Learning From History: The Collapse of Complex Societies

April 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

Preamble: A Brief History of Complexity with David Christian

[From TED.com:] Backed by stunning illustrations, David Christian narrates a complete history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the Internet, in a riveting 18 minutes. This is “Big History”: an enlightening, wide-angle look at complexity, life and humanity, set against our slim share of the cosmic timeline.

Dr. Joseph Tainter,

“The Collapse of Complex Societies”

Tainter, Joseph, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Dr. Patricia McAnany on ‘Questioning Maya Collapse: A Reconsideration of Apocalyptic Narratives  (podcast)

McAnany, Patricia (Ed), Yoffee, Norman (Ed), Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Questioning Collapse challenges those scholars and popular writers who advance the thesis that societies – past and present – collapse because of behavior that destroyed their environments or because of overpopulation. In a series of highly accessible and closely argued essays, a team of internationally recognized scholars bring history and context to bear in their radically different analyses of iconic events, such as the deforestation of Easter Island, the cessation of the Norse colony in Greenland, the faltering of nineteenth-century China, the migration of ancestral peoples away from Chaco Canyon in the American southwest, the crisis and resilience of Lowland Maya kingship, and other societies that purportedly “collapsed.” Collectively, these essays demonstrate that resilience in the face of societal crises, rather than collapse, is the leitmotif of the human story from the earliest civilizations to the present. Scrutinizing the notion that Euro-American colonial triumphs were an accident of geography, Questioning Collapse also critically examines the complex historical relationship between race and political labels of societal “success” and “failure.”


Daniel Hillel and the Natural History of The Bible

April 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

ABSTRACT: The Middle East encompasses five ecological domains: (1) the humid highlands and their intermontane valleys, where rainfed farming was begun and permanent settlements were first established; (2) the semi-arid steppes, where the lesser amount and instability of rainfall made rainfed farming marginal but still provided vegetative resources that could be utilized by semi-nomadic pastoralists; (3) the river valleys, where irrigated farming was practiced in the floodplains and hydraulic works (including diversion canals and ponding basins) were developed; (4) the seacoasts, where fishing, seafaring, and maritime trade were practiced; and (5) the deserts, where a sparse population subsisted by hunting and occasional marauding, and eventually by becoming caravaneers conveying products such as herbs and spices overland from distant sources to centers of population. In each of these domains, a distinctive culture evolved, characterized by a specific set of precepts, beliefs, and rituals based on the deification and worship of the dominant forces of nature whose interplay seemed to govern the particular environment. In an exposition more fully elucidated in his forthcoming book The natural history of the Bible: an ecological reading of the scriptures, the author hypothesizes that it was the encompassing ecological experience of the ancient Israelites (who shifted from one domain to another in the early course of their history) that enabled them to perceive the overarching unity of all nature and therefore to begin worshipping a single God. The holistic perception of nature as an integrated domain governed by consistent principles was compatible with, and probably contributed to, the much later advent of modern science.


DANIEL HILLEL is Professor Emeritus of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently Visiting Senior Research Associate at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He serves as a consultant to the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and also works at the Center for Environmental Studies at Karkur, Israel. He is the author of 20 books and well over 200 papers in the area of environmental physics.

In The Beginning, There Was Eros.

April 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

“These things declare to me from the beginning, you Muses who dwell in the house of Olympus, [115] and tell me which of them first came to be. In truth at first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation of all1the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, [120] and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them.

— Hesiod, “Theogony,” 7th century BCE, (lines 114-138)

“Sing, Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues [ 15 ]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant…”
—  John Milton, 1667, “Paradise Lost”, Book 1, (lines 17-22)

      “IMMORTAL LOVE! who ere the morn of Time,
On wings outstretch’d, o’er Chaos hung sublime;
Warm’d into life the bursting egg of Night,
And gave young Nature to admiring Light!—
YOU! whose wide arms, in soft embraces hurl’d
Round the vast frame, connect the whirling world!
Whether immers’d in day, the Sun your throne,
You gird the planets in your silver zone;
Or warm, descending on ethereal wing,
The Earth’s cold bosom with the beams of spring;
Press drop to drop, to atom atom bind,
Link sex to sex, or rivet mind to mind;
Attend my song!—With rosy lips rehearse,
And with your polish’d arrows write my verse!—

— Erasmus Darwin, 1802, “The Temple of Nature,” Book 1, (lines 15-28)

“EDITOR’S NOTE: l. 15. This address to Immortal Love conflates many different ideas. It alludes to the opening of Genesis, by way of Milton’s invocation of the Holy Spirit, which “with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast abyss / And mad’st it pregnant” (Paradise Lost, I, 20-22); but it also echoes the invocation to the love-goddess Venus which opens Lucretius’s materialist poem De Rerum Natura (I, 1-49). For “the egg of Night” (17), see III, 178n, where Darwin quotes from Aristophanes’s The Birds: “sable-winged night produced an egg, from whence sprung up like a blossom Eros, the lovely, the desirable, with glossy golden wings.” Darwin distinguishes this “celestial” creative Eros (who reappears as the god of “Sentimental Love” in Canto III) from the “terrestrial” god of sexual love Cupid (the dominant deity of Canto II, on Reproduction). Early drafts make this identification clearer by addressing the present passage to “Celestial Love.” Darwin had already explored these ideas in notes toThe Economy of Vegetation, discussing the Aristophanes quote more fully (I, 413n), and (in The Economy of Vegetation, I, 101n) linking the image of “the egg of Night” (17) to the idea of evolution, in single organisms, in the formation of the earth and finally between species: “From having observed the gradual evolution of the young animal or plant from its egg or seed . . . , philosophers of all ages seem to have imagined, that the great world itself had likewise its infancy and gradual progress to maturity; this seems to have given origin to the very ancient and sublime allegory of Eros, or Divine Love, producing the world from the egg of Night, as it floated in Chaos.” Darwin goes on to link this idea to evidence that the earth’s crust has built up slowly, and that many plants and animals display “useless or incomplete appendages,” suggesting development from or towards other species.”

For more on Eros, its grip on our psyche and the consequences of unrestrained “terrestrial” Eros, download a PDF of my Senior Thesis: Marketing Magicians of the Shopocalypse: Eros, Advertising and… the End of the World? 

ABSTRACT: The modern marketing profession is not merely the child of 20th century capitalism. It is also an heir to the theories and traditions of Renaissance magic. In particular, Giordano Bruno’s techniques of “bonding” and his special version of the classical “art of memory” provide the basis for especially effective forms of integrated brand promotion which combine the raw power of human desire with an appeal to the archetypal nature of the human psyche. This article examines the Classical origins of Bruno’s theories and techniques as well as some of their modern marketing usages in an attempt to ascertain how they have brought humanity to the brink of extinction through the stimulation of consumer frenzy, and how they might help us survive.

From the Conclusion: Both lover and beloved, then, have together succumbed to the incessant whinnying of the corporeal horse (the lower Eros), exercising little to no self-restraint. The consumer/beloved engages in self destructive behavior at the behest of the manufacturer/lover, and the cycle of dysfunctional codependence perpetuates itself to the brink of annihilation. This is precisely the kind of self destructive greed which caused Wall Street to crumble at the expense of taxpayers and which lurks in the trash-strewn epicenter of the Shopocalypse.

This “hubris,” as Plato calls it “when desire rules in us and drags us toward pleasure in a manner contrary to reason,” has its remedy in its opposite, or “judiciousness,” which occurs “when judgment guides us by reason toward what is best and is strong enough to prevail.” Given how undisciplined it has become, regaining control over the ornery horse will not be easy. However, the task of bringing the two horses back into balance under the rational authority of the charioteer is crucial to human development, as it constitutes the process whereby the soul regains its wings. Once desires have been tempered and the wings regrown, the soul may once again partake in the procession of Zeus, gazing out once more over the rim of heaven to look upon the “things which are.”

‎”Because of Eros, and through it, all of Nature is turned into a great Sorceress.”

— Iaon P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, p. 87

Bibliography and Works Cited:

Bernays, Edward. (1928). Propaganda. Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing.

Bernays, Edward. (1935). “Molding Public Opinion.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 179, 82-87.

Bernays, Edward. (1947). “The Engineering of Consent.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 250, 113-120.

Bernays, Edward. (1971). Emergence of the Public Relations Counsel: Principles and Recollections. The Business History Review, Vol. 45, No. 3, 296-316

Berthon, Pierre; Holbrook, Morris; Hulbert, James. (2003). “Understanding and Managing the Brand Space.” MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 44, No 2, 50-51

Bruno, Giordano. (1590, reissued 1998). Blackwell, Richard & de Lucca, Robert, ed. “A General Account of Bonding.” Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle and Unity: And Essays on Magic. Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press. 145-176.

Bruno, Giordano. (1590, reissued 1998). Blackwell, Richard & de Lucca, Robert, ed. “On Magic.” Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle and Unity: And Essays on Magic. Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press. 103-142.

Bruno, Giordano. (1591, reissued 1991). Higgins, Dick, ed. On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas. New York, NY: Willis, Locker and Owens. Couliano, Iaon P. (1987). Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Curtis, Adam. (Producer). (2002, April 29). The Century of the Self, Episode 1: Happiness Machines [Television program]. BBC.

Dawkins, Richard. (1976). The Selfish Gene. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Ficino, Marsilio. Jayne, Sears, tr. (1484, reissued 1985). Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.

Freud, Sigmund. (1927, reissued 1989). The Future of an Illusion. New York, NY: Norton.

Freud, Sigmund. (1930, reissued 1989). Civilization and its Discontents. New York, NY: Norton.

Jhally, Sut. (1997). Advertising and the End of the World. [Film]. Media Education Foundation.

Jung, Carl. (1961). Memories, Dreams Reflections. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Kendall, Henry, ed. (1992). Union of Concerned Scientists (group). World Scientist’s Warning to Humanity. Retrieved May 12, 2009 from http://www.ucsusa.org/about/1992-world-scientists.html

Kristeller, Paul O.; Conant, Virginia L., tr. (1943). The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Lindstrom, Martin. (2008). Buy-ology: Truth and Lies about What We Buy. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Mark, Margaret. (2001). Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill.

Nelson, John. (1958). Renaissance Theory of Love. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Plato. (385 BCE, reissued 1991). Allen, R.E., tr. The Symposium. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.

Plato. (380 BCE, reissued 2000). Griffith, Tom, tr.; Ferrari, G.R.F., ed. The Republic. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Plato. (370 BCE, reissued, 1993). Cobb, William S., tr. The Symposium and The Phaedrus: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

VanAlkemade, Rob. (Director). (2007). What Would Jesus Buy? [Film]. Warrior Poets Releasing.

Walker, D.P. (1958, reissued 2003). Spiritual and Demonic Magic. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Wertime, Kent. (2002). Building Brands and Believers: How to Connect with Consumers Using Archetypes. Sommerset, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Woodside, Arch, G.; Sood, Suresh; Miller, Kenneth, E. (2008). “When Consumers and Brands Talk: Storytelling Theory and Research in Psychology and Marketing.” Psychology and Marketing, Vol.25, No. 2, 97-145.

Yates, Francis A. (1991). Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

The Temple of Nature

April 14, 2011 - Leave a Response

Preface to Erasmus Darwin’s Temple of Nature:

“The Poem, which is here offered to the Public, does not pretend to instruct by deep researches of reasoning; its aim is simply to amuse by bringing distinctly to the imagination the beautiful and sublime images of the operations of Nature in the order, as the Author believes, in which the progressive course of time presented them.

“The Deities of Egypt, and afterwards of Greece, and Rome, were derived from men famous in those early times, as in the ages of hunting, pasturage, and agriculture. The histories of some of their actions recorded in Scripture, or celebrated in the heathen mythology, are introduced, as the Author hopes, without impropriety into his account of those remote periods of human society.

“In the Eleusinian mysteries the philosophy of the works of Nature, with the origin and progress of society, are believed to have been taught by allegoric scenery explained by the Hierophant to the initiated, which gave rise to the machinery of the following Poem.

Priory near Derby,
Jan. 1, 1802.

Le Sacre Du Printemps Part 1: Genesis, or, 

“The Adoration of the Earth”

Le Sacre Du Printemps, Part 2: Evolution

Le Sacre Du Printemps, Part 3: Extinction, or,

The Exalted Sacrifice”

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