Saturday, January 25, 2014

You Can Learn a Lot From a Mummy

Imagine that you find a book written by an itinerant priest 500 years ago.  Most of the pages are missing and the ones that remain are written in a barely legible script.  You’re lucky enough to find a few references to the book in two other writers’ works and, in the majority, the bits seem to line up.  From there you painstakingly spend over a decade transliterating what you’re reading into the metaphors of the present moment ensuring that all of your work does not offend the sensibilities of the present day reader.  And, just for good measure, you take a single edict from a single king and use that as the definitive lexicon to insure you haven’t mistaken any cultural meaning.

O.K., here goes.  The following text (approximately the same length as the text on the Rosetta Stone from which we confirm much of our “knowledge” of 5,000 years of Egyptian culture) is precisely the antiquarian representation to which my example applies.  This is an English translation of the Latin text of the concluding sentence from the declaration of the Fifth Lateran Council exactly 500 years ago this month.

As we ponder how heavy is the burden and how damaging the loss to the vicars of Christ on earth that counterfeit elections would be, and how great the hurt they could bring to the christian religion, especially in these very difficult times when the whole christian religion is being disturbed in a variety of ways, we wish to set obstacles to the tricks and traps of Satan and to human presumption and ambition, so far as it is permitted to us, so that the aforesaid letter shall be better observed the more clearly it is established that it has been approved and renewed by the mature and healthy discussion of the said sacred council, by which it has been decreed and ordained, though it does not need any other approval for its permanence and validity. For a more ample safeguard, and to remove all excuse for guile and malice on the part of evil thinkers and those striving to overthrow so sound a constitution, with a view to the letter being observed with greater determination and being more difficult to remove, to the extent that it is defended by the approval of so many of the fathers, we therefore, with the approval of this Lateran council and with the authority and fullness of power stated above, confirm and renew the said letter together with every statute, regulation, decree, definition, penalty, restraint, and all the other and individual clauses contained in it; we order it to be maintained and observed without change or breach and to preserve the authority of an unchanging firmness; and we decree and declare that cardinals, mediators, spokesmen, envoys and others listed in the said letter are and shall be bound to the observance of the said letter and of each and every point expressed in it, under pain of the censures and penalties and other things contained in it, in accordance with its meaning and form; notwithstanding apostolic constitutions and ordinances, as well as all those things which we wished not to prevent in the said letter, and other things of any kind to the contrary.

For those of you who are not computational linguistics aficionados, you might miss the fact that the reference above has approximately 45 nouns and proper nouns from which you would need to confirm all meaning – knowable and known – about every subject in world culture to confirm that your aforementioned transliteration was correct.  From the text above, we could safely say that the hooded priests who affixed their seals to the Fifth Lateran Council decree were pretty sure that they were actively fighting the “tricks and traps of Satan” (a.k.a. people who didn’t agree with them) and they wanted to be certain that everyone knew that they were in power.  We wouldn’t know anything about fishing, Mediterranean shipping traffic, weather, housing, municipal infrastructure, or the communities who lived in Rome 1,500 years ago.

Yet when it comes to our cumulative knowledge of a lineage of cultures that persisted along the Nile River for over 5,000 years, our references are equally opaque.  However, when viewed across the arc of a temporal illusion, we’re convinced that we “know” a lot about Egyptian cosmology.  So, as we unearthed another Egyptian pharaoh this week near Abydos – King Senebkay – CNN declared that the “Pharaoh’s tomb sheds light on the shadowy Egyptian dynasty.”  Really?  What we really know is that we’re finding evidence that what Napoleonic and English aristocrats and academicians told us we know is inadequate and that our illusion of “knowing” is an illusion.

The text to which I referred in the opening of this post is the writing ascribed to Manetho (although we don’t know if he actually existed or was the compilation of several writers in the 3rd century BCE).  In work attributed to him, all of the “gods” and “deities” are direct analogies to the Greek pantheon; all of the time references are Hebrew (including Adam and Noah’s flood) and all the explanations are Hellenistic.  The quote from the compiled works of Manetho below demonstrates the pathologic cultural bias of the one fragment of information upon which we built our entire understanding.

“So long at Manetho followed the ancient records, he did not stray from the truth; but when he turned to unauthorized legends, he either combined them in an improbable form or else gave credence to certain prejudiced informants.” (c. 280 BCE.  Manetho.  Tr. W.G. Waddell 1940.  pg. 147).

By now, a few of you may be wondering how many other ‘sacred’ texts and stories are equally subject to cultural redefinition and manipulation.  Rest assured, if you hazard a peak into some of the earlier catholic Councils, you’ll become increasingly uncomfortable!

Now what does all of this have to do with InvertedAlchemy and the economy?  Well, it turns out, quite a bit.  Karl Popper’s Poverty of Historicism is a remarkable commentary on the social implications of inferring “known” from filtered “past” narratives.  His work nearly 60 years ago attempted to alert society to the dangers of selective and propaganda-filled narratives.  A philosophical product of a world in conflict, Popper had the decency to remind us that if we tell ourselves linear stories, we will harm our capacity for genuine understanding and critique.  This will lead to dogmatically held, error-laden postures that fracture and contribute to conflict on multiple levels. 

We’re presently in the throes of a dangerous mutation where the social opiate of “sustainability” is permeating structurally unsound systems creating the illusion of transformation all the while preying on the gullibility of the masses.  What used to be the realm of social activists and hippies – the idea that it’s a bad idea for us to consume all available resources on the planet and toss them into landfills so that we can fulfill our gluttonous race to exhaustion where we are the punctuation at extinction – is now in vogue across markets – including the recent orgy of inactivity and illusion in Davos.  The reason why NGOs and social activists are as ineffectual as their predatory capitalist chameleons is their abject failure to examine alternative narratives of our past to see if the assumptions framing our current views are adequate to describe our present condition.  They’re not!

And, by the way, trying to understand life by untangling the knotted chromosome and stretching it into the monofilament of DNA; explaining matter by forcing it through the Cuisinart of the periodic table; and understanding physics by calculating newton meters in geometric limits; all fail to capture the actual experience of life which animates through persistent respiratory tides dancing to the gravitational harmonic rhythm of the cosmos.  The Greeks were smart enough to know the difference between essential “Knowing” (gnosis), perception of forms or appearance (eidos), and consensus opinions or prevailing illusions (doxa).  This week’s “discovery” in Abydos reminds us that we’re burying our heads in the sand… and we don’t know it!


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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave