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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holy, Holy Books and Knowledge.

Although it’s clear there’s more at work in our world than our rational facilities can comprehend or even much deal with, it’s also clear that our rational facilities are the best tool we have to work with, and should not be neglected. They can certainly be of more value than any book; if only we can find ourselves able to be not afraid. That we should think more than follow should be clear, but most manifestly isn’t, at least to most. Which is a big problem. As are democracy – rule by capitalists, and capitalism – rule by deception.
Balancing several competing, oligarchic departments of power might be wiser, but oligarchs tend to forget how little wisdom they really have, and also forget that the “downtrodden” often retain much that their “leaders” have lost. The ignorant and poor, despite being unlikely to use it well, also need power. And that failure to use it well might prove a blessing.
Jerusalem based Armenian historian Roupen Shahakian says, “If there is peace, Israel will disintegrate. It’s the Palestinians that are keeping them together.” How believable – violent obnoxiousness a kind of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. All that’s necessary for reason to prevail is reason, and for irrationality, irrationality.
Israelis and other True Believers need enemies, and will fight among themselves rather than cease being bossy. Having “divinely inspired” books, it’s clear, has made nothing clear. What’s holy, anyway, but loving kindness, goodness, beauty and things which inspire? Certainly not the aspects of the Biblical “God” – full of jealous hatreds, resentments and punitive desires (at least as shown in the book “He” supposedly provided for us to know of Him).
Biblical narrative doesn’t even fit with coordinates of geographic Palestine, and what remains from ancient Greek scholars and writers on history and geography offers amazingly little mention of Jews. As with swords and shields mentioned in the Book of Mormon, external verification of much narrative in “holy books” is hard to come by.
In 1985, Lebanese scholar Kamal Salibi (Emeritus Professor at the American University of Beirut), published “The Bible Came from Arabia”; it offers rigorous linguistic and geographic analysis, showing that scenes of Old Testament action took place not around what we recognize as Palestine, but in the West Arabian highlands of ’Asir, (“Difficult Country”), a region of southwestern Saudi Arabia immediately north of Yemen and south of Mecca, on the eastern side of the Red Sea - one of the wettest and most temperate places in that desert area. Salibi shows an amazingly high concentration of Biblical place names in a narrow portion of the ’Asir region, and an astounding degree of correspondence between those places and ones of Old Testament action. Salibi found hundreds of corresponding place-names (between the Bible and towns and villages of ’Asir), and on the basis of linguistic analysis, has built a strong case for ’Asir as the actual local of biblical stories. However, this isn’t at all a new idea; ancient Arabic texts contain numerous mentions of “Israelites” as a West Arabian people, and many people previously pondered the quandaries presented. The Saudis bulldozed much of the area, soon after release of Salibi’s presentation of this theory, and allow no archeological research there.
It’s said that knowledge is transmitted in story, but people don’t very much really like truth (no matter what they claim), and do like stories (and especially TV). It’s also said all religions purvey the same truth - and there may indeed be truth in that, in that they at least all involve story. Also allegory, allusion, misrepresentation, and at least some pompous formality, if not pageantry.
Gautama Buddha was born in what is now southeastern Iran, and has no followers nearby. Biblical Palestine was part of what’s now the Islamic Holy Land. The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ had been written down by 70 BCE, and much else in Christianity predates its purported founder. Also, much in religious text has been lost in translation – and become but as copies of copies. Even the Quran was set down through recollection, after time, and not, exactly as it stands, by its central Prophet. It existed in various versions until about 20 years after his death (although some will deny this).
There’s no nothing (no absolute vacuum), nor any true unity - only duplicity (and maybe duality). A story is a representation, as is authority. We feel secure being led, happy entertained and scared of the release of death: which is truth.
Real death is when you allow yourself to be misled, abandoning the self and its governance to someone else. Who will die, too. It’s been told, that for ancient Greeks, loss of self-control was worse than defeat, more dread than Hades!
Organized religion is but politics, and sexual repression exists because the meek are easy to control. The same pertains to hallucinogens - sex and drugs don’t make you smarter (even travel doesn’t necessarily “broaden” the mind), but joyful experiences do tend to make one more independent, or, at least, less group dependent, and thus harder to control. But without others sharing story, sense of place in context, and values, we aren’t just vulnerable, but defenseless, and unable to continue on. Always there’s compromise and change. That everything changes doesn’t change; where else is truth?
A friend tells of his grandmother in Bavaria, who had him haul water from a specific place in the forest, for her herbal infusions, which helped many. He asked her to write her knowledge down. She didn’t. He asks way. And I think, in all likelihood, if she had, it would just have been misinterpreted. Sometimes, what we know, we can’t even know how we know.

“Great Books”
“Western” books often recommended, on which I concur:

Herodotus: Histories
Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days
Homer: Iliad and Odyssey
Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days
Aeschylus: Oresteia.
Sophocles: Oedipus Rex
Euripides: Bacchae
Plato: Meno, Gorgias, Phaedrus, Timaeus
Euclid: Elements
Ovid: Metamorphoses
The Icelanders’ Sagas (Egil’s saga, Njál’s saga, etc.)
Chaucer: Canterbury Tales
Boccaccio: Decameron
Jakob Grimm: Germanic Mythology; also (with Wilhelm: Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Goethe: Faust
Voltaire: Candide
Machiavelli: The Prince
Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
E.T.A. Hoffman: Hoffmann's Strange Stories
Charles Baudelair, Les Fleurs du Mal
T. S. Elliot: Four Quartets
De Tocqueville: Democracy in America
Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species
Veblen: The Theory of the Leisure Class
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
Henry Fielding: Tom Jones
Lawrence Sterne: Tristram Shandy
Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology
Henry Thoreau: Civil Disobedience, Walden
George Bernard Shaw: Man and Superman, Pygmalion
William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
Arthur Koestler: The Case of the Midwife Toad, The Gladiators
Konrad Lorenz: On Aggression
Arthur Rimbaud: A Season in Hell
John Muir: Autobiography
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: No One Writes to the Colonel, Innocent Erendira
Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson): both Alice books
J.R.R. Tolkien: Tree and Leaf
James Clavell: King Rat
Wm Somerset Maugham: The Painted Veil
E.M. Forster: Passage to India
B. Traven: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Joseph Heller: Catch 22
And, of course, the ever infamous 1984 and Brave New World

Lao Tzu: Tao de Jing (“Classic of the Way of Power”)
Shui-hu chuan (The Water Margin, or All Men Are Brothers)
Hsi-yu chi (Journey to the West)
Wang Shih-fu: Hsi-hsiang chi (Romance of the Western Chamber)
Lo Kuan-chung: San-kuo chih yen-i (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)
Wu Ch’eng: His-yu chi (like Journey to the West, a fictionalization of Hsuan-tsang’s pilgrimage to India in the 7th century CE)
Cao Zhan (Ts’ao Chan): Hung-lou-meng (Dream of the Red Chamber)
The Bhagavadgītā, The Upanishads and The Ramayana
R.K. Narayan: Malgudi stories (The English Teacher, Waiting for the Mahatma, The Guide, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, The Vendor of Sweets, A Tiger for Malgudi) and shortened prose versions of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata
The Tripitaka canon of the southern schools of Buddhism
Murasaki Shikibu: Genji monogatari (c. 1010 CE; The Tale of Genji)
Fujuwara Sadaie (Teika): the Shin Kokinshü (c. 1205 CE)
Sirin Phathanothai: The Dragon’s Pearl
Jack Reynolds: A Woman of Bangkok

V.S. Naipul: A Bend in the River

Just over 3/4 through to that absurdly magical number of 100… oh well…

100 Great Ideas

Are responsibility, disease, maturity, limits, money and reciprocity great ideas? Or maybe they're just important ones?
To go with his Hundred Great Books list (a concept which pre-dated him), Mortimer Adler made a 100 Great ideas list - to my mind, looking for ideas to aggrandize his ego and sense of place at the "top". But somehow he forgot essential ideas like efficiency, intentionality, instinct and patience. Pretty amazing - puts him right up there with "scientists" so superior to the rest of us that they somehow understand how one infinity can be greater, or bigger, than another, one dimension smaller than another, and even how a quark can have inertia. Or pretend to, anyway. Hmmm... pretense - another Great Idea? Maybe so.
Many an important idea involves its opposite, so both should be taken as one.
Mortimer Adler’s “great ideas” (for each of which there was someone “who had written them”): Angel, animal, aristocracy, art, astronomy, beauty, being, cause, chance, change, citizen, constitution, courage, custom and convention, definition, democracy, desire, dialectic, duty, education, element, emotion, eternity, evolution, experience, family, fate, form, God, good and evil, government, habit, happiness, history, honor, hypothesis, idea, immortality, induction, infinity, judgment, justice, knowledge, labor, language, law, liberty, life and death, logic, love, man, mathematics, matter, mechanics, medicine, memory and imagination, metaphysics, mind, monarchy, nature, necessity and contingency, oligarchy, one and many, opinion, opposition, philosophy, physics, pleasure and pain, poetry, principle, progress, prophesy, prudence, punishment, quality, quantity, reasoning, relation, religion, revolution, rhetoric, same and other, science, sense, sign and symbol, sin, slavery, soul, space, state, temperance, theology, time, truth, tyranny, universal and particular, virtue and vice, war and peace, wealth, will, wisdom and world.
Later, Adler expressed regret at leaving out the civil rights concept of Equality…
Evil, but no monster or monstrosity.
Angel but no Devil, or demon (Satan purportedly having first been an angel).
God but not animism, soul but not spirit
And, oddly, slavery but not freedom
“One and many" and Mathematics seems redundant - maybe geometry should be there instead.
Angel? Monarchy? Slavery? Both Eternity and Infinity? With Immortality too?
Both Hypothesis and Idea? Both Philosophy and Metaphysics?
What about Nation? Limits? Tact and Diplomacy? Intelligence? Leadership? Suffering? Morality? Obligation? Originality? Unity and Nullity?
Transcendence? Enlightenment? Monotheism? Ecology and Conservation?
Tolerance? Sophistication? Hypocrisy? Efficiency? Honesty?
Relativity? well, maybe not that one. As a friend used to say, "It's all relevant."
Maybe 123 just wasn’t that interesting, or catchy, a number?

(as an afterthought - I wonder how great an idea Redemption, as in the earning back of acceptance into a loving embrace, or capacity to gain freedom from evil, is...)

More Fascinating books to revise concepts of history and the world:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 2006.
The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan, Random House, NY 2001
Alpha Beta, How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World, by John Man
Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, a fabulist travel narrative, and The Songlines, a beautiful, elegiac account of following the invisible pathways traced by the Australian aborigines
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, A Continent of Islands & Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, & his The Story of Salt” (w. S. D. Schindler. Also, The History Of Salt: With Observations on its Geographical Distribution, Geological Formation And Medicinal And Dietetic Properties by Evan Marlett Boddy
The Natural History of Coal by Edward Alexander Newell Arber
Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese
The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder
Greenwich Time and Longitude by Derek Howse
Plotting the Globe: Stories of Meridians, Parallels, and the International Date Line by Avraham Ariel and Nora Ariel Berger
On the Line: The Story of the Greenwich Meridian by Graham Dolan
Longitude by Dana Sobel
The Longitude Prize by Joan Dash and Dusan Petricic
Mapping the World: Maps and Their History by Nat Harris
Tracks in the Sea, by Matthew Fontaine Maury
The Mapping of the Oceans, by Chester G. Hearn
The Mapmaker’s Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker
Pendulum – Léon Foucault and the Triumph of Science, by Amir D. Aczel
Aurora : The Northern Lights in Mythology, History and Science by Harald Falck Ytter and Torbjorn Lovgren
The Northern Lights: The True Story of the Man Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Aurora Borealis by Lucy Jago & Michael Cumpsty (about Kristen Birkeland)
The Invention of Clouds – How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies by Richard Hamblyn
A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present by Jan Rogonzinski
Travels With Herodotus, by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History, by Giles Milton
Time’s Pendulum: From Sundials to Atomic Clocks, the Fascinating History of Timekeeping and How Our Discoveries Changed the World by Jo Ellen Barnett
Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets, by John McMillan
Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse by H. R. Trevor-Roper
Our Inner Ape, by Frans de Waal, 2005
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary & The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester
Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill
Viruses, Plagues, and History by Michael B. A. Oldstone
Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History & “Modern Times” by Arno Karlen
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World, by David Berlinski
Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney; Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius (Citadel Press Book) by Marc Seifer

DEATH OF A PEOPLE: Volume (1) (i) One: People of the Deer - The Ihalmiut; Volume (2) (ii) Two: The Desperate People - The Ihalmiut by Farley Mowat

Foreign Mud: Being an Account of the Opium Imbroglio at Canton in the 1830s and the Anglo-Chinese War That Followed, & Siamese White, by Maurice Collis

Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador (American Encounters/Global Interactions) by Suzana Sawyer
Savages, by Joe Kane
Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens Van der Post
Great Plains, by Ian Frazier (geography as history), and maybe his On the Rez
Evolution’s Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle by Peter Nichols
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony
The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by Rene Grousset (has important material but goes back and forth across such varied geographic areas and uses such far-flung place names so quickly that it is impossible for anyone without a PhD in Central Asian history or geography to keep up)…
Storming Heaven, by Jay Stevens (has interesting history up to Leary and the Pranksters) - “LSD and the American Dream” is the subtitle.
The Haight-Ashbury, by Charles Perry – another, no more valid, look, at my own preferred ‘sub-culture’…
Flushed; How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Codder (2006) – only about 60,000 very chatty words, and on page 30 he gets the dates for Helen of Troy wrong by a millennium, but he is trying to do something good and interesting, and recommends:
Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century by Stephen Fenichell, which sounds quite interesting… W. Hodding Codder says it’s a good read... In his bibliography, Codder also mentions The History of Shit ( I haven’t seen it… maybe interesting, but surely a better title...?)

and, for a comprehensive view of the half of civilization our histories tend to leave out, neglect, forget, disparage and ignore:
Science and Civilisation in China, by Joseph Needham

Many of the authors listed didn’t write all that well, and oriented themselves far too much towards a sort of ethnocentric praise of British glory. I wish I could include a book on tea, but none I’ve read are up to even this standard. I hope the information will become more alluringly presented soon.

Some other recommendations (things I hope won’t be forgotten too soon):
movies: Emerald Forest, Sweet Movie, Repo Man, After Hours, Birdie, Magnolia, Les Enfants du Paradisio (Children Of Paradise), Freaks, Fellini’s The Clowns and La Dolche Vita, Marx Brothers’ Day at the Races and Duck Soup, Black Orpheus, Harold and Maude, Where the Green Ants Dream, Singing in the Rain, Showboat and My Fair Lady.

Comics: Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, Walt Kelley’s Pogo, Abner Dean, Will Eisner and Gary Panter, Robert Crumb and The First Kingdom by Jack Katz (Comics and Comix Co.).

Music: Gris Gris by Dr John, Changing Horses by the Incredible String Band, Mona by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Les McCann’s Compared to What, John McLaughlin and Jack Bruce on Escalator Over the Hill, John Renbourne, Burt Jance, Miles Davis with rock guitar and Pharoah Sanders doing blues.


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