before dying at the age of 80 in Kusinagara in Oudh, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, the final deathless state abandoning the earthly body. He then ate his last meal and asked all his attendant disciples to clarify any doubts or questions they might have. They had none. Only then did he finally enter Parinirvana. The Buddha’s final words were, “All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence.” His body was then cremated.

Buddhism’s main writings are contained in a number of sacred books called the Pali Canon, as well in vast collections of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese sacred texts. By 200 BC Buddhism had spread throughout India and the Himalayas, but by the 7th and 8th centuries Buddhism began to decline and was relentlessly persecuted by the growing belief of Brahmanism, until finally, with invading Islam, Buddhism was stamped out of continental India, except for Nepal. However by this time Buddhism had spread to Tibet, Ceylon, Burma, Siam, China, and Japan, where it is still powerful today. In many places where Buddhism began as a missionary religion, it often took on aspects of the culture it became a part of, which is very different from other religions when at their missionary stage. Buddhism is not forced onto anyone by guilt or sword.

 

K’ung Fu-Tzu.  Confucius (Latin)

Confucius lived from 551 BC to 479 BC and was a Chinese philosopher and social reformer, born to an aristocratic, but poor family in the state of Lu, in the present day province of Shantung, during the Zhow dynasty. At 19 he married and took employment as a government official. His job was to prepare young men of families of wealth and influence for government service and to offer instructions on how to refine and stabilize the government of the day according to the principles of peace and equity. He endorsed the idea that government officials needed to be highly talented young men and so created the world’s first system of civil service exams, where would-be bureaucrats were required to compose essays demonstrating their knowledge of Confucian texts.

Confucius was eventually promoted to the rank of Justice Minister and enjoyed a successful and highly popular career. He had gained many followers, though he shared his wisdom only with a privileged few, mainly males of noble birth. Unfortunately his position also attracted jealousy and hostility and after a disagreement over the behaviour of the Duke of Lu, he left his position. For the next twelve years he became an itinerant sage and wandered northeast and central China. From court to court he went, seeking a sympathetic patron and eventually formed a group of disciples who followed wherever he went.

In 485 BC he returned to Lu where he spent his remaining years in reflection, teaching and writing his political and social beliefs, with a great emphasis on the importance of study. He felt people should think deeply for themselves and study as much as they can of the outside world.

After his death, his followers compiled a record of their master’s sayings and doings into a volume of memorabilia called the Analects. Other works that were attributed to Confucius were compiled later, and like the philosophy of Confucianism itself, are based loosely on his own teachings. He was a great moral teacher, who tried to replace the old religious observances with moral values as the basis of social and political order.

Confucius identified five ethical, binding relationships; parent-child, ruler-government official, husband-wife, older sibling-younger sibling and friend-friend. If these relationships are founded upon and made possible by what he emphasized as being the practical virtues of compassion and humanity, arising from genuine love (jen), with respect and personal effort, given according to individual circumstances including practical conduct, character and proper etiquette-based behaviour between both sides (Li), then one becomes chun-tzu or a noble individual. One should also develop the virtue of the concept of ren (“humaneness”), to strive to be emotionally centered (zhong) and to get along with others (shu).

His beliefs regarding human behaviour included; being kind to strangers and keeping the able ones near; feeding the hungry; thinking of the profit of all as being the real profit, and the mind of the whole country as being the real mind; being considerate of officials and acting as a father to one’s people; protecting the state before danger comes, by governing well; being diligent and careful, and maintaining the balance between leniency and strictness, between principle and expediency; behaving with generosity toward your fellow man; cultivating peace in your neighbourhood; prizing moderation and economy to prevent the lavish waste of your means; removing anger, hatred and ill will; showing the importance due a person and life. Basically, if people pursue courtesy, correct form and etiquette, reverence, and human benevolence within human relationships, harmony will exist at every level of society. As a couple of Confucianism tenets state, “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others,” and, “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others, he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this.” He felt man had three ways of acting wisely, the noblest being after meditation or reflection. The second way is the easiest path, imitation and the third way of acting wisely is on experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius studied five texts that were written years before his time and became known as the Five Classics. They are, the Book of Changes (I Ching), the Book of History (Shuh Ching), the Book of Poetry (Shih Ching), the Book of Rights (Li Chi) and the Spring and Autumn Annuals (Ch’un Chi), which chronicled major historical events. The I Ching (Book of Changes) became the most popular of all Confucian classics, and though not written by him, it was a manual of divination for those seeking guidance and based on the polar aspects of the primal energy – Yin and Yang. The interactions of these were seen as the basic, observable elements of cosmic development and evolution. I Ching was a symbol system used to identify order in random events and its text described a system of cosmology and philosophy, centering on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process and the acceptance of the inevitability of change. It was written in abstract line arrangements of 64 hexagrams. What is interesting is that comparatively, a human’s genetic code is formed by four amino acids, combined into triplets that make up our 64 part binary code.

The Four Books incorporated the works of Confucius, and along with the Five Classics, made up the fundamental teachings and text of Confucianism. The Four Books included the Analects (Lun Yu), the Great Learning (Ta Hsueh), the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung) and the Book of Mencius (Meng Tzu). Confucius and his followers oversaw the development and formalization of many of these important writings. Although Confucius’ focus was on moral behaviour and social interaction within a society beneath lay a deep, abiding spiritual foundation. Confucius died in 479 BC at the age of 72 years, in his home state of Lu.

In the centuries following his death, the spread of Confucianism was promoted by various rulers and became the official Chinese state ideology by 200 BC. In 140 BC, persuaded by an essay written by Chinese scholar and promoter of Confucianism, Dong Zhong shu, in a literary competition, one of China’s greatest emperors, Emperor Wu, the 7th emperor of the Han Dynasty, adopts Confucianism at court and for the next two thousand years would become the dominant thought in Chinese government. It was eventually decreed that sacrifices and prayer should be made to Confucius in public schools. As Confucianism evolved and developed, encouragement of respectful relations between human beings remained the central and abiding element.

Lao Tzi   (Laozi)

Laozi was a philosopher of ancient China from the 6th century BC and considered to be the founder of Taoism (pronounced Daoism). He had a profound impact on Chinese literature, culture and spirituality, to the point where over four hundred years after his death he received Chinese Imperial recognition as a divine entity and referred to as Taishang Laojun, “One of the Three Pure Ones”. Many Chinese, both noble and common folk, claim Laozi is in their lineage. Some forms of Taoism can be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China which later morphed into a Taoist tradition.

There are three different stories within Chinese historical records where Laozi is an important character. These stories are combined and included in the texts of the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca.145–86 BC) and in Laozi’s biographies, written by Chuang Tzu (369-286 BC), who was considered to be the intellectual and spiritual successor of Laozi.

Traditional accounts of these stories state that Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius, and the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou, until one day he departed for the West, dejected about the moral decay of city life and the decline of the kingdom. He was also known as Lao Laizi or Old Master, a contemporary of Confucius, and finally he was known as the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan, who lived during the reign of Duke Xian of Qin (384 BC- 362 BC).

Laozi is regarded as the author of the book, Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) or “Way of Power.” Although only five thousand words long, the book explains the nature of Tao by addressing such matters as culture, emotion, nature, right action, language, and mysticism through reflection. Though there are questions pertaining to whether the principles of Tao were perhaps written by more than one individual, the Tao Te Ching is classed as being one of the most moving achievements of Chinese culture over the past two thousand years.

Tao (Dao) is all about accomplishing great things through small means, intertwining the beliefs of Tao, or the “way”, with the flow of the universe and the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. The active expression of living the “way” is Te (De), which is virtue, personal character, inner strength and integrity.

The Tao Te Ching describes Tao as the mystical source and ideal of all existence, a substance which is unseen but does not hide, immensely powerful, yet supremely humble and is the root of all things. Tao is infinite and without limitation, indistinct and without form and cannot be named or categorized. According to the Tao Te Ching, humans have no special place within the Tao, for they are just one of many manifestations contained within it. People have desires and free will which allows them to be able to alter their own nature; however, those who act unnaturally are the ones who upset the natural balance of the Tao. The book teaches that people need to return to their natural state and be in harmony with the other manifestations of the Tao. Language and conventional wisdom are taught to be critically assessed, for they are inherently biased, artificial, and limited. The basics that Tao teaches are self-sufficiency, simplicity and detachment, while the “feminine” qualities such as promoting longevity, equanimity and unity with nature are respected and revered.

Taoism’s emphasis on spontaneity and self-reliance is similar to Buddhism, as well as many other religious traditions. Taoism was influenced by Mahayana Buddhism, while Zen Buddhism would develop from Taoism. And like Confucianism; Taoism regards the book, I Ching as an inspired work worth studying. Laozi had much respect for the underlying principles of I Ching and of the Yin and Yang aspects of the universe. These concepts became particularly associated with the Taoists and are; simplicity ‑ the root of the substance that makes up the universe and the fundamental law that everything in the universe is utterly plain and simple, no matter how subtle or profound some things may appear to be; variability – by comprehending that everything in the universe is continually changing, one may realize the importance of flexibility in life and thus cultivate the proper attitude for dealing with a multiplicity of diverse situations, and finally; persistency ‑ the essence of the substance of the universe. While everything in the universe seems to be changing, among the changing tides there is a persistent principle – a central rule, which does not vary with space and time. This central concept of the Tao Te Ching is the state of Wu Wei, a state of calm and “free from desires.”

The concept of Wu Wei is very complex and defined as “effortless action”, “non-action” and “not acting”. The metaphor for the state of Wu Wei is Pu, “uncarved block of wood”, represents a passive state of receptiveness. Pu is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion. Pu is seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of Tao. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. In the state of Pu, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. What is artificial, strained and unnatural are put aside and what is sought is the natural and spontaneous impulses of one’s true self. But at the same time, though it teaches inaction, the idea of Wu Wei should not be misunderstood.

True inaction in Taoism is, “the most efficient possible action, the most spontaneous and most creative possible action, allowing activity to spring forth spontaneously and without conscious effort.” A Taoist who acts in accordance with this principle does not pursue a life of sloth or laziness, but one in which the least possible effort creates the most effective and productive outcome. In ancient Taoist texts, Wu Wei is associated with flowing water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, but it can move earth and carve stone.

Laozi also believed that technology may bring about a false sense of progress. He did not reject technology, but believed that people should try to achieve the state of Wu Wei instead. To understand how the nature of the universe works before one goes off and tries to reinvent the wheel.

Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously in accordance to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not say that human will is the problem, but rather it asserts that humans must place their will in harmony with the natural universe. It is a concept used to explain Ziran, “harmony with the Tao”. It explains that our values are ideological with ambitions of all sorts, originating from the same source. Laozi used the term broadly with simplicity and humility as key virtues, often in contrast to selfish action. On a political level, it means avoiding such circumstances as war, harsh laws and heavy taxes. Some Taoists see a connection between Wu Wei and esoteric practices, such as meditation and the emptying of the mind of bodily awareness and thought.

The Tao Te Ching contains specific instructions for Taoists relating to qigong, meditation using breathing techniques to bring energy through the body, and preaches the way to revert to the primordial state. This interpretation supports the view that Taoism is a religion addressing the quest of immortality. Reverence for ancestor spirits and immortality are also common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, and Feng shui (utility of the laws of heaven-astronomy and earth-geometry to help improve one’s life by surrounding oneself with positive energy or qi, which is the essential energy of action and existence) have all been intertwined with Taoism throughout history. While Western theology is more about the negative, using fear as both the weapon and the tool, Taoism has come to represent the positive forces of the universe and uses peace.

Under Taoism, the ideal personal situation is attainable through prolonged observation and meditation and is one of utter simplicity with profound faith in natural processes and being above short-sighted, petty cravings and grasping at material things.

The Taoist view of sexuality is considerably different than the beliefs and attitudes known in the West, and is considerably more at ease. The body is not viewed as a dangerous source of evil temptation, but rather as a positive asset. Taoism rejects Western mind‑body dualism. Mind and body are not set in contrast or opposition with each other. Sex is treated as a vital component to romantic love; however Taoism emphasizes the need for self-control and moderation. Complete abstinence from sex is oftentimes treated as equally dangerous as excessive sexual indulgence in unnatural ways. The sexual vitality of men is portrayed as limited, while the sexual energy of women is viewed as boundless. Men are encouraged to control ejaculation to preserve this vital energy, but women are encouraged to reach orgasm without restriction. Taoists believe that a man may increase and nourish his own vitality by bringing a woman to orgasm, thereby “activating” her energy and attuning it with himself. This is considered to be of benefit to both.

Some of the many tenets of Taoism are the concepts that “- force begets force – one whose needs are simple can fulfil them easily – material wealth does not enrich the spirit – self-absorption and self-importance are vain and self-destructive – victory in war is not glorious and not to be celebrated, but stems from devastation, and is to be mourned – the harder one tries, the more resistance one creates for oneself – the more one acts in harmony with the universe (the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things), the more one will achieve, with less effort – the truly wise make little of their own wisdom for the more they know, the more they realize how little they know – when we lose the fundamentals, we supplant them with increasingly inferior values which we pretend are the true values – glorification of wealth, power and beauty beget crime, envy and shame – the qualities of flexibility and suppleness, especially as exemplified by water, are superior to rigidity and strength; – everything is in its own time and place – duality of nature complements each other, instead of competing with each other, like the two faces of one coin as one cannot exist without the other – the differences between male and female, light and dark, strong and weak, help us to understand and appreciate the universe – humility is the highest virtue – knowing oneself is a virtue – envy is our calamity, overindulgence is our plight – the more you go in search of an answer, the less you will understand – know when it is time to stop and if you do not know, then stop when you are done.”

Taoism has served for centuries as a platform for personal growth and as an “escape” from important but ultimately irresolvable questions about social structures. By its very nature of emphasising integrity, authenticity, and relaxed, attentive engagement with the world, Taoism generally refrains from trying to influence political or social institutions. The political side of Taoism holds that the best model for government includes a ruler who rules according to few restrictions and directions as possible, and simply guides the populace away from want and turmoil. Chinese political theorists influenced by Laozi, have advocated humility in leadership with a restrained approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons, or for tactical purposes. In a different context, various anti‑authoritarian movements have embraced the Laozi teachings on the power of the weak. For instance, “As to dwelling, live near the ground. As to thinking, hold to that which is simple. As to conflict, pursue fairness and generosity. As to governance, do not attempt to control. As to work, do that which you like doing. As to family life, be fully present”. When Laozi spoke about, “As to governance, do not attempt to control”, he did not mean that Tao holds social forms to be meaningless or without merit, but simply believes that conscious efforts to control people and events are counterproductive.

Overall, Taoism refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts, which have influenced East Asia for over two thousand years, some of which have spread to the west and whether Laozi was the founder or not, today, Taoism is one of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Taoism has never been a unified religion and is rarely an object of worship, but rather consists of numerous teachings based on various revelations. Therefore, different branches of Taoism have very distinct beliefs, but there are still certain core beliefs that all the schools share. These are called the Three Jewels of the Tao, compassion, moderation, and humility, which emphasizes that a human being may gain knowledge of the universe by understanding them self. The Three Jewels are also translated as kindness, simplicity (or the absence of excess), and modesty.

 

Buddha               http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3313/3251271485_bd37ac1b02.jpg

Confucious         http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3122/3142393525_0d8491cb1b_m.jpg