Category Archives: History

Impressions of “The Assembly of the Gods” by E. Theodore Mullen Jr.

tdaxp’s note. Over the weekend I read “The Assembly of Gods,” #24 in the Harvard Semitic Monographs series, by E. Theodore Mullen Jr. The book is brief scholarly, but for me provided a tremendous amount of context both in understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Robert Alter’s translations of it (The Former Prophets, The Wisdom Books, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, and others). This is not a review of that book, which you should read, but a thinking thru of the implications of it.

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

For years I’ve heard, and have said, that the moral of Genesis 1-2 is that God created everything — that the lesson is that the moon, the sun, and the stars of the sky are simply creatures and not a special creation.

Well, even Ba’al agreed with that

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
CTA 10.III.6-7

I’ve long been interested in what the earliest patriarchs actually believed. While Ba’al seemed like a generic demon worshiped by foreigners.

He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.
1 Kings 18:18

The question of what is belief in God without a scripture puzzled me. It’s well enough to say that Enoch’s faith let him walk in good, and implied in the text that he was assumed into heaven like Mary, but why, and for what role?

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:21-23

The Hebrew Bible is clear that there are at least two aspects (persons? hypostases?) of the One: God and The LORD. “God” is often the translation of “El” (which literally means “God”) or “Elohim” (literally gods, but meaning the Council of Gods). The relationship of the terms religious “El” and “Elohim” are like the relationship of the political terms “President of the United States” and “White House,” in America, or the terms “Chairman” and “Party Center” in communist countries. While one refers to an individual as such, and the other refers to a political organization run under the lawful dictatorship of that person, in practical terms it is a distinction without a difference.

Canaanite_God_El

El is God the Father, the “Father of Man” (CTA 14.I.35-43) to the Canaanites. In the Council of the Gods, God judges both men and gods (Psalms 82). The Heavenly Host serves and adores God. The stars themselves are his armies

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
CML 114-116

Not only is God the Creator, the ageless creator of the cosmos, and judge of all things, he is also kind. He hears prayers. He is compassionate. Threats and condemnations mean nothing because he cannot be threatened or condemned. Indeed, God, the Kindly One, listens to even bitterness as a father listens to his children

If you does not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will smash the doors of the netherworld,
I will place those above below,
I will raise up the dead eating and alive
So that the dead shall outnumber the living
VI 96-100

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
    let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job 7:17-19

But God, who inexplicably allowed the death of his children, in both cases had mercy. Ba’al was raised from the dead. And Job received a new family. Death cannot be erased. But life moves on.

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. There was One True God who was a Creator. Aside from him where merely creatures, weak and powerful, who may or may not be rightly placed or worthwhile. Before recorded time God the Father of Men had revealed himself to the people of Canaan. We at best have some memory of his early servants. But beyond that, nothing. Who were these men?

In their worship of God the Father of Men, their knowledge of his eternal rule and judgeship over the cosmos, his sometimes inexplicable actions and his endearing love for his children, the earliest patriarchs must have spread the true religion throughout ancient Canaan. Because this must have happened in a pre-literate society we have only the names of who we assume were the heroes of this great evangelization. But like St. Kilda, we have only their names.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared. After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.
Genesi 5:9-17

Ba’al Contends

gideon destroys the altar of baal

The Canaanites believed worship in Ba’al worked.  Dan’il, similar to Job, was struck by misfortunate. But instead of cursing God, Dan’il continued his worship, and successfully Ba’al pleaded with God on his behalf.

Then on the seventh day
Ba’al drew near with his supplication
“In need is Dan’il, man of Rapi,
Moanins it eh Hero, the Harnamite,
Who has no son in his house like his brothers,
Nor scion like his kindred,.
He has no son like his brothers,
Nor scion, like his kindred
He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Strikingly, Dan’el is specifically mentioned as a righteous gentile by the Prophet Ezekial, with Job himself and with Noah

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Dan’il and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

Like the Canaanites, the ancient Hebrews knew they had an advocate, a witness, and a redeemer in Heaven

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25a

But in spite of this, the Lord Ba’al is not the same person as the LORD. For continuing the above verse, Job knows he will see him in the flesh.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

Job asserts that God and the Redeemer are the same being, that he is both El and a man.  This is the LORD, this is Christ, but this is not Ba’al.

Ba’al was a created being. But he was a fighter. And it is from this strength, his independent ability to intervene in human affairs (granted to him by El), that the Canaanites thought he was a “god.” Gideon’s mockery of Ba’al makes sense because Ba’al does not move ineffably, does not have an inexplicable plan: the only reason to worship Ba’al is that he offers earthly protection

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[ that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Judges 6:31-32

Like Ba’al, Gideon was an earthly judge. Neither Ba’al nor Gideon created the world. Both theoretically received whatever wisdom they had from God. But in the here and now, Gideon destroyed Ba’al temple. So there’s no reason to worship Ba’al.

islamic state destroys temple of baal

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

wedding at cana

The Canaantes, like the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, knew God in His compassion had human attributes. In a real and literal sense God is also man.

El sits enthroned in his shrine
El sits enthroned at his banquet
El drinks wine until satiated
New wine until inebriated
11.14-16

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Genesis 18:10-2, 7-8

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Luke 7:34

But what Canaanite religion lacked — the fatal flaw that lead to Ba’al worship instead of the LORD — was any willingness or desire on the part of El, Ba’al, or anyone to become man. El ate and drank, Ba’al interceded and advocated, but Ba’al is primarily concerned about building a better house than God

There’s another – perhaps more troubling difference – between Ba’al and the LORD. Ba’al destroyed Chaos, the great sea monster Yamm.

Sea collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!

To “gods” like Ba’al the sea monsters may be formidable. El keeps them around for fishing

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Job 41:1-2

destruction_of_leviathan1

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The ancient Hebrew religion, unlike the Canaanite religion, understand the LORD was God in human flesh. The early Christians, unlike the Canaanites, knew that the Intercessor and Redeemer was himself true God, and not simply a powerful extradimensional creature. But the Hebrews and Christians shared another belief, foreign to the Canaanites.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

As Mullen writes on page 283:

One of the most unique aspects of Hebrew religion is the unparalleled phenomenon of the classical prophets. These men, called by the LORD, served as couriers of the decree of the assembly/the LORD. They pronounced thee judgment of the LORD with the formula “koh amar YHWH,” thus asserting that their message of authority was equal in power to that of the council itself. The usage of this formula, which we have been unable to treat fully in the present work, deserves a detailed investigation in light of the council background and messenger formula used in both Ugarit and in Israel. While the members of the Canaanite and Phoenician councils remained colorless minor deities, the hypostasis of the decree of the high god, in Israel the prophet was introduced as a participant in the heavenly assembly who then served as the courier of the judgment of the LORD. This development constitutes a radical break with all other council traditions in the ancient near East.

But later Mullen notes a qualification. The prophets often did not speak with the LORD himself, but with His Spirit.

In ancient Israel, unlike in their Canaanite neighbors the Spirit of God — who somehow proceeds from both El and the LORD — spoke thru the Prophets.

We believe in one God

Jesus-pilate44

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. But pragmatically they were polytheists.  Worship was a technology and a machine to make life better. Ba’al was worshiped because he was effective. Many today worship power or money for the same reasons.

We worship God because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, not because he is a magician with a magic wand.

Princes may censor our words (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Money may be the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). But it is not to be loved (1 Timothy 6).

Only God and Man — El and the LORD — Mary and Pontius Pilate — all the saints, and those most in need of salvation — should be loved.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, originally Decorations Day, a day for the dead from both sides of the Civil War.

Thanks to my brother, who runs Geographic Travels, I know I have ancestors who died on both sides. The Virginian died the day after the Battle of Seven Pines. At the same time, the history of the town where our direct male line lived during the Civil War records numerous deaths in my family from the fighting.

The Civil War killed more Americans than any more in American history. Following the end of major combat operations and the subsequent military occupation and guerrilla war, the situation was similar to before it began: broad home rule for the South, and Union control of foreign and military policy. Slavery was ended, though “slave-like” conditions persisted, and civil rights would not be enforced in the South until the 1950s, then a far less bloody method was found.

May our leaders have the wisdom to know when to fight, and how to fight, and what the costs will be.

Optionality and Economic Change

The book America 3.0 (available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble) describes three long economic periods, based on agriculture, industry, and information, as driving profound social change.

America-3_0-480px

When we fought the Revolution against Britain, America’s economy was based on agriculture and the hydrological cycle. Along with the constants of soil and sun, water (where it fell, how it needed to be diverted, where it ran) determined American economic life. Know a man’s relationship to water, and you knew his realtionship to wealth.

american_rivers_map_md

Around the time of the Civil War against the southern rebels, sun, soil, and water were surprased by coal and rail as the foundation of power and privilege. The great rail network, centered around Chicago, enabled greater economies of scale than had ever been seen before in history. The story of the next century, from the racial strife of the 1860s to the racial strife of the 1960s, was the story of industrialization, scale, and how the benefits of coal would be shared.

american_railroads_md

We’re now changing again. “Information” appears to be valuable, and the economic giants of the day are information racketeers such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. The world is becoming much less heavy, and manufacturing on demand (from computer-driven milling to 3D printing) may accelerate the acceleration the eclipse of coal by data.

american_cell_maps_md

We do not know what is next. The industrial age seemed to come to an apogee in the late 1940s, as economies around the world (the US, the UK, France, Germany, the USSR, China, Taiwan, both Koreas, and Japan) established bureaucratic-industrial welfare states managed by experts, with only quixotic variations based on national culture and ideology. But that was a false sunlight, as phony as the widespread popularity of the concentration camps (brought to the US by Franklin Delano Roosevelt) of the 1930s.

We know the world is changing. We know now what comes next.

In this environment, we should focus on giving learners many low cost opportunities and few high-cost high-risk paths. In other words, we should give students “optionality,” where they have many opportunities and few long-term costs. We’re not in an industrial age where we know economies of scale will rule the day, nor even in the long hydraulic age where water was the great idol. Students will have to find their own ways. We should help them.

To do this we should (except for core majors that are needed for national security — say science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) make much of the curriculum optional, and allow students “low-risk” trials in different career paths.

As Tren Griffen and Nassim Taleb posted:

If you ‘have optionality,’ you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)” Being able to make decisions which do not require correctly forecasting the future is a wonderful thing. Not one of the great value investors identified in the series of posts in this blog relies on macro forecasts of the future. Instead, value investors use the optionality of cash to buy after the outcome exists (i.e., a significant drop in intrinsic value). Regarding venture capital, Warren Buffett believes: “If significant risk exists in a single transaction, overall risk should be reduced by making that purchase one of many mutually- independent commitments. Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment – one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury – if you believe that your gain, weighted for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but unrelated opportunities. Most venture capitalists employ this strategy.

It is certainly evil to trick an 18 year old into non-bankruptable loans of tens of thousands of dollars on a worthless major. A 16 year old would be better off learning a trade than learning Shakespeare, especially if that student could learn Shakespeare later. An 18 year old would surely be better off selling drugs (say from a pharmacy, an alcohol ball, a tobacconist shop, or so on) and learning that part of the economy than borrowing money to study political science.

Help our students prepare for an uncertain future, for America’s next stage of economic development. Give them low-cost opportunity and easy failures. Not non-bankruptable student loans.

Review of “The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau” by Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood

There’s a chapter of my life, that began when I played Gabriel Knight 3 and read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that ended when I read this book. That game — and from that game, that book — were gateways too so much. My love of Dark Ages history (including great books of real history, like Before France and Germany, Mohammad and Charlemagne, and The Long-Haired Kings, an affection for the idea of the Mediterranean (I stayed in Italy for several weeks after high school), a consideration of how a conspiracy would actually have to be structured (my dream of secret war and a a book, and so on.

The part of my life ended with reading The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau.

But that’s the end. Here’s the beginning.

treasure_of_rennes_Le_chateau_book_cover

 

The facts as we know them: Around a hundred years ago, Father Berenger Sauniere in rural southern France became suspiciously wealthy, with a cumulative lifetime income estimated at a few million dollars (after accounting for inflation). He had a number of visitors at his house, was investigated by the local Bishop, and eventually lost his power to lead Mass at the local Church. He died before the ecclesiastical trial reached a resolution.

Plaque_tombe_abbe_sauniere

The story is much more interesting, because its also inarguable that there’s an actual conspiracy with actual forged documents, layered on top of this. Whether or not there is a treasure, there are documents that contain cyphers, references to ancient societies, and bizarre false clues and dead-ends.

What the world knows about Rennes le Chateau was primarily filtered thru Henry Lincoln, who encountered a real group (albeiet with a fraudulent history) that called itself the “Priory of Sion,” and which has an unusual fixation on the Merovingian Dynasty and King St. Dagobert II (feast day December 23) — a sainted boy king

18_Dagobert_II

Henry Lincoln also added a new layer to the mystery, much (apparently) to the bemusement of the actual conspiracy he nearly uncovered. Dusting off his early French, he translates “Sangraal” not as “San Graal” (Holy Grail) but “Sang Raal” (Royal Blood), and from there reconstructs an improbable chronology where the Dagobert II was a blood-descendent of Jesus Chrst, and that secrets to this extent were buried in southern rural France — the discovery of which by Priest Berenger Sauniere led to his millions. Lincoln also added some geometric interpretations, which lead themselves to a reconstruction of the history of the mile (among even less probably claims)

europe_pentagram

This stuff later spawned a pretty good video game…

gk3-13

And a film series you may have heard of. (Lincoln’s co-authors lost their lawsuit on The DaVinci Code.)

Putnam’s and Wood’s book is an exhaustive, well researched, extremely well document demolition of nearly every conspiracy theory associated with Rennes le Chateau, and the persuasive presentation of evidence of a more mundane conspiracy (Sauniere was illicitly selling masses, and may have engaged in some light grave-robbing.) Even elements which struck me as probable enough (such as the location of certain church-sites) are addressed, with everything from first-person research, to cryptographic analysis, to computer simulations of the probability of certain features appearing by chance.

800px-Rennes-le-Château

The number of myths the authors systematically demolish is impressive. Rennes-le-Chateau wasn’t the Visigothic cty of Rhedae. The placing of churches around Rennes doesn’t fit any sort of pattern, mundane or not. Berenger Sauniere supported his (real) generosity by scamming those seeking prayers for the dead. The inflection point of the entire story seems to have been a small remodeling task, which made the priest as power mad as one who is content in a small, remote town can be.

The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is certainly not the first book you should read about this maze of facts and secrets. But if you’ve encountered any of it, and you are interested in any bit of bit, The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is a must read.

The Civil Rights Perspective on Race

The facts of the recent case are now well known. Adding some inferences to it, a reasonable reconstruction of the events is as follows:

On February 26, 2013, Trayvon Martin in walking home after buying some candy and tea. He was observed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer who had recently talked with neighbors about black youths invading neighborhood homes. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to talk to Martin. Martin, not knowing Zimmerman, and suspicious of “creepy ass crackers” (which I belies referred to gay homosexual white men), likewise acted in a way suspicious to Zimmerman. Shortly thereafter a fight broke out, and Martin got the better of Zimmerman, bashing his head against the cement. Zimmerman then used deadly force to protect himself, killing Martin.

A tragedy, and a sad one.

But why the effort to lynch Mr. Zimmerman? Why the great emotion in the case? What is behind it?

It is impossible to understand what happened without realizing that life is far worse for African-American men than could have been expected in 1973. (By “African-American” I refer to the ethnicity that was brought in chains to British colonies south of the Mason-Dixon line from Africa,primarily remained there as slaves until the Civil War, and then following Reconstruction lived as second-class citizens in the Jim Crow South until either emigrating to the north or experiencing the revolution of the Civil Rights Era).

  • There has never been an African-American President. (There is currently a President of African descent, Barack Obama, but he was born in Hawaii and on his father’s side is not a descendent of American slaves.)
  • There has been been a powerful African-American man in the Cabinet. (Secretary of State Colin Powell’s parents were from Jamaica. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is an African-American women.)
  • Structural changes in the economy have lead to a decline of marriage rates for African-American men, as their earning power has been exceeded by African-American women.
  • There has been no de facto progress on desegregation since the original Civil Rights efforts a lifetime ago.
  • The United States is engaged in a long-term project to import large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants, which not only further depresses wages of African-American men, it reduces African-Americans from being the “largest minority” to the second-largest minority.
  • The cultural battle over gay marriage reveals African-American powerless in the face of other members of the Democratic Party coalition. Not only cannot the Democratic Party realize African-American goals generally, or defend the relative position of African-Americans, it will actively work against African-American churches and social networks when white liberals disagree with African-American objectives.

Things are bad. They are getting worse. This is real pain.

In this horrible political situations, there are probably two rational responses

  1. A Fresh Start. A complete dismantling of the political work of a lifetime, an acceptance of the basic failure of the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, and an attempt to reboot nearly everything
  2. The Civil Rights Perspective on Race. The creation of an outrage which can unify the African-American community against their enemies, including white Democrats and hispanics.

The costs of (1) are so huge, and the uncertainty so great, that it is unlikely as anything other than a last desperate measure. We’re not there yet.

Option (2), on the other hand, requires simply a reply of the Civil Rights playbook, with some hapless patsy replacing Bull Connor, George Wallace, and other actual enemies of the past. The near-term results are a relative increase in power and sympathy for African-American males.

It is hard for anyone — especially a man — to live without pride. Imitating a Martyr provides some pride. Being politically organized enough to (nearly) lynch a hispanic provides some pride. Getting media attention gets some pride.

But more pride would come from having a functioning education system that prepared African-American men for the economy. Of earning enough to attract a mate. To not lose a job to harder-working lower-paid immigrants, to not have your sacred institutions tramped on, and so on.

Without a road-map for achieving this, we’ll get another Martin case in a few years, another outrage, another attempt to win some political favors and gain some pride through some dead person.

But dismantling the Civil Rights movement, abandoning the Civil Rights perspective on race, and starting over, is the smarter way to go.

Other groups have come from behind without this focus on manufactured outrage. Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Jamaicans, and many others recognized that social hostility can be battered, not thru the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, but through wealth accumulation.

As a friend recently told me, in America there are two colors of people — “Green” and “Red” — people with money, and people struggling paycheck to paycheck. Controlling wealth and the production of wealth is more important than leadership in a group of poor people.

This harsh reality, that the economic infrastructure matter more than political superstructure — that true political success comes from economic value — is much colder than talking about dreams and ideology.

Life can be cold.

But the Civil Rights Perspective on Race is a lie.

Science and Steam

Reactions to two of my recent posts — Mark Safranki‘s excerpt of my review of America 3.0. and Phil Arena‘s comment on my post on antiscience, plus some twitter conversations with Colin Wight — got me thinking.

What is the relationship of Science to the great economic systems we’ve had — hydrological, steam-powered, and now whatever-comes-next.

Well, in a hydrological system you’re either at the Malthusian limit or quite good at killing people off through war of disease.

Science is too risky (might not work, might have bad consequences if it does work) to spend much resources on in a pre-steam, pre-industrial society. So you get a few intellectual giants shouting to each other across time — like the nameless Chinese inventors or named European ones — with relatively little utility within a human lifetime.

But once you have steam-power, and the economic system it enables, society becomes incredibly wealthy. So you get science, institution science, whether in the form of corporate labs, or academic science, or the Department of Agriculture. The methods of advancement are so different, and the pace of change is so much quicker, this Science in a modern science is a different beast from pre-steam science — natural philosoph– which was basically bored men every once in a while discovering something.

What comes after the reign of steam, and the industrial society? What does Science look like after the next transformation?

It will be exciting to find out!

Reviews of Histories of Communist Regimes

Reviews of Histories of Communist Regimes

Books reviewed:

Coat_of_arms_of_the_Soviet_Union_md

I’ve read numerous histories of the Chinese Communist Party, its leaders (Mao, Zhou, Deng, etc.) and enemies (Chiang Kaishek, Chiang Chingkuo, and Mao himself), but my knowledge of the Communist experience elsewhere has not grown much over the psat few years. Indeed, the ferocity with which Mao destroyed the Soviet system in the Cultural Revolution has left me feeling vaguely sympathetic to the Stalinist bureaucrats.

So I read three books, Iron Curtain (by the wife of a Polish Foreign Minister), The Real North Korea (by a Soviet-trained North Korea area expert), and The North Korean Revolution (by Charles Armstrong, a former student of Bruce Cummings, who has the reputation of being the most sympathetic to North Korea of any mainstream historians).

iron_curtain_crushing_eastern_europe_md

Iron Curtain is itself a comparative history of Soviet occupations of Poland, Hungary, and East Germany, so The North Korean revolution allowed me to witness the post-Soviet invasion in four countries, on opposite ends of Eurasia. The political dynamics of the four countries were similar, but North Korea from the beginning was a special case:

Political Composition of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia in 1945:
1. Middle class parties associated with business
2. Populist farmer’s parties associated with the Catholic Church
3. Social Democratic parties associated with workers and intellectuals
4. The indigenous Communist Parties
5. The Soviet Occupation

Political Composition of North Korea in 1945:
1. Middle class Christian parties associated with the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches
2. Syncratic Buddhist-Farmers Party-Religion (Cheondogyo)
3. An “indigenous” Communist Party” centered around the future South Korea
4. Chinese-trained guerrillas who returned to North Korea (New People’s Party)
5. Soviet-trained guerrillas who returned to North Korea
6. The Soviet Occupation

When written out in a list, North Korea immediately appears more confusing. Three separate vocal religious movements, each deeply suspicious of each other but each with deep roots, are active in the country. Simultaneously, the “local” Communists find themselves under American Occupation, while the Soviet-ordained capital of North Korea (Pyongyang) is in the most heavily Christian part of the country.

the_northern_korean_revolution

The confusion doesn’t end there. The indigenous Korean Communist Party had been eradicated by Imperial police, and the Japanese Communist Party (which absorbed its remnants) called upon Korean Communists to turn themselves in (!!!), with the reasoning that such would allow them to act as missionaries to prisoners.

The two rival groups of guerrillas, the Soviet-trained and Chinese-trained, were both survivors of the defunct Manchurian Communist Party, which in spite of its name was predominantly Korean and, (like the KCP) was obliterated by a successful Imperial counter-insurgency campaign. Those who fled to the Soviet union would largely wait in Siberia until the Empire fell. Those that fled to China likewise waited in Yenan, building up close connections to Mao, Zhou, and the rest of the Chinese Communist leadership.

Kim_Il-sung_1946

It was perhaps this confusion that allowed Kim Il Sung to pull off a trick that would prove impossible anywhere else. Elsewhere, the Communist regimes would either turn into Soviet occupation state with the indigenous Communist leaders imprisoned or killed (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc), or else as home-grown regimes which were never under Soviet occupation (Cuba, China, Vietnam, etc.). In North Korea alone the Soviets came, Soviet allies were set up, and Soviet spies died as the local Communist party triumphed.

In Eastern Europe the People’s States would be “local in form, Soviet in content.” While much hay was made out of local architectural adornment, local folk art, and such, the Soviet Empire was run bureaucratically from Moscow. In North Korea, by contrast, the state was “Soviet in form, local in content.” Subsequent to North Korea, the only internationally active government that could challenge it for lack of educational attainment among its leadership was Taliban Afghanistan. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that the Kim Il Sung and his acolytes would give speeches against women working outside the home, against wage leveling, and against the Communist Party serving as a vanguard.

Andrei_Lankov_The_Real_North_Korea_md

The Real North Korea updates this to the present day. While Lankov notes that North Korean, alone among Communist languages, has two different words for “comrade” depending on the relative social status of the speakers, Lankov’s book describes the implications of such a non-egalitarian “Communism.” Indeed, there are no longer references to Communism, Marx, or Lenin, in North Korea’s interpretation: it is only foreign countries that insist on treating North Korea as Communist, whether it is China (which communicates to North Korea thru Chinese Communist Party Korean Workers Party channels) or the United States (which views North Korea as the last remnant of the Soviet Empire). Rather, as B.R. Myers implied in The Cleanest Race, North Korea is a fascist, explicitly racist state that is a successor to the Empire of Japan.

All of these books are well worth written. Applebaum’s Iron Curtain is somewhat tedious, but that is because the story is tedious: the Soviet obliteration of civil society in Eastern Europe. Armstrong has fallen in love with his subject — a naive reader would believe it was “natural” for Kim Il Sung to ban all dissent, because dissenters wanted someone else to lead them. Lankov’s The Real North Korea is the best of these, the perspective of someone who feels the Soviet system to be natural, but is deeply weirded out by North Korea.

I read (Iron Curtain and The Real North Korea), and The North Korea Revolution on a dead tree.

Happy 4th of July!

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Read the rest

Review of “America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come ,” by James Bennett and Michael Lotus

America 3.0, by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus, is a description of the current problems facing America, the origin of those problems, and solutions for them. But it’s more than that. With only two references to President Obama in the work, America 3.0 focuses on the structural causes for the emergence of our current system of government, along with the cultural context in which those structural causes work.

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The Structural Causes

The “3.0” in the title refers to an emerging system of government, but the implication of the work is that the system of government is a funciton of the economy. Unstated, the system of government appears to be a function of the material basis for the organization of the commanding heights of the economy.

The three stages that Bennett and Lotus describe, as I understand them, are:

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    • “America 1.0.” Politically, organized around the original intent of the Constitution, with power highly distributed. This was structurally encouraged by the distributed nature of production, which was centered around many farms and small towns with a few small cities acting as trade ports. The major power source was water — rivers, rain, and the sea. While parts of the America 1.0 culture survive, America’s transition figure was Abraham Lincoln: born in a rural and isolated community, his professional life centered around doing professional work for railroads.

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    • “America 2.0.” Politically, organized around militaristic police forces, professional bureaucracy, with power highly concentrated. This was structurally encouraged by the nature of steam power and the massive economies of scale that it enables. The America 2.0 political-economic, which is visibly failing in many ways, itself was the solution to the breakdown of the America 1.0 system in the face of the initial problems created by concentration and economies of scale.

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  • “America 3.0.” An emerging political-economy system that is itself a response to economics shift, primarily (though unstated) the decrease relative importance of steam power as the ratio of GDP (as measured in pounds) to GDP (as measured in dollars) decreases through miniaturization and electronics Tom Friedman’s work The World is Flat is uncited, but this trend (“how heavy is your economy”) was, I believe, prominently noted there several years ago. The source of power is information.

The Cultural Context

What keeps America 3.0 from being simply an economic-determinist, however, is Jim Bennett’s focus on the Anglosphere, and particularly Lotus’ and Bennett’s theory of what makes English-speaking countries nearly unique in the world: the “Absolute Nuclear Family” and the Common Law. According to America 3.0, this style of family is shared between English speaking countries, and some areas of Denmark and the Netherlands where the Anglo-Saxon-Jute peoples were active fifteen centuries ago. The Common Law, a result of the eradication of Roman Law and subsequent British hostility to the re-imposition of the Roman-based Laws latter (partially as a result for how Roman Law conflicts with the Absolute Nuclear Family type), also creates a difference.

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The Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law acts as a superstructure, but not a superfluous one, in the Lotus-Bennett model. A transactional view of government, a focus on individual liberty, individual independence, and family mobility are all seen as effects of the Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law, apart from the structural causes of farm-, steam-, or information- power.

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Analysis

There’s three big questions that come to mind after reading America 3.0:

  • First, does the economic foundation of the economy actually matter?
  • Second, do the Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law actually matter?
  • If so, to what extents?

The standard economic-determinist answer to the important of economic foundation is “a whole lot.” This makes sense to me. We’re still a way from a scientific study of history — a cliodynamical analysis of the role of steam, say, in American history — but all-in-all I found this part of the book to be insightful and non-controversial. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy all differed on many things, but all agreed on the importance of economies of scale, which were themselves clearly enabled by steam.

The portions about the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family, though, are less clear. What is the relative impact of the Common Law against, say, the influence of Christianity, of of being an England being an island, or of north-west European weather systems, or of other things? It makes sense that the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family are not entirely superfluous, but it also makes sense that other things may matter as well. How might these be discovered? Or tested?

Final Thoughts

America 3.0 is an eye opening book, for explaining the rise of the bureaucratic-military state in the United States, and also for its description of the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family. The former strikes me as more explanatory than the latter, but all was interesting.

I read America 3.0 in the Nook Edition.