Saturday, June 05, 2004

Human Evolution and Behavior

One of the most dominant and profitable field of study involves the discovery and interpretation of human behavior. Almost every aspect of our lives revolves around understating the behavior and actions of others. Psychologists, so called psychics, even businessmen use various tools and approaches in trying to dissect the behavior of others. Some, in the guise of spiritual help, such as psychics, use the weak minded and gullible to profit out of the mystery or expectation of their subjects. Others, such as Psychologists, use certain evaluative methods and tools to dissect the inner thoughts and actions in order to help an individual become part of the mainstream norm of society. Businessmen on the other hand, use their skills and judge of character to turn a profit, in some instances, taking complete advantage of a person. Countless books always surface about the mysteries of the opposite sex, how to understand and take advantage of a given situation. However, most of human behavior can be summarized into a more cohesive subject, when taking into account our evolutionary history. We don't need psychologists or psychics to provide us the reasons for our actions.
One must first understand that almost every behavior exhibited by human beings can be easily traced back to our evolutionary background. Just because we live in cities, drive cars, listen to headphones, fly in planes, and have the technological world at our fingertips, doesn't mean that we are not the same human beings that searched the Savannah for food, migrating thousands of kilometers, always in fear of predators, obtaining the next meal, seeking shelter from the elements, etc. The biggest difference between human beings now, and those that lived 80,000 years ago is culture. We have gone through an amazing cultural evolution, as evident in such various fields as art, developing and harnessing the forces of nature, manufacturing items that ease our survival, and pretty much everything we know of today. However technologically advanced we've become, we are not far removed from our progenitors, and there has been an insignificant amount of physical evolution since.
Physical evolution has not prepared human beings for the vigors of urban life, and all the associated problems that we experience on a daily basis. Our evolutionary behavior can still often outshine the cultural behavior that we've tried hard to develop. One must understand our society in the context of the physical evolution that resulted in Modern Humans. We have in essence, evolved as a hunter-gatherer species. The male members of a given clan would often go on extended hunting expeditions to provide high caloric foods such as buffalo meat, while the females would remain at a residential encampment(even in nomadic societies, the base would remain until the whole tribal unit moved together) and gather roots, vegetables, fruits, and small animals that could have easily been trapped. This in essence is our latent character, it is these behaviors that we've spent the last few millennia fighting against. In Modern times, work functions in the same way as a hunting expedition. The difference these days is that going to work and providing for the family has ceased to become solely male, and females often participate. This complicates the behaviors and actions that our evolution has resulted in. In Paleolithic times, when men went on a hunting expedition, women were forced to take care of the children, paying a heavy burden with almost no free time available. Evolution thus helped keep a stable household (even if the household was not monogamous). Since the male spent so much of his energy hunting, and the female of gathering and rearing young, there was very little time for cheating. In fact, since most males were off hunting, females didn't even have the choice in the matter. These days however, we have become an intramural society, and the sheer economics of the world today does not allow the stratified households that humanity evolved for. The rate of divorce, unfaithfulness and general problems with relationships have widened because of our cultural evolution. There is no cure for any of the social ills that have resulted as changes in our cultural evolution have clashed with the physical evolution that is present in our species. We are still creatures of the Earth, but with a facade of civilized behavior. Exteriorly, we may seem civilized and light years beyond our ancestors, when in fact, internally, we are not far removed from the Savannah. We have thus become a walking contradiction. The greatest tool for survival that human beings have ever evolved would be our adaptability. We have spread across the globe, living in countless climactic niches, and have managed to infiltrate pretty much all ecological zones of the planet. In fact, it is our amazing adaptability that has caused the modern ills of the society that we live in.
For a more thorough illumination of this concept of adaptation and survival, please read Desmond Morris' book entitled The Naked Ape. This is the most cohesive and thoughtful book ever written about human behavior. Forget what you may think you know about psychology, because this book illustrates almost all of our current social woes, as well as our social successes. It does not trash our advancement or denigrate our species. It does not pass judgment on human behavior and actions, but instead, illustrates why we act the way we do. Remember, In order to change or even address a given subject, one must have a complete and thorough understanding of it.

Note: I am not claiming that we should revert back to pre-neolithic human ideals. The information I have presented is a direction that our cultural evolution has progressed in, and retreating to the status quo of society as it once was is not beneficial. What is important is to realize where we have come from, understand our human condition, and perhaps learn a great deal about ourselves in the process. In this moder-day, complex world, we must first understand our place within it, understand our underlying biological and cultural processes, and embrace the course of the future with greater knowledge and potential for progress.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Roots of Monotheism and the Pervasiveness of Zoroaster

There once was a force so influential in philosophy and religion that any other entity that came in contact with it was influenced in a number of ways. It was such a tenuous yet highly logical belief, something so metaphysical and ahead of its time, that within a few hundred years, countless cultures, and at least 4 distinctive religions can attest to its influence. This force as we not it today was called Zoroastrianism.
When I speak of Zoroastrianism, I am not speaking of the bastardization version that the powerful Western Persian empire implemented during the first millennium BCE. This too was a force that was influenced by the original teachings of an individual named Zarathushtra, but later, due in part to Greek influence, called Zoroaster. There are many different versions of his origins and even the place of his birth, or the region of his teachings are in contention. Most of these claims are erroneous at best, and based solely on the "tourist attraction" factor.
There are generally two main schools of thought as to the exact dates of Zoroaster's existence. The first claims that Zoroaster lived during the rise of the Achaemenid Persian dynasty (Western Persia, around 700-500 BCE), while the second places him somewhere between 1300-1100 BCE. According to linguistic scholars, the most likely scenario would probably be the latter, considering some linguistic clues I will soon explain. Unlike Socrates, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Allah, Abraham, Moses, or most any legendary religious founder, Zoroaster was actually a scholar. His written word has been passed down through the ages, and survives today in the form of the Avesta. To be more specific, the first part of the Avesta (roughly half the book) known as the Gathas. The language of the Avesta is very similar to that of an ancient Hindic script called Vedic. As with all Indo-European languages, early Persian and Hindic were related at one point. Scholarly estimates place the divergence between Persian and Hindic languages around 2000 BC. In fact, even today, Indo-Iranian/Indo-Persian is sometimes classified as one branch of the Indo-European family tree. It has also been referred to as the Aryan languages (not the same Aryan term that Hitler manipulated to fit his needs). Upon close examination, the similarity between the Vedic script and that of the Avesta is close enough, to approximately date the time of composition. As it turns out, the Avesta, especially the Gathas, can be approximately dated to about eight centuries after the divergence of the Indo-Iranian language group. Thus placing the time of Zoroaster's Gathas to about 1200 BCE, give or take a few hundred years (since linguistics isn't an exact science). Following the same train of thought, Zoroaster's origins place him in North Eastern Iran, a region called Bactria (which should ring a bell, because the two humped shaggy camels are called Bactrian camels). Bactria and Eastern India were in close proximity, and the Aryan culture spread West to East along this zone. Thus, Zoroaster's Avestan culture, and that of the Vedic Indians was closely linked.
The confusion between what I call Eastern Zoroastrianism (the original form) and the latter day Western Zoroastrianism is like night and day. In fact, Western Zoroastrianism is almost like a separate religion. Today, there are about 100,000 surviving members of the Zoroastrian religion. Half of them still live within the Western Mountains of their ancestral homeland in Iran, while most of the rest live on the Eastern Indian coast, primarily in Bombay (they call themselves Parsee). A few are scattered across the West, mainly in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and the EU. These Zoroastrians as of today, practice the Western form, and are generally oblivious to the original roots in Eastern Persia.
Zoroaster's basic assumption was that there was an all powerful and pervasive force called Ahura-Mazda/Ormizd, what we call God. In order to allow this force to permeate as much of oneself as possible, one must follow 3 main tenants in life. Good words, good thoughts, and good deeds. The struggle between good and evil was not a cosmic thing, as much as it was internal. Basically, it was a way of addressing one's struggle with their own personal demons. One must remember that Zoroaster taught this philosophy in a region that was mostly rural, divided into sects (such as priestly, orderly, etc.), and Pagan in belief. Each tribe worshipped a pantheon of deities, some familiar throughout the region, others only in certain areas. Yet, Zoroaster's persuasiveness, and reasoning, enlightened and illuminated countless groups. His teachings were not in the form of Organized Religion as we know it today, but rather as an educational and more philosophical view of life. Because of just this reason, Zoroastrian belief was tenuous at best, and although it effected almost any thought and culture it came across, the original message was lost out. Thus, Zoroastrian thought spread to Western Persia, particularly during the Achaemenid Period, when the Persian Empire rivaled that of the Greek. The Achaemenids however, were unwilling to completely alter their religious practices and thus, altered the original form of Zoroastrian thought into an organized religion. The dualism that Zoroaster taught suddenly became more pronounced and severe. Suddenly, Ahura-Mazda became associated with the solar Deity Mithra, and thus became a hybridized version of the original (he went from a metaphysical being, to object worship). This hybridized Ahura-Mazda became known as Ormizd (due to the western Dialect of the Achaemenids). The force of evil became cosmic, not just found within one's body, and was known as Ahriman (what we call the Devil). The whole purpose of Zoroastrian thought went from teaching a more productive way of life, into an organized religion. The latter form of Zoroastrian is also identified as Mazdaism. Many of the pagan deities were eventually incorporated into Ahura-Mazda, or became Angels. The deities that were feared, became associated with Ahriman, and became demonic in character. The Yannas (the second part of the Avesta), were composed during this time. The dialect and language used in the Yannas is closer to Western Persian, and the style is completely different from that of Zoroaster. The Yannas basically highlight the punishment for disobeyance and other canonical thoughts that turned Zoroastrianism into an organized religion.
Zoroaster's influence on Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism is evident upon close examination. The whole concept of Monotheism, especially the dualism, present in Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all based off of Zoroastrianism. Baptism, and the ritual use of water as a cleansing agent comes from the Zoroastrian belief that water is a purifier. Zoroastrians were very respectful of nature, particularly water, fire, mountains, and even earth. They refused to bury their dead, because they didn't want to corrupt the cleanliness of the earth. Fire and water was used ritually, and even today's Zoroastrians hold steadfast to these beliefs. Furthermore, Hinduism and Buddhism have borrowed the Zoroastrian concept of attaining perfection. Attaining Nirvana, or trying to reach "the Buddha" can trace it's origins to Zoroaster's teaching that the purpose of life is to become closer to God. Through Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds, one becomes one with the universal creator.
Even Greek thought was heavily seeded and influenced by Zoroaster. Due to Greek contact with the Persian Empire, Zoroaster's teachings reached as far as Athens. The proof is in the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. If one were to read Plato's Republic, then they will be surprised to learn that unlike most of the Greek populace, Plato spoke of only one God, in singular form. Aristotle in his writings also held this belief. It's more then just mere coincidence that when the Greek and Persian Empires began to influence each other, monotheism suddenly popped out of no where and into Greek philosophical thought.
Zoroastrianism was more then just the religion it later became, but it was a school of thought. It was a philosophy and a direction on how to lead a noble life. Unlike organized religion, Zoroaster never pushed his agenda on anyone, but reasoned with almost any person he came across. Since he was most likely from a priestly sect, considering that he was literate, it was not easy for him to level with commoners, and yet, he pressed on ahead, spreading a message that later evolved into an organized from. It was a highly tenuous yet pervasive philosophy, influencing countless religions practiced today, yet remaining for the most part anonymous. Another victim of it's reasonable and generally advanced preaching. As I've mentioned before, I'm agnostic, but the original form of Zoroastrianism is so light and pervasive, that even I have a hard time completely disavowing it. Especially considering the context of it's spread, Zoroastrianism must be regarded as the most influential and pervasive thought ever present through the course of humanity. [As an interesting analogy, to make the whole concept of Zoroastrian influence more palatable, imagine if you will, a family line of very fair skinned individuals suddenly having a very dark skinned person in the mix. The resulting generations will have certain traits, such as middle skin tones, and other such influential characteristics. Eventually however, these traits will not disappear completely but become latent. Zoroaster's teachings can similarly be compared. Zoroaster is the dark skinned individual, not literally of course, and his influence initially was felt strongly, yet in a few hundred years, his true message became muddled. His teachings went the way of the dark skinned individual's children, and grandchildren, successfully generations losing more and more of the obvious features, yet, in their genomic makeup, they will forever hold the influence of these genes]

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Religion, Evolution, and the Borrowed Template

Religion is one of the most powerful forces in a given society. It is so influential, that it almost seems like an evolutionary necessity. Why is it that so many people, perhaps 98%, invest their time and effort in a belief structure that at best is a mythical representation, and at worst can lead to countless wars and quite possibly the extinction of a society? The obvious answer is that religion is a force that binds a given society together, preventing any loss of social identity. Religion in essence is a pan-societal factor. Just as language, dress, music, even choice of cuisine reinforce a society, religion provides yet another common ground between various different individuals.
When one analyzes any pan-societal factor, they must first understand the prehistoric and evolutionary reasons for such a powerful force. Human beings are essentially the same creatures that existed 100,000 years ago in Africa; motivated by an irresistible urge to keep moving and exploring. We are physically identical to those early humans who hadn't yet lived in cities, or domesticated animals, mastered agriculture, or developed metal production. Those early hunter-gatherer humans were composed of small wondering bands, in a clan-based social hierarchy. Evolution provided humans with the tools to strengthen and socially bind each small clan together. The larger ones numbers, the more strength, and less stress each individual in the clan would have. As long as resources were abundant enough, people were happy and more then willing to serve beliefs that reinforced and identified their bond. In fact, it was an evolutionary necessity to find commononalities and pan-societal factors. Artwork such as cave painting, rock carving, tattooing, ornamentation, and other such aesthetic bonds were a method in which a clan could have formed a social identity. An example from today's world, would be gangs. They are like the early clans, each having a strong self-identity, whether it's the color of their bandanas, or the hand signals, or any number of identifying factors. In this context then, it's not difficult to see religion as a social binding force and an early necessity for self-identification.
Religion works great as a force of social identification. It's a belief structure that each member can follow, and share with one another. But unlike mythology, religion is taken far too seriously. Mythology was once religious in nature as well, and only through the course of history, can one look back and laugh at the irrationality of people (without realizing their own irrational beliefs). We now look at Greek Mythology, and find it amusing that their pantheon was composed of gods who had such "flawed" human characteristics. They were vengeful and spiteful, highly jealous, and sometimes truly enjoyed causing a complete mess. They were constantly meddling with people and really enjoying it. They not only drank, but ate, slept, laughed, had sex, played music, and pretty much enjoyed life to the fullest. However, as society developed and advanced, it evolved to embrace highly metaphysical concepts. The gods were not identified as flawed humans, but as flawless beings (or being, in monotheistic thought). They now lived in a metaphysical realm that was far different from the physical world that we know. Instead of living on the top of the highest mountain (such as mount Olympus) they now resided in a metaphysical world called heaven, out of reach for a corporeal body. In some religions, the idea of deities all together was shelved, and instead, the purpose of existence became to reach fulfillment. In Buddhism, the whole purpose of existence is to attempt to attain a state of perfection. Hinduism also has similar concepts involving the attainment of Nirvana.
In current matters of religion, there is a wide rift developing between those who follow their beliefs literally, to those who take it half serious and in vague terms called spirituality, and the minority who have completely distanced themselves from any concept of it. I for one am in great conflict as to where I stand in this matter. I definitely don't fall in the serious religious category, but I am grateful to religion in some ways. I am Christian by birth, my denomination being Armenian Apostolic (similar to Orthodox Christianity), and I'm very grateful for the church. It has helped preserve the Armenian culture and given us a social identity. Without such a strong cultural influence, we would have become islamized. Armenia is located in the middle of the silk route on the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It has been a source of contention since time immemorial. Countless cultures have come and gone through Armenian land, yet the general social unity remained, due in part to religion. Before Christianity, Armenian pagan religion was a strong enough force to outlast invasion, however, something more powerful and culturally invasive would be needed to outlast the modern era (after 1 AD). Christianity thus became such a force, binding and strengthening the ties of Armenians. This force was further strengthened, when a unique literary alphabet was created to assist with the religious literature. Armenia in fact was the first nation to adopt Christianity (301 CE). Although persecuted and tormented, especially during Muslim rule, Armenians remained unified, and still maintained a cohesive culture, due in no small part to Christianity. For this, I am grateful, but I can't take religion so literally.
The Bible as I see it is mythology at it's most absolute. It was long assumed that Christianity had it's roots in Judaism due in part to the adoption of the Old testament (which is completely Jewish mythology). However, one must not forget that Judaism itself borrowed many concepts from Zoroastrianism. Monotheism itself, the God that Christians, Muslims and Jews believe in, evolved from the Zoroastrian God Ahura-Mazda. I will speak more about the Zoroastrian religion in another essay, but for now, suffice as it is to say, Judaism not only has some roots in Zoroastrian thought, but also borrows heavily from Sumerian and general Mesopotamian beliefs. Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, and many other such concepts are not rooted in Judaism but instead, in Sumerian religion (mythology as we call it now). In fact, the world was shocked when fragments of cuneiform tablets were discovered in what is now Iraq, that attested to the earliest flood stories. As it turned out, this belief was so pervasive in the Middle East, that one such group, even after relocating, maintained these multiple stories (the Biblical Jews) and eventually abridged them into just one legendary feat by a man named Noah. Even the Mountain of Ararat that is so oft mentioned, was not anywhere close to the Biblical Jews. If the story of the flood was a creation on the Levant (the region that extends from along the Eastern Mediterranean coast), then perhaps Mount Lebanon would have a been a better choice, since it clearly was the highest mountain near. However, the very fact that the Mountains of Armenian, and Ararat are mentioned attests to the fact that it was closer to a Sumerian myth, since the life giving waters of the Tigris and Euphrates (which supported Sumerian society) have their source in Armenia. The flood myth in essence is an analogy to the start of civilization. Just as the story of Adam and Eve is an analogy to the beginnings of humanity, the flood myth is the pre-cursor to civilization. This is another concept I will delve into later.
Finally, as one can see, even the strongest of religions has been influenced and borrowed concepts from another. Each religion is a borrowed template from a thought that has existed before it. We have reached a global point now, to understand that even though religion is a unifying cultural force, we can finally start to distance ourselves from it. Cultural identity does not have to be based solely on religion. I am, and will always be an agnostic. I am not an atheist, because I am not even sure on whether existence is based solely on our corporeal life. I think being atheist itself is as extreme as being religious. Since there is no way to prove or disprove of any metaphysical concepts, it's best to be willing to admit to ones ignorance and play it by ear. As I always tell the Jehova's Witnesses, I'll wait till I'm dead, then I'll tell you who was right. This is the philosophy that anyone with a religious disagreement should follow.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A question of Semantics

There are many words in the English language that have such a heavy connotative meaning, but when used improperly, are useless. These words are used so often and become so casual, they lose all meaning and cease to become powerful.
One of the most over-used and improper phrases is the term Anti-Semitic. This phrase is used so often, at so many people, that it has ceased to carry the weight it once may have had. Anti-Semitic is a control term, a term used to bully people into believing a certain ideology, when the term in itself is just ridiculous. When a person criticizes the Israeli government, its policies, or its politics, they are branded anti-Semitic. If one states a true fact such as the majority of the Media and finances are run by Jews, or that Jews in government are highly over-represented when compared to their number in the population, they are regarded as anti-Semitic. First, it's helpful to dissect the term anti-Semitic. A Semite is a person who's background is generally Middle Eastern. Groups such as Arabs, ethnic Israelis, Assyrian's and Druz' are all considered Semitic people. Thus, the term anti-Semitic as associated with only Jews is incorrect, when in reality, any discrimination towards the Semitic groups mentioned can be considered anti-Semitic. Another very important concept to understand is that not all Jews are Semites. In fact, the majority of Jews are of European descent, and not originally from the Middle East. A statement made by an Arab against a Jew being called anti-Semitic sounds as strange as if an Englishman calls a Spaniard anti-European.
Once one understands that most Jews are not Semites, and not all Semites are Jews, then we can begin to discuss the objective truth. There is no such thing as being anti-Jewish (which is the term I shall use from now on), when one discusses their displeasure with Israeli policy. In fact, there are very few people in the world that can look at Israel's conduct and agree with the heavy handed tactics used. Also, the claim that Israel is a Democracy or a free society is absurd. Israel is as much a democracy as South Africa was during Apartheid. If one would try to understand the plight of non-Jews in Israel, then the state policies would be all but evident. How many supporters of Israel have ever talked to the minority Christian populations, Palestinian, and non-Palestinian alike. For at least 3 decades now, Israel has put more and more pressure on churches and mosques within its borders. They have instituted unfair practices in which they raise the price of land or rent for non-Jews, and when it's sold to Jews, the price comes back down to normal. The truth behind the facade is that Israel has a highly stratified and caste society. The people at the top are the Ashkhenazi Jews (European descended, especially from Russia), they are the most militant and hawkish. Below the Ashkhenazi are the Israeli Jews, and below them on the caste system are the American Jews (those that have moved to Israel from America). Following this, there are the Ashkhanazi Jews married to Sephardic Jews(those Jews with roots in Spain who actually have Semitic blood), and below this, are the Sephardic Jews themselves. On the lowest rungs are the Christians, Muslims, and Druz'. If you do not believe any of the statements made here, please find the time to talk to any of the lower groups, especially the Christians and Muslims. The justification for this nationalistic and stratified society is that Israel is a refuge for all Jews so that events such as the Holocaust can be prevented. Now in theory, this may seem like a sound idea, but in practice, the ethnic cleansing and the heavy-handed tactics used to achieve the intended results all but encourage dissatisfaction, resentment, and anger. Israel can act on its own accord, with no regulation. Unlike most countries on Earth, Israel can pretty much do as it pleases, and the worst they get might be a mockingly half-serious rebuke from the US government. However, the amount of money invested in Israel by the American Government is in record proportions, yet there is no authority to control this spending. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal, yet they get away with it, due to "nuclear ambiguity". This is just another play on semantics to allow Israel to receive foreign aid. A country that has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, yet has an arsenal in excess of 200 nuclear warheads is not a joke. I mean, think about it objectively, how ultimately outlandish can a country be. Yet, these policies run unchecked because any possible criticism of Israeli policy is branded as anti-Semitic. Disliking Israeli policy does not make one anti-Jewish. In fact, there are many Jews who are appalled at the policies instituted by the Israeli government.
A question of semantics indeed. Words can have such an overwhelming influence over thought that the whole world can be bullied over a simple misnomer such as the phrase anti-Semitic. Absolute truth is the formula for a thorough understanding of the world that we live in. When this truth is shaded before our eyes, and the facts of history are altered, or words are played with in such a manner as to influence thought, then this in effect destroys all that we strive for (excluding politicians, since they purposely implement measures to change the course and direction of history for their malicious benefit).

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Democracy, Tyranny and Communism

Many of the different political ideologies that we encounter today have been around for at least 2400 years. Today, I will attempt to discuss Communism, and the Road of Tyranny through Democracy.
When Communism was first described by Marx and Engels during the mid 19th century, a great many people were astonished with their reasoning and utopian ideals. On paper, communism seemed like the greatest idea ever known to man, and thus, it started a chain reaction, that eventually led to countries adopting Marx and Engels' brand of Communism. However, when looked upon objectively, the Soviet Union, or even Mainland China isn't a full communist nation. They might be identified as communist, but they are not fully communist on paper. You still find a great social divide, with dichotomy ever present. The leader of those countries, should, in paper, not have absolute dominating control. A central government was a must, but it didn't mean that the leader had to carry an iron fist. There were some advantages to communism that we can't find in a democracy. At it's best, there was no social class, and each person's rank in society was based on merit. The nets that were cast to draw those with certain abilities in their respective fields was a large one. If one was gifted in science, they would not be left behind, but supported and even backed by the state. If another was a good with their hands and at crunching numbers, they would become architects, or engineers. Even the status and role of women didn't stop them from achieving certain objectives. For example, the Soviets had a woman orbiting space far before Americans ever sent one. I'm not saying one form of government was better, but this was the advantage of communism. However, the greatest disadvantage was the diminished role of the individual, since the state dictated everything, and had an iron grip on every segment of the population, people were feeling squeezed, unable to freely move about. Freedom is a large necessity, and in the Soviet communist ideal, freedom was sacrificed for order and efficiency.
Communism however, did not start with Marx or Engels, but surprisingly, with Plato. During the height of Greek intellectual growth, Plato taught a great many concepts, and actually wrote them down in a book. Since the Greek influence was dominating the Mediterranean region at the time, Plato's Republic had a vast following, even among the non-Hellenic states. In the Republic, Plato actually talks about communism, and the Utopian ideal. As it turns out, Marx and Engels were not geniuses, but well-read individuals who borrowed Plato's concepts, and modernized it, as well as added economics. The original idea, however, was Plato's. Plato mentions the "perfect society" in the republic. In fact, he describes all modes of government, including anarchy, monarchy, tyranny, democracy, and finally his ultimate ideal, which we now call communism. However, Plato's communism was far more influential and extreme then Marx and Engels, or the eventual adaptation of Lenin's and Stalin's. Plato's communism would be composed of 3 main orders, or in effect classes. You would have first, the soldiers, who would follow the Spartan ideal. Basically, they would all be of one class, each generation living within the same accommodations. Few amenities would be included in their homes, and they would be exclusively trained for combat and defense of the nation. Sex would be under strict control, where each couple would have to be chosen by the state, in order to produce the strongest offspring. All the children would be raised together, in one commune, without knowing who their parents were. In turn, when they became the combat generation, they would all be part of one big family, calling each other brothers and sisters, not knowing who their siblings actually happened to be. The state would then choose the couples, based on their strengths, as well as limiting the possibility of inbreeding. The second order, or class, would be that of the merchants and artisans. They would be allowed to live in relative modesty, but with certain amenities. They would be chosen from a pool of youth that showed talent in their given fields. If they were keen as a shoemaker, they would become cobblers, if they had a knack for business, they would become merchants or traders. This order would not be under such stringent control as those of the soldier class, and they would have more personal freedom. However, they would still be under state control. The third, and final order would be the philosophers. They would be the state, making the rules, and enforcing the social order within the society. They would decide on all actions of the state. There would be stringent requirements but if a child was found to have the abilities and gifts, they would be chosen and educated as philosophers. Not only excelling in matters of the state, but also in science, and mathematics, etc. One may notice however, the lack of certain groups in this society. There is a lack of artisans, no poets, painters, or singers. There is also a lack of religion, no priests, or temples or anything of the like. Although this concept may be appealing to some people, one must realize that a great deal of people need religion. Although it's not for all of us, most people could not function properly without some sort of organized religious order in their lives. Without some sort of faith and understanding that comes not out of rationality, but out of the need to believe in something, even if it may seem so irrational.
So as one can see, communism was not an invention of modern times, but has been around since at least as long as Plato, and in certain instances, before that time as well. It has been modified since Plato's extremist example, but at it's root, it remains a similar concept. Democracy has also been around since Hellenic times, and we have all learned this in secondary school, or even before that, so I won't get into details. However, I will say that Plato warned against Democracy, along with other forms of government such as monarchy, and anarchy. The dangers of Democracy, according to Plato, is that it leads to Tyranny. And his words could not have echoed any truer in our world today. Democracy reaches a point where people feel so much freedom, they are complacent towards politics. But this freedom that they feel, comes at a price, and it's the blind eye they have against their leadership. Without realizing it, an influential leader can change the course of the government and lead it straight into Tyranny. We have this in the United States today. The last few decades especially, has resulted in the strengthening of the Federal government.
The United States government, upon creation, was based on loosely associated states, that had limited federal control. Each state had more power the the federal government could have. Basically, the Legistlative branch of government, was far stronger then the Executive branch. However, through checks and balances, at one point, around the late 19th century, all 3 branches of government were relatively equal, with their checks and balances still in place. However, since Franklin D. Roosevelt, we have been headed towards a stronger central government, with weaker state and legislative control. A strong central government is not a bad thing in itself, however, when presented differently, then we are sheep with wool pulled over our eyes. Take Canada, for example, they have a strong central government, and most provinces, except for Quebec, are highly dependent on the state government (Quebec in some ways as well), but Canada does not hide the fact that they are a strong central government. Even socialized Europe, with their stronger governments, doesn't hide that fact. However, here in America, our leaders have lied to us, and trapped us between an ideology on paper, and one that goes against the constitution. Switzerland, however, is not dominated by a strong central government, nor do they claim that fact. The power in Switzerland is distributed through it's member districts, or Cantons (similar to states, but which have more power), and the president is rotated every 7 years among these cantons. Not one state has more power over the other, and the government still functions well under free enterprise and it's healthcare system. I realize that the American Model is not the same, due to the greater population, but my point being that a true federation can exist. Member states joined together, each stronger then the federal government. If our leaders can't agree to the constitution, then let them change it, and lets become socialized, similar to the Canadian model. However, they can't have it both ways, claiming to represent the people, yet going against what we believe.
As one can see, the Democracy that should be part of the American system of politics has collapsed, and become Tyranny. Bush and his gang are going against the mainstream, destroying any credibility, or what was left of it, in the world stage. They are acting unilaterally, and refusing to acknowledge mistakes. Their concept of Neo-conservatism is destroying the foundations of the constitution. They aren't part of any political party, as much as they want to associate themselves as Republicans, they spend more then any Democrat ever did. My next topic will be about the neo-conservative movement and the destruction and internal dessication of the United States. I will also propose some novel solutions.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Empathy and Oppression

Today, I would like to discuss the lack of a very important characteristic I have observed in the world today. Empathy is a very powerful force, if included as a tool in one's every day life. However, as one looks across this planet, the realization that although optimism may be the current theme, or perhaps the thirst for war and expansion pervasive in a given culture may dominate, what lacks in both scenarios is often times Empathy. One's perspective is forever changed if that person can put themselves in another person's shoes. Not many people have the capacity to try to fully understand the motivation of another, even if it's that of an enemy. Anywhere you look, countless atrocities are being committed, and yet, the ignorance of how negative an impact those can have continue, because of a lack of empathy, a lack of trying to understand another persons motivation.
As I look at the actions that the American government is taking (against our will and that of the worldwide populace), I am reminded how lacking in empathy many of the leaders and their ignorant supporters are. Now I realize, some may think, "oh empathy, what a weak word, I'd be a pussy if I thought that way", but in reality, it's what defines us as human beings. Not to say that chimpanzees or other greater apes, can't relate to such a base emotion, but at least for human beings, we can rationalize our thoughts, and force ourselves to think that way, not as an instinctual reaction, but in a thoughtful and calculating perspective.
When the President of the US, along with his cohorts of ignorance decided to invade Iraq, or when Ariel Sharon, decided to invade Gaza, I doubt they ever paused to think why the negative reaction from the people they were oppressing. Let's be honest, there is no such thing as democratic leadership, when you force your will on somebody else. This is oppression through-and-through, and no semantic dodging can say otherwise.
The Palestinians, especially through the American Media, and probably many other Western media (though not in the same extent), are portrayed as as domestic terrorists, people who are hell-bent on destroying Israel and all it exists for. What we are not being told is that many of the Palestinians are honest, educated people, trying to raise a family in an environment so unstable that the threat of death lingers constantly. The importance of this Palestinian example can be assessed with Empathy towards their cause. If one could put themselves in the shoes of a Palestinian, they would fully understand their plight. The Palestinians are stripped of everything they have, their economy is in shambles, their educational system is in ruins, they are constantly under curfew, their lands are snatched away from them, walls are being to enclose them, water is being diverted away from what fraction of territory is left. Add to this, the constant humiliation, old women and men, being stripped at checkpoints, whole families being stopped and forced to wait for hours going from one village to another, father's humiliated in front of their sons, and countless other such practices. If I was Palestinian, truth be told, I would react the same way. Most of the suicide bombers are highly educated people, some are physicians, lawyers, others undergraduates, almost all of them are highly versed, intelligent individuals. They are not sociopaths or blood thirsty killers, but people who have reached a breaking point. The most dangerous person in the world is one who has nothing.
Now, it may be hard to empathize with Palestinians, because of the difference in their situation, but as an example, imagine, especially if you're North American, that China, decides to invade. Taking America as an example, imagine that in 10 years, China, with the worlds largest standing army, and a strength of a superpower decides, that enough is enough, the world can't stand the American brand of Democracy. Instead, China will invade, and instill their own leader, because they know what's best for the American people. Now, how many American's would just sit at home and take it? All those supporters of Iraq's invasion, or sympathizers of Israel, would suddenly realize, hey, we have to attack these invading Chinese. At least, we have weapons at our disposal, the Second Amendment to the constitution provides us weapons, but imagine an Army of Chinese with automatic weapons, not much match in the suburbs. And we, would do anything to maintain our sovereignty, even if it means suicide bombing.
Although some Islamic extremists do reach the breaking point and justify their actions in the name of their religion, or in the name of Allah or whatever, it doesn't necessarily mean their religion is to blame. You can't judge a people by the religious extremists in their society. An example can be made for Christianity. Jesus never said "I bequeath my will upon you, that should thy nation have the power to control thy world, though shalt forcibly remove those that should stand in thy way". Although Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, and the rest claim it is the will of the Lord, of of how much they admire Jesus, their actions point otherwise. These people are nothing but ignorant morons. Some may have an education, and perhaps publicly they claim spirituality, but in reality, these people are cold, calculating oppressors.
If Americans realized the extent of our oppression, then we would rise up and have a revolution. I'm not talking about a revolution with arms, or maoist philosophy, but a revolution of passive resistance. Although Gandhi may be dead, his spirit lives on. Anywhere there's oppression, one must fight against it, preferably intellectually. The roots of the United States are a fight against oppression, and here we are, hundreds of years later, facing the same.
One should thus elect a leader, who not only is diplomatic, but also empathetic to the world. One who cares most and has the greatest empathy for it's own citizens, but also realizes the plight of others in the world. These kinds of leaders are scarce, and should they ever be elected, they would be gunned down in a blink of an eye. Real leaders are balancers, they can balance complex issues, without reverting to childish notions such as Good and Evil, God vs Devil, etc.
To arrive at an absolute truth then, one must strive to understand the plight of others, strive to empathize with even their worst enemy. I'm not saying that one should make friends with their enemy, survival is the most important, if it's you against your enemy, then you will fight, if you don't then you're not a successful human being. At some point, we must all stand our ground and fight, but even then, it won't hurt to take a moment to empathise and understand your enemy's perspective. It doesn't take anything away from yourself, or your cause, but it does lead to a greater understanding.
As an Armenian hearing stories of the Genocide (1915-1923) perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks and resulting in the decimation of our population and homeland, there is nothing that could justify such an event. Yet, even then, I can try to empathise and understand why the Turks did what they did. In their own limited mind-set, they thought they were preserving their culture. Their tactics were brutal and inhuman, and nothing can justify those actions, but to come to a greater understanding, one must understand their actions. The same can be said for the September 11th terrorist act. Although the truth behind it is still quite sketchy, and there are a lot of people running around trying to cover it up, the fact is that suddenly, terrorist hit close to home, and people reacted at first out of anger and fear. This is understandable, but at the same time, it's beneficial to try to understand why these group of people did what they did. Why did they terrorize the country, what caused them to attack what most people domestically consider a rather benign populace. Trying to explain it, and empathize and understand their actions, doesn't justify what they did. It just helps to arrive at a greater understanding. There are always 2 sides to everything, one man's evil is another's hero, and somebody's terrorist is another's freedom fighter or martyr. It's not easy for me to try to understand the actions of the Turks, in fact, I battle constantly with myself due to this inner conflict, but ultimately, understating both sides doesn't justify any wrongdoing, or irresponsible actions, it just helps to arrive at a greater understanding of the situation. The same can be said of the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge Massacres, Rwanda, Kosovo (even though now, the sides have turned and it's the Albanians oppressing the Serbs, which even then, it was 50/50, not just only Serbs against Albanians).
An intelligent person can understand the difference between empathy and justification. Just because one can empathize with an enemy, doesn't necessarily mean those actions of one's enemy is justified. Empathy is useful not just with one's enemy, but with anybody else in the planet. Trying to understand the plight of others isn't so difficult if one can, even for a second, place themselves in another persons shoes. At the same time, one must strive to not only empathize, but also understand the culture, read not just newsprint media, but an encyclopedia every now and then to get a full global understanding and perspective.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

First Blog -- Inquiries into why we exist.

Well, this is my first blog, and I'm finding it difficult to start from a certain organized perspective. I guess what I can do is try to include a little information on my background and perhaps the direction most of my future blogs will go.

I am an Armenian, born in Armenia, but raised in America. I currently reside in the states, but have seen enough of the world to realize how amazing the rest of the world is. Even countries that have been vilified are amazing, with great sights to see, and hospitable people. It is not the fault of the educated populace, if the leaders of their government are mindless morons. I can definitely speak for myself when I say, our leaders have gone insane, correction, they have been born insane, and remain that way. I realize this next paragraph may not be a smooth transition, but like I said, it's my first blog and please bear with the lack of organization.
The world is a very chaotic place, and there are many aspects to the world that are difficult to ascertain. Truth is that which is the most relative of all our notions. One man's truth is another man's lie, and so on and so forth. However, in reality, truth can be absolute when looked at objectively. This by far is the most difficult aspect of our lives, trying to live them according to the absolute truth, and the one that we ourselves have created.
How many truths can we deem absolute. I can think of none, because any truth can be contrary to another person's belief. This in fact is a major problem with our train of thought. Most human beings, especially me, are highly conflicted individuals. We have all seen those cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, instead of thinking about this in good-and-bad terms, it's better to think of it as our inner conflict. This conflict however, does not stay contained but spreads to our everyday lives. There are a few people, perhaps many (see, another internal conflict) that don't have this balance. They have absolute resolve, and almost no conflict within themselves. However, I have noticed that the more education and global understanding a person has, the more conflicted they are internally. After a certain point, you just aren't so sure of everything, because the worst thing that can happen, is one becoming ignorant. You can't blame someone for being ignorant if their background and socio-economic situation prevented them from gaining more education and knowledge, but the worst is a person who becomes ignorant, even with all the resources in their disposal.
Now, I realize so far, I have not been very specific with examples and such, but this alas, is the fragment of philosophy in which we speak metaphysically, and in vague terms. I will, in the course of time, reveal a great many truths, but also the conflicts that come with it. People must realize that whatever I may say, or anybody, including the President of the US, or Prime Minister of England, or even Albert Einstein during his heyday may have said, is not absolute. Opinion is just that, absolute. Opinion is not the truth, even if it's taken by some to be just so.
The Bible for example, (I won't play favorites here, or the Quran, or The Talmud, or the Yanas, etc.) is based on mythology and legend. There may be some absolute truth, but it's just a story, a fable, and yet, billions on the planet swear to this. In the case of the Bible, it's mainly Jewish mythology, which in itself is borrowed straight from Mesopotamian Mythology (Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, etc.), but presented as absolute truth. All the concepts are very vague, and yet, it's all based on faith. Faith is all that's required to render a story to be true or false, but this doesn't necessarily make it absolute truth. Nobody knows what the absolute truth is to the nature of the universe, this in itself is why I myself am an Agnostic.
Agnostic is an important word, because although it doesn't describe or categorize me, it does maintain a level of ignorance, but a level that is productive. Perhaps God exists, perhaps he does not, perhaps the universe is single in nature, or found in multiple realms, of for those of you who know the Ekpyrotic theory, the universe may be one of 2, found in a 5 dimensional structure, with branes moving within, and the colliding of which results in the cyclical nature. My point being, there are perhaps millions of theories as to how we are here.
The ultimate question, thus, is how is it possible that we are here, that we exist? We have all thought of it, and I'm sure even our distant ancestors (perhaps proto-humans, such as homo-erectus, or homo-neanderthalis) also thought of their place and their creation in the universe. Since then, the only thing we've come to realize is that the universe has gotten to be a whole lot bigger, and our impact a whole lot smaller in the greater course of things. Back 100,000 years ago, mankind was just leaving Africa, readying themselves, and I'm sure they thought of their immediate surroundings as the universe, created by who knows what kind of mythical being, and supported on any numerous kind of animal, perhaps an elephant's back, or other such notions. As you fast forward 100,000 years, we now know that the universe in itself, is far older then we once even could have imagined, far larger then our imagination can take us, and far more complex, yet far simpler then we can fathom. We are just simple creatures in this ordinary planet, in this ordinary segment of the ordinary galaxy of an extraordinary universe (unless even our universe is just ordinary, which it may just be). So in effect, our existence is what unified all human beings, along with the answer to why we are here. Some may try to rationalize it through religion or spirituality, other's through science, and some even try to find a heterogeneous theory, mixing the two together. Yet, we are all trying to arrive at one point, and that is understanding why we are here. That is why no single person is any more important than another. Yet, we all have our variances, cultural, personal, professional and this adds to quite a colorful world.
In closing, this blog is one that is not a conclusion in itself, but opens up so many modes of inquiry, that it can continue for years to come. The absolute truth to why we are here, is ultimately unknown, and perhaps may never be fully understood. Even the fact that we are here, can be contested, because if you're a nihilist, then you may think, our existence is essentially nothingness, it's just a random virtual illusion to a dead universe (or whatever is the ultimate harbinger of existence). Sometimes, especially if I'm feeling pessimistic, I do think about this particular view, and it has it's benefits and refinement.
Well, don't try to dissect everything in one sitting, and perhaps you can dwell on the existence of the universe, and our place in it, as countless numbers of our forbearers have and yet end up back where you started from.
Through the course of my future blogs, I will try to really be cross cultural, as you may have already guessed, I live in America (thus the fact I don't write in Queen's English, although if this blogs being read after Queen Elizabeth II's death, then you may call in King's English), but I am not just an American, but a person of this planet, a product of this blue-green gem in the middle of this chaos we call a universe. So bear with me, as I try to reach out for whoever may read this, be it Americans, Brits, Russians, Chinese, Armenians, Papua New Guinans, or whoever. This blog will be universal, and as usual, I will try to be my objective self, and like I said earlier, this may not be absolute objectivity, but I will try to reach as close to it as I can, even if it's sprinkled with some subjectivity.