Nomads and the Paradoxical Alternative: A Wandering God Review (Part 4)

Nomads are the acrobats of history who balance between:

  1. The perception of paradox and the perception of the Sacred Authority Complex.
  2. The practice of mature ambiguity and the obsessive need for certainty.
  3. Our “mobile genetic heritage” and our sedentary present.

Nomads are not part of the horizontal world of Paleolithic cultures. Nor are they part of the vertical world of sedentary cultures. They exist somewhere in between.

This in-between existence causes tension. This tension centers around movement.

The mobile lifestyle of nomads clashes with the sedentary lifestyle of agriculturalists. In his book Wandering God, Morris Berman writes that, for nomads:

“Their deepest value is freedom, which is underwritten by movement; on this view, to stay in any one place would be little better than imprisonment. As for sedentists, they have been peculiarly obsessed with getting nomads to stop moving. (…) It is not, then, merely raiding that is the source of sedentary animosity towards nomads; on a deeper level, it is movement itself.”

Lets focus in on these two worlds.

Nomads and The Horizontal World

The word “nomad” first comes into history through Sumerian records around 2600 BCE. At this time we’re deep into the agricultural revolution and we’re at the beginnings of historical civilization.

These civilizations are an abrupt shift from their Paleolithic predecessors.

The predecessors make a living largely though gathering (primarily) and hunting (secondarily). Some tend to small gardens when they stay in one area for long enough.

Life in all its social, political, and “spiritual” dimensions, is horizontal.

But things change.

Nomads and The Vertical World

This horizontal way of life begins to tilt in times of stress.

The practice of storage gains traction in some hunter-gatherers. Aggressive subgroups within those start to manage resources and gain power for brief periods of time.

These brief periods of time lengthen as stresses like climate change and population growth pile up. Cities grow, diseases spread, and people settle down.

As people become more sedentary, movement — which is the “physiological basis of the paradoxical experience” — ceases to be so important. The perception of paradox loses the mechanism by which it becomes embodied.

Life, in all its social, political and spiritual dimensions becomes vertical.


Nomads and the Perception of Paradox

Google tells us that a “Nomad” is a “member of a people having no permanent abode, and who travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock.” Nomadic people’s often fall into 3 groups: hunter-gatherers, pastoral nomads, and peripatetic nomads. A comprehensive list can be found at wikipedia. If your interest continues, check out the work of Anatoly Khazanov.

For our purposes however, “Nomad” means the heir to a spiritual legacy.
This is the legacy of paradox that stretches back to Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. It contrasts with the Sacred Authority Complex, which is the legacy of the sedentary agriculturalists.

As Morris Berman writes:

“Nomadism is the attempt to restore paradox to the center of human consciousness, a perception that got lost in the shift to a sedentary way of life. It recognizes that sedentary civilization cripples us emotionally, in consequence of the damage it does in social, psychological, and even physiological terms, and nomadism seeks the wholeness and integrity that we had prior to the constellation of narcissism and dependency fostered by political hierarchy and the sacred authority complex.”

It is attempt fraught with the burdens of history. Nomads come with a “complicated baggage of (sometimes) vertical religious belief and (often) war and aggression” as Berman writes.

This results in the fact that “with nomads, we don’t get paradox in an unsullied form; some nomadic experience even contradicts it. And yet the nugget of paradox remains and gets passed on as a spiritual legacy, a memory of the ‘uncertain’ life.”

This “nugget of paradox” is what we’re concerned with

Why Paradox?

Why is re-establishing the perception of paradox worthwhile?

Isn’t this a “going back” in time? A sort of romantic naivety that seeks a simpler time? Are you going to de-civilize civilization? Pull apart all our cities and religions? Restart the march of Time at some imagined Eden 20,000 years ago?

(Question Mark.)

Although some might dream of this, the reality would bring enormous destructive. We are where we are and need work from here.

Where we are however, is in a world “caught up in a consciousness that has its origins in the SAC as the source of truth.” It’s instructive to be aware that the SAC is one source of truth, not the only source.

Reintegrating the perception of paradox into our lives is a way of broadening our understanding of truth. Also it helps in mitigating some of the problems that arise when the SAC becomes the only source of truth.

One source for those problems lies in the immature certainty that comes from elaborate world-views. A mature ambiguity that grounds itself in immediate world-presence helps balance this.

“In the nomadic world, the tent is not tied to a territory but to an itinerary. Points are reached only to be left behind. The road to truth is always under construction; the going is the goal. (…) Life is dictated by content rather than form.”

We will pick this strand up in the next post.