Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Pantheon of god-kings

There is often huge linguistic, cultural and even genetic difference between rulers and ruled, much, much more so after the advent of ‘civilization’. Most significant is the rather ubiquitous presentation of ‘superiority’ – of right to rule, of need of the ruled to BE ruled, and of a great gap, between those who can rule and those who cannot.

To start with my exposition, a ‘true’ story (as true as any history, anyway):
When Philip II was born, about 382 BCE, Macedonians were “wandering about without resources, many of them clothed in sheepskins and pasturing small flocks in the mountains, defending them with difficulty against the Illyrians, Triballians and neighboring Thracians” (according to Arrian of Nicomedia). This is exaggerated, but Philip’s father Amyntas III had difficulty defending his country, a client state of Illyria.
As a young man, Phillip spent 3 years as a hostage to Thebes, which had the most powerful army in Greece. Phillip studied the tactics of its renowned commanders, and studied the famous ‘Theban wedge’ could be used in a mass attack over open ground by a phalanx at pace, to drive an enemy from the battlefield. Deeply impressed by the Theban elite force the ‘Sacred Band’, he later modeled his own elite forces on it. The earlier army had had a capable, aristocratic cavalry alongside a light infantry of peasants, but after becoming regent of Macedonia, Philip quickly re-molded it into a superb fighting unit, with expert heavy infantry. He increased the size of the army from 10,000 to 24,000, greatly expanded the cavalry (from 600 to 3,500) and trained troops in the latest Theban tactics. He supervised drills and discipline, made sure that the army was regularly paid and received other benefits, including uniforms. Soldiers were no longer loyal to a particular town or province but faithful only to the king, and not citizen-soldiers but professionals. Philip soon made the phalanx more flexible, with a better system for communications. He introduced a very long spear, 14 to 20 feet in length, so that the phalanx could reach the enemy before themselves coming within reach of enemy spears. He equipped every soldier with a short sword, ideal for close combat, a new helmet, and a redesigned shield. He also established a corps of engineers which soon proved adept at siege warfare, using towers and catapults.
Forced by Athens to cooperate in attempt to conquer the city of Amphipolis, once it had been captured, he kept it for himself and broke off the collaboration. Amphipolis was important as it controlled the Strymon River, which passed along strategically important forests with high trees ideal for building ships. The city also controlled the road from Macedonia to Thrace, but most importantly: there were gold mines there, at Mount Pangeon. As long as Macedonia had Amphipolis, it had resources to build up its army, and could also blackmail neighboring sea powers.
At Chaeronea in 338, Philip’s army feigned a retreat that created openings for his cavalry, and won a great victory over the Greeks. 18-year-old Alexander led heavy cavalry against the Athenian Sacred Band, an extraordinarily responsible position as it was to deliver the knock-out blow. The Sacred Band was wiped out, and as a result, Phillip was able to form the League of Corinth (337), bringing almost all Greek city-states into alliance. Once appointed as leader of the Greeks, confident in his superior military, he inaugurated war against Persia by sending an army to free the Greek cities of Asia (Anatolia, today Turkey). Already hoping to establish a cult of divinity for himself and his family, he built a circular edifice he named the Philippeum, with gold and ivory statues of him, his wife, his parents and Alexander. Alexander was appointed an ambassador extraordinary to Athens, which went well, but suddenly father and son were at odds. To leave on his Asiatic campaign involved risk of a plot back home for a usurping coup, Phillip knew, and initiated precautions.
Alexander felt deprived of glory from Chaeronea, felt destined from birth to, like Achilles, win glory and renown fighting barbarians in Asia, and felt that his virtue and accomplishments mandated his quick elevation. Philip had made the tool (his army), but it seemed to his son his right to prove what it could do. He’d been, after all, raised to the task. Phillip, naturally having some problems with this, exiled the haughty prince and his mother. Preparations for the invasion went ahead with 10,000 men, including 1000 cavalry, sent over to ‘liberate the Greek cities’.
During his conquest of Greece, Philip took time away from the battlefield to marry seven times, ‘though by the end the once-handsome man carried many scars of war. After two decades of fighting, he had a fractured collar and mutilated hand, was missing an eye, and walked with a limp thanks to a lance wound to his leg. His 7th wife first had a daughter, but then a son, who, unlike Alexander, was fully Macedonian. Phillip performed magnificent sacrifices to the gods to celebrate the birth and also the wedding of a daughter to the king of the Epirots. He invited friends from all over Greece, and instructed his friends to bring as many of their acquaintances as they could. Provided were music contests, public games and rich, sumptuous feasts for those bound to him by ties of guest friendship.
When people flocked to the festival, not only was Philip awarded crowns of gold but among processional statues of the twelve Olympian gods (including Dionysus) extravagantly fashioned with the most magnificent workmanship and wondrously adorned with the gleam of precious metal, a thirteenth was carried, a statue fit for a god, one of Philip enthroned with the twelve Olympians. Who was being haughty now?

Years earlier, a Macedonian named Pausanias became a bodyguard of Philip, who loved him for his good looks. On observing another man of the same name becoming the object of the king’s affections, he made a great jealous scene, abusing the second Pausanias by calling him a hermaphrodite and promiscuous little tart willing to submit to the erotic advances of anyone who desired to initiate them. The humiliated replacement killed himself for shame (in battle, it’s told, protecting Phillip). A friend then invited the first to dinner, plied him with unwatered wine until he was dead drunk, and with his other guests raped the wretched youth by turns until, when done, gave him over to the grooms and muleteers from his stable, to further sexually abuse and drunkenly rape. On sobering up from his intoxication, Pausanias was extremely bitter about the physical abuse he’d suffered and complained to Phillip, who did nothing but offer some gifts and a higher place among his bodyguards. Pausanias nursed wrath against one who had demeaned him by failing to extract vengeance, until opportunity came to kill him. That the victim was also one who had accomplished much and so would be remembered, as then also would be his slayer, mattered too. He was, though, unlikely to have done it without encouragement and help from others.
As part of the celebrations, Philip ordered his bodyguards to leave him for a time (as a leader, not a tyrant, it would have sent the wrong signal for him to attend a public celebration, in the royal theater, surrounded by armed men). Pausanias disobeyed those orders, lingered behind, unnoticed, and when no-one was near plunged a Celtic dagger into Philip’s heart.
This happened at a crucial moment for Alexander, who quickly took over. Some hold that the murder was instigated by Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and that Alexander himself knew his father was to be killed. Olympias was resentful at having been divorced, and feared the new son would supplant her own. Both are thought to have encouraged Pausanias; Olympias had horses prepared for the escape of the assassin. A few days later, she burnt his body upon the remains of her ex-husband, made him a tomb in the same place, and provided that yearly sacrifices should be performed for him. She tortured Cleopatra, for whose sake she had been divorced from Philip. After killing her daughter in her lap, she fored her to hang herself. She consecrated the Celtic knife with which the king had been killed, to Apollo, under the name of Myrtale, which was Olympias’s own name when a child. All these things were done publicly, and none dared voice a breath of criticism.
Philip, in the course of a reign of 24 years, had been the greatest of the kings of Europe of his day. Found in his tomb were the remains of his last wife, and of the son born a few days before his assassination, also killed soon after Philip’s murder.

At the age of only twenty, Alexander, through a virtual paracide, became king of Macedonia. To throw into disarray any potential accuser, he directed towards Persians suspicion of having arranged the plot. A letter from him to Persian King Darius purportedly states that: “My father was killed by conspirators whom you instigated as you have yourself boasted to all in your letters.”

About 3000 years ago, a mountain people from the Badakshan area of Central Asia (northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan), an important trading center through which a “Silk Road” passed, became tempted by thoughts of wealth in lowlands to their west, which they were becoming strong enough to consider appropriating. These people of Kamboja, or Kambujiya, had strong belief in hierarchy, divine will and the right of might. To them, to be able to take was a mandate to do so, within the natural, moral compass and order of things. How could it be else-wise?
In the 9th century BCE they took Persis (now Fars Province of Iran, where Shiraz is), then Anshan (in the Zagros mountains of southwestern Iran), a quite ancient civilization, and soon the whole Iranian plateau.
The empire at around 500 BCE stretched from the Indus Valley in the east to Thrace and Macedonia; it eventually controlled Egypt and encompassed approximately 8 million square kilometers; in 480 BCE it is estimated to have had 50 million people. At its greatest extent, it had absorbed the modern territories of Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, most of Turkey, parts of Libya, Georgia and Azerbaijan, much of the Black Sea coastal regions and extensive parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman. They may well have been the root of the Ksyatriya caste, India’s ruling and military elite who were in charge of protecting society by fighting in wartime and governing in peacetime, and Gautama Buddha was most likely one of them (see the work of Ranajit Pal, who faces much disparagement but seems to me spot on, at least about some things).
Some of these Persian Kshatriyas created the Srivijaya maritime empire, a splinter group from which met other Kambojas who had come overland (through Afghanistan, south of the Himalayas to Bengal and eventually following the path of the Mekong) to the Tonle Sap in what was then the kingdom of Chenla (Zhenla) and what is now Cambodia. These two groups, united by racial background, world-view and Indo-European language, would have had trouble communicating verbally after a millennia of differing influences on their language, but they saw the locals (who mostly spoke Austronesian language) in quite the same way. Together they enslaved the local aboriginals, built the extensive Angkor Wat complexes, became known as the Khom and eventually formed the core of Siamese royalty and what became Thailand. As less than 1% has great difficulty holding in slavery over 99%, when drought and the Black Plague hit about 1300 CE, the Angkor Empire started to crumble, its edifices, by the time of the rise of Ayudhaya, left as a bad memory to become over-run by jungle, and the Khom were almost forgotten.
The term ‘Khom’ gets used for the Ancient Khmer lettering used in Thailand's Buddhist temples to inscribe sacred Buddhist mantras and prayers, with its own script, one sometimes used with some minority languages of southern Laos. A century ago there was an independence movement there (as well as in parts of far southeast Issan, Thailand). Led by Ong Keo (องค์แก้ว) then Ong Kommadam (both were assassinated), the plan was to throw out all foreigners and bring back holy rule. The Kom, Kam or Kamboj are also a tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the lower part of the Bashgul Valley, also known as Kam Kamboj. Pre-Angkorian Khmer (used 600 – 800 CE) is only known from words and phrases in Sanskrit texts; Angkorian Khmer (Old Khmer) was subsequently used (until the 13th c. CE) as a language of government, but that does NOT mean it’s what rulers spoke at home. Other, accredited scholars have connected the names Kom and Kata with ancient Kamboja, but discussion of this seems to be frowned upon by Thailand’s ruling elite in Bangkok.
Jit Phoumisak, called by some the only Thai intellectual, wrote about Khom rulers of Angkor, and seems as a result to have been executed. David K. Wyatt of Cornell University, the foremost historian on Thailand, might well have wanted to write on it, too, but wanted even more to be able to return to Thailand for visits, and so did not, although some of his later writings show interest in the surrounding controversies.
Srivijaya, like the Dutch and British East India Companies, merely expropriated ports, with “factory” warehouses, and didn't attempt administration of colonies (Ligor, now Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Thailand, a possible exception), but the Khom rulers of the Khmer (pronounced “kha-may”, the first syllable just like the Thai word for slave) raised rule to an art form, beguiling a gullible public with magical incantations and other bewitchery for half a millennium.

This is fascinating: in his “A history of Cambodia” David Chandler says, “In the 17th century, according to Dutch sources, foreign traders were required to live in specific areas of the new capitol, Udong, reserved for them and to deal with the Cambodian government only through appointed representatives, or shabandar.”
Wikipedia says, “Shāhbandar (Persian: شه‌بندر‎‎, lit. “harbourmaster”), was an official of the ports in Safavid Persia and one also known on other shores of the Indian Ocean. The Shahbandar (Port Master) was in charge of the traders and the collection of taxes. The office of shahbandar first appeared in Persia, and from there spread throughout the Indian Ocean basin.” Chandler doesn’t mention Persians though.
Yup, Persian influence in SE Asia goes WAY back. As Dr. Ranajit Pal put it, “evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama. … Even the Indus Culture (India) is a colony of the Sumerian Empire, ...”
I was researching to write about Vasco de Gama for one of my novels, and ended up parroting others who had him meeting (and battling with) Arab traders in the Arabian Sea area, as if Persians would not have come down from the Persian Gulf… I’ve corrected that now. Clearly, Persians did travel and interact to the east and south of their home area, and why not? I’ve yet to have solid evidence for my speculations about their possible influence on Angkor, yet, though.
Seems likely to me that well before Persians became bureaucrats for Cambodian and Thai kings, they traded through a large coastal area extending until Chinese influence and control became too strong to deal with. Over centuries, they became knowledgeable in methods of control, lost interest in colonization or active political control in preference to manipulations through trade (for the most part), doing what Portuguese, Dutch and British later did with their “East India” companies. A break-away group forged Angkor, though, and kept an empire until Han population explosion and conquest of Han people by Mongols changed the socio-political situation enough that an alliance with T’ai peoples, emigrating for safety’s sake from their Southern Chinese homelands, seemed an appropriate recourse. Pressures from Vietnamese peoples may have contributed.
Anyway, mangroves clogging the northern shores of the Gulf of Siam were reduced in extent sufficiently that a new port city on the ChaoPraya River could be built, and a descendant of Shan/Lanna royalty invited to come rule. The rulers of Angkor and their hangers-on, Chinese merchants from Kwantung and others formed a new elite for this new city, which they called Ayudhaya, after a mythological city from the Ramayana tale. Eventually integration of their descendants with locals created the distinction from Malays that has become much more noticeable over the last century. Cambodia was left with neither a strong elite nor much of a trading community (except for Cham Vietnamese who took control of the ports that had exported their forest products), lost population and area and became a kind of satellite state controlled by Siamese and Vietnamese rivals.
This explains more to me than any other scenario I have encountered, and leaves fewer holes, less confusion, and so, utilizing Occam’s Razor, I accept it without the kind of proofs Western academicians prefer.
But I do have this: Tibet and Altai are high-altitude places a series of conquerors descended from. Tajikistan might be another. People from there, or other mountains nearby, conquered Persia and almost Ancient Greece. Their Achaemenid Empire was huge but historians have underestimated it, I think. They didn’t only go West, but also East, along the Old Silk Road and to the headwaters of the Mekong, down that river and finally to Cambodia, the name of which comes from them. Marco Polo’s ludicrous account of descending steadily downhill for three months, into what is now Myanmar, may well be a reflection of this, taken from stories Turk traders heard from Tajiks. After Cambyses II, (a Tajik descendant, I am suggesting), son of Cyrus the Great and uncle of Xerxes, died in a Libyan sandstorm (or something close enough), some of his people turned back and tried India instead, forming the Kshatriyan caste of India and then the Srivijayan maritime empire based in Ligor and Java. One of their explorers, finding descendants of Tajik traders near Tonle Sap, decided to go for real empire instead of just trading, and with the help of a “5th column” of distant relatives, was able to found the Angkor Empire. In 1431, secrets of kingship gleaned over two millennium were used to found Ayudhaya, a trading partner for Southern Chinese loathe to remain subjects of Beijing (or Xanadu, X’ian, of Mongols, Ming or Qing). To accomplish this, when they were overthrown by a successful slave revolt, they allied themselves with T’ai princes pushed south not only by Mongol conquests but by Han Chinese population expansion. Later, others from Persia formed the backbone of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty’s bureaucracy… Mountain people who ate fresh meat and forest products tended to be much hardier than lowland grain-eating agriculturists, and sometimes found opportunity to enrich themselves through their strength and simultaneously gain revenge on the “civilized” folk who despised them. To maintain supremacy, they found elaborate, formal high-church-like ceremony endowed with purported accouterments of power and embellished with semblances of magic importantly helpful. The pageantry, as it often does, worked, but they had to continually work at it, becoming, in a way, increasingly slaves to their slaves. Thus the switch to “maritime empire,” which was often equally rewarding but less demanding. Ports in India, Indonesia and at Ligor became havens of luxury. Then some, as happens, sociopathically aspired to God-hood. Wealth and power weren’t enough; adulation and sycophancy were desired also. And so, Babylon, Constantinople, Angkor, Xanadu (X’ian) and perhaps Ayudhaya, although in its case, the mountain people must have been at greater remove from their ancestral mountains. I suspect it was similar with the Aztecs. Incas, however, stayed in their mountains (and I know little of their pageantry, except that they had plenty). I suspect that secrets of mass-manipulation have been handed down. This theory might help explain mafia influence in some current governments… Capishe?

To solidify and clarify this concept of a magical importance to god-kings, I made a short history of early ‘civilization’:
The emergence of humanity into what we call civilization is shrouded in mystery; recent archaeology has given us more than myth and legend, and science may soon offer us even more. Today the earliest settlements with several thousand inhabitants known are from the 31st century BCE - cities which housed tens of thousands, at Memphis in Egypt and Uruk of Sumur (Iraq). A 7,000-year-old town by the Nile, across from Luxor, held homes of some important people of Egypt’s First Dynasty - Abydos, a “lost city” believed to date from 5,316 BCE, could have been part of the first capital of one of the earliest Egyptian empires.
The origin of Mesopotamia dates further back; there’s no known evidence of any other civilized society before them. Somewhere around 8000 BCE people there began agriculture, and slowly started to domesticate animals for food as well as to assist in farming. Mesopotamia is credited with being the first place where truly ‘civilized’ societies took shape, about 3300 BCE. It’s unclear to me how Abydos and the early First Dynasty of Egypt weren’t civilized, but nevermind.
People had been creating art beforehand, but that considered culture, not civilization. As Mesopotamia arose, it refined and formalized systems, combining them to form civilization. This began in the highlands (freer from insects and germs and with hardier animals), then moved to where there was better soil, plus ease of irrigation and travel for trade, in lowland Iraq (Babylonia, Sumer and Assyria).
The origins of agriculture in the Near East can be attributed to multiple centers rather than a single core area and that the eastern Fertile Crescent played a key role in the process of domestication. Early cultivation was of wild barley, goat-grass and lentil, all wild ancestors of modern crops. 9800 years ago, domesticated emmer wheat appears. Plants including multiple forms of wheat, barley and lentils together with domestic animals later accompanied farmers as they spread across western Eurasia, gradually replacing the indigenous hunter-gather societies. This didn’t improve living standards, just eliminated need to be nomadic, and allowed for some rapid population growth. People became somewhat smaller with the nutritional changes, but also found strength in numbers.
Around 10,200 BCE Fertile Crescent cultures with pottery (7600 to 6000 BCE) and from there spread eastwards and westwards. Notable was Jericho, the world’s first town (settled around 8500 BCE and fortified around 6800 BCE). The convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers produced rich fertile soil with water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around the rivers are the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. From about 6500 to 3800 BCE urbanization began. Agriculture and animal husbandry were practiced in sedentary communities in Northern Mesopotamia, and intensively irrigated agriculture began in the south.
About 3200 BCE, as the two earliest civilizations developed in the area where southwest Asia joins northeast Africa, great rivers are a crucial part of the story. The Sumerians settled between the mouths of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Egypt developed in the long narrow strip of the Nile valley. Ancient Egypt, one of the oldest and culturally richest civilizations, is known for its prodigious culture, with a majestic civilization that resided by the banks of the Nile. It coalesced around 3150 BCE (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first Pharaoh. This wouldn’t have been possible had there not been settlers around the Nile valley as early as 3500 BCE - people who fished in the river… but could hardly do very successful hunting and gathering away from the river, in Egypt’s desert lands.

The first god-kings may have been Pharaohs, 5000 years ago. There’s not a lot to go on about that, beyond myths told in hieroglyphs, but we know that magic was resorted to in endeavor to influence Nile floods. Everything depended on the Nile for the people there, but the Nile well resisted puny human efforts to exert any control at all. Record-keeping facilitated anticipation and prediction. Useful flood-gates and canals could be constructed given sufficient central guidance, as also could be grain storage. Central Command was also helpful with crop rotation, but a heavy responsibility, failures at which could easily provoke dangerously disruptive wrath. For social stability anger needed to be controlled, contained and deflected, better than the river could be. To install awe for those in charge could minimize social instability and maximize benefits the river continually brought. So the charade of deification hardly seems strange. It worked well for 3000 years.
The Chinese had two great rivers; when the first god-king somewhat less legendary than the “Yellow Emperor” first occurred isn’t clear; earlier, to be sure, than the first great emperor we’ve records of. From Mesopotamia we know of Cyrus becoming god-king soon after 550 BCE; maybe he initiated the idea there, maybe he’d heard tales from Egypt &/or China.
Rivers offer two main advantages to a developing civilization. They provide water to irrigate the fields, and they offer the easiest method of transport for a society without paved roads. Rivers also played an important role in the civilizations of the Indus, and later, many other places (particularly in Cambodia and Thailand, and along the Mississippi).
King Hammurabi, who ruled from Babylon around 2000 BCE, drew up the first recorded set of laws. His “Code of Hammurabi” set down harsh penalties for those who broke the laws—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Punishment fit the crime. These early laws provided everyone, regardless of their class or rank, at least some protection from their neighbors, but punishments differed between the ‘superior’, normal and slave classes.
It’s not known whether contact with Mesopotamia inspired the first civilization of India, but by about 2500 BCE the neolithic villages along the banks of the Indus combined into a unified and sophisticated culture. The Indus civilization, with large cities at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, expanded over a larger region than Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. It survived, in remarkably consistent form, for about 1000 years. Over 4,000 years ago in the valley of the Indus River (which flows through Pakistan), people enjoyed an ever-improving standard of living, learning to use bronze and copper to make cooking utensils as well as weapons. Mohenjo-Daro had streets paved with bricks and lined with shops.
The Harappan, or Indus Valley Civilization, planned cities in advance, but apparently a massive, centuries-long drought brought the culture into a slow decline, from which it never arose. This is nothing more than a theory, but it helps explain other cultural declines in the area. Beginning sometime in the 25th century BCE, the Harappans developed their language with a script of nearly 500 characters (which have still to be completely deciphered). Noteworthy artifacts include seals made of soapstone depicting animals and mythical creatures. The peak phase of this civilization lasted from 2600 BCE to around 1900 BCE - a sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture, the first in the region. Its people achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. Based on artifacts excavated, it’s evident the culture was rich in arts and crafts. After collapse, the ruins of the Harappan civilization provided a template for the various other cultures which sprang up after it.
Europe’s biggest prehistoric civilization, the Vinca, existed for nearly 1,500 years. Beginning in the 55th century BCE, it occupied land throughout Serbia and Romania. Named after a present-day village near the Danube River, where the first discoveries were made in the 20th century, the Vinca worked metal, were perhaps the world’s first civilization to use copper (they excavated the first mine in Europe). Though the Vinca had no officially recognized form of writing, examples of proto-writing, symbols which don’t actually express language, have been found on stone tablets dating from 4000 BCE. Archaeologists unearthed toys (animals and rattles) from among other artifacts. The Vinca had organized specific locations for trash, with their dead all buried in a central location.
The next region to develop a distinctive civilization centers on the Aegean Sea, about 2000 BCE. The bays and inlets of the rugged coastal regions of Greece, and the many small islands strung like pearls across this relatively sheltered sea, made this an ideal area for trade (and piracy). The Aegean civilization, which began on Crete, stands at the start of the very lively tradition of Mediterranean culture. Surely the reader knows some about that!

Around 3000 BCE the wheel made transportation of good easier and quicker. Mesopotamia was known for metalwork, wool textiles, pottery and foods (dried fish, barley, wheat). Copper, tin and timber were imported. The oldest known wheel found in an archaeological excavation is from Mesopotamia, and dates to around 3500 BCE. By this time, humans were planting crops, herding domesticated animals, engaging in semi-organized fighting and paying for social hierarchy.
Wheels might have been thought of, as they were in Mexico and made for toys but for nothing else, but didn’t obtain utility until metal tools became available to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. The wheel isn’t just a cylinder as in a Flintstone cartoon; connecting it to a stable, stationary platform presented a serious challenge. The ends of the axle, as well as the holes in the centre of the wheels, had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, or too much friction between components would hinder and even prevent turning. The axle had to fit snugly in its holes, but with enough room to allow them to rotate freely.
Wheels were first used by potters. A 5,500-year-old wheel from Mesopotamia (Sumeria) was a potters’ wheel; use of wheels for pottery-making likely dates even further back. Wheels for transportation may have first been invented either in Mesopotamia or the Eurasian steppes. An early image of a wheeled cart was found in Poland, and others elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes. The earliest well-dated depiction is on the Bronocice pot (c. 3500 – 3350 BCE) found in southern Poland, and depicts a vehicle with a shaft for a draught animal, four wheels and lines connecting them probably representing axles. The ‘Ljubljana Marshes Wheel’ was found in the capital of Slovenia and dated to 3150 BCE. Linguistic evidence is used to support the claim that the wheel originated in the Eurasian steppes.

The development of proto-writing in Harappa around 3300 BCE was followed by Chinese oracle bone script and Mesoamerican writing from about 2000 BCE. Chinese civilization may have begun about 1900 BCE, although ancient Chinese historical records like the Bamboo Annals mention the Xia Dynasty, for which there is no archeological evidence. The earliest Chinese dynasty for which there is both archeological and written evidence is the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE), sites from which revealed the earliest known Chinese writing, the oracle bone script. The longest consistent civilization is that of China. Its vast empire seems set apart from the rest of the world, fiercely proud of its own traditions, resisting foreign influences. Its history begins in a characteristically independent manner, with no identifiable precedents. Shang texts use characters recognizably related to Chinese writing today.
At Ban Chiang, in Udon Thani, Thailand, graves from about 2100 BCE were uncovered. Bronze making there may have begun c. 2000 BCE, as evidenced by crucibles and bronze fragments. Bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells were found. The date of 2100 BCE was obtained from rice phytoliths from inside a grave vessel of the lowest grave. Later analysis suggests that the initial settlement of Ban Chiang took place by about 1500 BCE, with the transition to the Bronze Age about 1000 BCE. Politics seems to have hindered progress with this.

Rice cultivation may have begun quite early along the now submerged Sundaland (the Sunda Shelf), possibly even earlier than barley and lentils in Iraq. Savanna vegetation from the last glacial period, in now submerged areas of Sundaland, suggests a continuous savanna corridor connecting modern mainland Asia to Java and Borneo. Vegetation there may have been dominated by tropical rainforest, with only small, discontinuous patches of savanna vegetation, but a savanna corridor would have allowed for savanna-dwelling fauna and early humans to go from the modern Malaysian Peninsula to Borneo. A 50-150 kilometer wide savanna corridor down the Malaysian Peninsula, through Sumatra and Java, and across to Borneo, is strongly suggested by the composition of bat guano deposits in Sundaland. Life in coastal areas may have been safer from large predators than further inland, but changing sea levels would have caused humans to move away from their coastal homes and culture, farther inland and upland, throughout Southeast Asia. This forced migration would have caused these humans to adapt to the new forest and mountainous environments, fostering development.
A 2009 genetic study published by the 2009 Human Genome Organization Pan-Asian SNP Consortium found that Asia was originally settled by humans via a single southern route from Africa via India, into Southeast Asia and what are now islands in the Pacific, then later up to the eastern and northern Asian mainland. Similarities were found between populations throughout Asia with an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. Although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in Southeast Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred recently, within the last 3,000 years, following the development of rice farming. Genetic research from 2008 indicates that islands which remain from Sundaland were likely populated as early as 50,000 years ago, contrary to the hypothesis that they were populated as late as 10,000 years ago from Taiwan. Historical linguistics supports the theory that the home of the Austronesian languages is the main island of Taiwan. Australian Aborigines have been proven resident in that continent from 31,000 BCE. Aboriginal Australians diverged from Papuans some 37,000 years ago, well before the Australian land mass separated from New Guinea roughly 10,000 years ago. It’s widely accepted that Aborigines have been in Australia well over 40,000 years.

Early accounting dates to ancient Mesopotamia. Related to developments in writing, math and money, early auditing systems of ancient Egyptians and Babylonians go back more than 7,000 years. Documents from ancient Mesopotamia show lists of expenditures, and of goods received and traded. The development of accounting, along with that of money and numbers, were related to the taxation and religious trading activities. All emerged in the context of controlling goods, stocks and transactions in the temple economy. People relied on primitive accounting methods to record the growth of crops and herds. Because there was a natural season to farming and herding, it was easy to count and determine if a surplus had been gained after harvests or the weaning of young animals.
Between the 4th and 3rd millenniums BCE, the ruling leaders and priests in ancient Persia had people oversee financial matters. In Godin Tepe (گدین تپه) and Tepe Yahya (تپه يحيی), cylindrical tokens used for bookkeeping on clay scripts were found in buildings that had large rooms for storage of crops. Godin Tepe scripts had only tables with figures, while in Tepe Yahya, they also contained graphical representations. The invention of a form of bookkeeping using clay tokens was a huge leap. During the 1st millennium BCE, commerce and business expanded, as did the role of the accountant. Phoenicians invented a phonetic alphabet for bookkeeping purposes. An individual in ancient Egypt held the title “comptroller of the scribes”.

After 550 BCE, the Achaemenians Cyrus, Darius, Cambysus and Xerxes perfected a new form of semiotic narrative to excuse (whitewash) extension of class and power differentiation and separation, and enhance the empowerment of a predatory, grasping elite. Ritual forms to placate the deprived masses, allow empire building and lavish entitlement for a hereditary few were perfected. This required intermediary levels of managers, overseers, officers and bureaucrats who of necessity had to believe in and support the system exploiting them and the serfs and slaves they direct, shepherd and lead to slaughter. Emblems of rank and privilege became icons: crowns, robes, scepters, diadems, signet seals, thrones and flags joined images and effigies as not only representations but actual implements of power (well, purportedly, anyway), the real object being the total differentiation of rulers and ruled. Eventually lawyers, doctors, journalists, and business executives became priests in this caste differentiation, with bankers as the real power behind figurehead royalty.
An army needs a command center, tents, footwear, reserve weapons, a commissary and kitchens, quartermasters, and in ancient times livestock (to pull wagons, for food, and to ride into battle). All the organization involved demanded relatively sophisticated trade: stockpiles of weapons and gear, tools, bandages, salt, flags and other insignia… things which would be purchased rather than foraged for. So there must have been bursers, pursers, treasurers, coffers, rudimentary bankers with some expertise in exchange rates, accounting, securities and watch-guards. These might act in an intermediary way between political and military rulers (generals like Pompey, Crassus and Caesar had no reliance on treasurer-bursers, and so things easily got out of hand).
At any rate, there was always someone who did accounts, arranged for purchasing, storing and disbursing according to need, and it wasn’t just supply sergeants. Tabulated planning is a responsibility generals and heads of state delegate to appropriately trained and connected functionaries, who find themselves in positions of considerable power and influence, especially when making arrangements outside of the power structure, as often required. Experience suggests that much of their work involved discretion, secrecy and cunning.
Perhaps the first people to fill these positions came from the ranks of those who first gained expertise in animal breeding (and selling). Also, just perhaps, the first really good animal breeders might have been mountain people who couldn’t as easily replace stock as those on the steppe, savanna or prairie. This is just to imagine why folk from Armenia or Tajikistan might have been able to take Persia from the Assyrians and Babylonians (before 500 BCE). I think descendants of those folk were prominent in the Srivijaya maritime empire, organized the building of Angkor Wat, and contributed to history in other, interesting but seldom acknowledged ways.
In 387 BCE, a Gallic war band of Brennus, king of the Senones (from the SE of what is now France then NE Italy) took Rome and held it for several months. The Romans hadn’t yet perfected the fighting style that later made their legions famous; many scattered at the first charge of wild-haired, bare-chested Galls, who only wanted a bit of fun and removable wealth, quite a lot of which they took away. Had they had something to offer, they might well have gained a lot more.
Suppose various refugees from the new agriculturally-supported cities of the Tigris-Euphrates wandered to mountainous areas – criminals, escaped slaves, young adventurers, elders turned recluses, the unfortunate, deformed, humiliated or angered – where they met livestock breeding nomads of much less limited social and intellectual horizons… These horsemen, shepherds, dog breeders and fighting men might have progressed in ways those in the flood-plain had not, due to their mobility, to necessity, to observation of greater variety, and maybe even through ideas brought by the refugees.
Their stronger livestock, better fed, might well have produced a lot more shit, shit useful as fertilizer, for hotter firing of pottery, for warmth where there was little else to burn. A new pottery glaze was once of quite a lot of value. Not only their livestock would have been bigger than that in the flood-plain; they themselves would have been, and practice in warfare might well have taught them useful techniques. But what they really needed, and apparently got, was a “fifth column” – refugees to reinsert into the farming and urban society they came to lust to conquer.
To do better than Brennus’ band, though, they needed to stay, and to manage that they needed to offer something. Too offer more, offer improvements, hope, variety and confidence. These cannot be forced. But better ideas for defense, savvy policing, successful trade, entertainments and pageantry, even clothing, might well have been (at least somewhat, sometimes) possible. Advancement opportunities through new occupations (smithing, marketing, performing, sewing, building and maintenance, rodent killing, tax accounting, overseeing, bucket and wheel manufacture…) could have been suggested by returnees even before military victory, making for more permanent conquest. But instead of the ‘more’ anticipated, they got another kind of more.
With the new “narrative” (as modern academics like to call it) and anticipation of more opportunity, they got more taxes, more mandatory military service, more training to subservience, homogeneity and acquiescence, more regimentation under and even more lavishly pampered elite, more worries, sorrows and headaches, more law, more fear.
With more promise, more mirage and then disillusion – eventually leading to a new invasion by a new order of barbarians promoting then establishing new ideals, greater glories, a better future. With resultant further distancing from that horrible, animalistic, uncivilized hunter-gatherer Garden of Eden. But hey, one now had shiny tokens of somewhat more durability than unprocessed, unpackaged food…

For as long as we’ve had records of social interactions, we’ve had evidence of petty despots, petty tyrannies, injustices and excesses. These might be within small family units in unimportant villages, by unusually strong and skilled warriors or by petty bureaucrats. Once it was most often royalty, now it is perhaps more often elite bankers, members of uniformed services or even elected officials.

Cyrus the Great, or Cyrus II of Persia (in Old Perisan Kourosh or Khorvash; ~576 – July 529 BCE), was the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, first ruled in Anshan, then conquered the Medes and then the Babylonian Empire. His “Cyrus Cylinder” is considered to be the first declaration of human rights. He was the first ruler whose name was suffixed with the words the Great (Vazraka in Old Persian), a title adopted by many others after him. Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenid dynasty two centuries after the death of Cyrus.
Cyrus’s notions of human rights influenced Thomas Jefferson and the US Constitution. The “Cyrus Cylinder” decreed religious tolerance, and end to slavery, freedom of choice of profession, and expansion of the empire. The cylinder, along with Biblical and other historical statements, substantiates the idea that Cyrus allowed the nations he conquered to practice their various religious beliefs - an unprecedented tolerance. He assisted captive peoples, including Jews, to return to their lands of origin, giving grants both from the Imperial treasury and also from his own personal fortune. In the Bible, he is known as Koresh - mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, where he is unconditionally praised.
Promising religious freedom and human rights, as Cyrus did, was just part of a Big Lie. For government to ‘return’ something it took away is hardly largesse, especially when it makes things easier for government, instead of more difficult. “Freedom” given to bolster power is hardly that, just a bad image or caricature of it.

When Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, he became “king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four sides of the world.” He incorporated sub-kingdoms, including Syria and Palestine, into his empire, the largest the world had seen. At the end of his rule, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from Asia Minor and Judah to the Indus River. A large super-state of many dozens of countries, races, and languages, under him it ruled by the single administration of a central government. Centuries later, the administrative techniques created by Cyrus and his successors were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Modernized versions of his administrative divisions remain in use.
After Cyrus’ death, his son eldest son, Cambyses II, succeeded him as king of Persia. Cambyses continued his father's policy of expansion, capturing Egypt, but then died in a sandstorm, marching on Libya, after only seven years of rule. An impostor named Gaumata became the sole ruler of Persia for seven months, until killed by Darius, a grandson of Arsames, who ruled Persia before Cyrus’ rise.

Chakravartin (Sanskrit cakravartin, Pali cakkavattin) refers to an ideal universal ruler who rules ethically and benevolently over the entire world, it’s chariot “rolling everywhere without obstruction”. The devarāja cult grew from it, or at any rate is closely related. It taught of monarchs as divine universal rulers, manifestations of Shiva or Vishnu. Possessed of transcendental qualities, the king is the living god on earth. The concept gained its elaborate manifestations in ancient Java and Cambodia. Monuments like Prambanan, Borobudur and Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat were erected to celebrate the king’s divine rule on earth. The devaraja cult of Jayavarman II associated the king with Shiva, whose divine essence was represented by a phallic idol housed in a mountain temple. The king was deified in an elaborate and mystical ceremony, in which the divine essence of kingship was conferred on the ruler through the agency of that linga. The safeguarding of the linga became bound up with the security of the kingdom, and the great temple architecture of the Khmer period attests to the importance attached to the belief.
The devaraja concept enables a monarch to claim divine authority, ensuring political legitimacy to manage the social order and its economic and religious aspects. It also exalts the king as a living god, thus demanding the utmost service and devotion of his people. It also enabled the king to embark on large scale public works and grand projects, by mobilizing their people to create and maintain elaborate irrigation systems for agriculture, and to construct grand monuments and temples.
Jayavarman II is widely regarded as the king that set the foundations of Angkor, beginning with a consecration ritual in 802 on sacred Mount Mahendraparvata, now known as Phnom Kulen, to celebrate the independence of Kambuja from Javanese dominion (that of the “neighboring Chams”, or chvea – or perhaps of their Srivijarian rulers). At that ceremony Prince Jayavarman II was proclaimed a universal monarch (Kamraten jagad ta Raja in Cambodian), or chakravartin, Lord of the Universe.
No inscriptions authored by Jayavarman have been found, but he is mentioned in some written long after his death. He appears to have been of aristocratic birth. “For the prosperity of the people in this perfectly pure royal race, great lotus which no longer has a stalk, he rose like a new flower,” declares one inscription.
At Angkor Wat, built under Suryavarman II in the early 1100s CE, one finds bas-relief depictions of the Ramayana/Ramakein/Reamker epic from northeast India, about a perfect king, Rama of Ayodhaya. Maybe this was depicted in Ayutthaya, but still is at Wat Po (Wat Phra Jerubon, 152 depictions in stone) and Wat Pra Kaeo (178 scenes painted in vivid color), both in the City of Angels, Bangkok.
The Ramayana is a marvelous exhibition of elitist propaganda which clarifies what lisping, bejeweled Aristotle taught Alexander son of Phillip: that a ruler must be better in all ways than everyone else. One shudders at thinking how things might have been for leadership, and for the rest of us without these glorious educational exemplars. Rama knew that all who seek asylum must be given protection, that victory without honor isn’t victory at all, and learned that honors, especially kingship, must not be accepted lightly. He exemplifies strength, humility, reverence, loyalty, duty, charity, discipline, generosity, honesty, honor and fortitude, he was valorous and magnanimous, prudent and merciful. He surely inspired many, perhaps even more than Aristotle inspired Alexander. How Sita felt as she jumped to immolate herself… well, surely she understood that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, that sacrifices must be made and that the state comes first. Anyway, the flames turned to flowers at her proximity. And anyway, that was just an illusion of the perfect wife, that so many animals sacrificed their lives for (according to the Kurma Purana)…

In the 350 years between the rise of Cyrus II and that of Jayavarman II, “universal rule” centered in Persia, Rome and Constantinople. Egypt had been great until then, but after Cleopatra VII (60-30 BCE) was for almost two millennia a colony. India had empire, as did China, but they were racially hidebound, except in terms, sometimes, of trade. Srivijaya, which seems to have somehow gained from Phoenician experience, didn’t conquer or administrate outsiders. But Jayavarman did – he seized an opening, a rare opportunity to assert divinity. Nothing like the Islamic leadership which for the most part dropped that pretense, but involving a hereditary caste of entirely superior beings (socially, anyway, if not biologically) responsible for all that was good (purportedly). It worked for a while: about four centuries. Then the devaraja god-king, overthrown by Thais, moved to Phnom Penh (1434) while much of the court was forced to Ayutthaya, which adopted much of that convention, tradition and observance. About 1500 CE Ayutthaya became a great trading center and the biggest city in the world, a reality now for the most part forgotten, although that its size and wealth compared favorably to that of the Paris of Louis XIV under King Narai (1656–88) has not.
Pressures from other ‘universal rulers’ – Javanese, Mongols, Burmese, maybe Mughals (though I think not directly) and eventually the Dutch VOC in Indonesia, Catholics of various stripe, the British East India Company, “Western” drug merchants, “overseas” Chinese, and French colonialists all constrained Ayudhaya and its successor capitol KrungThepMahanakorn (Bangkok), limiting horizons. But Jayavarman and his successors made a good stab at empire (“universal” or not) with influence remaining today.

Early Roman Emperors used the title princeps (first citizen), and were leaders of a Republic. After Diocletian took power in 284, senate ratification was but a useless formality. But in 285 Diocletian took on a co-emperor, Maximian. In 286 Maximian took the title of Augustus (after the first emperor, who’d resolutely refused recognition as a monarch, despite changing his name from Octavian to one meaning “sacred” or “revered”). In inscriptions, Diocletian and his cohorts are referred to as “restorers of the whole world” who succeeded in “defeating the nations of the barbarians, and confirming the tranquility of their world”. A new style of ceremony was developed, emphasizing the distinction of the emperor from all other persons. The quasi-republican ideals of Augustus’ were abandoned; Diocletian wore a gold crown and forbade the use of purple cloth to any but emperors. His subjects had to prostrate themselves in his presence (adoratio); the more fortunate were allowed to kiss the hem of his robe. Circuses and basilicas were designed to keep the face of the emperor perpetually in view. The emperor, a figure of transcendent authority, beyond all but power and glory, had his every appearance stage-managed. This adoration led to eventual deification or apotheosis. This type of honor, or Imperial Cult, dated back to Alexander of Macedon, who considered himself not the son of Phillip II but of Zeus. Emperor Augustus was treated as a deity during his reign; altars and temples were built to honor him, although none in Rome itself (at least while he lived). Although he may have considered himself the son of a god, he never permitted himself to be called a god. Upon his death, the Senate would deify him - as would happen to many who followed after. Caligula and Nero deemed themselves gods while still alive, but were considered too odious to maintain the honor after death.
The Western Roman Empire collapsed in the late 5th century, but in the east, emperors continued to rule from Constantinople (‘New Rome’); these are called “Byzantine emperors” but didn’t use that title, calling themselves “Emperor (or King) of the Romans” (βασιλεύς) until their city fell to Ottoman Muslims in 1453. Basileus and megas basileus had been used by Alexander and successors in Ptolemaic Egypt, in Asia (e.g. the Seleucid Empire, the Pergamon and by non-Greek, but Greek-influenced states like the Pontus) and Macedon. The feminine counterpart is basilissa (queen), meaning both queen regent (like Cleopatra VII) and queen consort. By the 4th century basileus was used officially only for the two rulers considered equals to the Roman Emperor: the Sassanid Persian Shahanshah (‘king of kings’), and to a lesser degree the King of Axum, who was rather peripheral. Consequently, the title acquired the connotation of “emperor”; barbarian kings of the “Dark Ages” were but rēx or rēgas, hellenized forms of the Latin title rex, king.

Islam had caliphates with caliphs, persons considered a successors to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah). They were purportedly leaders of the entire Islamic community, but the Shi’a/Sunni split limited that reality. The caliphates developed into multi-ethnic trans-national empires including the Rashidun Caliphate (632–661), the Umayyad Caliphate (centered in Damascus, 661–750), the Abbasid Caliphate (Shi’i tolerant, Baghdad, 750 to the Mongol sacking of 1258 but continuing in Egypt to 1520), and the Ottoman Caliphate (which established the Ottoman Empire in 1517). Other hereditary caliphates existed with much lesser importance. The term caliph derives from the Arabic word khalīfah (خَليفة), which means “successor”, “steward”, or “deputy” and was long considered a shortening of Khalifat Rasul Allah (“successor of the messenger of God”) until studies of pre-Islamic texts showed that the original meaning of the phrase was “successor selected by God.” The first caliphate, the Rashidun Caliphate, was established right after Muhammad’s death in 632; four Rashidun caliphs, chosen through shura, a process of community consultation that some consider to be an early form of Islamic democracy, directly succeeded Muhammad. The fourth caliph, Ali, who, unlike the prior three, was from the same clan as Muhammad, is considered by Shias to be the first rightful caliph and Iman, after Muhammad. A civil war between supporters of Ali and supporters of the assassinated previous caliph led to the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate, in 661. The Abbasid Caliphate was established in 750.
Sunnis hold that a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives; Shiites that a caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from Muhammad’s direct descendants. In simpler terms, the Sunni majority favor election while the Shia minority favor bloodline. Ayatollahs are another thing, Iranian religious leaders, from a term for “reflection of God” “sign of God” and not heads of state – at least until the overthrow of the Shah and initiation of the Iranian Islamic republic, the political head of which is a non-religious leader, the president. Most Shi’is await the 12th Imam while ‘temporarily’ relying on Mujtahid scholars who might become marja-e taqlid mullahs, hojjat-ol Islam, ayatollah and even ayatollah al-uzma – an elaborate hierarchy not matched within Sunni Islam.
These divine rulers have never been just kings of us (as in ‘us vs them’), but of all, (in a conditional, optimistic kind of way) - kinda like the USA being the “world’s policeman” – no?

The Normans, Aztecs and Mughals were also invaders who told the conquered what to believe. Might didn’t just make right, but proved, or better yet, was an aspect of, divine guidance. They were doing God’s will. Many still accept this attitude. Others have learned to see it differently.

“I’ll let you worship freely as long as you recognize that that is a privilege that comes from ME, the God-King Universal Ruler from whom all good things come (including your privilege to be silly).
Less expensive force needed to be exerted, chances for rebellion were lessened, need for duplicity by many folk eliminated while potential threats to public order became less hidden. It’s win-win! But the Big Guy wins the most, mostly for seeming to have done something he didn’t really do (as he has NOT really relinquished control).
Control is only given up, or lost, after it is asserted too much, as controllers are only human (assertions to the contrary notwithstanding) and when cracks begin to show sharks begin to tear flesh. It is ALWAYS the way.
Given that humans go power-mad, abuse authority and forget so much so easily, it’s naieve at best to think that strength brings happiness. Nothing is as dangerous as unfulfilled demigods who can’t even remember how all that they’ve gotten was supposed to be fulfilling, and no longer have any idea of what they want.

Early empire seems to have led to trade without empire (promulgated by the Phoenicians) and then to empire with mass slavery and inevitable power-collapse such as seems to be happening now. Our notional investment communities with their ‘limited liability’ seem to do something I call “money farming” wherein which earnings of the many can be harvested by the few through manipulation of gullibility (aka fashion, materialistic competitiveness, or short-sighted greed: the kind of thing that leads to lack of co-operation and sharing and indulgence in cosmetic surgery, over-priced printer ink, pools and hot-tubs, ‘play-stations’, pleasure boats, private airplanes, world travel, hired friends, security systems, expensive perfumes, exercise equipment, diet fads and fancy hats and sunglasses – feelings of need for which far too many of us slavishly adhere to).
Money having become firmly god-king, or at least the empowering tokens of god-kings, we now seem to be finding it suddenly less accessible or rewarding, more distant and confusing. But take comfort in this: Pharaohs notwithstanding, separation between a class of the deified and the class of the slaving produces gross instability. Social collapse would cause much agony and death, but a phoenix arising from ashes might not take many generations.

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

dirty dozens

The dirty dozen things that’ll kill us, or at least society as we know it:
Global warming
Loss of biodiversity and especially pollinators
Loss of topsoil
Radiation from nuclear power and loss of stratospheric protective shielding
Antibiotic resistance
Resource depletion
Lack of good clean water
Seismic and volcanic activity increase from pumping out the Earth crust cooling system
Proliferation of nuclear and other arms
Social pressures from overcrowding, injustice and economic class disparity
Release of antigens, poisons and mutated life forms from human activity like experimentation and the ecological changes we create

A dozen causes of stupidity
Mercury and aluminum
Crowd immersion
Anti-depressants and mood-elevators
Organized religion
Watching professional sports

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trauma and psychopathy

Having made poverty from plenty
Pomposity from prestige
Profit from prohibition
Poison from the beneficial
Propaganda from pestilent presumptions
And but petty pay-checks from the proper profit of diversity,
Puerile pederast preachers and politicians proclaim
The propriety of their perverse demands for deference and praise

If psychopathy involves peculiar brain chemistry &/or structures, as apparently has been demonstrated, do we know which came first, the psychological proclivities and condition, or the physical manifestations of them? I’m not at all sure we do; we do not yet understand the root of the condition.
When I was young, academicians still argued Mendel vs Lamarck. Now we are learning of epigenetic contributions to inheritance and inter-generational physical (and emotional) changes. It has been demonstrated clearly that trauma can generate epigenetic changes. These changes are surely, to some extent anyway, adaptive. The organism responds to trauma as if with hope that it can avoid similar trauma for its progeny. Of course, confidence can be diminished by trauma, even in subsequent generations, and this doesn’t seem to be a genetic advantage, but perhaps the brash bravery of psychopaths is only sometimes an advantage, and sometimes its opposite is.
Psychopathic individuals display deceitfulness, impulsivity, recklessness and lack of remorse. They’re pathological liars with superficial charm, extreme arrogance and compulsive need to control situations and people. These symptoms reflect an overall lack of fear, perhaps resultant from abnormal functioning of the amygdala. Psychopathic offenders show deficits in ability to use threat-relevant information to inhibit inappropriate behavior. They display smaller electrodermal responses to many negative stimuli.
The amygdale, a part of the brain which appears t process emotion, is part of the paleomammalian brain, not the “reptilian” Medulla oblongata at the top of the spine (which is ‘pre-verbal’ and sends automatic chemical and electrical orders out to the rest of the brain and body).
The terms ‘psychopathy’ and ‘sociopathy’ are sometimes taken differently, with sociopaths seen to have a sense of morality. But, although a sense of morality is still present, it allows for circumstances that devalue life. A sociopath is capable of empathy for a cause or an ideology (or a person who represents them), but can prevent themselves from empathizing with any their ideology devalues. A psychopath, as we have seen, has a diminished capacity for empathy that results from their brain not developing correctly. Psychopaths tend to not have a sense of morality. Or so some claim.
Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) used the term insanity without delirium to describe behavior marked by complete remorselessness. A psychopath came to be seen as an intelligent person characterized by poverty of emotions, with no sense of shame, who is manipulative, irresponsible, and inadequately motivated. The psychopath is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data that might be called personal values, and is incapable of understanding them (despite a tendency to practice mimicking the exhibition of values as noticed in others). Psychopaths have little or no interest in the tragedy or joy or striving of other humans as presented in serious literature or art, and is similarly indifferent to these matters in life itself. Such individuals execute well-designed strategies, a necessary feature of psychological adaptations, which have a tendency to be nepotistic - providing aid to close genealogical kin and/or sparing them from harm. Psychopathic individuals might or might not aggress against kin, depending on circumstances.
Psychopathy may arise in part due to selection for social dominance (and possibly mating effort); it isn’t psychopathy itself, but dominance (combined with mating effort) that confers adaptive advantage. Hence, “nepotism” and other “pro-social behavior” displayed by psychopathic individuals is likely a function of dominance as opposed to a care-giving system. Most psychopaths are not violent, and perhaps they victimize kin more often in non-violent ways; even if psychopaths do less often violently harm kin, that’s not the same as giving aid to them.

Being as some of the most influential individuals in history, including Alexander of Macedon, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Henry VIII Alex Hamilton, Winston Churchill, and JFK, can be seen as amoral, morality as social convention merits discussion. Most people accept the killing of other people as occasionally, at least, justified, and most great leaders have sanctioned indeed ordered, violent killings. Mohandas Gandhi didn’t, but he’s certainly been accused of amorality. On the other hand, how much Mussolini, Franco, Tito and others of similar ilk showed real leadership can also be questioned. Were Alcibiades, Mark Anthony, Andrew Jackson or Charles de Gaulle really more than opportunists? The term ‘opportunist weed’ always bothered me: nothing thrives without opportunity. But most of us think we can recognize evil.

We often pretend that if we put a name to something, label it, we know it, understand what it is, even have power over it. If we identify a condition, then we can combat it. To know your enemy, first find that enemy’s name, or identifying characteristics. What is defined can be contained (maybe).
Well, psychopathy, narcissism, egocentrism, ethnocentrism or whatever are only parts of amorality, of readiness to sacrifice others for the cause of what seems good for oneself. Often it’s just short-sightedness, or over-involvement in some dynamic (group identification, feelings of religious reverence, sense of moral propriety or even, amazingly, dedication to fashion). There being no bedrock fulcrum and lever basis to moral comprehension despite so many teachings to the contrary, we must go with somewhat fragile constructs like empathy, respect for life, mercy, charity, honor, honesty or maybe integrity. Not a lot to stand on, really, little more than an “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.
But we d know when someone is out of control, being irresponsible, selfish, self-centered, mean, petty or cruel. Not all the cues or clues are verbal: body language, pheromones and other smells, witness of pain inflicted, maybe even some much more subtle things, can tell us a lot sometimes even save a life.
But in the face of social hierarchy and pecking order, much of that seems to fall away. We submit, rationalize or just accept, become all but as bad through implication and association. It’s normal, but it’s not good.
We’re social, and some are stronger or more capable than others. To break away can be pretty darn scary and dangerous.
We need checks and balances, guards to guard the guards’ guards… It’s tricky. Like so much of life. And we’ve been lulled, spoiled, hypnotized maybe…
Some of us, certainly, are overcoming the effects of trauma.

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Modern Controversial Myths and Legends

Favorite Modern Controversial Myths and Legends:

The moon landings – supposedly a recent Chinese exploration found no evidence of them . To reach the Moon, spacecraft must pass through regions of intense ionizing radiation called Van Allen radiation belts; the principle danger of the Van Allen belts is high-energy protons, which are not that difficult to shield against. Apollo navigators plotted a course through the thinnest parts of the belts and arranged for the spacecraft to pass through them quickly, limiting the exposure, but it’s claimed that NASA now believes that traveling through the belts will kill passengers of any craft with just the shielding they know how to provide. This is rebutted by claims that whole-body exposure from belt passage is roughly the same as a chest x-ray, and exposure for an entire moon trip is the same as from one to three mammograms, or half the annual exposure of residents of Denver CO.

JFK assassination – sealed Warren Commission report, in 1979, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”

Jet stream cloud seeding and ChemTrails - chemicals deliberately sprayed into the air by jets

Bilderberger Lizard people new world order conspiracy

Global warming, climate change and human environmental impact

Christians are Christian. Well, many Christians are Christian, but in the USA, maybe half are bitter, vindictive haters, vehemently opposed to about everything Jesus is reputed to have preached for in the "Sermon on the Mount" - it's become mixed with White Supremacy and support for Trump, gun advocacy, oppression of women and the poor, and self-defeating nationalism.

Organ theft – I saw on a Steven Segal TV show a bunch of harvested organs in a beer cooler. Made sense to someone I guess

GMOs save the world - GMO foods have been consumed in American for over 15 years. Though no adverse effects have been noted this is not the same as being proven safe. It means no causal link has been established between GMO consumption and a specific disease. GMO foods are mainly found in corn, sugar, canola and soy products, and this includes many cereal products, tortilla chips and protein bars which contain GMO ingredients. It is also contested that aspartame, riboflavin, beta-carotene and glucose could be derived from GMO corn and added to many products. There is huge controversy over the issue in the U.S.A, particularly over whether foods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled or not. It is without question that the tactics used by the main producer of GMO foods and science, Monsanto, are questionable at best. There is also question over whether GMO foods are bad for the environment. GMO foods are made to be resistant to roundup/glyphosate, a weed killer produced by Monsanto. There has been a 10 fold increase in the use of roundup in the past 15 years, and Monsanto are the only company who have the seeds for roundup resistant crops. The increased use of roundup could affect crops and find its way into the food supply. This has also created hyper weeds which are resistant to roundup, and many organic and small time farmers are now struggling against these super weeds.

Vaccinations and inoculations – some believe that the shots actually make our immune systems weaker as they make us more dependent on them than ourselves. Our bodies are naturally designed to fight viruses and bacteria and to keep our bodies from doing this makes our natural immune system weaker. A human given vaccines for a variety of different diseases will result in a weakened human overall.

Abiotic oil and loss of subterranean cooling system - popularized by books such as Thomas Gold’s Deep Hot Biosphere. rapidly rising streams of compressed methane gas reach the crust from the mantle, and when they strike pockets of high temperature they condense into heavier hydrocarbons like crude oil.

WTC 911 - the collapse of the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center were the result of a controlled demolition rather than structural failure due to impact and fire.

Water fluoridation – fluoride, a neurotoxic chemical found in industrial waste as a byproduct of aluminum extraction, had no use until it was noticed that it dumbs down mental capabilities (as does aluminum). There is evidence to support that fluoride is not at all related to the prevention of tooth decay. Children who drink fluoride have lower IQs than those whose water is not fluoridated. Many studies have confirmed it ineffective in preventing cavities. Fluoride is absolutely toxic, should not be consumed by anyone, and there’s a clear and established link between lower IQ and fluoridation levels.

MK-Ultra - a CIA experiment in behavioral programming and engineering, from 1953 to 1973. Experiments conducted on unwitting humans and children included torture, verbal and sexual abuse, electrical and chemical shock, the effects of stress on humans, interrogation techniques, subsonic and vibrational disorientation, drugs, radiation, genetic research, brainwashing, the use of prostitutes by agents, gases and poisons. The US government has also done other chemical and biological experiments on unsuspecting members of its populace, with some instances well documented.

BigPharma: many conspiracy theories revolve around pharmaceutical companies and their in profiting by keeping people sick and dependent on their drugs (rather than actually curing their illnesses). Moreover, pharmaceutical companies are also said to invent and brand many things that are not diseases or disorders and then create the treatments to generate a steady income stream of people treating non-existent or greatly exaggerated diseases. It’s also said that many drug companies work with the government to create monopolies and raise the entry-barriers for smaller drug companies to compete, by making it tricky for smaller companies to introduce a superior products (particularly by limited issuance of approval from the FDA and other government agencies).

Deliberate Dumbing Down of Education - For decades the school systems throughout the US and other countries have dramatically declined. It seems to be in the best interest of people in power to have a population smart enough to work as a slave, but not smart enough to free themselves from bondage. Many schools focus on treating children like robots; most focus on memorization rather than creativity. Schools teach children what to think as opposed to how to think. As a result children grow up to be much more docile towards taking orders and going with the flow. People less likely to question their reality or their government are much, much more easily manipulated.

These stories result from well-merited mistrust of government, which does little or nothing to fix that problem.

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Friday, June 02, 2017

The Many Loves of Dobie, er, Olympian Zeus

In Book 14 of the Iliad, under the influence of a love potion administered by Hera, Zeus sweet talks at her, amorously mentioning seven other lovers he currently sees her as much more desirable than. The silver-tongued stud!
But his candor was limited – much went unmentioned. Bright-sky father, patron of hospitality, enforcer of oaths and honest business, King of Olympus and supreme ruler of the gods, although married to his sister Hera (goddess of marriage and monogamy), Zeus had many sexual dalliances: first with Niobe (Nioba, from southern Greece)), and later also with Aegina (Aigina), Alcmena (Alcmene, mother of Hercules), Antiope (perhaps by force, at any rate, as a satyr; resultant twins were exposed, i.e. left out to die), Calliope, Callisto (an Amazon from Arkadia in southern Greece, whom Zeus seduced while in the form of Artemis ), Cassiopea (from Crete), Dia, Demeter, Dione, Elara (or Elare, a princess from central Greece), Eurymedousa (a princess from northern Greece), Europa, Io (Hera’s priestess), Kalyke (Calyce, mother by him of Endymion, also from southern Greece), Themis, Thyia, Eurynome, Lamia (from north Africa), Laodemia (from Asia Minor, mother of Sharpedon), Leda (by whom, Helen of Troy and Polydeuces), Leto (mother of twins Apollo and Artemis), Mnemosyne, Hybris, Olympias (mother of Alexander the Great!), Persephone, Pandora, Phthia, Protogencia, Pyrrha, Danaë (mother of Perseus), Selene and Semele (producing Dionysus). Metis, the goddess of prudence, was Zeus’s first love; he swallowed her. When Zeus had an affair with his aunt Mnemosyne, he coupled with her for nine nights. This scenario produced nine daughters, who became known as the Muses.
Demeter, Alcmene, Semele, Io, Themis, Eurynome and Metis he married. He has sex with his daughter Aphrodite and thus produced Priapos, a deformed God who had the shape of a penis.
He fucked Goddesses Aix, Deino, his sister Demeter (by rape, which produced Persephone, whom he also raped, producing an elder Dionysus, whom the Titans killed – according to Orphic myth), Dione (mother of Aphrodite), Himalia, Hora, Callirhoe, Carme, Maia (mother of Hermes), Othreis, Plouto, Sinope, Thaleia, a nymph from Africa (unnamed), and his grandmother/great-grandmother Gaea (twice!), accidentally (!) impregnating her. It was Gaea who warned Zeus, in a replay of the main Cronus story, that a son would one day displace him. As his then-wife Metis was pregnant, he swallowed her, as his father Cronus had swallowed his elder siblings (Homer places Zeus as ‘first-born’). Swallowing his wife seems to have given him a headache; from his split-open head Athena then sprang (fully armed). Zeus then married Themis, a Titan, mother of the Seasons and Fates.
Zeus fell in love easily and had many affairs with various women, however he would severely punish anybody who attempted to escort/fall in love with his wife Hera – like the giant Porphyrion who took a lightning bolt from the enraged god for lusting after his wife (albeit with a little help from the love god Eros). He also had a boy called Ganymede, a Trojan prince, who was so beautiful that Zeus abducted him from his cradle by taking the form of an eagle.
Some Mythologists hole that stories of Zeus’ infidelities were inspired by tales of patriarchal institutions overpowering ancient matriarchies around the Mediterranean. While patriarchy insisted on an all-powerful father figure, matriarchal systems were comfortable with many autonomous local goddesses, who later became the nymphs and mortal princesses ravished by Zeus in Greek lore. The stories also indicate the rise of marriage as an institution in ancient Greek society, and the demand of women to tame the polygamous desires of men.
Allegory, amalgamation of older stories, meta-memory, instruction, amusement, and entertainment in the manner of pageantry, all were surely involved in the evolution of the tales.
Maybe the legends were just an early form of surrealism, like Coney Island style fun-house mirrors.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Empire of Truth

Here in Chiang Rai, Thailand, between WiangPaPao and MaeSuai on Rt 118, at Ban MaePrik, is a Phra Naresuan shrine. At the back is a huge map purporting to be of King Naresuan’s empire, about 1600 CE. The area claimed for him is huge, encompassing Laos, much of Burma, a lot of Yunnan, the Thai/Malay isthmus and of course all of present Thailand. The map is a result of nationalist fantasy. The concept of a country, or of geographical boundaries, didn’t exist here back then. A king ruled people, including other kings (often relatives), not area. Tribute was paid, and this gets misinterpreted as a kind of tax affirming subject status. But were this the actual case, Southeast Asia would have been a part of China. No-one claims that.
The reason I’m bothered about this is another map, purportedly of the Khmer Empire of 900 CE, which includes all of Laos, some of Vietnam and Yunnan, and a lot of the isthmus. It’s ridiculous. Wikipedia, which shows that map (it also appears elsewhere on the Net), has become used as a propaganda device, manipulated, censored and sometimes controlled by powers with other concerns than truth. For instance, try finding out about the nefarious influence the sugar industry on international politics. You won’t get much of its sordid history. Or look up Armenia. You’ll no longer find that that country has been in four separate, non-contiguous locations. Explanation of WWI as the result of power vacuums resultant from decadence and decline in the Asutro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires should surely be easier to find. The internet isn’t supposed to be this way.
We need to be able to return to the challenges of conflicting viewpoints and messages, varied interpretations of information, and the right of people to challenge authority. But authority, as ever in the clutches of power madness, strenuously disapproves of that. Stuff needs to be swept under the rug or otherwise hidden away, so that the status quo will only be changed in the direction of, well, of destabilizing the power system by too rigorously reinforcing it.
Human power is never permanent. No matter what it does, power can’t stop change, can’t dictate what is real, and can’t reinvent the world. People in Laos KNOW they were never ruled by Khmers (well, except in the far south). People here in Chiang Rai, and north of here, know this too. Most interested historians also know it.
When fact presentation becomes overly influenced by special interests (nationalism, self-interest, corporate greed) instead of based on unbiased faith in truth as instrumental for the greater good, we get knowledge stratification at best, or, far too often, knowledge suppression. An inability to share is also an inability to enjoy the true fruits of labor, inspiration and intelligent, dedicated focus.
To understand the rise and fall of empires, the migrations of peoples, changes in linguistic usage and awareness, to truly know anything of our development, it’s necessary to contain the ego and stifle many desires. That the result can be worth it needs no proof.
The dark, curly-haired populace of Oc Eo and Funan were surely people who followed coastlines (back then lower) from Africa to Australia. They are no longer much in evidence in Cambodia, and one reason is wars of conquest which brought in other peoples – often highland ones.
Trying to administer distant peoples was only a recent folly; Angkor never tried to rule northern Laos, or the Thai/Malay isthmus. There is no reason to think they could have. Even Naresuan didn’t try to administer what he “conquered”! It was understood that distance from power-centers lessens power.
Much published research isn’t available to me; Amazon doesn’t want to ship here (Thailand) and purchasing electronic downloads sight-unseen makes little sense to me. I can’t afford it anyway, not and feed my children. It would be nice if the internet would provide better forums for discussion, but I suppose that would require an absurd new form of ‘peer-review’: deciding who has the right to the attention of whom.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Magical, and religious, thinking

Most of us engage in it. Indeed, it seems everyone does at least sometimes. It’s a semi-rational approach helpful in the face of irrationality. Defined as believing events happen as a result of other events, without plausible link of causation (or, belief that an object, action or circumstance not logically related to a course of events can influence its outcome), it’s a kind of wishful thinking. Simply in order to live we must believe some things without proof.
The sorts of magical thinking are many and vary widely, from luck superstition to religion to belief in abstract mathematics to hope that the Hadron Collider will “unlock” secrets and supply answers to some of life’s deep mysteries.
When trying to understand the opposite sex, the behavior of small children, death, international finance, war, or GMOs, we inevitably, but usually without recognizing it, turn to magical thinking.
To break a bad habit like reliance on intoxicants, many fear that will-power alone won’t do. They might replace one crutch with another, as in meetings with coffee for beer in bars. Works like magic.
To save for the future some become penny-wise but pound-foolish, which works like magic too, as magic has a tendency to bite one in the ass. Get a personal trainer or spiritual adviser and you can accomplish things you otherwise wouldn’t, in much the same way that a St. Christopher medallion can help one reach a destination, with or without high holy Catholic church sanction.
Confidence lends to increased competence, and also, in the opposite way, worry undermines our abilities and effectiveness.
Make sacrifices, wear the right colors, follow the instructions of a food guru, rigorously adhere to a schedule of placebo ingestion, and you’ll surely do better than you’d have done by just being lazy. It’s not just magic, it’s a process of abiding by a decision. When you feel like you’ve done something, it’s almost like you have.

Science has yet to explain all that much of what we experience, and perhaps cannot, so we naturally grasp at straws, at anything we can to make sense of things and allow us some hope. The only real differences between magical world-views and science is that science has a self-correcting mechanism and procedure for determining which concept best fits what is observed, while magic doesn’t.
Behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner showed that pigeons frequently repeat actions they learn to associate with positive reinforcement, i.e. when food was released to them, as if seeing a pattern, even when the food in fact becomes released at purely random intervals (intermittent reinforcement). When hungry, they'll do what once brought them food. Once a mental association is formed, it becomes like a habit, hard to break. Superstition and behaviors often characterized as “magical thinking” may be more closely connected with blind instinct than with sapient thought, or perhaps it's that established patterns tend to replicate, sometimes inexplicably.
Magical thinking, involving as it does, several elements, including belief in the interconnectedness of all things through forces and powers that transcend both physical and spiritual connections, invests special powers and forces in many things seen as symbols. The majority of the world’s peoples believe in real connections between symbols and their referents, and that some real and potentially measurable power or influence flows between them. There might be neurobiological basis for this, though the meaning, significance and specifics of symbols aren’t absolute, but culturally determined. Magical thinking accepts that transfer of energy or information between physical systems may take place solely because of their similarity or contiguity in time and space, &/or that one’s thought, words, or actions can achieve specific physical effects in a manner not governed by the principles of ordinary transmission of energy or information, and often, that wishing something can cause it to occur. Thoughts, words or actions assume a magical power, are able to prevent or cause events to happen without a physical action occurring; thinking equates with doing, and the individual assumes an importance rational science or philosophy is hard put to allow.
Thus, while appetite for such beliefs may appear to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, it is also ego-reinforcing. Sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, helps soothe everyday fears and wards off mental distress. But in excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behaviors. People who fashion themselves skeptics may yet cling to odd rituals that have no clear semblance to sense, yet can generate helpful faith – until they undermine genuinely productive efforts and become disabling.
The brain apparently has networks that specialize in producing explicit, magical explanations, in some circumstances, connecting otherwise unconnected dots, so to speak, in a manner easily preferred to rational explanations. A constant state of negotiation with the world results in bribery, promises, repetitious activity and sacrifices that cannot be scientifically demonstrated to achieve any results except to provide a kind of anxiety reducing reassurance, reassurance perhaps necessary.

Seven “laws” of magical thinking have been posited: “Objects Carry Essences” - everyday items become emotionally significant by taking on the spirit of their previous owners or unique pasts. “Symbols Have Power” - we confuse symbolic associations in our minds for causal relationships in the world. “Actions Have Distant Consequences” - superstitious rituals and attempts to channel luck through physical acts can bolster confidence. “The Mind Knows No Bounds” - belief in mind over matter, extrasensory perception, and transcendent experiences cannot be totally discounted. “The Soul Lives On” - it’s hard to believe that your mind dies when your body does. “The World Is Alive” - we often treat inanimate objects as conscious. And “Everything Happens for a Reason” as long as we insist that higher powers guide natural events. These “laws” apply equally to religion, ’though most Believers make clear distinction between Faith and magic!

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