Language

Lies

youtube-Logo-2gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on March 20, 2016

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How the greatest technology ever developed backfired on us

 

 

 

 

 

Natural selection was probably the factor that led the Irish Elk to develop oversized antlers: they were a beneficial feature for the males in the sexual competition game. However, the weight of the antlers was also a burden and it has been argued that it was one of the reasons, perhaps the main one, that led to the extinction of this species, around 7,000 years ago. In the case of humans, we may consider language as an evolutionary advantageous feature, but also as something that may turn out to bring negative consequences very much like the elk's antlers: the tsunami of lies we are continuously exposed to.  Image from Wikipedia

 

 

Language is the real break of humans with everything else that walks, crawls, or flies on the earth. No other species (except bees) has a tool that can be used to exchange complex information among individuals in terms, for instance, of where food can be located and in what amounts. It is language that creates the human "ultrasociality," it is language that allows us to get together, plan ahead, get things done. Language can be seen as a technology of communication of incredible power. But, as for all technologies, it has unexpected consequences.

We all know that the sound that we write as "deer" is associated with a specific kind of beast. With this symbol you can create sentences such as "I saw a deer near the river, let's go hunt it!" But, when you create the symbol, in some ways you "create" a deer – a ghostly creature that has some of the characteristics of real deer. You can imagine the deer, even if there is no real deer around. And this symbol has a certain power, maybe you could make a deer appear by pronouncing its name or drawing its symbol on a cave's wall. It is the principle that we call "sympathetic magic", perhaps the oldest and most basic form of magic.

Creating a virtual deer is a useful thing if the correspondence with real deer is not lost. The problem with language is that this is not always the case. The deer you are talking about may not exist, it may be an illusion, a mistake, or, worse, a ruse to entrap and kill an enemy of yours. This is the origin of the concept we call "lie." You can use language not just to collaborate with your neighbors, but to deceive them. We have evidence that our ancestors faced the problem from the earliest written records we have. In some ancient Sumerian tablets that go back to the 3rd millennium BCE (*), we find that among the "me" (the powers) that the Goddess Inanna stole from the God Enki, one is "to utter words of deception".


The question of lying is crucial for human survival. Lying makes communication useless since you cannot trust the persons you are communicating with. The deer your friend told you was near the river disappears into virtual space: you cannot say whether it was real or not. The stupendous technology of language, developed over hundreds of thousands of years, destroys itself with the unintended consequence of lying.

 

 

All technologies have unintended consequences, all are amenable to some kinds of technological fixes. Fighting lies requires evaluating statements and who is uttering them. The simplest way to do it is to base the evaluation on trust. We all know the story of "the boy who cried wolf," probably as ancient as homo sapiens. In its various versions, it says, "if you lie once, you won't be believed again". And it works; it has worked for hundreds of thousands of years and it still works. Think of your current circle of acquaintances; those people you personally know and have known for a certain time. You trust them; you know that they won't lie to you. It is for this reason that you call them "friends," "buddies," "pals" and the like.

But that works as long as you maintain your relationships within a small group and we know that the size of a circle of close relations doesn't normally go beyond some 150 persons (it is called the "Dumbar number"). Within this size, the reputation of each member is known to everyone else and liars are easily identified and contrasted (or even expelled). The problem came when people started living in large cities. Then, most people would interact with a much larger number of people than the comfortable Dumbar number. How can we tell if someone you never met before is to be trusted or not? In this situation, the only defense against swindlers is indirect clues: the way of dressing, the way of speaking, the physical aspect; but none is as effective as the trust in someone you know well.

But that was nothing in comparison to what came along with the age of the mass media. Then, you would read things, hear things, see things in the media, but you really had no clue on where these communications came from, nor you could check whether the virtual reality in front of you corresponded to the real world. As mass media expanded their reach, the people controlling them discovered that lying was easy and that they had very little to lose in lying. At the receiving end, there were people confused and unable to verify the information they received. The media could easily tell them lies that would go undiscovered, at least for a while. Think of the story of the "weapons of mass destruction" that Iraq was supposed to be developing before the invasion of 2003. In this case, the lie became obvious after that no such weapons surfaced in the invaded Iraq, but the liars had obtained what they wanted and they suffered no ill consequences from their action. It was at that time that an aide to Donald Rumsfeld is reported to have said, "now we can create our own reality." A triumph of sympathetic magic, indeed.

Then, the Internet and the social media came and they democratized lying. Now everyone could lie to everyone else simply by sharing a message. Truth didn't come anymore from the trust in the people who were transmitting it, but from the number of "likes" and shares a message received. Truth can't possibly be the same as virality, but it appears to have become exactly that in the general perception: if something is shared by a lot of people, then it has to be true.

So, today, we are lied continuously, consistently, and gleefully by about everyone and just about everything. Half truths, pure inventions, distortions of reality, word games, false flags, skewed statistics, and more are the communications we face every day. The tsunami of lies that's crashing upon us is nearly unimaginable and it has consequences, dire consequences. It is making us unable to trust anything and anyone. We are losing contact with reality, we don't know anymore how to filter the innumerable messages we receive. Trust is a major issue in human life; not for nothing, the devil is said to be "the father of lies" (John 8:44). And, indeed, what the anthropologist Roy Rappaport called "diabolical lies" are those lies that directly tamper with the very fabric of reality. And if you lose track with reality, you are lost yourself. That that may be what's happening to all of us.

Some of us find it easiest simply to believe in what they are told by governments and lobbies; others move into a generalized mistrust of everything; easily falling victim of opposite lies. Diabolical lies are fractal, they hide more lies inside, they are part of bigger lies. Consider an event such as the 9/11 attacks in New York; it is by now hidden behind such a layer of multiple lies of all kinds that what really happened that day is impossible to discern, and perhaps destined to remain such forever.


So, we are back to the "boy who cried wolf" issue. We are the boy, we are not trusting anyone, we are not trusted by anyone, and the wolf is here for real. The wolf takes the shape of global warming, of resource depletion, of ecosystem collapse, and more, but most of us are unable to recognize it, even to imagine that it could exist. But how to fault those people who have been cheated so many times that they decided that they won't believe anything that comes from even a marginally "official" channel? This is a major disaster and it is occurring right now, in front of our eyes. We have become one of those ancient deer destroyed by the weight of their stupendous horns. Language is playing a trick on us, backfiring on us after having been so useful for us.

We often believe that technology is always useful and that new technologies will save us from the disasters befalling on us.  I am starting to think that what we need is not more technology but less. And if language is a technology, it seems to me that we are having too much of it, really. We are hearing too many speeches, too many words, too much noise. Perhaps, we all need a moment of silence. Perhaps Lao Tzu saw this already long ago when he wrote in the Tao Te Ching (**)

Much speech leads inevitably to silence. 
Better to hold fast to the void.
 

 

____________________________________________

(*) From Nin Me Sara, translated by Betty De Shong Meador

(**)  Translated by E. C. Lau

Se also an earlier post of mine "The Empire of Lies"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Spoken Here

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation May 4, 2015
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Of course, the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore last week prompted the usual cries for “an honest conversation about race,” and countless appeals to fix the “broken” public school system. So, in the spirit of those pleas, I will advance a very plain and straightforward idea: above all, teach young black kids how to speak English correctly.

Nothing is more important than acculturating ghetto kids out of their pidgin patois and into real English with all of its tenses, verb forms, and cases. It’s more important initially than learning arithmetic, history, and science. I would argue that it is hardly possible to learn these other things without first being grounded in real grammatical English.

When these kids grow up, their manner of speech will identify them and their prospects for success at least as much as the color of their skin — and probably more, in my opinion. Their ability to speak English correctly will be the salient feature in how others assess the content of their character

I’m sure by now that the racial justice hand-wringers are squirming over this proposal. All dialects are equally okay in this rainbow society, they might argue. No they’re not. Have you noticed that TV news, business, show biz, education, and politics increasingly employ people whose parents came from India and other parts of Asia. Do they speak in a patois lacking in complex verb forms? Apparently not. Are they succeeding in American life, such as it is? Apparently so.

Notice that the speech issue — how people talk — is never part of the “honest conversation about race” that we are supposed to have. Has anybody noticed that in his public speeches Martin Luther King spoke regular English correctly, if with a Southern inflection? Has anybody noticed how important that was in his role as “a communicator?” Why is this crucial question of language absent from the public conversation about “the intractable problems of race in America?” Is it because both blacks and whites are too fearful, too cowardly, to face this particular problem of how English is spoken?

Perhaps this raises the specter of IQ. I’d like to know how any IQ test can be meaningful when the person taking it can’t speak the language that the test is given in. I’m sure that any ghetto kid drilled in English for two years would show substantial improvement in such a generalized test. But, of course, first the American people of all skin tones would have to admit that this is important.

We don’t want to. We’d rather wring our hands over “structural racism” and other canards. Why? Because Euro American whites have been programmed to “not offend” at all costs; Asian Americans are too busy being successful; and African Americans are too invested in their own excuse-for-failure industry, wringing money from offense-o-phobic whites.

A year ago, I gave the opening day lecture to the entering honors freshman class at Rutgers, New Jersey’s State University. I swear at least half of that class of about 400 young people was made up of first generation kids of parents from India — owing, I suppose, to the current demographic of the state. Many of these kids were very dark-skinned, as dark as African Americans. Guess what? They didn’t speak in any kind of pidgin patois. They spoke regular American English. Do you suppose during their childhoods that the household fretted about “sounding white?” I doubt it. By the way, not only did these very bright, dark-skinned honors students speak English correctly, they also behaved politely. No fights broke out during the convocation. They effervescently launched themselves into their college careers — and then they went out for pizza.

How about it America? Job number one: learn how to speak the English language. Everything else depends on it. Excuses not admissible.

 

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Estrogen Testosterone Soup

Off the keyboard of Gypsy Mama

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Published on The Butterchurn on January 13, 2014

inteligencia-sexual

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Ingredients only a cauldron can hold?

I’m writing to respond to a conversation/borderline dispute that is going on over at The Doomstead Diner. The discussion of the term, “Feminazi”

Many opinions have been spouted over at The DD about the usage of this term. I’ve skimmed over a few. I’ve written my own response with minimal reading of others opinions, because I wanted to make sure that my own opinion of the word shined through my writing, without the bias of having read the opinion of others’ responses.

First of all, through my understanding, the word “Feminazi” is a combination of the words “feminist” and “Nazi.” BOTH of these words are touchy topics to write about. Feminism has many facets. I have not studied much about the liberation of Women. Perhaps that is something that I SHOULD know more about as a woman. I should know how I’m able to be free to have the same rights as the male species. I should know more about the struggles of women in the past. I should, but I don’t. I believe that this may be explained, minimally, by the fact that I have never had to feel repressed, looked down upon, or downtrodden just because I’m a female. I have not felt the need to take to the streets to fight for my right to be a person of equal rights. My life, at my age of 33, has not been affected by such matters.

The closest that I can relate to this issue is easily found through my experience with a hospital birth vs. a birth within a birthing center using a midwife. The hospital’s treatment toward me, their “customer” opened my eyes to how sad it is that the system fails us (women) when it comes to the birthing process.

I made a fleeting comment to the gallant Surly, for him not to be “butt hurt” about a drawing that I sketched out while snickering about dick and ball jokes written all in fun by the strong population of male form members at The Diner. I enjoy crude humor. Dick and ball jokes? Laughable. Most of the time I can stomach it: jokes about spunk? Nope…I’m outta that conversation, thank you. I find myself able to overlook circumstances in which men make jokes about women. It’s easy to feed those jokes backward into a reverse pattern, but why? Overall, this is something that the wrong type of feminist is unable to overlook, IMO.

There are three types of feminists that I have separated in my mind.

Feminist Type A: Has studied the journey that women have been on over the centuries. Knows the history of repression that females have fought through in the past. This feminist fights for, and will continue to fight for, the right for Women and Men to be treated equally, no matter the circumstance. Can accept and defend against sexually racist statements without getting too defensive or angry.

Feminst Type B: Has all of the abilities and knowledge of Feminist Type A, yet is unable to laugh at jokes poking fun at their specific internal reproductive organs. Takes offense easily to PMS jokes, but can throw backlash out in the form of television remote handling and other male centered comebacks. Type B is one sided. Females can poke fun at males: OKAY! Males poking fun at females? NOT okay. Not okay, indeed.

Feminist Type C: Has a distrust and overall dislike for the male species. Most of the time, this form of Feminist gets easily offended and borderline angry when a man makes a comment about a woman. Often, their understanding of said comment is twisted out of proportion.

Through the interaction with the men I’ve had in my life (friends, mostly), I’ve come to understand that most men don’t have a problem making jokes about body parts. After all, men were all, at one time, boys. I don’t have much of a problem with that myself. Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina. We are different and unique. We each fill a position in the human population necessary to continue said population. Joke as we might about PMS and high testosterone levels…we are what we are.

Mix in the fact that we all also have our own belief systems and personalities, and you’ve got a complicated mixture, for sure. Overall, we are each our own. Sometimes we’ll step on each others toes. Sometimes a male might say something that can push the wrong button in a female. Vice Versa. But whoa…swirl the testosterone and estrogen hormones into the wrong mix, at the wrong speed, or at the wrong time, and you’ve got an INSTA BATTLE soup de jour. Might as well throw your soup into a blender.

Some male and female ingredients aren’t going to taste well together. Period. (no pun intended) I don’t see much reason in attempting to make all of the worlds spices compliment each other. There are far too many psychological, environmental (and otherwise) personality traits involved with simply being human. Breaking ourselves down into male vs. female without considering personality will instantly set you up for an argument. I write this to explain: just because I’m a female doesn’t mean that I’ll always take the side of a feminist response to an argument.

We are creatures of not only our sexuality, but also of our past, our environments, our upbringing, our experiences. Simply put: Men, Women…respect the ingredients mixed into the soup. Communicate your feelings and thoughts on how to make the soup be more palatable for conversation. Tell someone when you think they’ve poisoned the soup. Wait for the soup to cool off. Try not to stir the pot too much.

The short version to understanding my thoughts:

1.Telling me I can’t do something you can because I have different reproductive organs: NOT okay. Okay, I can’t ejaculate or pee standing up (not gracefully, anyway) …but otherwise…not okay ;)

2.Believing that you are more of a person than I am because we carry different body parts: NOT okay.

3.Believing that you are owed special treatment as a Woman because of the Women’s Suffrage of our past is…well…kinda stupid. Get with the times. I’m sure our ancestors would tell you the same. Guess what? We’ve won most of the battle. Move on. Bask in the delight that we are living in different times, where the struggles and voices of the Women of our past have made great changes for us in the present. By dwelling on the past, you are allowing yourself to experience unnecessary distress. Be happy with the advancements.

#2 on that list brings in the term “Nazi.” From my understanding, The infamous Nazis of Hitler’s following believed in one master race. They believed that one skin color WAS more important than the other…to the extent that they believed in exterminating anyone who did not fit their belief of master race.

Overall, the term “Nazi” included into “Feminazi” is what makes it such a horrible term. It’s really a slang word that shouldn’t be used lightly. It deserves to be criticized. It should not be used loosely.
In my opinion, using a term like that loosely is like pissing on the graves of all of those who died because of one man’s psychotic and manipulative dictatorship. It is like shaking hands with all of those who were brainwashed into following such a belief. One master race. How ugly is that? Who was Hitler to decide the elite race? Who are feminazis to do the same?

What’s In a Name?

Off the keyboard of Surly1

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on January 12, 2014
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Small_Red_Rose

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part 
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes 
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

–William Shakespeare,  Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II

It was on this site a week ago that RE published an article entitled, “The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”  This article was, by his own admission, a rant in which he took on the postings of impermanence, the futility of debating philosophical arguments on threads not designed for same, his lack of interest in such musings, and the distaste he felt in dealing with “feminazis” on Guy McPherson’s “Nature Bats Last” blog.

As regular Diner readers know, I recently had occasion to go off-site and spar a bit with the regular commenters on Guy McPherson’s blog, Nature Bats Last.  In this case it’s not Zen Koan style philosophizing you have to deal with, it’s existential philosophy of how you deal with your Grief once you ACCEPT that Near Term Human Extinction is REALITY.  The acceptance of this reality as looked at from the POV of the Group Think on NBL is a prerequisite to discussing anything else.  If you don’t buy this idea hook, line & sinker, then instead of any real discussion what you get is a fairly non-stop stream of Napalm from the regulars accusing you of denial, ignorance or often enough misogyny also.  Passive-Aggressive attacks are made regularly by the Feminazi contingent on Male responsibility for oncoming Extinction, and how life would have been so much better if just the Women had been in charge here. . .

I also am not going to be drawn into dumb ass pissing contests with Feminazis who blame the sorry state of the world on Patriarchy, nor will I get into thoroughly stupid arguments with Cornucopians who think the fucking Fusion Cavalry will ride to the rescue here and before you know it we’ll be ditching the Chevys for Flying Deloreans powered by stale beer. . .

On the Diner Forum, I took issue with him on use of the term “feminazi”  as unnecessarily pejorative. In fairness, this reference was just one facet of a article far more about the fatalism of uber-doomersand the ned to spend time in pointed, as opposed to pointless, endeavors.

 

I pointed out the term “feminazi,” a portmanteau of the nouns feminist and Nazi, was popularized by Rush Limbaugh and in use since the early 1990s. It’s regularly used by American conservatives to criticize feminists whose positions they find “too extreme.” Of course, given the recent Republican war on women, “too extreme” may include simply voicing an opinion, objecting to rape, or occupying space outside of a kitchen or  bedroom. My position remains that “feminazi” is a highly charged locution with the emotional equivalent of the N-word.   Last Sunday, I made the following complaint:

Use of the term “feminazi” defines only the user, as one unable to deal with strong minded and opinionated women. . .   use of Limbaugh’s term puts you in league with the brownshirts and other useful idiots that are debasing the culture and by extension, the planet. I cannot believe that you are deaf to the resonances of such a term. So then, if not deaf, what do you intend? To signal agreement with the Drooling Right in re women’s issues? To signal solidarity with Phil Robertson – he of homosexuality-equals-bestiality and black-folks-just-loved-Jim-Crow infamy – on women’s issues, about which he has said that boys to marry early because that’s when girls are most useful to them.

“Look, you wait ’til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket,” Robertson says. “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.” So by all means, 15-year-olds ought to marry to get the subjugation going early?

I don’t give a flying duck about “Duck Whatever” or any other feckless elevation of redneck culture, but using “feminazi” to describe opinionated females with whom you disagree puts you on the wrong side of a cultural divide. And as such you probably do nothing to encourage the participation of the strong, independent and hard working women who will be essential to make SUN a reality in the future.

I was wrong.  The only women who weighed in on this subject either said the term did not offend, and the other told me to not “be butt hurt.”  The wages of gallantry.  Try as I might, I could not even convince Contrary to pick up the cudgel, aside from a brief comment on Facebook. Long story short, no one cared.

But I still do, to this extent.

Language matters.  Political operatives spend  fortunes to test words and phrases for maximum efficacy. “Reframing” was the work of Frank Luntz, who gave us the “death tax” as a euphemism for the “tax on unearned intergenerational dynastic wealth,”  possibly the single most successful reframing effort since a Texas editor popularized “right to work” in 1947 in the wake of the passage of the Taft-Hartley act…

 

Interesting back and forth on the forum about this issue. One poster observed that the “radical feminists” had their own propaganda as well.   One longtime Diner, J.D., good-naturedly chided me for political correctness:

I’ll be the first to admit, terms like “feminazi” are very powerful and should only be used in the most extreme cases.  But there are times when it fits.  I am all for women’s liberation, up to the point where it becomes men’s oppression.

 

Hm. What makes a “radical feminist?”   Does that apply to a woman who believes that testicles are toxic tools of oppression, and anyone who owns them should have them forcibly removed, or does it apply to strong-minded women with an independent streak who offer opinions that make you uncomfortable? When do men get oppressed? Whenever they become uncomfortable? Or challenged?  Who gets to decide?  The fact that “feminazi” is a conservative coinage applied to women no longer controllable by conservative men seems lost on the current generation of both men and women. Thus does language lose its potency, and our discourse is coarsened. I refuse to allow reactionaries to define the terms of the ongoing cultural wars; by using the term, we give them a victory they have not earned– the moral equivalent of an “unforced error” in sports.

We’re deep in the eddies of gender politics on this one, a battle for which I am remarkably ill-equipped, and redolent with irony, as the following story shows.

Flash to late 2011– After DHS coordinated the raids of Occupy camps nationwide, our local group found itself in disarray.  Not surprising. Since Occupy was leaderless by design, several of us got together to plan to jump-start the movement– we planned a facilitation exercise in which the group would establish priorities for the local movement.  Unfortunately, the planners were all white males. So, after developing and refining the process, rehearsing, obtaining a meeting place, we held the meeting. One woman, who fancied herself the Mother of all Occupy (and a member of the local woo-woo crystal-gazing contingent, for which I had little patience) nearly derailed the meeting by complaining about the seating arrangements, and the fact that females had not been involved in the planning of said meeting. The fact that no females showed up to work on the project seemed to mean little. Thus the reward for hard work and volunteer effort. On the spot we asked if she would like to facilitate the meeting, and offer to give her the floor. “Oh no, no,” came the reply. Clearly, better to bitch about the process and nurse an insatiable sense of grievance . . . Gratifyingly, other women at the meeting, recognizing what we were attempting to do, came to our defense.

Interestingly, Occupy facilitation rules give preference to traditionally oppressed groups, including both women and people of color. So access to  any speaking platform was really never a problem. Per usual, the real issues were about control and attention– more irony in a movement with no leaders and no assets.

Thus was I ratfucked for my maleness by women who might or fall to the description of “feminazis,” meaning those who looked for any reason to play the victim role, to be offended at the work products of white males because it was produced by white males, etc. Perhaps it is such a state of assertive victimhood and passive aggression that some men wish to label “feminazi.” Or ball-busting man-haters. Or those who want to lay all of their ills at the feet of 20,000 years of patriarchy. But I would never call them that, to avoid appearing ignorant, and to resist ceding control of one small piece of the language to the most atavistic and reactionary elements of our culture.

At the end of the day, Eddie had a levelheaded take:

My big issue, as I’ve said before, has to do with how feminism led to male Political Correctness of a sort that emasculated boys and young men, eventually, and caused relationship issues for a whole generation of couples, myself included. . .  both men and women get a lot of positive energy out of relationships that let men be men and women be women, sexually speaking. In one sense, I am still pro-feminism, because I believe in equal pay for equal work, and I believe in equal rights in general.

But when I go to NBL to read, there is still that anti-male residue that offends me so much, and I find myself wanting to unload on those women, whom I consider misguided and….yeah, stupid. they need to get over some things, and do their own personal work, so that they can grow into the light.

 We could all do with growing into the light, starting with me. As RE noted, we are confronted with practical priorities–
… like HTF will I feed myself If/When JIT shipping collapses?  Where is the best place to go to avoid being bombarded by radionucleotides FIRST here?  Maybe I can’t avoid this in perpetuity, but this is a timeline issue and I would like to avoid it for NOW!
We all have– and share– other priorities. Let’s call out bullshit, male or female, where we find it. Let’s just not cede control of the cultural conversation to reactionaries.

***

are-you-not-entertained

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of adult children in various stages of transition.

Tower of Babel: Fact or Fiction?

Off the keyboard of Stuck in NJ

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Published on The Burning Platform on September 20, 2013

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PROLOGUE

Along with The Arky Arky and the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel is one of the best known bible stories.

But it is famous beyond its ACTUAL content … a mere 236 words (in English). Yet, the story has come to mean much more than its actual words. For example, the idea that God is so afraid of tall brick structures that he has to create multiple languages to keep people from becoming too smart for their own good.

Most have at least a vague idea of what the story is about, or at least know the name “Babel”. But, let’s take a look at the entire brief text. I will follow-up with my usual outrageous observations.

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THE BIBLICAL TEXT — GENESIS 11:1-9
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

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BACKGROUND

The Babel story is a great example why a literal interpretation of many OT stories makes no sense whatsoever. A literal interpretation makes a mockery of science, tortures logic, and detracts from the author’s actual spiritual meaning (if any) he intended to impart.

Genesis is a narrative dealing with “beginnings,” as its title indicates. It records the beginning of the universe, plant life, animal life, and even mankind. Hence, one is tempted to apply a literal interpretation that the primary lesson of the Babel passage is the record of how human beings began to speak different languages. This is incorrect, as you will soon see.

That being said, “Babel” may very well be a story of beginnings. The city “Babel,” is the same exact term used of “Babylon” elsewhere in the Bible. Indeed, the Tower was built in Mesopotamia, not Israel. So, more than just a possible explanation for the confusion of languages, it may also function as the etymology of “Babylon” …. the very same Babylonian empire that would wreak tremendous havoc on Israel in sixth century B.C.E. … and the very same Babylon called a “Whore” in Revelation, representing all that is evil, and ultimately destroyed.

Before I get into specifics, it is worth mentioning the origin of the word “Babel”. Strong’s Concordance says the word means “confusion”. That may be true regarding the meaning, but that’s not its etymology. In Hebrew “el” is a name for God … any God, actually. In Ezekiel — “I am el (God), in the seat of elōhîm (Gods). The Hebrews called God El-shaddai (God almighty), ImmanuEL (God with us), and dozens of other “el-” names. The Miriam Webster dictionary gives the following etymology — “Middle English, from Hebrew Bābhel, from Akkadian bāb-ilu, gate”. So, what is Babel? Literally, the Gate of God. So, is it the city that’s called Babel because that’s where God “came down” … as the text says? Or, was the actual tower the people were constructing the “gate of God” … their attempt to “reach to heaven”, or more likely, their attempt to provide a means for God to come down? The text is not clear. So, we’ll leave as interesting speculation.

THE MYTH OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”

A literal interpretation presents problems right from the get go. That’s because there has NEVER been One Universal Language spoken by all humanity. However, I don’t wish to debate philology. A fine overview of the origin of languages is here; — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language

Rather, I am much more interested in the status of human language AT THE TIME referred to by the text. Scholars diverge wildly regarding the possible date the Tower of Babel could have been built – anywhere from 3500BC – 2500BC. So, let’s take the earliest possible date (3500BC) and briefly examine the archaeological evidence.

I need only one example. Spirit Cave in Thailand is a stratified site showing human occupation from BEFORE 5000 B.C. We do not know what language they were speaking in what is now Thailand …. but we can be darn sure it was not Sumerian, or Hebrew. Also, an archaeological dig in Pakistan revealed trident-shaped writing on fragments of pottery dating even further back at 5,500 years BC. Pretty sure they weren’t speaking Sumerian or Hebrew either. There, I gave you two examples.

The fact of the matter is the writer of Genesis 11 was oblivious to the existence of the Far East, Australia, the Americas, and pretty much the rest of the world beyond a few hundred miles of his locale. . Had he been aware of these lands, the peoples, and their cultures … which existed AT THE SAME TIME as when The Tower was built …. then he would have had a much better understanding regarding the history of language, and he would NEVER have said “.. the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”.

Furthermore … and quite significantly … the previous chapter in Genesis, Gen: 10, seems to completely contradict the Babel story. Gen 10 is known as the “Table of Nations”. It lists all the nations that derived from Noah’s sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) after the flood; Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, dozens of other “ites” and even including Egypt and …. Babylon. No one in their right mind would suggest that ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon spoke the same language. We have written texts from both areas to prove otherwise. So,now we have at least two languages. Of much, much greater significance is the fact that the Bible itself states that once dispersed …. these people spoke “after their tongues”! Let’s be clear about this; the Bible states people spoke in unique tongues BEFORE the construction of the Tower.

Either the author of Chapter 11 was being redundant at best (an unlikely repetition in Chapter 11 of what was just reviewed in Chapter 10), or much more likely, he didn’t know that God ALREADY dispersed the nations … each speaking after their own tongues. That’s quite a conundrum for literalists.

GOD GETS ALL PARANOID, ONCE AGAIN

“ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower … Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down,”

1)- God says, “let US go down”. Who is this “us”?? Some folks say it is a figure of speech; such as when a British Royal Queen refers to herself as “we”. Unfortunately, there was no British royalty back then … and the royalty that did exist simply didn’t talk that way. But most Christians say God was talking to Jesus in his pre-incarnate form .. cuz Jeebus existed before he was born. I don’t know how to debate time-travel fantasies, so I won’t. The more logical explanation is that the ancient Jews, before they developed monotheism, believed in multiple Gods. Even Abraham’s father worshipped multiple Gods, and almost certainly Abraham was raised by his own father to do likewise (until he didn’t). Many years later, perhaps decades, Rachel was caught hiding the “household idols” inside her camel’s saddle. Then after the Jews escaped Egpyt, one of their first acts was to construct and worship a Golden Calf. However Christians want to interpret this. The fact of the matter is that early Judaism adopted very many of the Gods they left behind, they believed in multiple Gods, amd monotheism actually took centuries to fully develop.

2)- Why does an omniscient, omnipotent God need to “come down” to see anything?? And, where exactly is he coming down from? Does he walk, or take a bus? Theologians call this anthropomorphism; “the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being, such as a God.”. These attributions must be made because no one has ever seen this OT God. Moses came closest, and even then, he only saw God’s “backside” … literally, “ass”. Who said there’s no humor in the Bible? “Anthropomorphism” is just a way of saying; “We make our Gods in MAN’S image.” Have you ever noticed that Western Gods behave just like humans? Especially the Greek and Roman Gods with all their fornication and backstabbing and jealousy and murder. And the OT God who laughs, cries, repents, has massive bouts of anger so much so that he has attempted to wipe out the human race, is often driven to jealous rage, and suffers from severe bouts of paranoid insecurity. We “anthropomorphize” deities because the more the Gods become like men, the easier it is for men to believe in the Gods.

3) Regarding paranoia in the Tower of Babel story —- why would an omnipotent God be so damn afraid of humans [supposedly] speaking one language? Why is he so afraid of humans building a structure that is, at best, about 300 feet high? Why didn’t he strike dead the builders of One World Trade Center who just completed a 1,776 foot skyscraper? Why is God afraid of technological progress? Does God REALLY believe that by having one language that “NOTHING” will be “impossible” for mankind? The implication being that puny finite mankind can (will) overthrow an all-powerful eternal God …. unless their language be confounded. Isn’t this idea just beyond silly, and indicative of massive paranoia?

And this isn’t the first time God exhibited his paranoia. He freaked out when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit …. fearing that mankind is “now like us”. (There’s that ‘us’ again.) Really?? Humans are now like God because they ate some fruit? Shortly thereafter God freaked out again … afraid that Adam and Eve might eat from a tree that would give them eternal life, so he had an angel with a flaming sword drive them out of the Garden to prevent that. Another time God was so freaked out over man’s wickedness that he sent a Great Flood to wipe out all but eight people from the face of the earth …. you know, because this all-powerful God was totally powerless to influence humanity. There are dozens more stories in the OT where God freaks out, and when God freaks out, humans die. A strange and paranoid God.

HOW DID GOD PULL THIS OFF?

Almost always in the reading of God’s miracles, they are almost always simply accepted at face value. The reasoning being that God is All-Powerful, and therefore He can do anything He wants. So, when the Bible states that the planet Earth stopped spinning, or the sun stood still, (so that Joshua could kill more Amorites), well, not one in a hundred Christian readers stops to ask themselves “how in the hell is that even possible without the earth exploding into space in a million fragments?” “More miracles” is the only possible response. But that answers absolutely nothing. Such cop-out explanations are akin to the Hindu idea that the elephant holds up the earth. Someone asks, “What holds up the elephant?” Answer: Another elephant. And so on, ad infinitum, ad absurdum.

So, exactly how did God pull this off? Did folks suddenly and immediately in the blink of an eye start speaking, for example, German? Were they suddenly able to pronounce “umlauts” and that crazy “ch” sound? Did they suddenly and immediately understand the nuances of the German language and realize that one can now end a sentence with a verb? Did they suddenly wear Lederhosen? Language is in the brain, of course, so did God have to “rewire” each and every person’s brain, from 5 year olds to 100 year olds? Key question; did they forget their original language … or were they bilingual, in which case, of course, the people would all STILL have a common language! Lol

WAS CONFOUNDING LANGUAGE A GOOD IDEA?

It doesn’t seem that confounding human language was all that brilliant. SAME language / culture unites … MULTICULTURALISM divides. It is significant to note that up to this point in biblical history, man had not fought against his fellow man other than in conflicts between individuals. There had been no mention of wars, no racial strife, no religious bigotry, no patriotic blood baths. Man had no reason to gang up and attack other groups of men. At that time, man was not at war with his fellow man and all men communicated freely in one tongue. It was this free communication which God knew he must put an end to if he planned on keeping men enslaved. Brilliant!

IS GOD BIPOLAR?

I ask this because thousands of years later in the New Testament book of Acts (2:1-11), God has a totally different agenda. This agenda is the antithesis of Babel … ONE language. This is the narrative. Believers were all in one place and of one accord (just like in Babel). The story even uses the word “confounded”, but for a different reason. This time after having received the Holy Spirit, the apostles preach … and men of diverse languages hear the sermon IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGES. Back in Babel the plan was to separate people, and now in Acts we’re seeing the exact opposite; a great re-integration. Bad one time. Good the next time. I wish God would make up His mind.

It seems that God’s primary reason for “coming down” was not necessarily the Tower structure itself – that was merely the means to an end — but because the people of Babel wanted to “make a name for ourselves”. But, in the very next chapter it is God himself who makes Abraham’s name great. King David spends a good portion of his life making a name for himself (2 Sam 8:13) without any negative repercussions or divine reprisals. It can be really hard to figure out what God really believes / wants.

WHAT LESSON CAN WE LEARN FROM THE TOWER OF BABEL?

Are we really supposed to believe that the Builders of the tower were motivated by building a structure that could reach heaven? How stupid would that be? They built the thing on “the PLAINS of Shinar”. A FLAT plain. There were MOUNTAINS nearby which would have given them a few thousand feet head start. Lol Are we to believe that they thought they could build a structure higher than a mountain? If they really wanted to reach the heavens, wouldn’t they have built the tower on the nearest high mountain? Yes. So, there must have been a different motivation … one we will never know. However, I can speculate on what the writer of the Babel story intended.

We can all certainly agree that the end result in the Tower story is one of division (one of God’s specialties). Let’s take a very brief look at one other major example in how God divides. OK. So, God chooses one race to his people … creating Judaism in the process. God later sends a Messiah to create a second division of his people …. creating Christianity in the process. God then chooses another guy, Mohammed, to create a third division of his people …. creating Islam in the process. And don’t tell me it wasn’t God who did all this. You should know that for ALL three of these divisions, God used the angel Gabriel as the messenger. Of course, these divisions have resulted in the longest and bloodiest conflicts in human history … which continue to this very day.

So, what are we to make of all this?

The 16th century philosopher, Machiavelli, may be able to help understand what is going on. Machiavelli described how a third party could manipulate two other parties … and maintain control over them both. It works like this;

—– 1) The Ruler creates a division amongst the people.

—– 2) The Ruler does this by creating conditions which accentuate the differences between groups. This causes conflict, and so the groups fight amongst themselves rather than against the ruler.

—– 3) The Ruler hides that HE is the cause of the conflicts, going so far as to feign innocence.

—– 4) The Ruler then offers support to ALL parties involved, thus maintaining their loyalty and faith in him.

—– 5) The Ruler is now viewed as The Beneficial One – Machiavelli uses the term “concerned parent” — no matter how bad and evil The Ruler might be in reality. After all, ONLY The Ruler can help bring everyone back together. There is a steep cost, of course. Many will suffer. Few will benefit. But, no one will ever blame The Ruler … which is just the way he likes it.

Now, am I saying that God is some type of Machiavellian monster? No. But, I am saying that that’s how the writers of Scripture often portray Him. Some may not want to hear this, but I am 100% convinced that the various authors of Scripture had no clue whatsoever that they were writing Scripture. There was no voice from heaven thundering “Hezekiah! Grab a pen. Let’s write some Scripture!”. They had no clue that the words they penned would take hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to be considered “The Word of God” … and even then, only by a fatally flawed procedure of humans voting. The Ancient Sages had even less of a clue as to how the world works, human psychology and all that, but that didn’t stop them from trying to explain it.

So they wrote stuff, lots of stuff … some of it eventually became God’s Word … based on their observations and very limited knowledge. I imagine some smart (at the time) guy trying to explain to the people how multiple languages came into being, so he fabricates a story that at one time all humanity spoke just one language (a blatant misconception). No one apparently knew better, so people believed it. They believed it for so long, that even when the truth of the matter was made know … people STILL believed it. That, my friends, is the power of propaganda, believing the temporary lie until it becomes permanent truth. So, people have a choice to make. For me, the Tower of Babel story is an interesting piece of ancient literature. Nothing more.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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