Todays’ world seems flooded with contempt. What happens when a society rejects people and ideas based on reaction rather than reason? When credentials, emotion, tradition, culture, appearance, and other persuasive and inflammatory means are used to destroy groups, people, families, cultures, and so forth and so on through distortion, rhetorical flourish, “comic” routines, and outright incitement “lock her up”?
Valid charges are unheard, truth becomes unimportant, polite discourse fades into bellicose rhetoric, anger, and violence as groups clash while invalid charges are heard, lies become important, and those failing to adopt the “group think” are punished. Overall, the guilty prosper and the innocent suffer. That’s what happens when might and influence prevail over right reason and compassion. This is our world. It has been our world for well over 2,000 years, as those who study history, notably Livy and Josephus, will know.
We could take a few notes from Aristotle, specifically his The Art of Rhetoric, and consider that the purpose of many things is to persuade people, not to prove facts. To create rationale for someone to vote or for a juror to have doubt or for a juror to be enflamed, or for you to buy a product! These are not necessarily fact based rational arguments and can run contrary to the truth as Aristotle briefly laments.
Most people perhaps not having read much ancient literature will find it incredulous that Aristotle teaches us about the modern world, so a segue seems necessary to make the point and open the discussion. In that segue, regarding Immanuel Velikovsky and Citizen then Candidate Donald Trump, let’s not be concerned with whether parties are correct or incorrect but, rather, with the methods of rejection.
To be sure, these examples do not fairly represent the myriad cases where people have been vilified and demeaned for having reported rape, sexual abuse, discrimination, and other atrocious crimes and acts of mistreatment. They do, however, give us insight into some of the ways that the irrational is used to invalidate and suppress the rational, methods that are quite similar, and even form, perhaps, a common bond between the left and right: irrational means of influence.
The human mind and how it reacts to information and influence from people whom we know, groups, leaders, and even facebook friends is incredibly complex and unique to each of us as we’ve developed skills, gained through formal, informal, autodidactic, and “school of hard knocks” educations. We are all biased in many ways, and we must accept this fact, for it is demonstrably true through endless repeatable experiments down to age 3 or so. This means that we can scarcely understand our own selves much less other people, but we should at least try, shouldn’t we? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Some things we cannot understand because they are a different realm of mental experience. For instance, my father died of Alzheimer’s disease which is always fatal if an opportunistic disease like pneumonia or some accident does not take the patient’s life before the brain disease does. When dad first became symptomatic, I did a lot of research to help my step mother and sisters deal with the situation as best they could, as best anyone can. I suppose the bottom line is that, once the patient’s mental function makes it unsafe for them to wander around alone or drive, the best thing we can hope for is that they are neither anxious nor angry because their perception is gradually and radically altered in ways that are custom to the individual but have broad brush impacts.
It is wise, for instance, to use plain dinner plates that stand out distinctly from the table and table cloth to avoid the patient’s frustration that the plate or the table cloth is not food. Many experience “sun downers” where the light to dark transition brings on anxiety every day, best warded off by closed window blinds and lots of light. We cannot understand their mental processes, corrections are of no use, and hard though it is, we have to live with that and hope that their experiences are not full of fear and anxiety as they often are. Dad was spared all of that, and his decline was very interesting as his memories of bad things he’d done changed as if past sins were being erased in divine forgiveness. I have seen the devastating results, in real time, of patients who suffer from anxiety and feel threatened every by their own children. It’s not the care or the people, it’s the disease.
I write that because in ways we’re going to be talking about our ability to enter the minds of others. To be clear, Alzheimer’s destroys mental function as it destroys the brain; it’s a complex physical phenomenon, a disease without a specific known cause or cure, and is in no way normal for those who age. Our issue, the death of reason in our time, does not involve mental disease or defect but does involve similar broad-brush characteristics. And when people have a different thought process, different worldviews, different cultural norms and stories, we cannot enter their minds and understand them. In some measure, we must accept this, like my father. Not every difference needs to be argued, and not every error needs correction. But we must also understand that our views of the world have recently changed as the post-modern world has become today and the modern world has been replaced. Not everyone has been through the journey or even understood that a transition was in progress.
In the modern world, we thought we knew or would know everything. In the post-modern world, many think we know next to nothing. As part of that transition, our reliance on established experts in various fields has come into question, and for good reason. Our world has experienced many cases where the experts were wrong, or at least were misunderstood, and this has lead to mistrust and interesting challenges. Moreover, dealing with the institutionalized cover-ups of sexual abuse, rape, and seemingly on without measure has badly broken our trust in institutions and experts of all sorts and across the political divide.
That modern post-modern transitional conflict has unveiled instances of the established order strongly rejecting outside voices without even considering the possibility that accusations or “out of the box” thoughts might be worthy of consideration; some people have been abruptly dismissed as unqualified to have an opinion. Yet justice demands that accusations be validated and heard and disruptive innovations, out of the box breakthroughs, are essential to our future, and ideas that cross fields should be evaluated. On the other hand, not every idea is worth serious contemplation, so how do we decide and how should we decide?
Note I’ve said “accusations be validated” and “out of the box” thoughts might be worthy of consideration. I’ve not said that all accusations merit investigation or all thoughts are worthy of consideration. Since I’m going to talk a lot about rational thought, perhaps we should tend to that right now.
Other then being a near homophone for rational, the two words are quite different. A rationale is a statement of the reasons for an action or belief. Those reasons need not be rational at all, and humans are not, in large measure, constrained by rational thought processes. Even serial killers have some motive, some reason, for their crimes, so let’s be sure to keep the terms rationale and rational separate as we go forward.
Rational decisions are those that are based on objective evidence, objective analysis of risks, and objective analyses of opportunities. No one is entirely rational, and to be so would be to spend endless time on trivial matters, as I did in selecting my last computer which was no longer being made by the time I selected it. Rats.
There are several important facets to rational decision making. Firstly, one must be willing to admit that one can be and often is wrong, that one is not the smartest human in the room: humility is essential, as is some good old fashioned bombastic delivery from time to time. Secondly, one must be willing to seek advice where one lacks the skills or evidence from which to craft a rational decision, so the oracle at Delphi speaks loudly to us: know thyself! Know what you know and what you don’t know.
That which is rational is at its best when based on direct evidence and analyses that can be reviewed by objective peers in the light of day. In addition, the motivation of reviewers must be taken into account to validate objectivity. That is, the reviewers must be loyal to the truth and rational decision making, not to pressures from their leadership, their group, and so forth. They must have a fiduciary responsibility to the agreed objectives of which the decision to be made is a part, and to the truth. Failing that, they can be heard but credibility is in doubt.
Credibility is the primary target in the many cases of institutional rejection of persons. If, for instance, a study showing glowing results is completed by the company selling a product, a drug for instance, we seek independent (of that company’s influence) confirmation. If, on the other hand, attempts to tarnish credibility involve one’s station in life, one’s gender, one’s personal affairs such as one’s sexual orientation or sexual promiscuity, and so forth, such smears tactics should not be allowed until or unless the accusations can be rationally (objectively) linked to the veracity of the claims being made. Likewise, with interlopers from one field to another, rejection must not come from haughty outrage due to the interloper’s bravado in looking into another field but, rather, a hearing of what they have to say to determine, objectively, if there is any merit in it. Then disputes can be made through rational discourse and not character assassination or claims of mental incompetence.
The Velikovsky Affair
The man and his work
Born in Russia, now Belarus, in 1895, and educated in Russia and France, Immanuel Velikovsky graduated from the Medvednikov Gymnasium (school) in Moscow with a gold medal and received his medical degree from the University of Moscow in 1921. He was a polyglot and polymath, and enlisted the services of Albert Einstein in helping form the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1939 he and his family intended to spend a sabbatical year in these United States writing, but upon the breakout of World War II, they emigrated to the US.
Dr. Velikovsky, a psychiatrist by trade, took an interest, a very deep interest, in the events of early history, including biblical events such as the flood and the exodus. He postulated potential natural phenomena that could have resulted in the flood described in the book of Genesis as well as the extraordinary events in Exodus (such as the pillar of fire, the manna from heaven, the plagues of Egypt). His first pamphlet on the matter was written by about 1946, and by 1950 his first book, Worlds in Collision was published.
His theories in that monograph involve near collisions of the earth and Venus which Velikovsky postulated was a comet resulting in periodic catastrophic events on earth until it finally assumed its current orbit. He also postulates that the fly was indigenous to Venus and ended up with us as a result of these near misses. Not alone in such theories, he is described as perhaps the last of the catastrophists, most of whom use some cosmic catastrophe within the period of recorded history (roughly back to about 4000 BCE) to provide some basis for events often considered to be completely mythological such as the flood (the Bible, the Atra-Hasis myth, the Gilgamesh Epic, et al.), the Plagues of Egypt, and the Exodus.
He sought to reconcile Biblical, Akkadian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and much other ancient literature, notably Herodotus, monuments, stele, inscriptions, pottery styles, and so forth into a coherent timeline of events in his ages in chaos series of books, and also sought to explain through natural means some of the myths in these cultures. The results of his timeline studies would overturn conventional Egyptology’s stance and radically realign names and sequences of events in Babylon, Hattiland (the Hittite Empire), and so forth and so on. An incomplete list of his works is provided below. I cannot recommend reading these books although I myself am reading some of them because one really needs some mastery of the material Velikovsky uses to avoid being convinced on very thin evidence. The same can be said for many items on my bibliography list, and understanding that Gnostic Christian literature came after the Gospel according to John is the sort of thing one needs to avoid being entrapped in hopelessly anachronistic thinking.
- Worlds in Collision (1950) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-11-4) The Macmillan Company
- Worlds in Collision (1950) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-11-4) Doubleday
- Ages in Chaos (1952) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-13-8) Doubleday
- Earth In Upheaval (1955) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-12-1) Doubleday
- Oedipus and Akhnaton (1960) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-18-3) Doubleday
- Peoples of the Sea (1977) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-15-2) Doubleday
- Ramses II and His Time (1978) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-14-5) Doubleday
- Mankind in Amnesia (1982) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-16-9) Doubleday
- Stargazers and Gravediggers (1983) (new edition: ISBN 978-1-906833-17-6) William Morrow
I have read Worlds In Collison, Peoples of the Sea, and Ramses II and His time. Ages in Chaos is my current study, and I intend to complete my study of his work with Earth In Upheaval.
In World in Collision and again in Ages in Chaos the certainty of his writing, never equivocating with a might or a perhaps, makes his case too strongly. Having read most of the source material and studied also in great depth but not nearly as deep as Velikovsky has gone, it seems to me that the real problem with these theories is the notion that there must be chronological alignment with ancient literature and artifacts between interacting cultures in the first place albeit it is a valid notion and one that is used in archaeology and anthropology. That’s a soft way of saying the events in the Bible before Sennacherib and the exile of the northern kingdom (ca 700 BCE) find very little support in archaeology and Velikovsky uses the Biblical text related to events prior to those times as a guide and a strong portion of his case.
We often believe that myths have a basis in fact, somewhere. Some have used the global nature of ancient literature attesting to some kind of flood as reason to believe that such an event occurred during or proximate to recorded history. While that makes sense, we should also know that fish fossils, millions of years old, have been found in mountains across the world including in the Himalayas which could well be the source of global flood myths. In driving his points home with certainty, such alternate explanations are rarely discussed in World in Collision or Ages in Chaos. The tone softens in his later books.
I find his work piquant and interesting if for no other reason than the depth of his scholarship and the understanding of the worldviews and zeitgeist of the times conveyed by ancient writings he achieves in attempting to show them to be temporally coincident is breathtaking, and the dissertations on ancient history as it is written regardless of his conclusions and stretches to equate names and create parallels are worth reading for those interested in history. In some things, he’s probably right, but a catastrophe with Venus and perhaps Mars in ca 2000 BCE and a 500-600 year realignment of Egyptian Chronology is simply not supported and creates more problems than it solves.
Affair, defined by one Oxford source as “an event or sequence of events of a specified kind or that has previously been referred to” as it relates to “The Affair”, involves the treatment of Velikovsky and his work by academia, publishers, and notable critics. I know people of my age, nearly 60 as I type, who openly laugh at me for even reading Velikovsky, and worse they seem to think that merely reading a man’s works, a man of good character and no crimes, is tantamount to alliance with some despotic cabal. The reaction of academics in the fields of Astronomy, notably Carl Sagan, and Archaeology was quite similar, although few detailed rebuttals were made. In other words, his notions were rejected out of hand with no consideration whatsoever perhaps simply because he was not a member of the appropriate clubs to be postulating what he did; he was beneath even contempt. Let’s hear some of what Dr. Velikovsky had to say:
“But I found that the arguments presented in that book [Worlds in Collision] were not given a careful hearing, or even reading, particularly by those who protested the loudest. Would it help to produce in haste still more evidence? In my inner council on strategy, I decided to tarry no longer with Ages in Chaos, my opus magnum.” Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos, Forward, page vi.
“It is quite conceivable that historians will have even greater psychological difficulties in revising their views and in accepting the sequence of ancient history as established in Ages of Chaos than the astronomers had in accepting the story of cosmic catastrophes in the solar system in historical times. Indeed, a distinguished scholar, who has followed this work from the completion of the first draft in 1942, expressed this very idea. He said that he knows of no valid argument against the reconstruction of history presented here, but that psychologically it is almost impossible to change views acquired in the course of decades o reading, writing, and teaching. …” ibid, p vii
“Should I have heeded the abuse with which a group fo scientists condemned Worlds in Collision and its author? Unable to prove the book or any part of it wrong or any quoted document spurious, the members of that group indulged in outburst of unscientific fury. They suppressed the book in the hands of its first publisher by threat of boycott of all the company’s textbooks, despite the fact that when the book was already on the presses the publisher agreed to submit it to the censorship of three prominent scientists and it passed that censorship. … The guardians of dogma were, and still are, alert to stamp out the new teaching by exorcism and not by argument, degrading the learned guild in the eyes of the broad public, which does not believe that censorship and suppression are necessary to defend the truth. And here is a rule by which to know whether or not a book is spurious: Never in the history of science has a spurious book aroused a storm of anger among members of the scientific bodies. But there has been a storm every time a leaf in the book of knowledge has been turned over.” ibid, pp vii-viii
Velikovsky was excoriated and anathematized for daring to criticize the timelines of conventional Egyptology and other near eastern histories. His basis is artifacts, perhaps taken out of context, perhaps mistakenly interpreted, and perhaps over reliant on the integrity of the Biblical timeline and events, but the breadth and depth of his work certainly shows that it is not a crack-pot conspiracy theory to be dismissed. On the other hand, the catastrophic elements involving celestial mechanics may indeed be wild eyed, but no more so than Chariots of the Gods? or any number of similar pet theories that have made interesting literature over the course of our time.
Taking Academics off of the whipping post for a moment, I do understand the quandary created by works like this, I run into this as a chief engineer on a program that’s been around for decades myself. The fact that someone writes books (papers in my case) and draws conclusions will have discommoded lectures, have required time to respond to things that academics found absurd, and it is infuriating when some stupid theory takes off and will not die. One is forced to respond to the same questions over and over, and one is tempted to be quite angry about it because one becomes defensive and feels that the questions, which one perceives as attacks, are without merit. But, at least in my business, we no longer crush ideas by seniority and tenure. We respond to them with objective evidence, our opinion, our analysis, and attempt to respectfully come to consensus, sometimes requiring an independent arbiter (quality in my case). I admit when I’m wrong, and that’s more often than I like, but admitting to being wrong actually strengthens credibility in our time. This change is part and parcel to the modern post-modern shift, and it is a good change if you ask me.
THE TRUMP AFFAIR
Forging the Candidate
Having opined about the potential veracity of the birther “movement” (a conspiracy theory that President Obama was not US born which is of course absurd) and toyed with entering the 2012 presidential race, Donald Trump was invited to and attended the 2011 Whitehouse Correspondent’s dinner held in April of that year. President Obama attacked “roasted” Donald Trump, for 2 minutes and 30 seconds and the comic host Seth Meyers attacked “roasted” Trump for 2 minutes and 46 seconds for a total of 6 minutes and 16 seconds within a combined Obama/Meyers comedy routine that lasted 38 minutes which is to say that 16% of the routine lambasted Trump (in the video link above see Obama from 34:10-36:41 and Meyers from 56:00-58:46).
There is no doubt in my mind that Trump decided to run for President then and there as a matter of revenge. I believe that rage and vengeance led to a candidacy that amplified then Mr. Trump’s bully-like tactics with a drive to win no matter what the cost, and a joy at each criticism leading to more thoughts, words, and deeds filling the platform and the future administration with a wrecking ball mentality to dismantle those who had or were perceived to have harmed Mr. Trump, his name, and his company brand. To the surprise of none, Trump embraced the longstanding Republican complaint that the news media were biased, and certainly a press-club like the white house correspondents having been the source of such bad treatment further encouraged this tactic.
To be sure, bias in the media is a long thread. George H. W. Bush declared “Annoy the media – Re-elect president Bush” as his favorite bumper sticker during a debate leading up to the 1992 election. Pulling on that thread very strongly, and stoking it with “fake news” and broad based rhetorical (without proof) discrediting of all sources with whom he disagreed was a tactic successfully employed by Mr. Trump and, later, President Trump.
Therefore, and in a strange way, this overwhelmingly negative media and celebrity reaction to Trump actually made his campaign successful and, in my opinion, won him the election in 2016. And that’s worth some examination, especially considering the unhappy fact that I voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. Why did I vote for him in 2016? Because Hillary Clinton was openly stealing her party’s nomination continuing what I saw as pattern of lies and deceit, and our newbie, Trump, while he had bullied his way through debates was yet to fully bloom in to the corpse flower that his administration has, in my opinion, become.
Steeling the Whitehouse
The attacks on President Trump knew no honeymoon, egged on by his twitter storms and, frankly, completely incompetent staff and handling of media relationships, not to mention demonstrably false information, misleading information, and downright lies. Still, the level of attack was unprecedented and unjustified to the point that, in 2017, even President Jimmy Carter saw this as a problem, quoting a USA Today Article here: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”
This did not weaken or suppress the vigor of the Whitehouse but, as steel, tempered it with renewed ferocity increasing the breadth and depth of claims and rhetoric every time a bad report was published, many of which were, we must admit, pointedly published to embarrass or otherwise harm the administration. We were witnessing how an already vengeful man can become a tyrant for there was little else to do other than resign, and about half of the population loved it – either side of it – the attacks or the revenge, but few in the center, very few.
The men involved are drastically different, but the affairs are in many ways quite similar. They involve the politics and tyranny of destroying one’s opponents and families, their reputations, their businesses, their credibility, all that they are without countering their positions with reason. That game has been played since humans first formed groups. Racism, sexism, witch hunts, inquisitions, the holocaust, Marxist methods, propaganda, these seek much more than control, they seek destruction and elimination of competing people and ideas, even of the truth itself. That’s why I think that these affairs deserve some serious attention.
The primary comparison is that the initial source of destructive response in both cases came from the specific fields breached by the outsider. In Velikovsky’s case, that’s astronomy, astrophysics, and Near Eastern studies especially including chronology. In Trump’s case, it came from politicians, their media allies, and comedy not like the lampoon or caricature but rather like the caustic disparaging humor similar to what we see in cartoons depicting Germans and Japanese during World War II. One must not fail to observe that Candidate and then President trump used and attempted to use the same tactics against his opponents, perceived opponents, competitors, and just about anyone in public disagreement with him.
Attempts were made to eliminate Velikovsky’s ability to publish in an era where self and independent publishing did not exist and neither did social media. With Trump, social media allowed him to speak directly and, one must admit, often not helpfully to his cause. Yet to this very day the coverage of Trump and those associated with him is amazingly distorted. For instance, this week there’s been a big flurry of media coverage of Rudy Giuliani’s press conference focusing on him “sweating profusely” and “spewing falsehoods”. If one takes time to watch the conference, while he does sweat and his hair dye does appear to be in that sweat, it’s nothing uncommon for someone under hot television or stage lighting, and he is rational. I agree that what he put forth, having listened to it, is specious, but I listened to them and could counter the argument if called on.
Nothing is said to counter the argument but, rather, unrelated issues are used in an attempt to destroy the source. Whether we agree or not, the point must be to give people a hearing and not reject them because we don’t like them or the general topic. Isn’t that kind of behavior how we developed such problems with racism, with sexism, with homophobia, xenophobia? Isn’t that how Hitler rose?
The reason we’re here is to look at what happens as a result of these affairs and many like them, something I’ll call “Irrational Discourse”.
We’ve discussed the Velikovsky and Trump affairs generally from the perspective of the interloper. We see that in these two cases that the push back was not through rational discourse and at least in the Velikovsky affair the response was unjustified regardless of whether or not he is right; what is true is not being discussed. Likewise, we’ve seen that Trump’s entry into the china shop as a rather raging bull was likely fomented by his treatment before, during, and after his campaign. In this case, the arguments attempted by the Trump administration were often bluster and lacking any points over which to debate. That notwithstanding, society and particularly news and celebrity outlets treated him with enormous, unprecedented disdain.
I ask for no pity; I ask for reason to return.
IMPACT of irrational discourse
Literally harm-joy, schadenfreude is the German word for what we experience when bad things happen to a person or group that we find deserving of some sort of karma or extrajudicial justice. English lacks such a word but most other languages have one because the feeling is universal – something bad has happened yet we’re happy about it. You know, like a man holding up a clerk at gunpoint slipping on his way out causing him to fall and be rendered unconscious only to awake as the police take him away. Or the overbearing cop in high crime area pestering someone over jay walking while his squad car that he has left running is stolen. You know the feeling; we all know the feeling. It’s akin to irony, but darker.
When discourse is irrational, joyful feelings of vengeance with neither culpability nor causality become quite common. The problem is that such feelings, when they become so popular that they are openly and frequently expressed, are a form of dehumanization and bringing the comic caricature to life through the lens of mistrust and hatred spawned by conflict.
While this seems harmless enough for that robber and the jerk of a cop, when it spreads to broader groups about whom we know nothing except that they are perceived as members of a group, we’ve reached the stage where irrational views become a danger to people, regardless of which side or sides one is on. Differences become more important the commonality, gender, race, ethnicity, and so forth become important because they are differences. This must be considered and urgently. I mean, what does one think that black face was for if not to spread the message that people of color are a lesser humans.
We all experience this, it’s normal. When it involves people whose stories you don’t know, it is obscene and it has always lead to violence. Keep that in mind.
Polarization results from the inability to bridge the gap between groups resulting in unremediated differences. People think differently, come from different cultures, different belief systems, and some people really like anchovies, why I cannot imagine. Not every unremediated difference is a call for alarm or a sign of polarization. Without these differences life would be unthinkably boring.
Polarization becomes a problem when the gaps needs to be bridged in order to solve important problems, and it is most often manifest in political discourse.
Here, again, the dehumanization of the other is largely responsible for polarization. Red state, Blue State, Republican, Democrat, these elements speak narrowly of broad spectrums of people and do no service to anyone trying to build bridges. In politics, the real problem is party loyalty rather than loyalty to the electorate which the founders saw as a possibility but could not prohibit. And here we are, just as we have been almost since the start.
Throughout my life, I’ve watched the moderate get crushed by the demands of their respective parties causing me to lose respect for parties and the people who run them. But, you see, it’s not the polarization of the law makers that’s the real problem. No, it’s the polarization of the electorate based on very little data and rational thought and very much hot air. Jesus was right to say that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).
Ancient Rome came to such polarization between the Senate and the People that they could not raise an army until the enemy were literally at the gates of Rome. That same polarization led to civil wars and the irony that the assassination of Julius Caesar, an act intended to restore the Republic, led to the permanence of the empire and hereditary leadership we know as the Caesars. Our government is based on Rome. The Senate represents each state as a whole, the House represents localities (“the People” (the plebian council) in my statement above), and the President and Vice President serve at the first and second Consul.
The polarization of Rome, from the start, was the conflict between the landed aristocratic class and the common person. The problem is of course that people can be very popular “populist” yet very poor leaders. For instance, Nero was quite popular with the people. So was Julius Caesar. In the latter case, populism may have been rational. In the case of Nero, he was a despot, a matricide, a sadist, and he managed to have dinner parties with people tarred and burned alive for lighting. You see, the people experienced schadenfreude due to his mistreatment of the aristocracy, and those whom they irrationally blamed for the great fire in Rome.
We will always have differences. Some of those differences will not be rational. Polarization is what happens when too many irrational elements combine to create a vast gulf between people who have the vast majority in common.
Sycophants and Flying Monkeys
Sycophant, or literally one who shows the fig (Sykon Phainein or sykophantes in Greek) now means a boot licker in English. In Ancient Greece it described a person who would accost other people and threaten to sue them in the courts if they didn’t pay a price. A slanderer, an extortionist, a false accuser. This is the role played by the prominent objectors and critics that offer no rational discourse but, rather, simply show outrage and objection. Unlike our ancient Greek sycophantes who simply wanted a pay-off, these objectors want to suppress, erase, and destroy a person, their opinion, their work, and, usually, their families also. That’s where the impact comes in, in the form of what popular psychology calls Flying Monkeys. People are recruited to spread baseless accusations and, with social media, this can be both rapid and devastating. When did you stop beating your domestic partner, anyway?
Oddly, in popular psychology, those who enable and support the narcissist are called flying monkeys. Given that the air is filled with flying monkeys, is it fair to posit that the base problem I’m discussing is hubris and narcissism on the part of the “offended” persons? Perhaps.
The right claims that this is a Marxist tool of the left, and the left claims that this is a fascist tool of the right. Both charges are true; it’s irrational propaganda directed at people whom certain groups will find the pleasant schadenfreude when reading and passing along opinions and rumors that render the target’s credibility erased or badly damaged, their ability to do business with any level of trust badly impaired, and quite often attacks in public and death threats.
Knowledge, in Greek transcription, is Gnosis. That which depends on secret knowledge is called Gnostic, and belief systems that hinge on such secrets, whether they exist in fact or not, are called Gnosticism. Generally speaking, Gnostic sects use progressive revelation with more and deeper secrets being revealed as people attain higher ranks in the organization. Modern examples abound including the Da Vinci Code, Scientology, and to a large degree Mormonism. Conspiracy theories are often Gnostic in nature, and, indeed, real life security apparatus instantiations through classification and “need to know” are also of necessity gnostic, but that’s not a cult, it is a real and necessary security measure.
Gnosticism, if the notion of these secrets gains followers, turns into cults, our next topic. But before we get there, we should understand a little more about the base secrets.
The fundamental flaw in Gnosticism, as with ancient magic, is that there is some secret to know in the first place. It is not gnostic to observe that modern concrete is not as strong and durable as the concrete created by the ancient Romans and to later discover, only in the last decade, that the lost secret was a certain type and amount of volcanic ash. Most likely the Romans found this so common that they didn’t mention it, but it eluded us for millennia. Still, the objective evidence is that without some other ingredient, our concrete was not as good as theirs, using cement and concrete interchangeably. There was indeed a mystery and a secret. Gnostic secrets are not on display for objective determinations.
Humans love secrets and mysteries. We are drawn in by assertions of some secret and we want to know what it is, but most often there is no secret in the first place. This is the flaw with ancient magic – that it every worked in the first place. The spells, and I am fond of these spells as you can see from my bibliography, are so filled with conditions and ingredients and pronunciation of incantations that when they don’t work, the believer assumes they’ve done something wrong rather than understanding that when they get what they want it’s luck or other things they did and the spell had nothing to do with it. The base assumption that the spell has an impact is wrong, but people even today will not believe this. Yes, that kind of magic is a cult.
In Gnosticism, the flaw is that the initial provider of information knew some important secret in the first place. Any source of information that is not available for inspection has an element of Gnosticism in play because that source cannot be examined objectively. One must therefore put trust in the provider of that information, be they Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, some anonymous author of the Gospel of Thomas, Qanon, Breitbart, or the New York Times.
The resurgence of Gnosticism has been underway for perhaps 170 years, and the more such tales can spread through the free press and the free sharing of information, the more serious the problem has become because people like salacious tidbits and gossip, and don’t check information out. This is, in my view, a leading cause of the demise of reason in our time.
In the religious sector, the Christian sector, my personal view is that the restorationist denominations all tend towards Gnosticism because they seek to recapture the spiritual power of the early church by restoring its practices and in ways living conditions. Again, false assumptions, in my view, are being made. Firstly that the power of the Spirit is gone which it is not; I can testify to that of my own experience. And secondly that we can recapture and control the spirit by reverting to earlier practices as determined by the leadership of these denominations which is about as gnostic as one can get. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NKJ) In other words, it’s the Spirit that wills, not us, but I digress.
What is a cult? Politically, Lucy Patrick’s comments seem spot on:
“Although we live in a democracy, cult behavior manifests itself in our unwillingness to question the judgment of our leaders, our tendency to devalue outsiders and to avoid dissent. We can overcome cult behavior, he says, by recognizing that we have dependency needs that are inappropriate for mature people, by increasing anti-authoritarian education, and by encouraging personal autonomy and the free exchange of ideas.” Patrick, Lucy. 1990. Library Journal 115(21):144. Mag.Coll.: 58A2543, commenting on a monograph about cults.
A cult involves extreme devotion to something that is outside the norm of society, such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show cult-like followers, or various and sundry religious adorations of sacred objects or the Body of Christ in the sacramental host, and so forth. In religious cults, sometimes groups clash over what should and should not be venerated in a cultic observances and this can lead to violence. Perhaps a classic example is the host which is literally the body of Christ in the Catholic Church but is “the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven” in the Episcopal church – the worshipper decides of their own accord, and likewise with the wine “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”.
Academic cults are usually a group of people who hold to beliefs that are outside of the norm and, quite often, do not accord with consensus views of the evidence at hand. Examples are numerous, but the flat earth group is one, certainly those who believe that we never landed on the moon is another.
Those in staunch agreement with Velikovsky’s works are indeed a cult-like following because he has largely staked his claim on the historicity of the bible long before 700 BCE where biblical and extra-biblical sources clearly align (Sennacherib et al.). For my part, although I do think – perhaps not quite believe but think – that Moses, David, and Solomon existed in some form or fashion and that the links between ancient Egyptian literature and Ancient Jewish literature are so very strong that the cultures had intimate contact and perhaps a real exodus of some sort as I have written elsewhere on this blog, I also believe that it is wrong to take the bible as literally true or historically accurate without extrabiblical confirmation.
Where Velikovsky makes his mistake is his insistence that the biblical narrative and timeline are correct, that they relate history based on historically contemporaneous sources, and that sources such as Josephus (33 CE – 100 CE) in his Against Apion are credible regarding events a thousand years before his time, most likely but unstated by Velikovsky, because Josephus had access to sources that no longer exist (Gnosticism again). The problem is that he relies on biblical texts such as Joshua which is demonstrably false; the people did not violently seize the land and Judges confirms modern archaeology in chapter 1, it was a slow process, and nationalism and other reasons likely caused Joshua and even the Torah to inflate and conflate stories. At any rate, this is the flaw, and he forces a kangaroo foot into the glass slipper shattering timeline but still not resulting in a match.
The world is awash with theories, information, data, stories, and opinions, that last category largely being the case with this blog. Although I do try to back up what I say, it is just my opinion. My purpose is to open thinking, to share what I’ve found, and to help other seek wisdom and perhaps even find some. But I realize that I’m often wrong, sometimes demonstrably so, and I freely admit that. Not so with political cults and their leadership.
Before we get to the broader point, on that notion of admitting mistakes, I think it’s fair, even important, to digress into my thinking when I voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
Having watched that 2011 White House Correspondent’s dinner, actually having been a fan of such affairs in the past, I was appalled at Mr. Trump’s treatment by President Obama and Seth Meyers. While I never subscribed to the birther notions and I had seriously considered voting for then Senator Obama for his first presidential term, I found this treatment to be outrageous and typical of the arrogance of many inside Washington and their attitude towards no only Mr. Trump but also folks like you and me that foot the bill.
The misleading notion that Obama care would not impact existing insurance having been completely false and having badly impacted my financial situation (I now pay my out of pocket within the first three months of the year amounting to over $7K), I was concerned for the many employees with chronic health conditions lower on the pay scale and their ability to fund such annual costs – and it turns out this is a real problem. So while I respected and respect President Obama, I was not happy with the notion of a continuation of his administration’s policies.
Furthermore, the notion of paying people NOT to do something is completely absurd and known as extortion in most circles, yet we were sending Iran a planeload, literally, of cash which I found quite shameful. Likewise with carbon offsets and paying people not to destroy the Amazon – these are not solutions, they are fiddle faddle doomed to fail, and while I agree with the climate scientists likely and most likely findings, we need real solutions, not to keep doing what we are doing and feeling better by paying someone to plant trees or paying the impoverished to stay in their current standard of living but have more money to do so. No, we need, inter alia, massive carbon dioxide removal plants in operation and now. A rapidly growing population cannot conserve their way out of this problem without doing more than decreasing the damage we do; we must work to reverse it or counter it with demonstrable and attainable methods. But I digress from my digression.
I can also say that I was not at all happy that we’d messed around and allowed North Korea to become a nuclear power. I believe we could have stopped this, but that diplomacy would have required some pretty tough stances with both China and Russia, something we didn’t have the political stomach for I suppose.
That said, I did find Hillary Clinton to be a decent Secretary of State. I liked the way President Obama handled himself albeit I certainly did not agree with many of the things he did. All in all, he did what he said what he would do or try to do, and we must respect that, at least I think so.
I watched the political circus unfold. I watched the Republican party destroy itself with the never-Trump calls but without specific reasons. I watched Trump bully his way through debates with a demeaning, childish repertoire including comparing hand sizes. It was obvious to me that he fed on the negative reviews and the attention. I wrote as much on facebook, that we needed to stop feeding the monster. I watched the democratic party debates, and the manipulation of the superdelegates to ensure a victory for Clinton. Both sides seemed filled with intrigue and immeasurable thirst for power.
Then Trump tuned in my channel. I shouldn’t have noticed it among the many false promises, indeed the chum placed in the water, but I did. The drain the swamp narrative started with constitutionally imposed term limits for senators and representatives, something that I think we need badly. And that single thing along with my other complaints about the continuation of an Obama Administration pulled me in. I should have known better. I discussed this was a friend after the election and he, too, had voted for Trump. He told me “and when he won, I said ‘My God, what have I done?'” That’s my rationale which is of course not entirely rational.
In 2017, I agreed with President Carter as referenced above. But I lost all sympathy for President Trump when he engaged, and vigorously, the so called Evangelicals. That said, I still find the treatment by most to be unbalanced to the point that I think a real service has been done by the Trump Presidency in outing the media outlets that mask editorials as news, on both sides of the wall that never was and never should have been a solution in the first place. As I’ve written above, I chose Biden in 2020 even though it made no change to the result in Texas. But I broke out of the mythology that the Republican party that I once knew continues to exist by so doing, and I’m glad of it.
Political Cults – Resumed
Most modern political cults involve some sort of conspiracy theory and the belief in that theory relying on gnostic elements and rejecting objective evidence as somehow tainted and manipulated by a cabal of one sort or another. This sort of behavior is not new. Indeed, it is sometimes said that the opening of the door for Elijah in certain Passover observances was to allow people to see inside and know that the Jewish people were not eating babies, and similar things have been introduced in Christianity to repudiate theories that Christians were drinking the blood of victims in the Eucharist.
My favorite of all of these conspiracy theories involves the attacks of 9-11-2001. The theory involves all sorts of complex interactions and schemes and plans as well as the notion that the deaths did not occur (I knew five people killed on that day, two on the aircraft into tower 1, two on the aircraft into tower 2 and one on the aircraft into the pentagon – this was REAL.) Without further propagating this nonsense, the point is that all of this hinges on President George W. Bush being a maniacal super-genius behind it all. Folks, George Bush was my Governor for years. He is a decent, nice, smart guy. He is neither a super-genius nor maniacal. At least they could have picked Dick Cheney for their villain, but of course he lacks the credentials they need for this completely absurd nonsensical yet widely believed theory. It’s a cult. Negatives cannot, in most cases, be proven.
Cults become dangerous when the powerful embrace the cult. This at least seems to be the case with President Trump and his unwillingness to reject the basic cult notions of Qanon and others. But let’s not tarry too long on President Trump, no, let’s look a bit broader in our spectrum.
Cults and cult leaders are a phenomenon that we see across the political and religious spectrum. They involve groups of people becoming completely loyal to a person or a group of leaders as though the leaders can do no wrong. Most of these end up very badly, such as Heaven’s Gate, The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ (lead by Jim Jones), and Germany’s National Socialism aka Nazism (led by Adolf Hitler). Other recent examples of leadership cults include North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicholas Maduro, Soviet Russia, and Mau Tse Tung’s china. Other examples exist to one degree or another with Vladimir Putin, of course the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the Theocracy of Iran, and so forth and so on.
Cults rely on dissemination of information that may or may not be true, on controlling the narrative through limiting the flow of information or discrediting the sources, or creating wild stories to, without proof, counter any and all criticisms of the leader and their aims.
Where we are failing
We are failing to teach people to how to think critically, select reliable information and decent leadership, and our society compounds this problem by fascinations with “influencers” and celebrities and other people constantly quoted as though they were the Pythia at Delphi. The modern post-modern conflict and rejection of experts, due in large measure to the hubris of those experts, has resulted in a pluralistic mentality that every utterance has the same merit which is completely absurd. Of course, saying such a thing is dangerous; it got Socrates killed – the notion that not just anyone elected to do a job is capable of carrying out the duties of that job.
This is where the entire post collapses into simplicity. Someone says that x conspires to do y with no proof. It is not possible to disprove intent, and no one believes the disavowal of the accused. The burden of proof shifts from the accuser to the accused, reason and justice fade. Or, someone says that because of this and that, what is commonly believed is wrong and the experts are not credible and they fail to mount a credible argument and rely on their station. Reason fades.
I see a lot of bright critical thinkers in the younger folks I work with. I think that there is rational hope, that people are weary of what amounts to folklore ruling an advanced world, and that a bright future awaits.
Let’s then close with a discussion of source selection.
SELECTING CREDIBLE SOURCES
Source Selection – Modern
In whom shall we place our trust for events and information of the day, things that we will paraphrase and repeat and spread? None are perfect. For instance, we know that the weather forecast is often incorrect, yet we trust the forecaster well enough to say that the forecast is for rain or shine and what the temperature is expected to be. But we do not often give that the touch of our name, Steve’s forecast for instance, and everyone generally knows that we’re quoting one of many sources. If we look out the window and see that it looks like rain, or that the wind is blowing and the clouds are dark, we my personalize the message “I think it’s about to storm”.
But when it comes to things where we want to say “they say that x is so” or something like that, we should simply stop and ferret out the source – who are “they”? And it’s fair to question people with whom we interact as to their sources before we pass on information. It’s fair, and in many cases I think we have an obligation to our good names to do this, but we don’t, and often we react quickly to things that do not directly impact us without taking time to verify the information and really parse it rationally. I often find myself digging through the news to find the source material – a lawsuit or court briefing, a speech, a proposed new law, a medical journal article, and so forth so that I can cut through all of the interpretation and opinion and make an informed judgement regarding the information being reported. What I find is that the news and lots of information on Social Media is incomplete, misleading, and sometimes downright wrong. But, in defense of these outlets, very few have the patience to read or listen to the long form information that I drive to, and a coherent story requires commentary to answer Kipling’s serving men: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
No source is entirely credible for this very reason: opinion and speculation are required to fill in the lacunae (gaps) in the answers required to craft a coherent palatable narrative. The escape of a reviewed article in the Lancet errantly linking vaccinations to autism did enormous harm because the Lancet is considered, and generally is, a credible source. So how does one decide?
One does not decide, one surveys multiple sources and seeks what is consistent and coherent and fact based as best one can. Bias in human beings is endemic and news reports are crafted by humans meaning that their fill-ins for the lacunae will accord with their world views whatever they may be. As for me, I like to look at Reuters and the AP for starters but I look at all sorts of news and when I find something interesting or important, I check it out further as best I can.
And that’s the bottom line, we must work at this. Complaining about media bias and so forth abdicates the responsibility for what you should believe to the media. You are responsible for what you believe and what you act on, not they. For reason to survive, we must accept this responsibility and act on it.
Source Selection – Antiquity
A lot of what I work with falls under the heading of ancient literature and therefore quod scripsi, scripsi: what I have written, I have written. It is what it is regardless of the integrity of the source and one must rely on translators and compilers such as Charlesworth, Pritchard, Ginzberg, Kugel, and many others to create worthwhile compilations of adequate translations for the task. I strongly prefer reading that source material and then commentary, commentary such as Peter Green’s From Alexander to Actium and Alexander of Macedon. It is often not the text that is at issue but what conclusions one draws from the text which requires us to know our sources well, and to take this into consideration in selecting how we spend our time and whom we trust. For instance, I happen to agree with N. T Wright on many points and find him to be a man of great depth, faith, and insistence on truth, so I really enjoy his major works and have little qualms about the underpinning of his rationale largely because he includes it in those works.
We must also take care that translators have a fiduciary relationship with the truth. In many cases, one has only one or two translations to select from, often the Loeb classic (and very expensive to acquire) translations and some perhaps less credible but more easily found translations. For instance, on Josephus I rely on Whiston and on Philo of Alexandria I rely on Yonge. For Plato I believe you can do no better than Robin Waterfield, and so forth and so on. In other words, don’t pick up a book because it is pretty, do a little research on the editor and the translator first, and understand your use case. Loeb will generally publish a book with translation on one side and the source text on the other. I don’t need that at my level albeit in the Biblical text I do use tools that allow me to get to that level.
But that brings us full circle to Velikovsky, doesn’t it? There’s nothing untoward about the man, he’s a scholar of good standing in the medical field, but here he is a virtual unknown delving into Egyptian and Mesopotamian Chronology with gusto, bravado, and dares challenge conventional thinking with no history of peer reviewed work on his side. Why don’t I just throw that in the trash, most people do you know. Because he worked very hard at it, I understand his source material, and I find it interesting just as many found Chariots of Gods piquant. That said, anyone who differs vastly from the existing consensus must survive scrutiny, and as I’ve said before, Velikovsky’s fatal flaw is his insistence of scriptural historicity. But there’s nothing wrong with you reading what he has to say, if you check it out properly, an enormous task if you make that choice.
A bad source or Two
I’m not a book burner, you know. I don’t think that literature should be banned or destroyed and I believe that the responsibility for determining what to read and what is true lies on the reader, at least the adult reader. I’ve read de Sade’s plays and have a copy in my study, and you can read my Bibliography Post to see how far flung my studies actually are, and my fondness for Tolkien, Frank Hebert, Jean Auel, Anne Rice/Belinda Rampling, and all sorts of other literature does not show on that list. I enjoy reading works of some folks who were probably anti-Semites, after all I like Dickens but it’s really hard to believe that Fagan in Oliver Twist is not a polemic cartoon of anti-Semitic gusto and other people, like de Sade with some notable and undesirable characteristics.
But when we give someone the respect of being authoritative in some matter or another, we should know about the person and their behavior, their ethics. For instance, when I was about to study the complete works (complete normally published works) of Martin Luther, I read up on him.
Martin Luther (1483-1546 CE)
Martin Luther, after whom a denomination of Christianity is named, is not, in my opinion, a credible source and I won’t read his works for that reason. Why? It’s very simple, he was a raging anti-Semite, launched the sola scriptura view that scripture is the complete and authoritative judge of all things, told people that faith was contrary to reason and sometimes put that the other way around that reason led to faith, encouraged people to lie about bigamy that he had encouraged, and all sorts of other things that should make us question every conclusion he came to and how much those conclusions are to enforce his will on other people and how much they seek truth and religious clarity.
You see, when considering study of the corpus of his commonly referenced works, I undertook a brief study of the man, and I found and read an English translation of one of his lesser known books, On Jews and their lies. About half of the book is brilliant, even witty scholarship but then after having made one comfortable, the pages turn dark with boundless hatred of the Jewish people including (I’ve copied Wikipedia here):
- “First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians …”
- “Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”
- “Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”
- “Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …”
- “Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …”
- “Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …”
- “Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow … But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., … then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., … then eject them forever from the country …”
Luther never recanted his position towards the Jewish people, and frankly it was common in Europe and Russia and other Christian areas before and after that time. Indeed, calling Jewish people “Christ killers” arose in the early 3rd century CE. A very odd stance to take since Jesus clearly knew that his mission was death on a cross which then leads to the resurrection upon which Christianity stands. Give the 22nd psalm a good read sometime.
As you may know from my writings, my family had troubles when I was growing up, with my father’s travels and philandering and with my mother’s alcoholism and bouts of DTs when she’d quite drinking in hopes that it would force my father’s return from travel (and philandering), however that never worked out and I was left to deal with those DTs in a pre-911 and paramedic era from about age 10. I’d started working at age 9 to get out of the house at my father’s urging.
The people who did not judge me, who helped me, who welcomed me into their homes, who got me through these times were Jewish and several families of Jewish people we should note, as well as my Black Mentor, Mrs. Anna Mae Poplis, technically our cleaning lady but in actuality the stabilizing force in my life. They did not judge my mother either, nor did they comment on my father. They helped ME.
It should be obvious to the reader that upon reading Luther’s single work, well, I literally threw his complete works that I’d acquired into the garbage. Likewise, I don’t plan on reading any of Hitler’s works, because the source is, in my judgment, manifest evil.
Try to pick your sources and your leaders with due diligence. We all fail at this, certainly I have, but we must try nonetheless.
Well, there you have it, another enormously long post showing what we all knew was true at the start: the world is going mad. You know, mad cow disease spread because downer (sick) cattle were used to make feed for other cattle, spreading the prions that had made them sick. These particular proteins, prions, can share certain deformities, such as folding, with like proteins and when that ends up in the brain it wreaks havoc, in humans as well as cattle. In the world as it too goes mad and loses reason, we feed ourselves information that is diseased, distorted, and spreading.
With mad cow, we don’t user downer cows to make food for any living thing. With information, however, determining what is distorted and dangerous must lie with the consumer, not with the powers that be lest they use that power to enslave us as we see in certain nations such as North Korea or in any number of restrictive groups / cults. Rejecting people and ideas out of hand and based on anger that someone dare interlope into a field of study is unhealthy and can lead to stagnation and cult behaviors as well.
For reason to return to health, we must reacquire our ancestor’s hunter gatherer skills to avoid the poisonous plants and learn how to process the food we feed our minds. The explosion of information that is available to us and even thrust upon us makes this difficult, stressful, and tedious. While that is true, failure to accept the challenge and live up to it makes a decline into a dystopian future all but certain, save for the younger critical thinkers now coming on stage as our leadership.