The Verbalist

Aldous Huxley was. . . highly. . . educated, at Oxford, in history, religion, the classics,  literature and philosophy.  His brother Julian was a renowned biologist, his grandfather Thomas was the famous defender of Charles Darwin.

Aldous Huxley came  to call  himself a ‘verbalist’,  someone who did too much thinking, with words, and not enough perceiving  –  experiencing things as they really are –  with his senses.  He was a very successful verbalist,  a world renowned writer.  All of his privileged, upper class friends were also ‘verbalists’.  He found himself, however,  mostly, unhappy, and came to see in his friends and in himself, distressing egotism, obsessiveness,  and alcoholism.

In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.”

He sought to try to stop being verbalist.  He studied and wrote about mystical religion. He decided to try LSD, hoping for . . .something.

He got it.  It gave him intense perception, a profound awakening of his senses.

A large pale blue automobile was standing at the curb.  At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome by enormous merriment.  What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beamed from this bulging surface of glossiest enamel!”

“. . .the percept had swallowed up the concept.  I was so completely absorbed in looking, so thunderstruck by what I actually saw, that I could not be aware of anything else.. . interest in space is diminished and interest in time fell almost to zero.”

He found wonder and awe, a reverence for the non-verbal  – “the glory and the power of pure existence belongs to another order, beyond the power of even the highest art to express. . . an impeccable sense of gratitude for the privilege of being born into this universe.”

In, Brave New World, his most famous novel, he presents a verbalist world where rationality and thought control a society that values ‘stability’ above all else.  Words of propaganda are used for control.  Living requires soma, the state supplied tranquilizer.

We must be ‘amphibians’, he concludes – alive in both the worlds of perception and of thought.

 

We must have “education both in facts and in values, and in the abuses as well as the uses of language; and development of smaller, more autonomous units of government – ‘self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups.

In his last novel, The Island, a utopian answer to Brave New World, he writes of a ceremonial ‘Island Service’ of death in which the experience is fully embraced, with no sedation.

He died of throat cancer, in 1963, on the same day as John F. Kennedy.  In his final moments, his wife gave him IV LSD, as he requested.

 

Ancestor Hominin

 

Fossilized footprints of Neanderthal were recently found in the sandstone of an ancient beach in northern France, adults with children going one way, adults only going back the other way.  Starting forty thousand years ago Neanderthal gradually disappeared, the last of them living in caves in the north and eastern sides of the rock of Gilbraltar.

We are not sure why.

The Neanderthal made fire, made and used tools, and lived in nomadic groups. They were mostly ambush hunters, striking from woodland cover, with hand-held spears. They did not have  projectile weapons.  They may have had burials, and likely decorated themselves.  They may have had rudimentary art.

Their disappearance coincided with the arrival of modern humans, who came into Europe from Africa and the Middle East and hunted much the same food as the Neanderthal – elk, horses, reindeer, aurochs, bison, and the woolly mammoth. The Neanderthal were bigger and stronger than modern humans. We have no evidence of war.

“We should see evidence of the direct killing of neanderthals by modern humans – and we don’t.. 

We have always assumed that we modern humans were smarter.  We maintained larger groups.  The white sclera of our eyes empowered our social and verbal communication.  We had projectile weapons, and could better hunt in the open – courser predators . . . We could hunt in packs.  We hunted for furs as well as for food, used bone needles for sewing, and made better clothes.  Our shelters, and burial ceremonies were more elaborate.  We clearly made art.  And we harnessed the skills that reside in the genes of other species, for our own advantage.  We domesticated wolves, and our dogs were immensely helpful in hunting, able to run down prey, hold them at bay for the kill, and help defend against scavenger predators.

Perhaps we simply out hunted Neanderthal.

But maybe not.

Something else happened just as modern humans arrived – the Campanian Ignibrite Eruption, the largest volcano eruption in Europe of the past 200,000 years.  This happened in the Gulf of Pozzuoli, just west of the modern city of Naples, Italy, and just east of Mount Vesuvius.

Before the time of Pangea – the great universal continent formed when all tectonic land masses came together –  there was a great sea that encircled the globe, the Tethys Sea.  This sea became the Mediterranean Sea as the African tectonic Plate migrated north and collided with the Eurasian Plate to complete the super continent.   This collision created the the cliffs of the northern mediterranean shore, the volcanoes of western Italy. . . and the Campanian eruption.

The eruption sent volcanic ash 7000 km, in all directions,  covering all of Italy and  eastern Europe.  A volcanic winter followed, with cold temperatures over all of Europe, causing loss of game and the woodlands, changing the game of survival.

Modern Humans were able to get to Southeast Asia and Australia 50-70,000 years ago.  Cline Findlayson suggests that maybe Neanderthal were able to keep them out of Europe . . .until the Campanian Eruption.

More than the modern human mind, it may have been the modern human body, the more gracile, more energy efficient body from Africa, better at walking and running over longer distances, that favored survival for modern humans in the cold and open steppe terrain that Europe became.

“I maintain that humans are the most invasive species that has ever lived.”  The Invaders,  Pat Shipman.

Neanderthal do live on, their genes living on in the genes of modern humans.  They are our. . . ancestors.

Philosophers have tried to understand the nature of human nature for thousands of years.  Hominin ancestors like Neanderthal can tell us.

Neanderthal lasted for 400,000 years. . . . Will we?

Natural Born

They were originally Siberian nomads. Some 8 thousand years ago, they  crossed the Bering Strait into North America. The Nemeruh – “the people” – came to live a primitive hunting and gathering life in eastern Wyoming .  They had no pottery, no farming, no priests.  They were Stone Age hunters.

In the early 1600’s, Spaniards from Mexico brought Arabian-bred desert horses to the Americas. . . Mustangs.  Some of them got away.  Within a few decades there were . . .millions. . . wild, roaming the plains and canyons of western North America, all the way into Canada.

In those times, on the Great Plains, buffalo herds as large as 4 million strong grazed the rolling fields of grass, in groups as large as 50 miles long and 25 miles wide.

The Nemeruh became highly skilled horsemen.  Horses greatly empowered hunting, but also war, territorial war between the native peoples.  The Nemeruh relentlessly fought their way south, displacing the Apache’s, the Ute’s and others, and conquered the greatest buffalo country of all, the Llano Estanto – the lands of northern Texas and Oklahoma.

They became known as the Comanches, so named by the Ute’s as “those who are always against us”.

“A Comanche brave who captured a live Ute would torture him to death without question.  A Comanche captured by a Ute would expect to receive exactly the same treatment.

The Nemeruh, and all the Plains peoples, lived ”immersed in the elemental world” of the “endless, trackless, and mostly waterless expanse of undulating grass” – the “oceanic” plains that were filled with natural fires, sudden storms, blizzards, venomous snakes, and ravenous predator beasts.

Their life was “ceaseless toil, hunger, constant war, and early death”, but also PURE MAGIC, with “spirits everywhere, in rocks, trees, and in animals” and nights filled with dancing and singing.  The raw liver of a freshly killed buffalo was a delicacy, as was the curdled milk form the stomach of a still nursing bison calf.  They never ate the buffalo heart.  They lived intensely alive.

”virtually all the Indian tribes waged war against their neighbors and practiced deeply sickening torture. Prisoners who weren’t tomahawked on the spot could expect to be disemboweled and tied to a tree with their own intestines, roasted to death over a slow fire, or simply hacked to pieces and fed alive to the dogs.”

Once, they captured and adopted Daniel Boone’s grand daughter. but after a raid against them by settlers, they tied her high in a tree, alive, and shot her full of  arrows.

The Comanches . . . ‘stopped cold’  . . . the northern advance of the Spaniards and the western advance of the Americans. . .  for 150 years.  They were the very last holdout of native people against the tide of settlers in North America.  Only the deliberate slaughter of the buffalo could bring them to submission.

The strength of their attachment to each other, and the demonstration they gave of the same, even to the dividing of the last morsel with each other upon the point of starvation, might put any professed Christians to blush!  But they were just the reverse of all this to all the world outside.”

Denouement

November 22, 1963

In the morning, LBJ tried to talk JFK into having Ralph Yarborough, his political adversary, in the Presidential car on the motorcade, rather than John Connolly,  his political ally.  JFK said no.  Jackie heard their heated exchange.

Later in the morning, Richard Nixon boarded a plane, in Dallas, to fly home.  As he embarked, he told reporters of rumors that JFK would remove LBJ from the upcoming re-election ticket.

In Washington, D.C., Dan Reynolds, who sold a life insurance policy to LBJ, began testifying to Congress about LBJ’s demands for kickback payments – purchasing advertisements on LBJ’s radio station and a stereo set for Lady Bird.

Carlos Marcello, New Orleans mafia boss, was in district court in New Orleans, fighting deportation by Attorney General RFK for falsifying his passport.

At 12:35 PM, shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.

As Mr. Reynolds was about to present incriminating documents, it was announced that JFK had been killed.  “I guess you won’t need these.  Giving testimony involving the Vice President is one thing, but when it involves the President, that is something else.”

While the Judge in the Marcello trial was instructing the jury, he was interrupted by news of JFK’s death.  The verdict later that day was NOT GUILTY.

In Cuba, a French journalist, Jean Daniels, sat with Fidel Castro in a seaside villa at Varadero, Cuba.  Some weeks prior,  JFK learned of Daniel’s planned visit to see Castro, and asked Daniels to give Castro a message: “If you want peace, you must break with Moscow”.  Daniels was to made to wait to see Castro . . .for 3 weeks.  Then, on 11/21/63, they finally met.  They talked until 4AM.  Castro invited him to lunch the next day.  During lunch, Castro received a call, and was told of JFK’s murder.  “This is very bad news”.  His fear was that he would be blamed.

In Paris, Rolando Cubela, a Cuban physician and leader in Fidel’s government, and a neighbor of Castro in Varadero, met with a CIA representative.  He had secretly met with the CIA, before, stating that he wanted to defect.  In Brazil, in September 1963, he had met with Desmond Fitzgerald of the CIA, who asked him to assassinate Castro.  Rubella had conditions.  He wanted a high powered rifle, and he wanted personal orders, directly from RFK.  Many in the CIA suspected ‘a set up’. Fitzgerald gave RFK’s go-ahead anyway.

As Cubela was given a poison pen to use on Castro, news of JFK’s assassination arrived.  He didn’t take the pen.

Two years later, in Cuba, Cubela was found guilty of espionage and was given a death sentence.  Castro commuted the sentence, and sent him books while he was in prison.  Cubela was released in 1979 and moved to Spain, where lives to this day.

Desmond Fitzgerald died of a heart attack, playing tennis, in 1967, as doubts of the Warren Report were in the news.

In Los Angeles, Aldous Huxley died of laryngeal cancer.

In Oxford, England, twelve minutes later, C. S. Lewis died of kidney failure. He spoke his last words:  “We have no right to happiness

 

Bottom Up

Sir John Cowperthwaite was financial secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 – 1971.

His administration did not collect any economic data during his tenure.”  Jairaj Devadiga

“if I let them compute theses statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.”

During Cowperthwaite’s administration, Hong Kong grew “ from being only one fourth as rich as the United Kingdom in 1961, to being 40% richer by 1996′.

What should poor countries do?  His advice:  “Abolish their office of natural statistics”.

When management is driven by statistics. it leads to what is called. . . Surrogation.  Metrics get misinterpreted as goals.

Measurement, contrary to all conventional wisdom, leads to mismanagement.  

Case in point:  Soviet Russia

Fifty years ago, 180,000 whales disappeared from the oceans”.  Charles Homans.

This was due to Soviet fishing. “In one season alone, from 1950 to 1951, Soviet ships killed nearly 13,000 hump back whales.”

But Russia didn’t need whale fishing product.

The Soviet whalers . . . were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five year plans that drove the Soviet economy.  In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy – the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministeries – whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry

Gross fish tonnage was the metric goal.  Harvesting whales was the easiest way to tonnage.

No matter what, the plan must be met.”

It is common to think of society as a unitary whole with unitary motivations, something which requires central control, top-down, to achieve focused goals, driven by the statistics of outcomes.  “Mussolini made the trains run on time.”

Thomas Friedman:

“. . .when [one party autocracy] is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as china is today, it can also have great advantages.  That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”   

And yet societies in history that have flourished, and have been more adaptive and thus more stable,  have been more biologic bottom-up, ecological networks of distributed motivations, interests, and initiatives, with freedom of action and opportunity to learn from experience.

Margaret Thatcher:

”. . .  they are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is NO SUCH THING as Society.   There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except thru people and people look to themselves first.”

Milton Friedman:

”Voluntary exchange is a way to get cooperation among individuals without coercion.  The reliance on voluntary exchange, which means on a free market mechanism, is thus central to the liberal creed.”

”Both sides to an economic transaction can benefit from it, if the transaction is voluntary and informed”.

  Matthew Ridley:

Innovative societies are free societies where people are free to express their wishes, and where creative minds are free to experiment to find ways to supply those requests . . .”

 

 

 

 

 

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