Monday, September 26, 2016

Science, History, Religion, Knowledge, and the Truth - The Great American Myth

"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." - Carl Sagan

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." - Maya Angelou

"Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life." - Buddha

"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge." - Nicolaus Copernicus 

"It is a sad regret to have searched for the truth and settled for an answer." - Robert Brault

        This piece will begin with an analysis of a debate between Dr. Jared Diamond, and one of his detractors. This will be followed by a broader analysis of the roles of Science, History, Religion, Knowledge, and Truth in human society. Dr. Diamond was born on September 10, 1937. He is an American scientist and author best known for his popular science books, The Third Chimpanzee (1991), Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997, awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Collapse (2005), and The World Until Yesterday (2012). Originally trained in physiology, Diamond is known for drawing from a variety of fields, including anthropology, ecology, geography and evolutionary biology. He is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles.

        The debate centered around Dr. Diamond's, Guns, Germs, and Steel. This is followed by “History Upside Down,” in The New York Review of Books, by Dr. William H. McNeil, and Dr. Diamonds response to the review, also in The New York Review of Books, along with Dr. McNeil's secondary response to Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Dr. Diamond argued, was written to show how much environmental conditions have affected the development of human society. He offered many examples from around the world that showed how one society was dominated by another because of the advantages that their given environment offered them over the environment of the people’s that they dominated, i.e., the Maori over the Moriori. These were two peoples in the far southern reaches of Polynesia that were actually of the same line. Dr. Diamond is not a historian. He is a scientist, and so when he wrote his ‘World History,’ he looked for a broad pattern in history to explain how society came to be where it is. He analyzed his sources and developed, he argued, an all encompassing answer to the problem that he was faced with. Dr. McNeil, however, is a historian, and he reviewed Guns, Germs, and Steel from that perspective. Under such constraints, historical studies normally take a much narrower approach in their work. This was Dr. McNeil's chief complaint. He felt that Dr. Diamond's approach ignored critical cultural details that were important in understanding why certain human societies made the decisions that they did.
        Observe how Diamond approached the question that he was trying to answer, one offered to him by a New Guinea native, Yali, who wondered why white people were always the ones with the best ‘cargo.’ One of Dr. Diamonds answers as to why Westerners had this advantage was that their environment was more conducive to the early development of agriculture. The Eurasian continent had the highest concentration of domesticatable wild plant species in the world, whereas; people’s in the Americas, Africa, and Australia, despite having been in their environments for some time did not have the same advantages as the Eurasians because they did not have as many such wild plant species available to them, if they had any at all. The numerous amounts of wild plant species that were available for domestication in Eurasia made it possible for those people to settle into sedentary lifestyles much earlier than the peoples of the other continents.
        Another one of Dr.  Diamonds answers to Yali’s question was that the people of the Eurasian continent had a massive advantage over the peoples of other continents in the availability of big domesticatable wild animals. Of all the major domesticated ‘work’ animals in the world, and there were fourteen that he identified, thirteen of them were in a very localized area, North Africa to the Indus River Valley, centralized in the Mesopotamian River Valley. These domesticated animals offered the peoples of Eurasia several important advantages over other peoples. He discussed this situation by observing the mass extinctions that took place in the Americas, Australia, and the Polynesian Islands upon the arrival of humans. The big animals in Eurasia and Africa had an advantage over those of the Americas and the other continents, in that their evolution took place almost directly parallel to that of humans. They evolved with humans; and thus, they developed a healthy fear of humans, which gave them certain advantages that could help them either avoid human hunters as their hunting skills improved, i.e., the Gazelle that can jump up to thirty feet into the air in one leap, or develop a mutual relationship according to the needs of the humans that were working with them. The big animals in other portions of the world had no such advantage, and so, evolving independently of humans, they were unprepared for the onslaught of highly skilled human hunters, leaving them no possible chance for future domestication.
        Yet another of Dr. Diamond's answers to the question was directed towards geography, specifically, the orientation and location of the earth’s continents. Eurasia is orientated east to west, and combined, is much larger than any of the other contiguous continents. Africa and the Americas are orientated north to south and Australia is not only the world’s smallest continent but is also extremely isolated. Such conditions, as argued by Dr. Diamond, gave the peoples of Eurasia a greater advantage over those of the other continents.
        According to Dr. Diamond, the advantages that all of these conditions offered to the peoples of Eurasia were voluminous. The greater number of easily collected and domesticatable wild plant species allowed people to settle into stationary villages a lot sooner, which also facilitated the development of agriculture a lot sooner, allowed for denser populations, the development of skilled artisans that could be fed while not having to participate in the collection of food, and the earlier development of complex political structures. The wide variety of domesticatable animal species also gave these peoples the advantage in that they were able to get more done in less time, which gave skilled artisans the time to develop more advanced technologies, such as writing and weapons, as well. This also created more surpluses in food, which allowed for even denser human populations and even more complicated political structures that came to include slave labor and organized religion. Another unique advantage that these large domesticated species gave to Eurasians was germs. Coupled with the byproducts of sedentary living, living near or directly handling bodily waste, humans were exposed to multiple deadly germs when living or working around large animals. Those peoples who were not killed by the germs, lived to pass special immunities onto their offspring. Peoples on other continents were not so lucky.
        Another big advantage of these conditions, per Dr. Diamond, was the rapid spread of food production and other technologies along the east to west axis of Eurasia. This meant that not all peoples had to spend the inordinate amount of time required to develop the technologies themselves, and more people could gain the advantages of the technologies more quickly. The Americas were disadvantaged by their isolation from the center of production in Eurasia as were Australia, Polynesia, and Africa. Furthermore, Africa suffered because Eurasian crops could not survive in the jungle and could not cross the deserts. There was also a problem in the Americas with the spread of crops and technology north to south after Mesoamericans, and the peoples of South America, developed their own crops and technologies much later.
        Once again, it seems that Dr. McNeil’s main issue with Guns, Germs, and Steel was that Dr. Diamond excluded what he considered minor cultural details that were important in understanding why certain human societies made the decisions that they did. The first question is, “Is this judgment true?” For the most part, yes, Dr. Diamond did refrain from discussing extremely narrow cultural details, however; on occasion, he did discuss cultural developments, but only in relation to a particular environmental condition that allowed for their existence. The next question is this, “Did Dr. Diamond do this on purpose?” He most assuredly did, and he did so for a very major reason. Very honestly, from the approach that he took in the book, he had very little need to care about those minor cultural details. From the reading, it can be argued that Dr. Diamond was stating that if not for the proper environmental conditions, those narrow minor details would never have had the opportunity to develop, and humans could very possibly still be hunter-gatherers, never having produced the massive and complex world-wide society that exists today.
        It's fairly clear that this is a scientific look at how human civilization came to be where it now is in the Twenty-First Century. However, like Dr. McNeil, I take issue with Dr. Diamond's story. Dr. McNeil focused on criticizing the overlooking of certain cultural developments that were important to the rise of human civilization. I, however, take with issue with the fact that Dr. Diamond's entire premise seems to to carry a heavy bias from the very beginning. When Dr. Diamond refers to human civilization, exactly which human civilization is he referring to? It is pretty clear that he is referring to Western Civilization, or that part of human civilization that sprang from the Mesopotamian River Valley; in fact, he openly notes in his introduction that he is explaining why it was Western Civilization that mastered the globe first. My question would then be, "Where did he get his information?" He has clearly missed the mark on the development of human civilization; for, long before Rome could even be considered a regional power in Europe, Chinese trade fleets were trading with east Africa, all points in Asia, the Middle East, and points in the Pacific. Further, long before Columbus ever set foot on the eastern edge of the Caribbean, Chinese trade fleets had reached the West Coast of the Americas. Further, they have maps to prove their work. He also seems to have missed out on the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Century West African trade fleets that dealt with the tribes in South America and as far west as Mesoamerica. What can be seen here is that DR. Diamond used selectively tuned scientific data to promote the interests of one area of the human family over another. He did so at the expense of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, who in his work, were considered to be lagging behind Europe. Can our reality be so easily manipulated? Yes.
        If you are doubtful, ask yourself a little question. How secure is your understanding of US History? US History is based on a few foundational understandings. First, Europeans were the first to "Discover" the Americas. Second, when Europeans arrived in the Americas, the Natives were "Uncivilized" heathens. Third, the United States inherited the European banner in the Western Hemisphere by "Divine Right," and was tasked with spreading the gift of "Civilization" to the "Savages." The reality, as we have already seen to some extent, is much different. First, history, and the evidence that backs it up, has proven that both the Chines and West Africans made it to the Americas long before Columbus or any other European, for that matter; though, the Vikings did reach what is now Canada by A.D. 1000, almost five hundred years before Columbus. Of course, none of this accounts for the Inuit, who lived in the Arctic regions of the globe, traveling back and forth from Eurasia and North America over the ice sheets, long before any of these sea faring peoples. Second, when Columbus did begin the mass emigration of Europeans to the Americas, the peoples there were far from uncivilized, and they heavily defied Dr. Diamonds East to West paradigm. From the North going South, there was the Mississippian Culture that inhabited the center of the North American continent, the Aztecs, or the "Mexia," in what is now Central Mexico, the Maya in the Yucatan and the Northern reaches of the Central American Isthmus, the Inca, and several empires before them, situated on the Andes Mountains, and what archaeologists are beginning to uncover the remains of, a result of deforestation combined with modern satellite technology, a civilization that likely centered around the outer Amazon River Basis. On this last one, there is much work left to be done, though. So, the basic fundamentals of "American" History are a carefully collected bundle of Euro Facts and Illusionary Falsehoods assembled to ensure that Western Civilization is given credit for "Discovering," "Civilizing," and "Globalizing" an entire hemisphere that was already inhabited by advanced civilizations that had already long had contact with the Eastern world.
        So, it has now been shown that both science and history can be intentionally taken out of context to, essentially, say or support just about whatever the person handling the information wants it to say, even to the point of ignoring or discarding information that offers a glaring contradiction to the story that the person wants to push. Religion can do much the same thing. Take the primary religion of Western Civilization, Christianity, for example. The entire religion is based upon one of the greatest fallacies ever perpetrated by human kind. Jesus the Christ, the central most figure in the Christian religion, has absolutely no basis, whatsoever, in historical fact. There is nothing written of him in contemporary historical sources. His birth and life can be not accounted for in the contemporary records of the Jews, and even more importantly, there is no mention of a Yeshua bin Yosef, Jesus Son of Joseph, or Jesus the Christ, in the contemporary records of the Roman Empire. Neither, is there any ancillary mention of such a man in the records of the Parthian Empire. This means that during the time period in which the Christian bible reports he existed, 5 B.C. to 30 A.D., there is no evidence of the man's existence in one of the most heavily populated and most commercially mobile regions of the world. Two advanced civilizations could not account for a man that healed the sick, as if by miracle, and fed five thousand people with only two fish and three loafs of bread. The first actual mention of the Christ by any historical writer was made by Josephus in 92 A.D., sixty plus years after the Jesus figure would have died and ascended into heaven, another dramatic fact that cannot be corroborated. His work has long since been discredited because he had no sources to back up his references to the Christ. What is more likely, and several historians have offered remarks to this effect, is that the story of the Christ figure is based upon several figures that existed during the period in question. They were reporting to do similar things that are accorded to the Christ, claiming to be the coming Messiah, and promising freedom from Rome. As for the spiritual aspects of the figure, most historians agree that the life of Jesus is based upon the legend of the Egyptian god Horace. Some also believe that aspects of Zoroastrianism made their way into the mix. Many say that that this is what is responsible for the Book of Revelation. Regardless of where the various parts of the story come from, a religion was crafted upon this information that is now used to control the actions of billions of people around the world.
       What has just transpired was a brief display of what people can do when they mishandle or intentionally appropriate for nefarious purposes, two very important items, knowledge and truth. Knowledge can generally be referred to as facts, understanding, and skills acquired through research and experience. Knowledge can be pursued in many ways. The three listed, Science, History, and Religion, are but a view of the methods available. Truth is, quite simply, the most generally accepted interpretation of gathered knowledge. This is a generalized definition, but what it basically means is that truth can be just about anything, as long as it is accepted by the greater majority of a given society. It also means that whatever truth is accepted does not have to be as at all accurate. It can be as biased as a society is willing to push it. As such, there are three general "Truths" accepted by a general majority of the American population, which tend to formulate what can be most assuredly referred to as the "Great American Myth." These truths are that Western Civilization is the ascendant power in the world, supported by evolution, geography, and agriculture, and millions of year of "quality" scientific data; that Western Civilization, historically, has been able to master the needed technology to overcome the most difficult of obstacles in the their pursuit of "Civilization," and are thus, somehow entitled to the spoils of their conquests; and finally, Western Civilization is backed by the power of "Almighty God," so, anything that they do, no matter how gruesome, is justified, especially when their actions are committed against the mindless heathens that were not able to master what "God" gave them. These truths have been used to justify the conquest of the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific by various European powers and the United States. It has been justified to economically enslave vast areas of globe in the name of profit and civilization.
        While these truths can be applied to the United States internationally, they have most glaringly been applied to the United States on the domestic front. So, the American Myth begins to take shape. A country has been formed on the North American continent that was established by white people, for white people, and is maintained by white people. They have established a scientific reason for their prominence, they have written history, such that it supports their way of life, and they have built a socio-religious culture that sanctifies the rule of the white man. This country was built on the backs of African slaves, whose descendants are still largely relegated to second class citizenship, if that. It has prospered on the backs of immigrants, who have been either forced to abandon their ancient cultural heritage to fit in to white culture, or who have now been deemed "Illegal," and it has been held up and justified by a religion that condemns all non-believers to the depths of hell, and more tragically, to social exclusion. The United States is still the land of the WASP, or the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Do you not think that this is the case? Attempt to challenge the power of the white man. Develop science that counters the pre-eminence of the white man, write history that minimizes the role of the white man, and create a religion that equalizes the soul of the white man with the rest of humanity; and then, watch your work be deemed pseudo science, revisionist history, or heresy. This is the reality in this country, and it is why it is so hard for anyone of color to break any barriers of any kind. This country was not designed to be their home. It was designed to be their prison. When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, he was not referring to all of the people in this country. Though, the text of his speech read, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth;" what he really meant was, "and that government of white people, by white people, and for white people shall not perish from the Earth."

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