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.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Some Chiangrai History

For 10 years now I’ve had a home in ChiangRai, Thailand’s northernmost province and once the seat of power for a resistance to Mongol expansion and hegemony that either gave rise to, or allowed the creation of (depending on how one looks at it), the empire of Ayudhaya and nation Siam. It’s a wonderful place, of amazing diversity and successful integration, fascinating history, more national parks and park area than any other province in Thailand (or, indeed, the general area), and smiling, attractive, friendly folk. The outside world’s attention first was drawn here due to teak, then Chinese armies and opium, and now there’s expert tea production.
Much information about Chiangrai is presented on, but only things of non-controversial nature. Here I will present a bit more of the intriguing history I began to find while teaching social studies at “the best high-school in the north”, Sammakkhi Wittayakhom:

Thai movies and myths portray forceful, even fierce, women like Suriyotai and Thao Suranaree (Khunying Mo, warrior woman of Korat), degrees of historical authenticity of whom may be questioned, but other women were more crucial to civilization’s development here. Haripunjai (Lamphun) was said founded by holy men who asked the king of Lopburi (down in the central plains) to send them a ruler. His daughter JamaTewi went. Legend tells of her overcoming a great Lawa chieftain with female magic, and of twin sons, one which succeeded her, the other of which founded Lampang. Mon, Buddhist Haripunjai thrived independently for over four centuries after her (her dynasty lasted at least 2 - at the end of it, Haripunjai was attacking Lopburi!), then was taken into (Paw Khun) Mengrai’s new Lanna Empire.
The first MahaTewi I know of was MahaTewi Kaeo Phimpha of LanChang, LanSang or Lane Xang - Laos. Her title derives from Sanskrit mahadevi, meaning something like great angel. MahaTewi Kaeo Phimpha exercised much power from 1428 to 1438, just before Lanna’s “Golden Age.” Surely then, as now, Laos was no great power center, but it was an important part of a culture which extended from southern China and the northern part of what is now Vietnam through Lanna and the Shan States into Assam, India. The center of this T’ai Culture has sometimes been called “The Culture of the Dhamma Latters” because of the alphabet used to record religious teachings. It was Buddhist, largely T’ai (Mangrai was probably more Lawa and Lue), and in many ways the basis of present traditions in Laos, Thailand and the Shan States.
When Mengrai Dynasty Lanna began to crumble, with no reign ending peaceably for a quarter century, a LanSang ruler, King Potisarat of Luang Prabang, began to fantasize of becoming the “wheel-turning universal monarch whose righteousness and might make all the world turn around him.” Unfortunately, at the same time, so did a King Burengnong from Toungoo (due west from ChiangRai, separated by Karen people and the mighty Salween River). As Mengrai’s direct line ended, half of Lanna’s last independent rulers were women. One, MahaTevi Jiraprapa (sometimes said named PhraNang Yout KhamThip), was a full, absolute ruler through most of 1545 - 46. Then Potisarat’s son Settatirat ruled briefly, until duty pulled him away. Then, for 4 years, no central ruler commanded at all. Jiraprapa may have returned to power under protection of Burmese King Burengnong, or perhaps he put her sister, whom we have little reliable data about, on the Lanna throne. There’s a problem with the few records which remain, in that a person or place is known here as this, and there as that, and in another place and time gets referred to in another way entirely! But, to understand at all, we must endure.
In July, 1545, Shan King FaYongHui of Mong Nai (Muang Nai, on the Salween, were Lanna’s last king was from) attacked ChiangMai. As he did, an earthquake destroyed nine revered reliquaries there (in ChiangMai), including a couple of the most important (finials at Wat Jedi Luang and Wat PraSing). For a month attackers poured dirt into the city moat and tried to cross it with bamboo bridges; but defenders burnt the attackers’ encampment, and the Shans withdrew. Then Jiraprapa, daughter of King Ket Jettarat (deposed, then brought back by ministers who soon assassinated him), was given rule. Perhaps envoys from Ayudhaya had rushed news of Ket’s murder home; anyway, it’s thought they supported the rise of Queen Maha Jiraprapa (a.k.a. MahaTewi). It’s likely also they not only requested military assistance from Ayudhaya, but had Ket’s killers killed. However that went, an army from Ayudhaya under King Chairaja (or Borommatraijak) came near; then either Jiraprapa persuaded (bribed?) him to hold off, or, as the ChiangMai Chronicle says, “He was defeated and fled.” Arms and devotions having been displayed, the Ayudhayan army “proceeded back to Yotthiya.”
Jiraprapa’s cousin, Phaya Ket’s 12-year-old nephew (some say he was 19) from LuangPrabang, Setthatirat (a.k.a. Uppayo), was invited to rule under Jiraprapha’s regency. The Laotian government holds that King Potisan (Phohthisat, who married a daughter of Lanna King Ket called by the same name as the alternate one for Jiraprapa, ‘Yotkamtip’), and thus LuangPrabang and Laos, conquered Lanna; if so, he certainly never ruled it (unless through his wife, which is not claimed). 100 years before, LanSang attacked Nan; 50 years later it briefly took much of Lanna, but the tattered bits of Lao history which remain seem to miss these events! Regardless, according to local chronicles, in May, 1546, Setthatirat came to ChiangSaen and ChiangRai, appointed local rulers and then went on to rule in ChiangMai. He stayed until August 1547 (well, for 2 years, say the Chronicles, and ‘til 1550, they say in Laos). According to the ChiangMai Chronicles, in June of 1546, Setthatirat, accepted as king, “went to reverence the Emerald Buddha at its pavilion” in Wat Jedi Luang, then on 17 July was coronated as Phra Ratcha-uppayo. Pra TonThip is named as his first royal queen (and there are 2 current daughters mentioned, casting doubt on his being aged 12). Pra TonKham is named as the Queen’s younger sister.
Word came that Potisan was killed by accident during a wild elephant round-up, and that younger brothers (if Settatirat was 12, well, supporters of younger brothers) were fighting for power. This threatened to divide the country, so in April 1551, Settatirat handed ChiangMai over to “the queen”, Phra Ton Thip, then returned to LuangPrabang. Queen TonTip, not KhamThip (though her sister was Pra TonKham! “Tip” is a popular local nickname (meaning divine celestial angel).
David K. Wyatt’s 1984 Thailand, A Short History (published over a decade before his Chronicles translation) refers to Thao MaeKu, deposed after less than a year, ruling during this short period of Lanna disintegration. The similarity of that name to the name of the next and last King is both confusing and interesting. Mae Ku = “mother of a pair”? Popular Thai historian Manich Jumsai says this was Princess Chiraprabha, “(sometimes known as Maha Devi)” who resisted, perhaps foisted off, “King Prajairaja” of Ayudhaya - King P’rajai or Chairacha, who died almost soon after return home.
It seems generally agreed that MahaTewi Jiraprapa first convinced the king from Ayudhaya that nothing was to be gained by violence, and then, doubtless with tribute, persuaded him to return home. When Setthatirat abandoned Lanna, or in January, 1546, Chairacha or Borommatraijak (“King of the South”) came back, and then, and only at that time, Jiraprapa led successful resistance. The leader of this resistance is not said to be Setthatirat’s wife. At any rate, “Many Southerners died, and they dispersed” - according to the ChiangMai Chronicles – “30,000 Southerners went away by water”, “10,000 infantry and 3000 war boats were taken,”
and 4 elephants!

The Portuguese had captured Islamic Malacca in 1511, and sent gunnery instructors to assist in wars to the north, supplying arms and soldiers to both sides: to mighty King Burengnong (Bayinnaung, or Jao PoengPawa MinTaya of Pegu, an important city south from Toungoo - on the Sittaung River - between its mouth and Yangoon) and also to King Maha Chakrapat of Ayudhaya. King Chairacha (Phrajai) may also have had some of these instructors, when on expeditions against ChiangMai, but despite Portuguese mercenary help and the violent power-jockeying which had been dominating affairs within Lanna, he was still completely routed by MahaTewi Jiraprapa.

Setthatirat took away the Phra Kaeo Morakot (Emerald Buddha), other important Buddha images, religious texts and treatises, and many monks and scholars, when he effectively abandoned Lanna. He did make some attempt to consolidate Lanna and LanSang in 1558-9, but then before heading off to secure things in the south, established a new capital at WiangChan (Vientiane). He certainly did this in part because Vientiane was much farther from Burmese-held territory than LuangPrabang (with more of difficult, unpopulated Saiaburi (Sayabuli or Xaignabouri), in-between, to be crossed. Or, as others hold, Potisarat had chosen WiangChan as a better capital “within the expanding Lao world” and for better communication with Vietnam, Champa, Cambodia and Ayudhaya. Most histories hold that Settatirat spent lots of time fleeing Burengnong’s armies, so I find the first theory more likely.
Lanna endured extensive anarchy and civil war, sometimes with nobles fighting on elephants in the middle of ChiangMai City. Petty officials and rulers of principalities proved more interested in their changing relative power than in the threat from Burma (as seems the case today), until Mekut of MongNai (a Shan State where rebellious descendents of Mengrai were sometimes sent to rule) was made king in 1552. In 1555, Mekut’s brothers attempted to seize Lanna’s Mekong region, and gained ChiangRai and ChiangSaen. Thus, Mekhut wasn’t at first inclined to listen to his brothers’ cry for help when Burengnong (who’d become king in 1551), took Ava (in 1555), then Hsenwi, then KengTung (now regarded as the capitol of Shan State).
Mekhut surrendered to Burengnong, who accepted him as a vassal, but soon revolted against his new obligations. Setthatirat, returning with help from the governors of Lampang, Prae and Nan, took ChiangMai and begged pardon before the Sangha (Buddhist clergy), handing “all the country of ChiangMai over to the Queen” (according to the Chronicles). He almost took ChiangSaen, but Burengnong forced him back to LuangPrabang, where Mekut had taken refuge (leaving Lady Wisutthathewi, or Visut-tevi - his consort, says history professor at ChiangMai University Sarassawadee Ongsakul - to rule in his place). Burengnong seized Mekut (the Chronicles say this was in ChiangMai) but Setthatirat escaped and pursued guerilla warfare tactics, fleeing and circling back to attack Burmese supply lines, until Burengnong ran out of provisions. For a year Setthatirat launched harrying sallies against Burmese camps, patrols and supply lines, until they withdrew in mid-1565. Perhaps before going back to Burma, Burengnong married Princess Jiraprapa, now in her 40s (at least). Perhaps he married another ChiangMai princess. The woman who ruled Lanna from 1564 until her death in 1578 is called Wisutthitewi (again there is name confusion: Mekut’s full name was Mekutawisutthiwong). This PhraNang Visuti (Wisutatewi, a.k.a. MahaTewi), whom Burengnong replaced Phra Mekut with, may have been a different, younger daughter of Phaya Ket; and/or also, maybe Potisan’s wife was Ket’s sister?
Anyway, Mekut died in exile at Pegu or Ava, and became known as one of Burma’s famous “37 Nat” spirits, YunBayin. The Mengrai line is said to end there, but the last person descended from Mengrai to rule might have been Thado Gyaw, 4th Lanna ruler (also descended from Burengnong/MinTaya, through MahaTwei Jiraprapa). Mon rebels, aided by Shan and Siamese prisoners resettled to the area, burned Pegu after Burengnong hurried off to deal with an Arakanese invasion. Burengnong sacked Ayudhaya in 1569, but didn’t absorb it into empire, and died (1581) without subduing LanSang. He sent another expedition, which briefly occupied Vienchan (again – it seems he may have done this before), but Settatirat directed more guerilla warfare against them… and has remained a national hero since, despite dying (well, disappearing) a year later.
In 1595 the kings of LanSang and Nan took ChiangSaen; amazingly, Burengnong’s son on the Lanna throne then asked King Naresuan of Ayudhaya for help! This resulted in a Lao noble acting as Siamese commissioner there. Subsequently, for about the length of time they’d been seats of an independent power, ChiangMai and ChiangRai were vassal states required to pay annual tribute of gold and silver trees, and manpower as necessary in times of war - usually to Burma, occasionally to Siam. MahaTewi’s descendents may have continued in local rule. After Setthatirat disappeared mysteriously while campaigning in the south, LanSang suffered a 70 years of wars of succession, and reduction to a Burmese vassal state, until King Suriyavongsa (Suriwong?) restored independence.

Which all goes to demonstrate: national borders, royal lines, culture and economics are hardly hard and fast realities; national historians often portray things differently from their neighbors, and any set of important records needs corroboration, even if from a very different way of looking at things! Many records were destroyed, but in Thailand, Lanna’s MahaTewi remains respected. Really though, who was she? Is she little more than an amalgamation, like the movie heroines?

Dr Briggs and the Shan Rebellion

After working in Lampang 10 years, Canadian Doctor William A. Briggs wanted to carry enlightenment and advancement to legendary T’ai people way up the Mekong, in Sipsongpanna, China - even further from the emerging modern world than the cities of Lampang, Lamphun and Chiang Mai, which, large though they were, had no connecting highways, railroads, telegraph or even effective (rapid, anyway) boat connections to the world at large. The north of Siam wasn’t even as advanced, safe or comfortable as it had been 500 years beforehand; and Yunnan was quite a bit more backward. There was exciting work to be done, and Dr. Briggs wanted to do it.
For 100 years Canada had been a successful colony; India the jewel of empire, had been a success for Britain twice that long. Four hundred years before, filthy Europeans had begun spreading disease and death throughout the globe we call our world; hundreds of millions died premature deaths due to European ignorance, aggressiveness and lack of hygiene and manners. But, as a result of the food sources and stimulants they’d found and brought home, for a hundred years there’d been ample energy devoted to growth and development. Russia had expanded east, civilizing much of Siberia, and the world was becoming industrialized, with electricity, motors, steel, interchangeable parts and many important advances in scientific understanding. It appeared as if the white man’s sins would be counter-balanced by contributions; soon the world would not only be understood, but well-managed, polite and happy. Surely, to Briggs’s mind, all that was needed was for good men to spread science and Christianity.
In modern times, the presumption of offering advice in a host’s home has been cruelly obvious to the few sensitive expats trying to politely fit in, but Briggs wasn’t just a guest, or missionary. He was a doctor, engineer, social scientist and agriculturalist well-welcomed for his skills and energetic hard work. The American Presbyterian Mission of New York, for whom he worked, though, wouldn’t send him further than Chiangrai. It was wild and dangerous enough there: tigers still were found roaming the few streets at night, and not so far off in ChiangSaen was a community of dacoit bandits. Farengi/Farang (the term comes from Frank, used by Persians, many of whom were traders but a few Siamese Court officials) in the area were few, though Brits had come to Chiang Mai as early as 1829 (to purchase elephants, oxen and buffalo) and had attached the Shan States in 1886. The French made a clear declaration of their intentions on Laos in 1893. What later became the province of Chiang Rai had only about 5000 people, when Dr Briggs came, with the little “city” under Doi JomTong only 500. This was remote enough, the danger already great enough, the Presbyterian Mission surely felt.
Indeed, it was so. After five years in his new position, Dr Briggs found himself at war.
But what a strange war. The people he fought were people he was the chief governmental representative of, although they were from Burma and this was in Siam! For, in addition to everything else, Briggs served as British consul for Chiangrai, an very important position, due to the teak trade.

Dull interlude: egregiously pedantic, gratuitous digression into history of the era:
Traditionally, Lanna forests belonged to the ruler of the nearest city. Anyone wishing to harvest logs needed the ruler’s permission. The Royal Court in Bangkok wasn’t greatly concerned, as the main interest there was money (trade and taxation), and in the north there wasn’t any (though teak cutting might bring some). But as logging business increased, problems arose: there were no fixed regulations, concessions overlapped, taxes weren’t clearly delineated and little could be clarified through local courts. Rapid growth in the logging industry resulted in increasing timber value; amounts concerned became substantial. Thus, struggles related to overlapping concessions became frequent. Strife, banditry and murder in border areas increased significantly. The British Government requested help from the Bangkok administration, but the Siamese Royal Court feared the British might attempt to take control of the area, and knew it hadn’t the power to repel them.
In 1855, King Mongut (Rama IV) approved a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with Sir John Bowring, direct representative of Queen Victoria; more concessions than Farengi/Farang had ever had before were given. British subjects became allowed to trade in all Thai ports, own land near Bangkok, move freely about the country, and even import opium. More importantly, an extraterritorial legal system for British nationals (instead of for all British subjects, as first claimed), was instituted. British subjects were to be answerable only to the British Consul in Bangkok; but somehow this was never applied for Shans (who were, at the time, by British legal technicality anyway, British subjects).

The British were starting after teak along the Salween River by 1826. Siamese King Rama III allowed British commercial logging in the then economically listless Chiang Mai area, but as forests belonged to local leaders, problems arose. From many misunderstandings, a few British subjects were murdered. Bangkok, fearing the northern rulers could hardly deflect British military advances into the area, tried delaying tactics. A rift between Bangkok and Chiang Mai widened as the British constantly demanded compensation from Chiang Mai princes for losses due to lawlessness in the heavily forested frontier areas.
Phraya Phutthawong (Chao Luang Phaen Din Yen, “King of the peaceful Land”), fourth Siamese ruler of Chiang Mai, administered more with intellect than through strength, and during his reign the city enjoyed peace. This was certainly in part because Burma was at war with the British, but also because Puttawong and his close, strong rivals in Lamphun and Lampang were all afraid of the British. Towards the end of Puttawong’s reign (1846), Britain commenced trade and started to log teak along the border.
Siamese King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) established a system of bi-national courts and a Chiang Mai Royal Commissioner, but in 1883, a second “Treaty of Chiang Mai” specified that British subjects could be heard only in international courts, or Consular Courts (when ‘more appropriate’). So the British opened a Chiang Mai Consulate that year. From 1890 to World War II, about 20,000 logs were produced per year, cut to maximum possible length.
As the teak-logging industry grew in the mid-19th century, officials sent up from Bangkok became more and more important. Records indicate much resentment of their abuse of power. The 7th Siamese Lord of Chiang Mai, Jao Intanon (IndraWichayanon, Chao Luang Ta Khao, who ruled 1871-1897), set up the first school for girls there (and another for boys). He was the last independent ruler, and had little power. But his wife, Chao Thep Kraison (Princess Tipkesawn – “Tip” = “Thep” I guess), proved highly skilled in bureaucratic affairs, despite no formal learning; she and her sister, Princess Ubonwanna, were great traders, among the biggest in Siam. Women then (as largely remains the case now) handled local trade, but only in the 1880s did they start learning letters - first taught by American female Presbyterian missionaries. Regular postal service began only in 1884 - arriving every two weeks. When Rama V incorporated Lanna into Siam in 1892, there were British Consulates in Lampang, Chiang Rai and Nan.
A forestry service was set up to reduce international legal complications, but the British remained rather more exploitative than co-operative.
Telegraph reached Chiang Mai sometime between 1885 and 1888, and in 1905 there were some (unreliable) telephones. British subjects involved with logging in Lanna kept initiating numerous lawsuits; more were murdered. Local commissioners lacked power to deal with these problems, which by law had to be tended to in Bangkok. Administrative reform was needed, so the “monthon” (circle of administration) was produced, combining most Lanna city/states. Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan and Thoeng became Monthon Lao Chiang. Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son were subsequently put with Chiang Mai and Lamphun as Monthon Phayap, which became a “monton thesaphiban,” with royal resident commissioner, in 1899. Nan, Phrae and Lampang became Monton Maharat. Lanna schools became required to use only the central Thai alphabet and dialect, instead of the more ancient Lanna script (often then called Lao).
Malaria, hepatitis, and other swamps and jungle diseases were rampant, and there were other grave difficulties. Roads were poorly maintained: journeys from Bangkok to Chiang Mai took over three weeks, occasionally even three months. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai took about two weeks! There were bandits, and modern, manufactured things, including shoes and money, as we know it, were only just starting to become familiar in Chiang Mai and northern Siam. Fixed pricing – along with standardized currency – didn’t take root until the 1970s.

Back to Dr Briggs, and adventure!
Christian missionaries and clergymen began helping plan educational, medical and health matters, construction and town mapping. The most important person in planning the modern ChiangRai City was Dr. Briggs. In addition to founding the areas first hospital (Overbrook), he mapped out official building areas, business areas, residential areas, recreation areas, a prison, and a military camp (with another hospital), with a drainage ditch around the town. Officials from Bangkok, come to implement the new administrative structures, didn’t help much: they imposed harshly excessive taxes, supposedly meant to replace corvee labor. Traditional demands for unpaid labor didn’t end, though. Shan ruby-miners, teak-workers and road-builders, nominally British subjects in an area economically dominated by the British, began rebelling in July 1902. They seized Chiang Mai, killing over 20 officials there. Other Shans beheaded the Siamese governor at Phrae, sacked the town and murdered all Siamese they could find. With Phrae’s hereditary ruler along, they marched on Lampang. Shans revolted in Nan and attacked ChiangRai too, but were defeated by Dr Briggs and companions, barricaded in their hospital with a canon.
Those rebels fantasized establishing their own independent state. Whether this was to be a revival of Lanna is unclear; there is a Shan belief in a King Surakhanfa the Great (1291 - 1364) who ruled Ahom, Dali, Keng Tung, Chiang Saen, Luang Prabang, Lampun, Sukhotai, Chiang Mai, Pegu, Ava and even Mergui (a small port way to the south). Shans did rule the Ava Kingdom (some say including Assam and Lampun) until the middle of the 16th century. Their rendition of history excludes any idea of Lanna, except as another Shan principality. At the time of the rebellion, Indian and Chinese money was at least as common as Siamese (similarly as Thai and Chinese money is used in Shan State now). The Siamese and few remaining Khon Muang (Lanna people), quite equally, saw themselves as distinct from each other. Perhaps the Shan workers expected not only local, but also British, support. They didn?t get it.
According to Singkaew Suriyakam, a “troop of Shans from the Shan States numbering 200 strong tried to plunder the city of Chiangrai. They encamped on the opposite bank of the river. At that time the river was high. There was a bridge made of bamboo across the river. The news of the approaching force come suddenly, therefore hasty preparations had to be made to defend the city. The police force was not properly organized and no army barracks was near by. Before the enemy came near the city, the rulers, acting on the suggestion made by Dr. Briggs, sent post-haste to the barracks at Chiangmai an appeal for troops. Moreover Dr. Briggs advised the ruling prince of Chiangrai to arrest all Shans and Burmese living in the city and confine them in the precincts of Phra Singh Temple and hold them as hostages, fearing that the Shans would act as spies or what people today call a "fifth column." The people who lived along the banks ran away into the forest. Well-to-do people who had elephants and big families did as Phya Pakdirajakit, a next door neighbor to Dr. Briggs. He put all his family on the backs of elephants and they fled north of the city. Many Christian and non-Christian families took refuge in the house of Dr. Briggs, which offered convenience and protection.”
Dr Briggs “hoisted a big Union Jack flag in front of his house so that it could be clearly seen from the other end of the bamboo bridge. This action on his part reminded the invaders that their official head was in this residence and that no guns were to be aimed in that direction. At that time the writer of this story was a child and his mother took him to Dr. Briggs' house too. His mother told him later that Dr. Briggs ordered all refugees to lie flat on the ground should firing of guns occur. The writer himself was forced to lie flat under the bed of Dr. Briggs.
“The bamboo bridge mentioned above was just opposite to the present-day police station. The ruling princes of that time placed an old mortar with its muzzle pointed to the bridgehead on the other bank ready to fire at any moment. The bamboo mat floor in the middle of the bamboo bridge, where the current was very strong, had been removed and a camouflaged floor had been put in its place in order to lure the enemy to be drowned there. Later it was found to be effective as planned. All was quiet on both banks of the river for a long while. Then the sound of gongs and long drums burst forth, "Mong, sae mong!" The chief of the Shan forces shouted, "Pakamoong! Hey! Jee Hey! Pao Hey!? He was calling the gang in the city under the leader Pakamoong to set fire to the city of Chiangrai. Unfortunately for him this gang was being held in custody in the temple of Wat Phra Singh. So nothing happened as planned by the Shans. Simultaneously gun-fire began at the bridgehead mixed with the sound of drums and gongs and Shans shouting "Wat Lae! Wat Lae!" which was similar in meaning to the cry of dacoits farther south who would shout, "Ai sua aow wah!" when making an attack. Apart from firing their rifles the Shans shot off fire crackers to frighten people in the city.
“Then the robbers who thought themselves invulnerable because they were tattooed all over, marched with swords in both hands to the bridgehead and came within the firing of the big gun hidden on the city side. When the robbers came near the middle of the bridge, the ruling prince himself pulled the trigger of the big gun and the vanguard of the enemy disappeared into the river. The followers, very angry, rushed over the bridge to invade the city despite the rain of bullets from the city side. Many of them fell and disappeared into the current because the false floor in the middle of the bridge did not bear their weight. The rearguard, seeing the failure to cross the river, retreated and encamped about six kilometers from the city.
“Suddenly the Thai soldiers from Chiangmai arrived and at once crossed the bridge in pursuit of the enemy. The robbers put up a severe resistance at Santakook village because they were entrenched in a well-fortified position. At last the Shan force was driven out of the kingdom. By mistake the Thai soldiers thought that all the houses on the other bank of Mae Kok River belonged to Shans so they burned all of them down. They beheaded two Shan rebels and put the heads up for public view in front of the present government office just opposite to the officials' club.
“Later investigations showed that old people, and women and children had been badly treated by the Shans. During the fighting people gathered up bundles of clothes and food in order to flee into the jungle.
“In the city many houses were hit by bullets from the muskets of the enemy, especially the house of Phya Pakdirajakit. In the bedroom near the river, which happened to be the bedroom of the writer of this sketch, there were many holes caused by the bullets. The owner of the house kept them as they were until recently. Dr. Boriboon Pakdi (the nephew of Phya Pakdi) was obliged to demolish that old house in order to build the classrooms of the present <1962> Daroon Suksa School in its place. No life was lost in the city. It is not certain whether the Shans intended to rule the city or merely to plunder it. During that time the city of Prae also had a severe battle with the Shan invaders (1905).
“Shortly after the repulse of the Shans, an army barracks was set up in Chiangrai for the first time. It was erected on the tops of the hills along the bank of the river from the house of Dr. Briggs to Doi Tong. The barracks offered a fine view of the landscape and meant security to the people. After that Dr. Briggs was made a medical officer attached to the Chiangrai Regiment and he was commissioned a captain in the army. Every week both Dr. Briggs and the colonel in command would inspect the health of all soldiers in each company and give treatment to those who were sick. All the privates and officers would salute Dr. Briggs whenever they met him.”

Vengeance by Siamese troops under Field Marshall Surasak was ruthless; many innocents were punished. The rebellion had lasted 14 months. In December 1905, Prince Vajiravudh, who became Rama VI, visited ChiangRai, solidifying royal authority. As King, Rama VI required surnames for all; “sometimes whole villages were given the same last name”!
When the northern rail route reached the Lanna area (Pitsanulok in 1907, Lampang in 1916 and Chiang Mai variously reported as 1919 or 1922), control from Bangkok became quite fully, and firmly, set. Dr Briggs, though, had already left... unfortunately, never to return.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

a long entry, followed by shorter ones!

Father Time and the Greater Good.
By Joel John Barlow

An analysis of the real state of our development and situation.

When things in general seem disproportionate and out-of-kilter, it doesn't help to find information has been systematically withheld, or at least misrepresented, by people in positions of power. That truths are also being diminished by ridicule from authorities might seem to exacerbate the situation, but should, rather, only encourage self-reliance. It's long been obvious that much presented as fact is less than credible; we deal with misdirection and slight-of-hand, conjuring tricks skillfully crafted to thwart apt comprehension... Big Brother isn't just watching you: he's trying to eradicate context for appropriate decision-making. Which puts the onus on us, to take care of ourselves, and not be dependent on "higher authority."

Son of, and separator of, Heaven and Earth, the harvest god (with sickle like that of Death) Kronos (Cronus) or Saturn, Father Time, was seen in early historic Mediterranean cultures as having eaten his children. Representing both creation and limits, his was the aspect of re-absorption, separation and re-immersion, dragon-catching-its-tail, the futility of linear thinking. For time, in which we live, only started in the separation of Heaven and Earth; and it ends, for all of us. We are circumscribed, and this doesn’t refer to sexual organs (although Kronos used his scythe to castrate, not simply circumcise, his father, Heaven…). Our universe is hardly as large as some people have dreamed, even announced as fact; nor as divisible. It’s limited, although it seems there’s an infinitude of things to come to know, of places to go, things to see, sensations to focus on, and much more involved in our lives than we can comprehend. The creative act, the giving birth which Father Time does, may be a kind of transcendence of limits… Or not, as using what we’ve produced, to nurture us (our egos or vain hopes), may be just as cannibalistic as Kronos, Planet Saturn whose satellites emerge and re-emerge but seem to get eaten in-between (as Rahu, Indian god of eclipse, “eats” the sun and moon), was said to be. This may or may not have first been observed by Galileo; regardless, what power has made is coming asunder, and it is time for a new contextual understanding, as can provide needed, appropriate context for beneficial decision-making. Consider:

Mathematician Kurt Gödel, originator of the incomparably important, but generally lauded then ignored, Incompleteness Theorem, saw the "river of time" as having whirlpools in which time could wrap itself into a spiral. Or anyway, so it’s claimed on some internet sites. His Theorem, or Proof, definitively demonstrates involvement in our world (universe or omniverse) of more than we can explain or even adequately name: it shows that all systems as we know them (or anyway, mathematical delineations of systems) are incomplete (insufficient), internally contradictory, or both. From him, and Games Theory, then Systems Theory, we can see that words, stories, mathematics and religious systemings have at best only similarities to what they purport to represent (like any 2-D picture). Some patterns we’re involved in, we can have some understanding of; of others, none (at least consciously). When we remember, and think, we realize how wrong our focus often turns out to have been. Shifts in contextual sense can change everything – what seemed overbearingly important can be reduced to the laughably trivial, depending only on how things are viewed. Enemies often become friends, though that’s hard to accept when caught up in a thing! What nurtures can also sometimes poison, and what poisons sometimes helps us survive. It’s none of our 5 senses that gets us to turn and check when someone studies us with concentration from behind! Erwin Schrödinger first clearly demonstrated that the act of observation affects the thing observed, but we still don't fully understand how, or even how much. We can learn to accept that associated instances within a syndrome include instances we can discern to be involved, but cannot fully map how. This demonstrates that there’s more going on than we can have direct, sometimes even indirect (!) perception of; scientists, still, however, propose to explain everything, and fail. Some interactive reality must be extra-dimensional; there may be divinity (singular, or even deities) involved, after all. But we can’t even dream of measuring lesser gods, let alone a Universal God. Which is something which hardly need affect faith.
Contemporary theoretical physicist Michio Kaku (professor at City University of New York) has talked of 10-dimensional superstrings, claiming that, "according to Einstein, time was more like a river, which meandered around the stars and galaxies, speeding up and slowing down as it passed around massive bodies". Dr. Kaku added that Kurt Gödel, "found a new solution to Einstein's own equations... (t)he "river of time" (has) whirlpools in which time could wrap itself into a circle". This circle, as a whirlpool, must be more a spiral. Kaku expects we aren’t smart enough to solve the "superstring equations that stand before us in perfectly well-defined form" because we have reached a "bottleneck" – perhaps where all phenomena begin to reverse, invert and run backwards; "when the strings move in space and time, it warps the space around it just as Einstein predicted. Thus, in a remarkably simple picture, we can unify gravity (as the bending of space caused by moving strings) with the other quantum forces (now viewed as vibrations of the string)". Instead of particles and/or fields, Kaku sees strings as nature’s fundamental objects, somewhat understandable from studies of quarks. Interesting, maybe, but what can we do with it? For me, very little but consider it all an intentional distraction.
Another contemporary theoretical physicist, Edward Witten, made a refinement to superstring theory, "M theory", which similarly posits strings as fundamental vibrating objects that create space-time in hyper-dimension. The M is said to stand for "membrane" or the “mother of all strings,” or perhaps "Matrix" or "Murphy" as in "Murphy's law", which states that anything that can happen, will happen, given enough time. M-theory involves exotic mathematics, high energy physics, and esoteric physical concepts including 11 dimensions, most somehow ‘compressed’ (go figure!). Kaku says, "The original 10-dimensional space-time finally "cracked" into two pieces, a 4 and a 6- dimensional universe. The universe made the "quantum leap" to another universe in which 6 of the 10 dimensions collapsed and curled up into a tiny ball, allowing the remaining 4-dimensional universe to explode outward at an enormous rate. The 4-dimensional universe (our world) expanded rapidly, creating the Big Bang, while the 6-dimensional universe wrapped itself into a tiny ball and shrunk down to infinitesimal size." Crunched infinity anyone? How many angels was it could dance on the tip of a pin – 10, 11, 12? M-theory purports to explain direct connection between black holes and basic particles, strengthening perceived validity of string theory. Physicists using strings instead of particles in their calculations find difficult problems with "infinities" solvable, but “orders of infinity” have quite literally driven mathematicians mad; it’s not just that they couldn’t let go of abstract quandaries like squaring a circle, but that advanced concepts like “fuzzy logic” have accomplished so much, and that symbols for abstract non-entities can start to seem quite real. Postulating degrees, relative sizes, or “orders”, of infinity, as has been done and continues to be done, though, doesn’t make sense any more than postulating unicorns makes them available as pets. One infinity as larger than another is axiomatically absurd, contrary to what must be postulated to give the word meaning... a dimension, axiomatically, is infinite.
Kaku and Witten may, simply, be trying to baffle us common-folk into submission to our “betters”!
Two mysterious aspects of our discernable universe, black holes and quantum particles, may or may not have been linked in a consistent mathematical expression, but, as Einstein said, "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." The search for a "complete" picture of the universe has powerful constraints. Gödel's 1931 "Incompleteness Theorem", Nobel Prize for Physics winner Erwin Schrödinger’s 1933“Schrödinger Equation” and Werner Heisenberg's 1927 "Uncertainty Principle" are important reminders of our limitations: that, whether physical or logical, any picture we can have of reality will never represent all that is involved and going on. Small wonder – no map can possibly include all it purports to map! The way we question determines the kind of answer we get. Trying to understand nature using linguistic or mathematic methods resembles trying to understand human needs and psyche through computers. We’ve given up speculating whether computers might “think” – it’s past time to begin to do so better, ourselves!

The problems Schrödinger and others had with wave/particle duality (one set of experiments shows electrons to be waves, while others prove them particles - so they must be something else – “wave functions” maybe) and Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty, or Indeterminacy, Principle (the position and velocity of an object cannot both be measured at the same time, as the concept of exact position with exact velocity is meaningless: there can be well defined position, or well-defined velocity, never both) relate to Gödel’s Proof that mathematics is inconsistent, incomplete or both. Measurement of atomic-particle velocity disrupts the particle’s activity, dramatically and unpredictably upsetting simultaneous measurement of position (and vice-versa). This isn’t about instrument, technique, or observer inadequacies, but pertains to the impact of observation on what is observed... Theorists seem not to deal very well with the reality that all is in flux, spinning, rotating - with no constant or fixed reference; that high speeds affect time-flow (in relativity theory anyway)… and that all measures are but social conventions. There is never any fixed position, only appearance of it. Measurement is but comparison, and life in accord the best rule – accommodation, not domination.

Objectivity is essential for scientific method; without it science is arbitrary. Yet, no true and unambiguous reality at the bottom of everything has been shown, not even light-speed as an absolute, despite figures like 299,792,458 meters per second, or the meter as length traveled by light through a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second, or a second defined in terms of the frequency of electromagnetic-radiation emitted by cesium-133; unfortunately, there is no absolute vacuum for light to travel through, and who knows how radiation might be emitted on Neptune or Saturn! Gravity remains imperfectly explained, and even cause and effect are now held but consequences of collective behavior in large quantum systems... There’s certainly never been any absolute measure of money, despite many wishing for one! Value depends on context, so values change! Whether constructs are real or not is mostly about perception: does a tree falling with no-one near enough to hear make any sound? Not if sound is what one hears. Einstein said what one can’t explain to a 3-year-old, one doesn’t really understand; what is explained above, though, took decades to become understood even by academics willing to pay attention. Theories of photons, quarks, Black Holes, of light going in straight lines or sometimes bending, are not really understood by anybody. Scientists report that the universe is 25% helium and 73% hydrogen but also that 90% of it is “unaccounted for” – as if no-one would notice the conflict inherent in the two statements!

A Hebrew word to describe God at creation, Ayn Sof, translates roughly as both infinite and nothing; in Thai mot is to be all, entire, or all used up, exhausted. The present scientific term for the beginning of our universe is a singularity – a reality in which there are no physical laws or particles, is no energy, no space or time, no geometry, nothing - and yet everything. Similar to the original chi of Lao Tzu’s Taoism. Maybe things ‘started’, but how could the concepts/constructs time and space have had any meaning until well ‘after’ a “Big Bang”? Measurements could neither happen, nor have meaning, until that ‘event’ had some distance… Black Holes, too, are “singularities” – points of zero volume but infinite mass… But singularities? “A” singularity – single how, in what way? Unified, one must suppose, but unique? We hardly know. Can there be, or have been, more than one? Variant “Big Bangs” can be postulated, and that’s all a singularity is: a postulation. How can we assume a Big Bang without understanding gravity, anti-matter, and where most of the “matter” of the universe is if the theories of physicists correspond at all to actuality…? How much ‘information’ can be in a Black Hole? Despite world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawkins’ assertions, virtually, or practically, none. How much of modern physics is linguistic confusion, muck and blabber? A thing, or phenomenon, gets named, and seems defined, described, even explained, but that doesn’t mean it’s understood. We notice evidence of dinosaurs, and that similar rotations of the earth as occur now must have been happening when those creatures lived, but forget that a “year” may have been different. Methuselah may have survived almost 1000 rotations of the sun - if our Earth were traveling quicker! We need to notice we’ve been presuming too much. People tend to assert too much which they don’t understand quite so well as they want to appear as if understanding…
We tend to hate and despise uncertainty because it’s our lot: we die, and cannot have more than faith (with perhaps some general understanding). How could Earth’s activity – internal and external, not have changed, with change our only constant? Gravity, density and time aren’t the constants our cock-sure alpha-asserters espouse.

Most things we can refer to involve regular repeat recurrence. To classify and name, there must be recognition – sense of connected pattern as in reproduction, regeneration/revitalization, reconstruction or reticulation, perhaps some redolent reflective recollection through retrospection and realization; reason rectifying reality through redundant revelation, resumption, restoration and reactivation after atrocious disorganization, made through revisions reliant on reversion, recognizance and the residue which is remembrance, or reincarnation. Right? The universe began with Word, as in story or belief. That was what we had, but it seems that Word was Law, and mainly for the benefit of law-givers. As we can intuit to exist things traveling faster than the speed of light (quarks, information…), additional dimensions and even absolute truth, we can believe in classless society, without money or degrees of privilege. But we can’t prove these things have ever existed, and should realize that any ‘Utopian’ society wouldn’t be recorded by historians. There are limits to our understanding; it’s a bit like consciousness being recognition of otherness… to really learn we must recognize our limits. But our testing of limits is merely behavior like that necessary for two-year-olds and adolescents, behavior hardly appropriate for responsible members of society who must budget (time if not money) and clean, wage peace and attempt appropriate behavior modifications in response to growing awareness and need... Some people of long ago may have been as smart, wise and understanding as anyone now. In 5th century BCE ancient Greece, Zeno of Elaea portrayed the position/motion problem Heisenberg elucidated so well; farmers 1000 years before Pavlov knew dogs could relate a sound to food! Currently, we support a hidden, dangerous power regime, and utterly fail to use received wisdom as well as we could. Mistakes seem inevitable, but our explanations are our culture, heritage, responsibility and ethical reality. We must accept that things can be, are, and will be explained in different ways: where we come from, what reality is, and death, how big the cosmos is... Regardless of how far science and technology develop, opinions and beliefs will differ. It makes no sense not to be tolerant of this.
Maybe it isn’t the universe that began with Word, but order, organization, division of labor, haves and have-nots. We recognize, and often name, recurrent patterns – which we can see as things, waves, forms, phenomenon, continuities or creations of a transcendent intellect (God). Pattern instances exhibit tendencies, but hard and fast distinctions of exactly what is, and is not, of the pattern, are impossible to clearly and precisely delineate. We think we can tell one thing from another, but eventually learn of illusion, deception, misapprehension, imprecision and that mathematics and the real world do not exactly coincide (or, at least most non-mathematicians do, and Einstein did).
The infinite is limitless, without end; as much as there is or can be, thus, everything. Twice everything is still everything, as to add to “everything’ is simply to posit, or postulate, more, which then (immediately!) becomes part of the “whole” limitless everything. This is not a matter of opinion, but of either correct, or misplaced, understanding! Everything plus one more thing = everything. Twice everything, everything, again – in fact, the very same everything, as all that has been done is the finding of more to include. What is limitless can have no rival in size (or duration, number, extent, whatever...) and infinity to the infinite power is a meaningless concept not to be bothered with – it cannot be larger than the original infinity, any more than one zero is any more or less than “another” zero! Some posit opposed, directional infinities (negative and positive numbers, for instance), but then from any point an infinite number of lines could stretch out infinitely. I propose that our universe is limited, and that such a construct is meaningless. This may be a matter for opinion, I don’t know. Can there really be more than one infinity? Outside abstract, meaningless but imaginative mathematical models, I think not. Astronomers describe stars as 6 and 60,000 light years away, and the perceptible universe as a plane, or perhaps thin disk. Fine. But do we really know astronomers aren’t seeing the same objects twice, or more, from light curving?

Between 6000 and 35,000 years ago, humans began noticing and counting more than just seasonal cycles, and time, as we know it, began (no birthday, though). For Zoroastrians, it was 12,000 years ago that “human time” began. Shouldn’t we consider that the act of observing, as physicists have concluded happens, affected the thing observed? This doesn’t necessarily put mankind “back” at some (imaginary) center of things (as if we ever really left there, in our own minds), and anyway, is it really beyond doubt that (many, or some) cycles were once faster? The ages related in the Biblical Book of Genesis might even – after all the handing down and translating - have had some accuracy. Spinning or rotating things do slow down (no great worries though – Mayans of 1000 years ago had a calculation of the year as 365.2420 days – we now see it as 365.2422; if Earth’s spinning were slowing, the number should be less, not more. But which would slow more noticeably, the spinning, rotating, along the orbit, or the orbit itself? Current scientific thought has the orbit slowing half a second per century, and daily rotation slowing 1.7 millisecond per century, though not at a steady rate…)… If not 10,000 or some specific time ago, just when, after a ‘Big Bang’, or even otherwise, would length, width or time have started to have meaning? Before they were named, or at that “time”? Anyway, what’s in a name? A reference (a rose), a description, a continuity? Or rather more, a pattern interacting with other patterns, the will of God? Does the individual, or unity, really exist, especially as in persevere through time? Might that not depend on how time is viewed? Energy, after all, must be seen in a context of time, and change. All is impermanence, even the pain and suffering Buddha taught escape from. With undeniable evidence of millennia of misconstrued hypotheses and insufficient explanations of reality before us, or readily available, why insist our logic now, suddenly, gives us more insight than we ever had before? Sure we have the technological clarity of fuzzy logic – with great TV pictures, fast video games, varieties of digital recording and even cars that almost drive themselves, but don’t we also have a history of misguided, hypocritical, self-serving leadership? Have our societies not been murderous? Is this acceptable? Is this situation not related to our self-centeredness, indulgence and now gross materialism? Are not our scientists, philosophers and soldiers but over-grown children, playing? Too much of ‘science’ is like war: not necessary, polite or meaningful, but rather an indulgence of “Big Boys” displaying power through big explosions and expenditures regardlessly neglectful of associated human (and other) costs. How much of language, religion, law, systemizing and naming is a racist, or self-congratulatory, attempt to delineate distinction of us vs. them, the ‘civilized’ from the ‘barbaric’ folk closer to nature (and further from ‘law’)? Aren’t we often simply trying to feel superior, loveable, maybe justifiable?

Scientists now say clocks run slower in strong gravitational fields, as well as at great speeds (Earth goes around the sun at 20 miles per second, but the sun, and the galaxy move too… so total speed is more than that, relative to what ,we don’t know, except that, maybe, it’s only about 1/9000th the speed of light…). Atomic clocks, used since 1972, are pretty good, but we simply haven’t adequate data on atomic (cesium) emissions (or better, oscillations) under (greatly) varying conditions… Theory holds that if a cesium atom is totally unperturbed - not affected by any magnetic fields, no light shining on it, then its resonant frequency is stable; in reality, the resonant frequency changes all the time, and we’ve no absolute clock (much as we’ve no absolute measure of anything). I know little about dating techniques, but its not really whether cesium activity is regular, but that rates of change can vary, and that ‘scientific’ data, and statistics especially, can be, and often are, manipulated for political (as well as economic) ends. Much ‘Science’ – like much modern math – is underpinned by questionable assumptions, and surely will be re-writ (given human survival). See: Gödel, Heisenberg, Schrödinger… We are undoubtedly over-valuing the evidence for Einstein’s theories, and for theories in general! Which hardly means we should totally discard them… We should simply be more cautious, respectful and humble – like Hopi Indians who disapprove of mining yet dig some coal, as they have as far back as is known about, but only a little, never wastefully, never over-much.
Spinning bodies may produce newly posited forces: gravito-magnetism, maybe gravitational or gravity waves, gravitational radiation which may or may not carry, or impart, energy, but seem to have only a small amount of it... or at least of any energy-like character… Einstein’s General Relativity posits rotating bodies bending space and time, but ‘quasiforces’, ‘worm-holes’, ‘ripples in space-time’ and even space-time curvature are just sci-fi… wow, gee whiz and tell me more! Extended lines must all curve – Euclid’s wonderful geometry applies to our wonderful physical world, somewhat, and no more… Why two masses separated in space have a gravitational attraction to one another remains unknown, and there remains no current prospect of identifying the mediator of gravity. Current scientific thinking holds that any mass in the universe modifies the rate of time in its vicinity; well, suppose the mass of our Earth had changed, or its proximity to the sun, or even the sun’s mass… all are possible, all would somehow change ‘time’!

It’s natural for few to want to comprehend, let alone accept, these quandaries – that’s but practical, self-protective ego-defense. We want to accept, and like, who we are. But greed, gluttony and lack of respect for that which nurtures, protects and provides us life will always be wrong. One can overindulge, rebel, acquire, even sometimes engage in violence – we needn’t demand of others or ourselves purity or perfection, but we do (must) notice a functional difference between those who do, and do not, recognize what is wrong. Too many toys, the wrong kinds of restrictions on children, over-extended, over-blown egos, society based on stealing from, even murdering, aboriginals, instead of communicating with them, all mean our languages, our systemings, are corrupt, and thus at least somewhat invalid.
It is, as usual, time for a change. Not only physics professors and politicians mislead us, but doctors, ministers, lawyers, law officers, businessmen and other professionals who wish their power unquestioned. They have (unmet) obligation to explain, to help people make correct decisions without oversight and undue expense – although, unfortunately, society has become more and more dependent on (false) authority. Because power is addictive, and, as “statesman” Henry Kissinger (!!!) has said, an aphrodisiac, it’s strongly protected! I’ve no problem with those in power having fun; it’s just that they need to learn to share. As the rest of us (meaning, those privileged enough to be reading this) need to try consuming less, working within the power-structure less, to regain the true quality that can be the best part of life. Tools to work with (math, physics) should not be confused with answers to life’s questions. They are not themselves solutions to life’s complications! From physics and microscopic amplification we know there’s no purity, unity or identity, no “one” nor zero, neither. No equal, no infinity but the word. Atoms are neither particles nor waves, and light-speed can be measured – but not precisely. Although one, zero, atoms and light-speed are concepts with meaning, they’re best regarded as approximations, useful descriptions - not names by which to rule and control (or the kind of command a cat might intuit its meow to be). When we think clearly and dispassionately, we must admit to influences working on us which we cannot identify. Maybe, some day, these demonstrable truths will help us to achieve humility long tragically lacking.

Here’s a mystery: every year lots of salts pour into the ocean, carried in water. They don’t evaporate; they’ve apparently somehow accumulated for hundreds of millions of years without much altering the ocean’s salinity. Fish that swim in it now, and fossil fish that thrived in it long ago, are identical. Not all perhaps, but many go way back, some, supposedly for hundreds of millions of years. But the ocean, inexplicably, hasn’t become saturated with salt over this great period of purported time, and ‘adaptation’ hasn’t even been essential for survival. So we see that much of “science” has yet to be “proved”, that our systems for accumulating and spreading knowledge are as distorted, corrupt and inefficient as our methods of “governing”. What we’ve been taught has been as much to control us, as to help us. While it’s clear we’re systematically lied to by “authority”, it’s also true that authority systematically undermines itself, and that we have not reacted intelligently to this readily available (to minds sufficiently inquisitive) information. That we’re capable of asking questions that don’t often get asked may indicate that we’re part of a flower yet unfolding, or, may indicate something sinister. I’m not at all sure which.

David Ewing Duncan wrote in “The Calendar” (Fourth Estate Limited, 1998), “In the early days of Rome the calendar and the all-important list of dies fas were controlled first by the Roman kings and then in the early days of the republic by the aristocratic patrician class. For the first several centuries after Romulus the priests and aristocrats kept the calendar a secret they shared only among themselves, which gave them a tremendous advantage over the merchants and 'plebs' — commoners — in conducting business and controlling the elaborate structure of religious auguries and sacrifices that governed much of Roman life. This monopoly on official time ended in 304 BC, when the plebs finally became so incensed that one of them, Cnaeus Flavius — the son of a freedman, who was later elected to several high offices - pilfered a copy of the codes that determined the calendar and posted it on a white tablet in the middle of the Roman Forum for all to see. After this the priests and patricians relented and issued the calendar as a public document - the first step in evolving the objective, secularized calendar that Caesar introduced two and a half centuries after Flavius's theft.”
If that’s the way people were with maps of time, how then of even greater power significance: of land, trade routes, trade winds, changing deserts and ice? Naturally, no general tendency to share, for any “greater good.”
As early humans increased in number, they diverged into various tribes, and developed colorful and distinctive characteristics, in language, games, clothing, food and religion. Many could be chiefs, and more could think, and explore for themselves, this way. People also feuded and fought, and limited themselves. Only a few could attain personal independence, with social knowledge and also ability to find food and adequately fend for themselves. Around some of these grew cults, and of course misunderstandings. We must wonder, what is it that sets some people apart? Why must we have feelings of envy, jealousy, resentment, and even avarice? Why is it hard to achieve the dignity to which we are taught to aspire? Is there a general basis for respect? What is Good?
To fly, to dive and underwater witness spectacular beauty, to excel and inspire others, to come in out of the rain and help others do so as well, to fully satisfy appetite and exchange smiles… to gain, to share, to profit from interaction, is good. But, one comes to wonder, do secret understandings the world’s top people have access to, contribute to, or detract from, the dignity they hope to be seen having, and might well wish more fully to possess?
As knowledge advanced, it grew both more eclectic and more esoteric. Some actually learned longevity techniques (and sought other kinds of grandeur). By living long enough, and seeing things at least partly as recurrences, cycles and repeat patterns, human events started to became somewhat comprehensible, accessible, usable, and even manipulate-able. But, as ever, after pride came fall. The Assassins of the Old Man in the Mountain, the Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, etc. are no longer with us, except in name. New cliques of powerful conspirators with capacities incomprehensible to most (from access to both wide and specific information, training in mass-manipulation, the power of massive money and great connections – we needn’t stoop to belief in shape-shifting extraterrestrials when a supra-dimensional deity will do – if life was “seeded” here it still had to originate somehow) now wield their Pride; soon they too will fall.
The course of human events, even in historical times, has had more to do with habit and misapprehension than with decisions (plans, strategies, loyalties, trading patterns etc). Much results from the irrational: fear, greed, hate, wanderlust and bragging. Little more has resulted from fine, pretty, evocative words than dreaming and temporary mayhem. And especially, heirs to great money have done the course of human history little benefit. It’s not been individual personality that’s mattered, but mass delusion, and emotional tide. 250 plus years ago, during historical times (the era we have records with individual names and associated dates and places of), families with control of armies owned most of what could be owned. They exerted great influence over much else, and still do. What they didn’t have authority over, they then considered too wild to be bothered with, but now newly perceive need of. Such families certainly understood the world and its workings differently than others; they still have knowledge unavailable to those they consider their lessers. As early trade developed, more going longer distance, new forms of authority, knowledge and control developed. Merchant clans became wealthy, but seldom got control of armies. To protect their position, they also developed hoards of secrets.
With information available, it’s necessary to accept that there really have been cults, or other groupings, which enabled some privileged people, even long ago, to achieve life-spans much, much longer than average. People able to take advantage of beneficial herbs lived well over twice as long, on average, as people amongst whom they traded. These would have accumulated, and transmitted within their group, valuable knowledge. The assassins of Hasan-I Sabbah (the Old Man in the Mountain of Alamut, Southern Persia, 750 to 1000 years ago) were given lengthy training, then expected to travel to, and remain in, their place of advantage, a long time. Some abided unobtrusively over 20 years before carrying out orders to assassinate the individual to whom they cultivated proximity, though back then folk in their forties were considered old. Hasan-I Sabbah somehow expected his assassins to remain strong enough to accomplish their tasks, even after much time and trouble. Surely he transmitted to them understandings to which most others hadn’t access.
Did Knights Templar gain longer than average life-spans? Given their success over 175 years, it’s easy to believe that ones who didn’t die violently did… It’s sensible to accept that early trading societies and esoteric cults intentionally influenced human societies towards increased tribalism, provincialism and even mutual antipathy. This viewpoint, well developed, might help explain much about mysteries of money, religion, migrations and fears of conspiracy. Phoenicians and Armenians engaged in extensive sea trade well before the voyages European histories make so much of; Basques from the upper Iberian Peninsula were fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia long before Columbus; and doing well by it; Armenians with boats carrying as many people as in a large town of their time and place sometimes came home to a country completely removed, separated entirely from its location when they left. Chinese, Persians and Pacific Islanders were traveling intercontinental distances 750 years and more ago, surely with knowledge of winds, currents and tides which they took pains keeping private. People engaged in trade need their secrets, and don’t teach outsiders how to compete. Language barriers separating cultures traders go between help maintain traders’ lucrative positions. Members of restricted clans, cults, and secret societies feel assured of privilege and plenty by filling perceived or real needs, easiest when they appear to offer luxury without presenting any threat. At the time markers became necessary – cowry shells, cocoa beans or large rocks like millstones – there was already a prevalence of deception in the conduct of those who introduced the markers. Before business started, mankind may not have been so clannish, or divisive, the Tower of Babel tale suggests.
Through this undeniably limited understanding of history, we can examine our general failure to truly share. The good of society in general, and especially the ‘need’ of its lowlier members to understand, has seldom seemed, to its most successful and informed, to be to their own greatest good. Most importantly, to a greater extent than they have been about selfishness, secrets have been about survival. Without proper acculturation, socialization and experience, common, “expendable” folk would find no meaning in them, not even enough understanding of them to pass them on. Certainly there isn’t room for too many decision-makers, but hasn’t selfishly unshared success become rather worse than being a big fish in a small pond, or king of a rubbish heap? Depends on what one thinks of one’s limits, and one’s exclusive group, it must be supposed. Such restriction hardly seems what an attuned mind would aspire to. Confidence does not hoard, nor deceive.
Are we here to replicate, originate, tend a garden or simply seek gratification? Is intelligence part of life’s striving to respect itself? Might not success at bettering ourselves bring better things, as yet unimagined? Clearly, humanity can do more than it has; to do so would involve co-operation, even general sharing. We might best actively heed warnings of looming disaster, and to look wherever possible for new ideas, guidance, leadership and chance for working together to save the belief that there will be a future worth living.
Dignity, as a concept, must involve co-operation. Classy titles, wardrobes and secrets have sufficed long enough. Our world might expand, if our concepts really do. Considering the variety of problems incumbent to intergenerational transfer of almost anything (much is lost in translation, as it were), every bit as much important information may have been inadvertently lost as has been lost through burning of libraries. Dynasties have disappeared, guilds too; even religions. The secrets of animal breeders, chefs, perfumers and fund-raisers are small compared to those of actors, directors, publishers, and doctors; and nothing compared to those of politicians and their “national security” state secrets. Certainly these secrets could add to our general understandings, but clearly, these understandings will remain, for now, limited.

Lost knowledge and understanding should hardly be irretrievable, although that some might be, is at least conceivable. But once hope for the future is lost, all may be gone, quite irretrievably. And, I submit, without this Earth to live on, we’ve nothing. No need now for intellectual “property,” or for fame and fortune, nor even for power. Such can only be for what? – with everything disintegrating beneath us. We need only wisdom, insight, and to do what we can to clean up the mess we’ve made.
I t might help to remember words of Karl Mannheim in Ideology and Utopia (1936), “Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say that the single individual thinks. Rather it is more correct to insist that he participates in thinking further what other men have thought before him.” And that many a person of 10,000 years ago, rather than a primitive, savage barbarian, may well have been someone pleasant to get to know. It’s hardly necessary to presuppose a predisposition to violence, bad behavior, ill manners or coarse ignorance; certainly some people outside the norms of our “civilization” are, and have been, crude, rude and undependable, but the same can be said of many kings, even emperors, presidents and other “leaders”. If humans were ever “ape-like” we still don’t really know that; I can propose another way of explaining the “primitive” Fuegonians and Patagonians Charles Darwin encountered than to simply write them off as undeveloped, uncouth and un-evolved. They were, in fact, quite evolved!
To manage without significant cultural baggage (artifacts, external accoutrements, tools and other useful material objects one keeps), requires incredible adaptation and local awareness. Material baggage can be a dangerous impediment – restricting flight, harboring disease, tempting theft and violence. To be able to do without and start anew with just bare hands displays confidence, skill, bravery and other admirable traits. Why shouldn’t one want to be free of encumbrances? This need hardly be antisocial: potlatch gift-giving was quite social. When Capt. FitzRoy of the Beagle came to Patagonia, Natives relatively nearby just to the north were tall, strong and had horses to ride. They were predatory on the horse-less people to their south, with more than just psychological consequences. The tribes were differentiated, and their adaptations produced quite variant values. They did what they saw as necessary for survival – much as our leaders do now!
Confusion about Taoists, Khazars, Prester John, Aryans, Dervishes, Tatars and tartars results from secrets kept for preservation of power. This syndrome continues to obstruct the effectiveness of education, and thus social stability, harmony and justice. J.K. Rowlings says in a Harry Potter book, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Of course, some of us don’t have inferiors… Anyway, if the world’s not so ancient, perhaps even not so humanity-oblivious (you know – once we were at the center of things, then Galileo…), and our leadership has not helped, if not actually hindered, to provide a proper sense of context and proportion, well, what? Well, we must accept that we’re not perfect, not the “crown of creation”, but still, we’re something powerful. We’re being tested, and we can do better. We don’t know how much time is available, or ever was, but there’s no time like this present, nor any reason to hope in vain for sudden help from outside the sphere we’re familiar with. And trying to leave this world (here I refer not to assisted suicide to escape pain from something killing you anyway) is as irresponsible as killing another person. Both are wrong because one simply can’t understand the potential ramifications or repercussions; the parameters, specifics and moral reality of the act are outside what we can even slightly comprehend – besides to know that in doing either thing, authority is usurped, responsibility denied and love denigrated. So – here we are, we can build something good, share in beauty, fun and reciprocation. We can grow up, enjoy childish simplicity, use instead of abuse our brains and bodies, and perhaps, if we want, enjoy heaven on Earth (Time’s parents, Heaven and Earth!). We can stop fighting, or fight to end fighting. Our choice.

Important questions that science still, and quite irresponsibly, leaves for religion or fringe “crackpots without credentials” to address:
What happened, starting about 10,000 BCE, that humans, physically the same as predecessors for 100,000 years, in just a few thousand years gained agriculture, domestic animals, calendars, written language, cities, armies, taxes and law? An Ice-Age ending is hardly explanation enough!
Differentiation in degree is evolutionarily fine, but how could species differentiation have occurred? How could beings with ancestors who mated have become unable to mate? How could mutation have had anything to do with it when it would take the same mutation on both sides (male and female) to successfully pass on something new? What’s life, what’s a virus, and how can the universe be more like a disk than a ball?
Why are professors, besides being paid to profess knowledge, so silent on what they don’t know, but which inquiring minds want to know? Surely, they do know what they don’t know, and also have questions. Are they cynical, controlled, or just scared?
Why is Gödel’s Proof not applied to systems outside of physics? It should, indeed, be applied to science as a whole! Science is systematic observation and analysis, and will partake of the same troublesome quandaries Gödel found in math systems – or, someone should be explaining how that is not so.

Initially intoned as euphonic echolalic undulations, time-telling and calendar operation produced implements to represent astrological events, then phonetic etching denoting rhythmic regularity – to record months, eclipses, planetary alignments and, as much as might be found possible, the music of the spheres. These allusively allegorical inventions made representation of abstractions for inscription available, for invoking more intimate involvement with interplanetary awareness, aspiration and holy intercession from the unearthly infinite eternal. Cuts in bone, then impressions in block indicate information distinct from that carried by melody, through which awareness, maybe even reality, changed. Maps got made, then law, tax, graded status and profound deception… as violation-capacity gleaned honor, wealth and power.
Whether or not humans could affect reality (as a Shaman would propose to do), not merely invoking intercession but achieving something thereby, before, we now most certainly pollute, deforest and over-consume to the point of affecting our whole world, and can alter everything pertinent to us with explosives, radiation, genetically engineered Pharming (the mega-corp way of farming)... Did we lose our place in things when we lost the plot of song? How can we get back in rhythm and tune? Surely, accepting now as the best time helps – no more ‘Good Ol’ Days’ Golden Age or Evolutionary Progress, no directionality to time, just appropriate relations in the persistent present, commanding our attentions. Just because God’s interested in us (to some extent) doesn’t make us Lords of anything. But we do, or can, participate in something larger but invisible, unmeasurable, and not just a collective unconscious or hive, society or polity, but a noticing, recognizing and sharing of that note. As in naming God Time (‘Cronos’).
Religion needn’t be at odds with science; Buddhism isn’t, nor strict Taoism. The Judeo-Christian Bible’s Book of Genesis presents the same problem that belief in a Big Bang does: how can you have a literal 1st day? With science, as with Judeo-Christian tradition (which Islam uses), you have to take something on faith, something illogical and internally self-contradictory, and simply don’t have a complete map of everything! Any categorizing or analysis system concerned with the physical world and its phenomena, which uses unbiased observations and systematic experimentation, can be called scientific (as Buddhism and Taoism sometimes are). Science, the pursuit of general truths to be delineated as mathematically as possible, as fundamental laws, considers nature, empirical fact, and the manner in which they’re perceived and interpreted. Respects in which the validity of resulting theoretical concepts affect that processing of empirical data may confuse things, but science tries to propose and verify explanations of events, processes and phenomena in nature; no system of theoretical ideas or technical procedures is scientific until it helps to make them more intelligible. There’s disagreement about method and appropriate possibilities for analysis, and even the value of results obtained, but both science and religion, do, verifiably, achieve results. What is revealed is only partly revealed, though; mystery will always remain - and thus there will always seem to be those more moral, and those less so. Science is not just measuring, any more than religion just preaching! It seems there will always be differences between descriptive generalizations about natural phenomena and the explanatory models; an integral part of life, obviously, is the necessity of coming to terms with the persistence of opposing viewpoints. Which is not to say that goals and methods need necessarily be in conflict, or that there is any ultimate root to conflict other than greed. Concepts of "unity" and "law" may or may not be part of the basic problem, but that intolerance is based in insecurity should, by now, be about axiomatic!

If, as it seems, there were cities 6 or 7000 years ago with heating, cooling, irrigation and sanitation systems, 100,000 people but no fortifications or defense structures, those with credentials (perhaps proving only obedience, obsequious obeisance) have some real explaining to do, that others, quite unfortunately, hardly need await. It’s not forthcoming. At least some of those who must, in order to survive (at least intellectually), will learn for themselves, and do other things for themselves, as we were meant to do. Many garden-plots once produced hemp for making long-lasting jeans, but now not only have we forgotten how to do that (and even foolishly made it illegal), there aren’t any more pedal-powered sewing machines; even pianos connect to the electric grid! Nobody bothers to clean up the law books, and we pay too much for too many prisons (and prisoners). Children would be much better off with fewer store-bought attention-distracters, and the rest of us too!
The desire to quantify which typifies the academic, is no more necessary than the desire to possess. Skill capacity, pleasant humor, ready willingness and personality development can be seen as more important, as can naming management – making process and pattern more comprehensible, more utilizable…
What looks important, or a powerful argument, now, will have very different (diminished) significance in 2050. Arguments which seem unassailable now, will get demolished. It is insane – and I mean criminally, dangerously, erratically out of order – to say that we (suddenly) have come upon understandings now, in the last century or whatever, within the time of lives still being led, which will stand forever. Yet this is done – in the way that forces of the USA invaded Iraq, imperfect Monsanto understandings invade nature, and our activity is generally heating things up. All evidence is against the wisdom of believing in the West’s leadership and materialism, just as all evidence is against chance determining anything much about the make-up of reality, of the universe, of the way we perceive things. It’s just not that way, and we all act on that knowledge. I heard B.F. Skinner claim that dreams mean nothing, but can you really believe he was unaffected by dreams? The thought is as ridiculous, absurd and nonsensical as he apparently thought dreams.
No-one can explain the origin of cows or corn (and isn’t it amazing how well they have worked together?), but ‘scientists’ (technicians) will try to ‘re-create’ the ‘origin of the universe’… This isn’t conceit but deceit – the kind of deceit where-in-which rulers preferred to use different language than their ruled used. The $8 billion spent to mimic the “Big Bang” (in Switzerland) won’t help us understand anything, but is not futile – that is no altruistic endeavor, about speculation, or for the betterment of mankind. It’s about maintaining physical, technological, advantage – purely about power, about maintaining, nay, increasing, power.
And that’s where we’ve come to since we stopped singing to communicate, really communicate. About the time we adopted our present conception of time, we stopped using tones to transmit information, and started trying to impose unreality on our vision. We know from smell that a body is not a discrete, encompassed, circumscribed, enclosed, contained unity, as somehow we began to picture it, perhaps about the time we began to intuit time the way most of us, now, do… or – more likely, and more to the point – about the time some began to believe in immutable immortality (some”where”). We were better off using reverberant prosody of pitch, stress, rhythm variation and onomatopoeia as can transmit pattern, place in sequence, arranged order… ah, our language just can’t convey it! But, only when we again take our place as part of nature, parts in society – and not as order-ers (deciders) of anything much but our own temporary living arrangements – can we begin to rectify the mistakes killing us. And only when we have no more leaders, no more people of incomprehensible speech, can we expect to revive those things we so desperately need: birds and bees, frogs and salamanders, banana sex, rain-forests and healthy oceans, ice-caps and glaciers, lively rivers and anticipatable weather patterns. This is about the only choice we have, for to die is not really a choice, only an inevitability.
The point, though, of all this is about achieving proper perspective, proportion, attitude and sense of morality. As in “Don’t do to others what you’d not like done to you.” Put away childish things, make your own decisions, take responsibility and stop being a dupe of the State! Sure, it’s impossible to be perfect, or even to stop paying war taxes, but it’s also sure that ‘labor-saving’ devices haven’t given us more control over our time and lives, but rather quite the contrary, and that sure deserves some serious reflection and consideration.

Maybe since the advent of our kind of time, the world has often seemed in a precarious state. There’ve been frequent thoughts of Armaggedon, but maybe too deceit and power have taken a quantum leap. Not only money is more powerful than weaponry, now, but desperation and despair, too, and other tentacles of corrupt influence. We can no longer even know who it is power has so maddened as to make decisions lost to perspective and context. The buck doesn’t stop anywhere now, there is no ultimate responsibility, and tens of millions attempt to consume like Calligula. These statements come not from fear, religious belief, or determination to sway belief. I am merely clarifying how I see things; merely offering some clarity.
We’d do well to better remember: Life demands suffering – perhaps in order to instill responsibility and compound joy. As easy come is easy go, lower lows go with higher highs – the yin-yang shows good contained in evil, reminding of how good health is little thought of until after (proximity with) sickness close unto death. The miracle of life needs pain, suffering, evil, sin, remorse and the finding, then granting, of forgiveness. Without hope and the partial actualization of its goal there is but boredom, lethargy. In struggle and enduring, we all participate somewhat in that of God, and can, by choice, participate more. What’s gained without struggle commands nothing close to the valuation of what’s hard-gained; true wealth must be earned the hard way, be hard-won, sacrificed for (not inherited or won as in a game or lottery, found by accident, received as gift or government grant or position unmindfully assumed), just as true knowledge cannot be gained from reading – even from reading this.

In lost, sung languages – like Ancient Greek and Cheyenne –
Before philosophers and poets, cowboys & horse-breeders,
There were once no wholes or parts
Was no counting,
No past, present or future sense
Were only patterns
Interactive opportunities
And relative positions
(running until how tired or hungry,
Waiting from season to season, dreamtime,
Remembering being noticing changes, what hasn’t changed)
Tonal & tempo variations to reflect
Other pattern themes & variations –
I don’t know
I’ve only limited sense of time
And continuity…

There being many sources of energy other than Arabic oil, and no reason to suspect son W of the Bush clan of understanding, let alone wanting to disseminate, democracy, he and his must have had some other reason for sending forces under his ‘command’ to Baghdad. Money couldn’t be (shouldn’t have been?) a sufficient motivating factor. Among the most significant events occurring when US forces arrived was the looting of Baghdad Museum. Whether there was any chance of material relating to the “Algoritmi de Numero Indorum” of Abu Jafar Mohammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizme, initiator of the use of zero as a number, being there, in the intellectual repository of the city of its writing, I don’t know. But no original of this important document remains available, and it transformed not only mathematics but our outlook on time, and thus God, power and rule. I balk at suggesting any seeking of understanding through the illegal, immoral invasion, but certainly must suspect greed and power-lust of playing an important hand. Desire for an implement of power – access to verbal gymnastics that transformed the world, offers an explanation otherwise lacking. Possibly, of course, it was something else sought, something perhaps much more ancient. But that W, or those backing him, thought to increase available power, is hardly to be questioned. As Rove stands in relation to W, someone surely stands in relation to (behind) Rove, and there as surely exists more desire for power than money, there, too.

As zero stands to infinity,
Nothing stands to everything –
All represent God.

(Written in ChiangRai, Thailand, mostly early in 2007, but edited early in 2008)

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Willful disavowal of critical evidence

Willful disavowal of critical evidence:

Almost every day we’re lied to by figures of authority, similarly as we find some other things contrary to what’s expected. Quite frequently, what’s held to be true in one place (and time) is held as false by those in another.
Authority, one begins to conclude, undermines itself. And not only by this undermining of its own weight through deliberate deception. It has also established a precedent, which has led to people preponderantly choosing self-aggrandizement over community service. The individual can sometimes feel important, but quality of life has suffered.
It seems people can be found willing to believe almost anything – but usually what they are willing to believe is only what works for them: allows them to feel better about themselves, provides the support they need, affords hope. But people are capable of embarrassment too, and resist encountering distain. Few are comfortable being found a fool. Sometimes people sacrifice their lives to avoid this!
Unfortunately, it’s all syndromic. People of great clout as regularly deceive themselves, as those they manipulate. George W. Bush may well believe he “has a year” to create Peace in the Mideast, and that he may well do it. But if he weren’t so delusional, he would be even more dysfunctional, and loose what following he retains.
Those who set themselves up as leaders regularly find sufficient followers, as they’re motivated to not only flatter their followers, and promise them the world (or heaven), but they dress up, beautify themselves and spend major effort fulfilling expectations applicable to the role. People will do a lot to feel hot, important, sexy, vital and desirable! As if nothing but this moment matters…
As Baba Ram Das (and his associate Mere Babble) used to say, “Be here now.” We may, after all, be mis-assessing things, looking at the future with false expectations, and not dealing with a full set of facts. Which, indeed, is quite so. But it’s like the tale of people sitting on a roof in a flood when a boat comes by and offers rescue, and they reply, “Never-mind, we have faith. God will provide.”
Asking for increased democracy instead of better education may be missing the point. I tend to think so, but reality is, that many people have educated themselves, and information, even guidance in intellectual exercise, is out there, fairly readily available. But it’s not often utilized, except by those to whom a better world is something lasting outside the self, and for whom satisfaction in life isn’t a purely personal accomplishment. Those who feel that “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” or emblazon their motor-homes with “Gleefully spending our children’s inheritance” stickers, are not those who take the effort to better understand the world and our responsibilities in it. No, but they often do like to think that they’re providing a meaningful example, much as “supply-side” theory supporters like to pretend selfishness can create an honest business climate, or even a better, more desirable, world.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Mythologist Says...

What Mythology Tells

By Joel J. Barlow

Ganesha, St. Sebastian, Orpheus, Quan Yin (Kuan Im, Chinese Goddess of Mercy) – these, and many other characters of religious lore, mythology and folk belief, are imbued with tragedy, tribulation and hindrance. Friedrich Nietzsche notwithstanding (“Whatever I do that doesn’t kill me make me stronger”), frost-bite, dental cavities and malnutrition are not even character building, except perhaps in the sense that we live in a world full of characters! But that some rise above misfortune, calamity and even character-deficiency renews hope in others. And sometimes even gives courage.
Jesus on a cross is similar, a symbol used to encourage, and it may even be that more homes contain at least one symbol of this nature, than do not. For to be reminded that suffering can be for a positive result is a powerful thing. Insofar as a feeling is a thing, anyway – and it is, at least as much as a word is. St. John told us that the word is God, but he may have meant Law; regardless, words and feelings are powerful, and sometimes even more powerful than Law, and they do represent much to us about God.
There was a time when there was not much law, or social hierarchy, and Nature represented – rather, was – what had to be abided by, endured, adhered to. And winter, or draught, was character building, or perhaps not, according to the attitude one attained toward it.
But now, when we’ve escaped most of that kind of necessity, we have new troubles – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post traumatic stress, proliferation of viruses, polluted environment, ozone holes and rampant selfishness. More and more people are coming to fear that we’ve almost completely lost something we can’t do without.
Part of what we’re losing may be story which gives us context, meaning, and a good bit more than entertainment to while away time. Mythology, although useful for long nights or other times when not much else can be engaged in, was never entirely for amusement. It was for character building, for transmission of sense of context, and for preparation for life’s many assorted challenges. And it’s usually well served to help people reverence what is important, essential and spiritually significant. It’s as important as food, and sleep.

In 1530 a Black man started on a road to Native American divinity. His name was Esteban (“the Moor”); he’d been a slave – most likely all his life, but certainly to “Indians” in Texas. The Spanish expedition he’d come to the “New World” with blundered badly; horses used to carry men in armor through Florida swamps eventually provided skins to build small craft which carried surviving remnants of the expedition to Galveston Island. Soon only 4 remained. After five years they escaped from the Natives who’d kept them alive, and before long were being followed by about 10,000 other Natives, who saw them as holy men, whom they wanted to have blow on their food before eating… This was regarded as just a made-up story, until studies of not-so-long-ago provided backing evidence (soil impressions from the nightly dancing, along the route Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote that they followed). For years they wandered the deserts of the American west, until finally encountering Spaniards in Mexico. Soon after, Esteban was wearing ermine and holding on leash a dozen Dalmatians. Roaming back north in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, at every village he took a new girl. His status as a holy man fell into question; he was pierced by about a dozen arrows and died. His spirit, though, was remembered, becoming Chakwaina Katchina, punisher of bad deeds. So, twice a slave, then twice a guardian-spirit.
Katchinas are normally spirits of nature (of rain, clouds, animal essences, ancestral Clan spirits - a very rare one represents Death), but this instance is reminiscent of Nats in Burmese culture. A Nat is the spirit of a person whose life is so horribly, tragically out of order that all chance of re-entering the cycle of rebirth is curtailed. Due to life conflicts irresolvable from extreme complexities of violence, lust, greed, extreme passions and other unfortunate realities, the spirit remains earth-bound... 37 were adopted as guardians of the country, but thousands more protect crossroads, river convergences, pagodas and other places of worship, summits, homes and places of business. The Nat Pwe is a lengthy ceremony popular with Burmese, and usually involves over a week of drunkenness, prophesy and occasionally, conflict resolution.
Due to a history of despotic domination, and pathological infliction of continual trauma on the Burmese (and neighboring peoples), by Burmese despots, hysterical personality disorders (a.k.a. complicated post-traumatic stress disorders) and compulsive mysticism have become a social norm in the country. People seek protectors who can understand their trauma. What they are able to find is quite often a wooden Nat. These representations of spirits or people whose lives were so corrupt, disorganized by violence and treachery, and so unresolved, that they cannot be reborn, are often quite artistic, beautiful and emotionally evocative. Nats are held to stay in their area, to inflict harm on those who don’t recognize and propitiate them, but also to protect the helpless. Devoted supplicants sometimes imbibe in alcohol heavily and continuously for nine or ten days, speak in tongues, throw fits and/or achieve ecstatic states, as they then, subsequently, might feel not so helpless, connected as they have become able to feel, to something extra-dimensional, mystical, and beyond the norms of our experience. The Nats help people stabilize in an untenable, unacceptable and incomprehensible society, bringing back some serenity and composure into lives almost as disturbed and disjointed as those of the Nat spirits themselves, and coming to the aid of the culture which gave rise to their sad situations, in its times of need.

People often find need of myth – it’s much better than straight history for making some explanation of things which resist comprehension, especially as it is more easily remembered. But tellings change to fit current need.
Myths don’t have to be clear: there were 12 Olympian Gods, but who can name them? This isn’t a challenge like naming the 7 Dwarves, and having trouble remembering Happy or Bashful. No, it’s simply that there is no correct answer. Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Ares, Artemis, and Hermes – so far so good, easy enough. These eight are memorable characters. Then there’s also Hephaestus (for Romans, Vulcan), the deformed smith, whose name doesn’t come as easily to mind, though he fits the pattern I started this essay by mentioning - but never-mind. Poseidon is considered one of the 12, but Hades often isn’t (wasn’t by Romans); three brothers, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, were given three realms to rule; Poseidon belongs in his realm, the oceans – with his non-Olympian wife. As for Hades, others clearly feel he belongs only in Hades, his underworld (where he stays). Hades’ wife Persephone might be Olympian (her mother, Demeter, was for Romans) – but she’s in Hades half the time, so maybe now we’ve maybe got ten and a half, or 12, despite Hades being in Hades all the time... But Dionysus is another, who came later – before him there was Hestia (to Romans, Vesta), guardian of the hearth, but she has no stories, and is a different kind of deity altogether, closer to Demeter, giver of corn. So we’ve got 15 gods, ten of whom are clear Olympians… with Dionysus disrupting things, bumping the story-less Hestia, and baby Eros (Cupid) waiting in the wings. Myths get altered, for a variety of purposes.

Cultural historian Edward Said wrote that stories are at the heart of our world-view, for “the power to narrate, or to block other narrations from forming,” is what defines culture. Without simplification, history has simply too much to offer; also it fails in emphasizing patterns and cycles we can only extrapolate. From myths of King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Noble Savage, the Divine Right of Kings and of Manifest Destiny we can move on to the “Communist Menace,” “Terrorists,” “Free Trade,” “Intellectual Property,” the nation-state and national security. But maybe this is more degeneration than progression.
Transubstantiation and the Virgin Mary’s virgin mother (Saint Ann, a saint, somehow, before the emergence of Christianity) help us better understand myths of multilinguals with “the gift of languages” and other prodigals like Shakespeare and Marco Polo. It’s simply exaggeration; for emphasis, making even bigger what already had importance, but wasn’t very understandable. Something oddly peculiar becomes accessible as information. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart really did have special, amazing talents, but there are more believable explanations of the two writers just mentioned than to take things at face value, as they’re commonly presented. When else did Chinese make a foreign Barbarian into an official, other than in the stories of Marco Polo? In what other Elizabethan theater troupe did a single person produce every script? It simply didn’t happen, except in imagination – in stories that helped to make emergent information acceptable, when otherwise there was no quite sufficient context for general absorption.

Journalist Paul Davies, of Tempe, Arizona, had an article in the November 24, 2007 New York Times, which started, “Science, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.
“But science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.”
But perhaps it only seems justified, as that’s what it takes to believe, to have rational order, to make any sense of anything. The justification, in the end, may be somewhat, if not rather, tautological, and little more than myth. But is it so bad to have a way of ordering, even though, eventually, that story will become changed? I think maybe not, as that’s the way we’ve been living for a long, long time.
My wife, of the Lahu-na tribe from western China, told me this fable: Long, long ago, people had wings but no hands, and ate only fruit. They could fly but had no fire. They slept in trees; in the rainy season they were cold; they couldn’t stay warm! But a kind of jungle animal, a raccoon or nocturnal squirrel (in Lahu, fahsu) with 5-finger hands, did have fire, and wanted to be able to fly up to fruit in trees too. The fahsu used fire he made from hitting rocks together to keep warm, but envied wings, and finally arranged a trade. Mankind got fire, and flying squirrels got to eat fruit.

Everything is a trade; for all you gain, you must also sacrifice. This was well understood even 4000 years ago, as is shown in the Rig Veda (10.117), written, amazingly to most of us, by “Aryans” in Syria…:
“That man is no friend who does not give of his own nourishment to his friend, the companion at his side. Let the friend turn away from him; this is not his dwelling-place. Let him find another man who gives freely, even if he be a stranger. Let the stronger man give to the man whose need is greater; let him gaze upon the lengthening path. For riches roll like the wheels of a chariot, turning from one to another.”
Which all inspired a small poem:

Ghost-Client Reciprocity

Without sharing wisdom on how to find what you need
One gets less emotional nourishment needed, and fewer options.
To take only to lose, to forget the difficulties of the past
Is to awaken new, worse, difficulty.
To not be generous of spirit
Is to starve the Spirit.
What is fed thru ego or stomach
Can’t truly satisfy, contribute or endure.

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