Saturday, June 10, 2017


Western Civilization does not stand apart from the rest of the world


It is said on the front cover: this book only concerns Western civilization, and thus it is Europe-centered and it would be wrong to blame the author for it. Yet when he says “the story begins six thousand years ago,” first I would have preferred “began,” and second six thousand years ago (4,000 BCE) where did these people who were going to develop what we call today Western civilization come from? What language or languages did they speak? Those are not the first inhabitants of Europe since Europe was the target of a vast Homo Sapiens migration sometime around 45,000 years ago, or even somewhat earlier. These first settlers are part of the Western civilization since they represent 75% of European DNA. Where did these old Europeans come from? What languages did they speak? What was their civilization?

But this obsolescence is quite evident when he writes in 2010: “Homo Sapiens has existed for about 160,000 years, civilization for about 6,000 years” or “Western civilization is built on the bedrock of ancient Greece, and Rome has remained an extraordinary powerful [idea].” In 2010 researchers were speaking of at least 250,000 years ago for the emergence of Homo Sapiens in Africa. Now we know things are even trickier since archaeologists have just found Homo Sapiens remains in Morocco that are 300,000 years old. The author could not know that in 2010 but his very conservative evaluation then is definitely at least 100,000 years short. And his 6,000 years ago for the birth of Western civilization attaches this birth to the invention of writing. This is a very archaic vision of history that only starts with writing. Archaic and absurd. The main tool of the emergence of Homo Sapiens is that some physical and physiological mutations attached to their status of bipedal long distance fast runners endowed this species with enhanced speaking characteristics and Homo Sapiens invented articulated language, which opened them to the vast competence of conceptualization and thus opened the door to religion, technology, science, philosophy, hence mental constructions and thinking. But that would go against the beliefs of creationists and the author keeps some door unopened so that these creationists can inject their own beliefs in what they are being told.

And by the way how could Homo Sapiens have invented writing if articulated language did not exist in the first place? The invention and development of articulated language is the fundamental tool of the emergence of Homo Sapiens that developed his mind, a construct of the brain confronted to real experience in the world, along and in proportion with the development of this very articulated language, and that means we cannot study the emergence of any particular human civilization if we do not found this study on the phylogeny of language and then on the various migrations in and out of Africa. If we do not consider what I said here then we cannot explain at all why this Western civilization is centered on essentially Indo-European languages, and not their cousins, Indo-Aryan languages, and certainly not Semitic languages (in spite of the importance of Judaism in this Western civilization), nor isolating character languages of the vast Asian family that includes among others Chinese, Tibetan, South East Asian languages, Japanese, etc., nor agglutinative Turkic languages in spite of the fact the first European Homo Sapiens population only spoke these Turkic agglutinative languages.

The final opening remark I want to make here is that European Indo-European languages developed along two lines, and two migrations from Armenian to Greek and then  the whole Mediterranean Sea giving rise to romance languages, and from The Middle East (Iran and Mesopotamia, Farsi and Kurdish) through the Caucasus (Ossetic is a language left behind) and into the vast central European plains right through to Ireland with three linguistic families developing from this migration, Germanic languages, Slav languages and Celtic languages. If the author had started from this he would not have told us a “story” but he would have been able to tell us about human history in Europe, nearly all European populations coming from the Middle East, first something like 30,000 years before the peak of the Ice Age and then some time after the Ice Age when the water started to rise around 17,000 BCE, a long and slow process that brings a minority population (25% of European DNA) that integrates the local population (75% of European DNA): both integrate the local population in the new culture the Indo-Europeans were bringing, and integrate the Indo-Europeans into the local population to the point of them shifting languages altogether.

This being said I will now go back to the book’s starting point which is the Bronze Age and the invention of agriculture. “Agriculture predates the first cities by thousands of years, but by about 5300 BC farming techniques became more intensive, maximizing food production.” (page 5) He justly speaks of “division of labor” but he does not consider the oldest and first division of labor, the one imposed by the development of Homo Sapiens into a migrating species, the fact that women were supposed to be pregnant every eighteen months and from the age of thirteen onward always had a child in their womb, a child on their hip and children all around to be able to bring to procreation age at least three viable children. This leads us today to the observation that this first division of labor also endowed women with the ability to paint the rock face of the caves they lived in all over the world at about the same time and the responsibility for this mental spiritual function in their communities, hence the religious dimension of their civilization. He would have understood then that the division of labor he speaks of can only come after the first steps of some more intensive productive activity has started to develop because men as well as women had to be able to spare some working time, and energy, to start building cities like Gobekli Tepe in today’s Turkey asserted as existing in 9,500 BCE. Erected monumental stones, carved with all sorts of animals, and fulfilling three functions: religious (rituals), commercial and survival (granary and storage) and burial (taking care of the dead). We could and should also speak of living together inside this protected construction, day and night, though they could have kept their living quarters outside and in light temporary or transient contraptions. The author is right to say agriculture predated the building of the cities, but he starts too late. It started at least 6,000 years earlier. Then the concept of intensification for agriculture could be replaced by the concept of slow development leading to some quantitative and qualitative stage forward due to the connection of water management techniques (irrigation and drainage); selection of more productive seeds due to crossing and genetic sorting out; and better tools used by a better organized population which leads to the invention of what will become “slavery” and originally was only a work organization that enabled flexibility and intensity in the various tasks to be performed with agriculture, and herding that develops at the same time. Gobekli Tepe is part of our European heritage, be it only because their round pattern of erected stones was used in Europe by many branches of Indo-European people, like the Celts (Stonehenge for example in the British Isles, and various stone circles like Cromlechs on the continent). Such circle constructions can even be thought universal.

But he missed the shift from the women’s ritualistic function in pre-agricultural society to the entirely male religious apparatus that was to develop with Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three religions arising in the Middle East after the inception of agriculture and herding, and the development of agricultural and urban servitude. He indicates the triad of gods and goddesses in the old Sumerian tradition (the inventors of writing) but does not exploit it: An, the god of heaven; Ki, the goddess of earth; and Enki, the god of fresh water. This “pagan” trilogy was rejected by Judaism with their male “god and his spirit” in Genesis, hence a dual vision, the earth “adama” being the root giving birth to the first man Adam, obviously derived from the earth itself. Christianity reinstated the ternary nature of god with the Holy Trinity, all entirely male, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Islam concentrated the concept of God to a single unitary being, God himself, with only a Prophet next to that God, a Prophet that does not preach but only provides the believers with the words of God himself. If he had considered such elements he would have understood the survival in Europe, in all European traditions, of the triple goddess, the feminine dominance in pre-agricultural religion being reduced to the very powerful but nevertheless marginal triple goddess. That would have enabled him to show how it is embodied in the Greek tradition and in other traditions like the Germanic tradition (Ainbet, Gwerbet and Wilbet, often associated to three symbols like in “Margaret with the worm, Barbara with the tower, Catherine with the wheel, those are the holy three girls,” the worm in the earth, the tower to the sky and the wheel to spin the thread of life on earth). But this ternary nature of the female goddess is universal and in religious practices of the Bronze and Iron ages the triad of gods and goddesses are either some male and some female, or like in Hinduism the three basic gods are, at least two of them, hermaphrodite, either male or female.

Richard Miles misses a lot along that line including what it becomes in Shakespeare: The Triple Goddess or the Thrice-Crowned Goddess on one hand in the Greek tradition, and the three weird sisters, the three witches who are a downgraded form of the Germanic and Celtic tradition. But that would have opened him on a universal development of civilization and that universal development would have led him to considering the fact that the Chinese Emperors are fully established with the Yellow Emperor (2697-2597 BCE) at the time of his story of conquest and building of evanescent empires before the Roman Empire, the only one that lasted, which means the evolution of humanity towards some centralized civilization based on cities of some sort, themselves based on the emergence of agriculture and herding is universal and in fact more advanced in East Asia than in the Middle East and of course Europe. By locking himself in what he calls “Western civilization” the author misses the most important element: Homo Sapiens as a species after the Ice Age when the migrations out of Africa are finished and replaced by migrations outside Africa goes through all over the world a process of development that leads to agriculture, herding and urban settlements. That has to do with the climate change brought by the end of the Ice Age and by the particular competence of Homo Sapiens based on his control of articulated language: to sense, to perceive, to name, to experiment, to speculate, to conceptualize. This complex shift from sensing with sensorial senses to conceptualizing with mind and language is purely human and is universal because all humans control the tool for it, articulated language that they develop as much as it enables them to develop.

Then he does not understand the value of the first writing system which is more or less a syllabary writing system that is in no way representing anything, pure abstract and arbitrary symbols dictated by the writing tool of the stylus. And he does not understand the Phoenician alphabet is not a real alphabet since it is only consonantal with one vowel, aleph when it is at the initial of a word. Otherwise vowels are not written since Phoenician is a consonantal Semitic language, like Akkadian by the way, showing that Sumerian is not because it has many words reduced to one vowel and these vowel words are written as such. These letters of the Phoenician consonantal alphabet are representative of objects stylized in the letters. That would have then enabled him to develop the great invention of the Greeks who actually devised the first consonantal and vocalic alphabet of Indo-European languages. He could at the same time have made a note about the isolating character languages of Eastern Asia. He could also have insisted on old Celtic Ogham alphabet and old Germanic Runic alphabets, all of them developing from respectively a set of trees and objects whose first sound is the letter considered.

The author does quote the problem of slavery but he neither explains how it developed except with a vague connection to agriculture, nor really and systematically explains what slaves were in the ancient world he is speaking of. He thus does not study the rebellions of slaves. The only origin of slaves is war, with at times the fact that slavery can be imposed for financial deficiency, to compensate for one’s debts for example. The main source remains war and that enables him to totally overlook the systematic import of black slaves from black Africa down the Nile valley to Egypt and the Middle East, across the Sahara to Carthage and what is today the Maghreb and Libya, and by sea up the eastern coast of Africa, up the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf to Arabia and the Middle East. Slaves are clearly identified in the Old Testament where they are often said to be Arab slaves. But in the old tradition of Persia and its empire found in the Iranian “Shahnameh” and encountered by Alexander when he conquered the Persian empire and probably encountered even earlier, great number of slaves, both male and female, are common present from one lord to another. Black slaves were systematically used for agriculture and some mining in the Middle East with famous slave rebellions or upheavals, and as soldiers in the Egyptian armed forces, to the point that some black Pharaohs (The black Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty ruled for approximately eighty-nine years in Egypt, from 760 BC to 671 BC.) are attested as having seized power from their military dominant position. That would have explained a lot about this systematic exploitation of black Africa to provide the Mediterranean and Middle East world with slaves in all forms, including eunuchs castrated down to the abdomen (clean-cut: This is important because when Islam takes over slavery is banned among Muslims and is only tolerated though never banned for non-Muslims and in some periods or cases it may be encouraged. The tradition goes back to the development of agriculture, cities and armed forces to practice the “art” of war.

Yet the author does allude to slavery when he reduces them to “feudal slaves, helots” page 105, when he explains how Plato and Aristotle based all their understanding of political and social life on the existence of slavery for most heavy work and when he explains that Plato in his Republic rejected anything like a general democracy. He was heavily against democracy and advocated a very limited form for the ruling elite of society; All other categories of people being out of this political organization. That’s such philosophers, writings and references that Calhoun used in the 19th century in the USA to justify slavery and advocate a society that could live forever with the majority of its population in slavery. Richard Miles says it, or rather alludes to this slavery vision of society, but he does not get into details though he gets to slightly more when dealing with Rome. He does say then slaves are the main laboring class and he adds that they are also the sexual entertainment of free men and women who can have their own sexual slaves and can take advantage of all the slaves around them freely, starting at a very early age, let’s say 13. If you are a free Roman citizen, or the son of one, you can take any slave anywhere the way you want, though you can only kill or maim your own slaves, not your neighbor’s. That is what being a slave meant in this Mediterranean world but Richard Milles being short on the topic cannot explain how the invention – and that is only one example – of the watermill in first century BCE was never used productively because of the existence of slaves. Why invest in a “machine” when you have quasi free labor at your disposal? Richard Miles actually mentions here and there the common practice when conquering a city: you kill all soldiers, you also kill most adult males and you only keep the females and the young children to be sold at once as slaves. That’s how Carthage ended up. That’s how Troy ended up. Genocidal massacres along with the enslaving of one fourth, one third or one half of the conquered population to be exported straight away to the Roman world and their industrial, construction or farming estates, plus the multiple pleasure houses of the cities and even some in the legions or as gladiators.

This leads the author to the inability to explain why the slaves of Rome opened the gates of the city to the Germanic army besieging it, except an allusion to the “outlawing of pagan rituals” by Emperor Theodosius (page 280). Of course the author does not mention that there were hardly any slaves in the Germanic – or Celtic – traditions. That would have led him to starting to understand the Christianization of Europe, the religious reform of the 9th century and the Benedictine feudal revolution that ensued and that banned any idea of slavery that had survived here and there from the old Roman estates.

But Richard Miles does not right history, but tells us a story and that makes him often fall into anachronism and provide us with anachronistic remarks. “Alexandria was not simply some immaculate but lifeless monument to totalitarianism, an ancient equivalent of some concrete Stalinist dream.” (page 167) Such a comparison has nothing to do in a book that pretends at least to tell us the story of these ancient worlds.  “Totalitarianism” has nothing to do there. This ancient world was a world of slavery first of all and then total subservience among the elite or the free class. Look at what they did to Socrates. And the mention of Stalin is just ridiculous. Why not Hitler or Mussolini or Mao Zedong? This ancient world is a world of blood, killing, exploitation, life and death rights for the elite, suffering, torturing, slow dying for the enslaved under-class in the hands of any free man available at any time on this free man’s only whim of the moment. Totalitarianism and Stalin are in fact very civilized as compared to these ancient practices that are closer to Hitler’s without the industrial method to get rid of some sections of society.

But even so, Sparta was a fair example of such exploitation, the fate of “helos”:

“The helots served the Spartans as servants, shield-carriers, potters, cooks, agricultural laborers and breeding machines. They surrendered half of their harvest to the military elite, whose prime objective was to keep them in subjection. They had no rights and were obliged to wear dog-skin caps and animal skins, making them objects of mockery. To the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus, the helots were ‘donkeys suffering under heavy loads’. Every year Sparta declared war on their donkeys, allowing them to be killed with impunity. Its trainee warriors waged a campaign of terror and assassination against them, infiltrating their territory and striking at night – the ancient equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.”

Note the final anachronistic remark. During that period when the hunting season of helots was open it was a fair game to kill helots not even as if they were some game to be eaten afterwards since they would not be eaten but just left there to rot along the road. Note the “breeding machines” meaning that female helots could be sexually taken and impregnated by any free Spartan able to do it

And yet some of the allusions to the fate of Christians in this ancient Roman world is definitely one small instance of what that enslaved and mortiferous society was for the enslaved precisely. Christians were not better dealt with than plain slaves, and often worse, in spite of what Voltaire may say about it in his Treatise on Tolerance.

And of course he misses the stake of the Christian revolution. He mentions the Council of Nicaea but he does not mention the main stake of this Council: to stabilize the canonic corpus of Christian sacred texts that was to become the New Testament. It is true that this process was also performed and achieved with the extermination of all those who did not abide by this canonical corpus. Bishop Irenaeus (130-202 AD), the Bishop of Lyons or Lugdunum, is famous for his treatise “Against Heresies” that is the fundamental justification of the elimination of all those who fall into these categories. There is a vague allusion to what happened in the upper regions of Egypt and how whole Christian communities were deliberately exterminated by other Christians because they did not abide by the rule. I must say too that his non-treatment of James, Jesus’ brother, his reduced treatment of Jesus and his over-emphasized treatment of Paul, ex-Saul, whose role in the persecution of Christians is not even alluded to and whose role in the elimination of James and of the basic rules of that early Jewish Christianity is not mentioned, all that makes the reference dubious.

I must say that his allusion to Augustine’s “The City of God” and his impossibility to understand it is a very old concept coming from the Old Testament, what is mostly referred to as the Messianic Jerusalem, is basic in the canonical “Book of Revelation.” Can we say the messianic Jerusalem is seen as an earthly city projected into heaven? Maybe but then the model is not Rome, but definitely Babylon that has to be defeated and destroyed for the messianic Jerusalem to be reached. One can say this Babylon is nothing but an old name tagged onto the new Rome. Maybe, but it would be better to note that this messianic Jerusalem is surrounded by high walls with twelve doors or gates, but fortified nevertheless. Fortified against what and who, since we are after the Apocalypse, after the end of the world? In fact, Augustine or John of Patmos cannot conceive the salvation of humanity in any other terms than collective and social. In fact, we have here a fundamental Homo Sapiens characteristic: man cannot survive in this world hence in the other world but by being socially organized and cooperative. The vision of the City of God or the messianic Jerusalem is the only way man can see his future: as a social organized collective group building the future with the help of god. Richard Miles is a little bit short on Augustine. He should meditate the following quotation from Isaiah:

Isaiah 9:6-7Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

This is the Christian tradition, deeply rooted in Judaism, and in fact in all religious or spiritual production of the Middle East as far as our knowledge can go. The history of Homo Sapiens has been all along social and collective with collective settlements that will become cities after the Ice Age. Augustine is in this tradition and he inherits the whole spiritual production of several millennia in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean Sea. And that inheritance is only the specific form a universal human inheritance takes in this region.

In conclusion we have here a fairly detailed account of some aspects of these four or five millennia ending more or less with the fall of Rome to the Germanic invaders. But it is altogether a discourse that complies with the standard reading of Western history and rejects by not mentioning them essential elements. That is regrettable because that cuts the European civilization from the rest of the world and because it does not capture the trajectory of the human species, of Homo Sapiens in their conquest of the world to the present globalized version of human development.


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