We humans continue to believe in many things, especially those that give us a false sense of security.
A few months ago, a golden statuette of Mao was on sale in a tourist shop in Beijing. A tourist tried to take a picture, but the employee approached him indicating that it was forbidden to take pictures of that figure. To understand it better, he clasped his hands bowing before the image as the faithful do in Buddhist temples. For that generation, he remains a God.
Karl Marx foresaw that a socialist revolution in Russia or China would only bring Asian despotism. Marx was right and fell short: in both countries tyrannies based on terror were founded. Like Nazism, they were secular religions, where to survive you had to submit and try to go unnoticed.
One hundred years after the Soviet revolution there is no communism nor socialism either in Russia nor China: capitalism only. But upon awakening from communism, the despotic power is still there.
Differentiate the general from the particular
Primitive hunters learned to differentiate what is general from what is particular: This particular antelope they hunted was different from the spirit of the antelope that made it possible for other antelopes to appear.
No other living being on the planet, outside the hominins, had that mental capacity to differentiate between general and particular, which is the basis of thought. That was the basis of animism. And, over time, of religions.
In the first chapters of this essay (1) I explained that this difference betewen general and particular, was made visible by building primitive tools. The cut (general quality of an ax) is hidden in each particular stone, but emerges from it as a sharp cut, when hitting it the right way. That experience was the beginning of technology and the abstract thinking.
Technology boosted human empowerment. And thought and language socially multiplied that power.
Social power in other animals
In mammals there was already a social power in the leader of the group. The alpha male or female requires the unconditional submission of their partners. As in all animals, this power is limited by the immediate situation. In practice, it comes down to being the first to eat or to choose a sexual partner. In addition, it has the limit of physical strength. The alpha is usually a male; and when he stops being the strongest, he is overthrown by a younger one capable of beating him.
Power and glory
The modern human lost the essence of that creative force by acquiring the power to subdue other living beings, and especially other humans.
Because by inventing agriculture and livestock, they discovered the power to use other living things as things: technology without shame, without setting the limit of empathy. Hence to enslave other humans and reduce women to servants and objects of men, there was only one inevitable step. Power over nature became despotic social power.
The kings surrounded by warriors and the gods surrounded by priests. All were born at the same time as nations and religions. A great step for a few and a setback for humanity.
At first, nations were cities surrounded by high walls of protection; and religion was the cult of the city god who watched from heaven. But, in a few centuries, cities concentrated on empires; the conqueror king became Emperor and the god of conqueror, in the only true God.
At the base of all that structure, slaves and doubly slave women remained.
Agriculture, which had facilitated the abundance of food, brought its opposite: famine. The abundance of water, brought the droughts. The settlement in cities brought diseases and epidemics. And the power of weapons brought wars, slavery and terror. The more power, the more terror, the more domain of nature, the more submission to dangers of human nature. It was increasingly necessary for a God to manage everything, because human power was not enough.
Likewise, human knowledge expanded by the technical knowledge of agriculture, the nascent sciences and writing, was subjected to superstition.
The paradoxes of human power
Those were the first great paradoxes that humanity faced: the power that broke its limitations created new and more serious limit situations.
Just a century ago we learned that paradoxes manifest themselves as a collapse of logic, when the situation frame becomes inappropriate: because you cannot be inside and outside it at the same time (2).
Power in civilizations since then has always had two parts: civil and religious power. Where civil power did not reach (beyond the life of this world) it belonged to some god. It was the spiritual power managed by the priests. In the Middle and later ages, even the kings had terror from beyond, which was beyond the reach of their sword. This situation remained until Henry VIII and his successors nationalized the Church of England.
Another paradox, but in the opposite direction, occurred when adding religious power to civilians in England and Germany (with the Protestant reform), civil power began to be more tolerant with its subjects and especially with the freedom of scientific thought, which left of being controlled by Catholic theology.
And that led to a new paradox: the emergence of substitution religions. In the name of civic virtue, new tyrants emerged as Cromwell (1599-1658), Robespierre (1758-1794). Hitler (1889-1945), Lenin (1870-1924), Stalin (1878-1953) and Mao (1893-1976). Each of these characters imposed terror in the name of a pseudo-religion: the first was a extremist Lutheran; the second was a illustrated, the third was a pagan and the last three where communists.
Believe to be God is the extreme form of human vanity, which is linked to the lack of compassion.
The commerce, the growth of maritime communication and productive techniques, were opening spaces of increasing freedom (3). The tyranny of thought is bad for business, which are based on mutual agreement.
In the twentieth century goods grew in private hands. The subjects, who had become citizens, went from being producers to also being consumers. This gave rise to new replacement religions with new idols, based on everyday materialism. A cult to the immediate: “Make there while the sun shines”.
Great values based on common humanity, such as freedom, dignity and help to the weakest, are important only when they are missing. When survival and fundamental rights are assured, they lose value and selfishness proliferates.
In limit situations for survival, hominins began to be human. But when the situation improved, we lost even the ability to think for ourselves.
That is what the next chapter will be about: Denied possibilities, invisible women
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) – When the stones came alive…
…the hands began to build the human being.
……– Pragnanz in the left hand
The left hand was humanized, making it easy to feel what was hidden when building a tool.
……– Determination on the right hand
The right hand rationalized itself, by determining the possibilities presented by the left hand.
(2) Bertrand Russell: Paradox of barber. The barber of the regiment receives the order to exclusively shave to soldiers who do not shave themselves, cannot shave himself neither stop doing so.
(3) See: Traders to the rescue
Going from hunting human beings, to being equal before the law. That was a change that would bring good consequences.