As social relations become vertical, it influences the development of religion and politics, giving us, you guessed it, vertical religion and vertical politics.
In Wandering God, Morris Berman writes:
“… under what would become the stress and insecurity of Neolithic life, what is a natural spiritual life — love of the world as it presents itself — moves aside to make way for the shaman, for ecstasy, myth, ritual, charisma, and in general, vertical religious experience. The fear of death that is generated by that life, and the altered child-rearing practices that often accompany it, make transcendent solutions (and explanations) increasingly attractive.”
As the till-plant-harvest process ramps up, more people start living in smaller areas, sharing their living quarters with domesticated animals. This closeness creates a utopia for ambitious germs that spread their germ-y self all over the place.
This contributes to disease and food insecurity. In short, the world becomes filled with uncertainties.
And here we have our motive. “(T)ranscendent solutions (and explanations)” become “increasingly attractive.” Vertical religions and their necessary sidekicks, vertical politics, build up those explanations.
Existential awareness — that mundane experience we all take for granted — had dramatic historical effects. Morris Berman explores some of these effects in his book Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality.
Who are nomads? What is their spirituality and consciousness like? How does it differ from more sedentary cultures? What role did it play (and what role might it continue to play) in the evolution of human consciousness?
Berman hints at an answer for the role of nomadic spirituality when he writes of his personal motivations:
“Years of body work and meditation led me to believe that paradigm zeal is rooted in a denial of our somatic experience. Emotions, often painful, live in the body; paradigm-shift addiction (like substance addiction) enables us to escape these emotions and live in our heads. Carl Jung and the transpersonalist’s (…) call for a renewed spirituality only went so far, in my view; clearly, we needed a renewed corporeality if we were not going to repress the body and fall into the trap of a new mythology, make a fetish out of our supposedly new spirituality.”
A lot of painful emotions that live in our body can be traced back to the dawn of existential awareness. It’s here that we’ll start off.
The pace of biological evolution makes paint drying on a wall seem like NASCAR, so not a lot of noteworthy stuff occurs until we arrive at anatomically modern humans in East Africa 200,000 years ago.
Although slowness still reigns, it picks up a bit 70,000 years ago when the Cognitive Revolution begins. This is one of three major revolutions that Yuval Noah Harari details in his comprehensive book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
“The Cognitive Revolution is accordingly the point when history declared its independence from biology. (…) From the Cognitive Revolution onwards, historical narratives replace biological theories as our primary means of explaining the development of Homo sapiens. To understand the rise of Christianity or the French Revolution, it is not enough to comprehend the interaction of genes, hormones and organisms. It is necessary to take into account the interaction of ideas, images and fantasies as well.”
Long before Christianity or the French Revolution came, the development of language itself and the radical expansion in our ability to think and communicate came. All of subsequent history is indebted to the gifts imparted by the Cognitive Revolution. Continue reading
Delving into esoteric literature can be an overwhelming experience that prematurely sets off bullshit detectors which short-circuit one’s awareness of their own cognitive biases.
Curious enthusiasts (like yours truly) stumbling through this paradoxical maze of arcane terms, odd blabbering’s, and fantastical explanations need some sort of guide.
Johnathon Black’s The Secret History of the World is just such a guide.
This comprehensive narrative weaves together disparate strands of esoteric philosophy into something that lay folk can grok.
Black detours down the alleyways of esoterica, walking through the streets of Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborg, Egypt and more, to let the reader admire their unique form and structure before merging back onto the main road they all use. Continue reading
In keeping with the recent theme of long-term thinking and deep-time narratives, the cultural historian William Irwin Thompson (W.I.T.) sketches out a compelling mind-jazz mosaic in his article Natural Drift and the Evolution of Culture.
It provides a model for the Evolution of Consciousness over the past few million years. This is a notoriously tricky endeavor because, as Thompson writes:
“It is one thing to talk of the evolution of the small Ice Age horse shown on the walls of Lascaux to the modern long-legged race horse, but quite another to talk of the evolution of Renaissance perspectival painting into the abstract landscapes of Kandinksy and Pollack.”
Ronald Wright in his book A Short History of Progress explores how the progress that allows civilizations to grow often leads them into addictive traps that end in their collapse.
His definition of progress comes from Sidney Pollard who, back in 1968, described it as “the assumption that a pattern of change exists in the history of mankind … that it consists of irreversible changes in one direction only, and that this direction is toward improvement.”
This default assumption, so deeply ingrained in people’s thinking and ability to visualize futures, is an idea that’s only about 300 years old. Despite that, it holds us tight.
Origins of Debt
At the outset of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, anthropologist David Graeber explains that “this book is a history of debt.” Simple enough and, considering the title, quite obvious, but he continues by writing that it:
“uses that history as a way to ask fundamental questions about what human beings and human society are or could be like — what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question.”
In a wide-ranging analysis that weaves together anthropology, history and economics, Graeber looks at the origins of money, the origins of debt, deconstructs some of the myths surrounding both, and provides a 5,000+ year historical framework.
Childhood has been around forever, right?
That de-facto assumption was dismantled in the early 1980s by Neil Postman in his book The Disappearance of Childhood. “Childhood is a social artifact, not a biological category” Postman writes:
“In fact, if we take the word children to mean a special class of people somewhere between the ages of seven and, say, seventeen, requiring special forms of nurturing and protection, and believed to be qualitatively different from adults, then there is ample evidence that children have existed for less than four hundred years.”
Witold Rybczynksi was uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable with the fact that comfort was left out of his architectural education. It made no sense — but that didn’t stop them from charging far too many cents to get the diploma! Anyways that curious omission made him, well, curious and that curiosity (after killing the cat) sparked an interest and that interest grew into a book and that book charted the historical progression of one question: Continue reading