History repeating

Standing up for truth

My heart hurts for the innocent this evening. But if I’m honest, what I think I really feel is fear. Anxiety based upon a bursting of assumption. Assumption that tragedy of war only befalls distant shores.

I’m in awe of the bravery of the peoples of Ukraine tonight. And those in Russia prepared to stand up and break a silence upon what now unfolds.

As World War Two was becoming history, Karl Jaspers wrote his classic book “The origin and goal of history”. Publish in 1953. A monumental piece of philosophical discourse. He asserts that the human project only has 6,000 years of history, because to have history requires means to remember. He writes, “only with history did man become truly human” (Jaspers 1953, pp57). He is making the case that with history comes potentiality as well as substance; our transitory nature becomes a conscious reality and with it an ever-present awareness of our time and mortality; calling the individual to action amidst a historical perspective; this dependently acquired set of beliefs.

I read this book over Christmas, thinking how powerful his insights. Coming as they did, so soon after the Second World War. I also read his work thinking he was writing in a very different age. This week, we seem to be dragged back a little closer to that time again.

Karl Jaspers was a Swiss-German. He was a psychotherapist, turned scholar of philosophy. Brilliant, but without a philosophical position of his own, his name is less well known than other Germans of this time. Most notably Martin Heidegger, who infamously took to Nazism. Jaspers, married to a Jew, and generally regarded as the better human being than Heidegger became, is inevitably less well remembered.

In this same era – the era of propaganda and mass communication owing to the availability of radio – another psychological perspective was published in 1953. This was Carl Hovland and Yale University who explained persuasion inspired by the effectiveness of messaging in World War Two. The Hovland/Yale model, remains the prominent means to explain the critical importance of “who says what to whom”. It explains our susceptibility to propaganda. This model became the foundation stone of sales, marketing, and what we know to be the power of persuasion.

These insights came from moments of heightened uncertainty. Where a disdain to historic reality had prevailed. By those seeking to own truth, rather than speak it.

Today this same owned truth, is heard once more, in its insidious glory. Abroad. But also at home. What must prevail is the demand that we judge leadership that takes care for truth. And through that lens we must call out all who dare lead by weaponising truth. For it is they few alone, who are dealing out this new despair. In the name of owned truth.

A weekend short story

Peace in our time

A weekend blog. A short-story fiction of sorts. In my leisure time I consider Arthur C Clarke wrote some of the best. I think his legacy is safe…

It seems to me that a universal truth holds. That when explorers set forth into the unknown – enabled by advancements in civilisation technology – and motivated to seek out new claims of ownership and fame – the outcome is always the same. Any lead in technology presents real threat to whomever is playing would be host. The recipient to the uninvited guests. Arriving unannounced. From a place not known. Whether such host chooses to act in friendship or hostility the result is pre-ordained. The visitors get what they came for. The hosts plundered, usurped, vassaled, or slain. History tells us it is always the same.

So it was when our first explorers arrived. All that time ago. Arriving as the technologically more advanced. We the more enlightened. More sophisticated in our ways.

We were perhaps different to most. Less dependent upon our traditions. More disciplined to a cause. Honour in service. Contributing to a future of more. Investing in foundations. Learning but neither squandering or marvelling in what has come before.

We had overcome introspection, and our need for proprietary gain. We found uneasy peace through the gearing up of shared wisdom and so began advancing at pace. Less respectful of our elder’s ways, but more sure of our rightful place. We turned attention to the now, and committing to our future generations with grace.

Encouraged by our success – as we needed less – so we grew anew. Safer in our endeavour. Doing more dangerous things safer. The less risk we had to encounter, the more that we could face. Reducing our distance between each other, we instead put distance between ourselves and all physical interface. So we learnt what war teaches only in part. Communication, leads to cooperation, leads to collaborative success. Shared adventure, and shared awareness of needs. Able to then venture further. Optimising collective potential. Prioritising shared goal. Now leading this next expansion race.

This is how we were first to arrive. I think that is perhaps what hurt them the most. Our pace. Our ability to adapt but also make haste. To assess, to see, to make our intentions be. The speed of change we set upon them. Their fate was sealed the moment we met. We gauged their atmosphere but they had not the wit to gauge ours. For our leading edge met their face. But our face was still back home, taking in all from distant place. Safe in our own atmosphere.

It was with some good fortune that we encountered their strongest first. Fortunate for them. For in lost hope they saved lives. Not all, but enough.

They, of course, deemed themselves advanced. Like all do when competing with all-comer and yet feeling unopposed. And in comparison to their peers perhaps they were. Their place was claimed. In all that they knew to be home, they had conquered. And then prospered. A whole history of war to make better peace had made these people the first. The first to connect all upon their lands as one.

Imagine the shock-waves that ran through their kind. The news passing from one to the next. That the worst nightmares of fiction, of evil, or worse, had arrived. Arrived and made short work of their best. The panic as all wondered if we were coming for the rest. Knowing now they were not alone. A disruption to an entire existence. All suddenly unknown. Unreal. And so close to home. Not having the words or means to put name to our weapons, or our beasts.

Not that a fiction, or evil, or worse, had arrived. Not that we are anything as domineering to those we find. But first contacts determine power, and sometimes there must be clarity before we can be kind.

And like all conquered conquerers we meet, this is our shared first contact history. The less technically advanced are called savages. Yet we the vanquishing heroes must perhaps admit to being the savages. For being less when we could have been more. At least back then. A history of dark moments, one to the next. Mass murder. Genocides. Whole communities ravaged, or enslaved. Forced to submit. Powerless. Bewildered. Broken in body, disillusioned of spirit. No longer the superior race, with their crown displaced.

In this account like all others we claim betterment by time. That was long ago. We do not dwell on such moments now. It’s easier to forget how we arrived. What we forced our unwitting hosts to do to survive. It is not a history we can tell as the centrepiece of culture. Not to all of us who begin now to arrive. We who are now settling and claiming to be the civilised. The kind, the noble, and the just. We are superior but we live together with our usurped hosts. Respectful in our own way. We are no longer the strangers or the enemy.

Nor can they, our hosts, themselves claim an innocence. It is not like they had not lived the same. We now share language, and culture, and blame. We also respect their history, and allow them to celebrate their past. Hence, why it is an oddly appropriate reflection. Thanksgiving of a different kind. Their celebrations and commiserations not too different to our own. Just as distorted and reworded to make themselves right. Giving fair reason to their truth. Reason for their use of might. To bring worthy in their fight.

But nor are we necessarily friends. We are as neighbour to those that remain. And they live amongst us as equals – or that’s what we claim. They work with us, and us with them. We all move freely and interact. We share our technology with them. We have a peace pact. In theory any one of them could become a leader to us all. Indeed many have come to be great. But we retain all advantage, for being able to be more with less. They are living free. Freedom in name, but they are not free of form.

So that is how it comes to pass. That we were the first to breakthrough. No more curious. No more communicative. But more transient and therefore more quickly sharing perspectives and quicker to advance. Finding ever new place within. And soon we found more ways to be without. Less physical in our needs. More capable in our deeds. Less separable as creeds. Downloading enough of our being to be represented by a manufacturer class. Self-replicating in parts. Doing the dirty, the menial, and the dangerous task. Travelling the greater distance. Transmitting what was found. Making contact. Making assessment. Making ready. Until we could arrive with our spirit in tact. To make ourselves welcome. Ready or not – we arrive ready.

Soon we can all hope to hold heads high together. For we few are not yet finished closing distance. Communicating anew. Cooperating in the extreme. Collaborations close – almost as one. After all this time, since our scouts first arrived, we have compared history, and means. We see much upon which we agree. Our manner of expansion, exploitation, and growth. Our altruism. Our hypocrisy. Conflicts with idealism, analytical realism, and faith.

But we remain different. The them, and the us. We do not look alike. The biomechanics of our scouts give no means to unite our tribes. Or at least not yet. For we won the human race without even showing our face. And we have one more surprise to reveal. One more privilege of knowledge. And with it, we bring one more ordeal. For our Earth hosts offer form in an alien atmosphere. We offer a symbiosis of spirit and the real. And we arrive with the technology – so its a done deal.

1621

History repeating

I wanted to research Thanksgiving with some depth tonight, but I’m midway through an university experiment write-up that is not going to thank itself. So, here’s the best resource I found as I worked through the many 400 year anniversary tributes. {here}

I will confess to finding the underlying sentiment more worthy of celebrating than the contemporary norm. A story of two bands of cultures, with nothing shared but need of mutual help from common threats. Both peoples seeking peaceful means to be. Neither understanding the other but both using social skills to build relationships with mutual support in mind. And not a turkey to be seen anywhere.

Meanwhile in 1621 Europe much trouble is brewing still. Catholic and Protestant wars on the continent rage on. The high seas are full of privateering awash with plunders of ill-gotten silver and gold. These are chaotic times, amid bouts of famine, wars, and plague. Plenty of reasons to be risking all to find a life anew. Many more ships will soon be bringing these old politics to new shores.

Wishing all who give Thanks today a peaceful few days. Plenty of contemporary need for that moment of community spirit – between very different peoples – if we are to make headway into thanks for the next 400 years…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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Gunpowder Plot

One example of how much change and chance we live in

Guy Fawkes was neither the ring leader nor the instigator of the atrocity he was thwarted from concluding. A few readings this evening and I know this little pocket of history a little better.

1605 was a torrid time in European history. Martin Luther and the protestant break from the Catholic church (1517 onwards) was still a major new force of change. The might of the Spanish charge over Catholic Europe facing up to this new threat. The Spanish Armada limping home in 1588 still a recent memory. A recurring revolt from the vassalage of the protestant Netherlands refusing to acknowledge new Spanish suitors in their realm. Uprising, rebellions, and a regularity of revolt facing monarchy of all nations through this time.

If I wished, I could write many more chapters on the wars between Catholics and Protestants. But I won’t. It was a dreadful era.

Ernst Gombrich “A little history of the world” opening line of Chapter 30 – Terrible Times

Confessions to priests was a cleansing of the soul but was it more than just God listening in? In the power games of this era there was fear in both this world and the next. There was paranoia aplenty and every court of every King was a place of high visibility of riches on display, the favours of high office and of church.

In England, Henry VIII had made much of the protestant opportunity. A period thereafter of short-lived reigns and then a strength of a Virgin Queen to whom all England stayed openly intolerant of Catholic practice

A faith divided in Europe

Throughout Queen Elizabeth’s reign, until 1603, Catholics were forced into hiding, enforced conversion, forced into debt, or required to die at the stake for their faith.

Not that Catholic Spain or France were offering more tolerance. We can observe this at much greater scale. The first encounter between the Inca and Spain was in 1532. On 16th November the Conquistador Francisco Pizzaro met the absolute monarch and most powerful leader of the Inca. This was Atahuallpa, a man held to be a sun-god by his people. And these were the most advanced civilisation of the New World. Conquerors or unifiers of all lands they knew. A Conquistador of Spain, meeting the deity of a race.

They met at a Peruvian highland town of Cajamarca. Pizzaro represented the Holy Empire of Spain and led 168 men, in unfamiliar surroundings, and one thousand miles from any support. Atahuallpa was in the middle of his empire of millions of people, accompanied by a war-ready 80,000 troops. Yet within minutes of the first encounter, the Catholic faith had been offered and declined, melee quickly ensued, and with great loss of their Elite men, Atahuallpa was captured and forcibly detained. He was to be held hostage for 6 months until a ransom of gold able to fill a 22ftx11ftx8ft space was paid. Atahuallpa was a sun-god to his people. His capture was a shock to the core of an existence. It was the first time horse or gunpowder had been seen, heard, and keenly felt. With a sun-god imprisoned, the Spanish could insist upon safe passage of scouts to map the wider terrain. The delivery of gold marked the execution of their sun-god. Reinforcements had arrived to drop off more troops and carry away the gold. And Europeans advanced across a new map (Jared Diamond, 2015 pp67 ff).

In these times, we can better understand the motivations of people through their faith. Everything was at stake between European powers. The Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order of priests founded by St Ignatius Loyola – 1534 – were Men of high education, high resolve, and zealous in opposing the Reformation. These Jesuits acting by sanctioned authority of the Pope from 1541 and soon at the front line of education in Europe, missionary settlement in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. For the world was now being connected, and Europe was gearing up for new cause in the name of their faith, their Kingdoms, or themselves. To understand the politics of Guy Fawkes, this greater tension and ambition must be known.

Lat Am silver trading for grain

New coin from new world metals were being imported (exploited) from South America, repurposed as coin, and exchanged for foods from a more arable north. A dynamic of trade in a time of intolerance, tensions, fear of starvation, and war.

Food stuffs were being introduced from the new world too. New influences and new reasons to be taking interest in seeking to influence, even more so than what the feudal era had been.

The potato beginning to feed a European population
Spain was dominating Lat Am
British and Dutch protestant settlers

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 sits amidst this wider history. Fireworks representing the 35 kegs of gunpowder retrieved from under the Houses of Westminster. Bonfires are lit with a Guy upon them. Whether we know it or not, what we celebrate was the foil of a terrorist plot. In an age when terror was a weapon of faith, power, and vanquish. This one act, motivated by a persecuted Catholic supporting minority, in one pocket of a much bigger political plot. Two sides made this plot. The reforming others delicately balancing their own powers, that unites behind a feared Catholic ambitions. Ambition to return former outside political influence back to a British (and wider European) set of thrones.

In England, Rome’s excommunication of a Queen’s power (1570) was a formal acknowledgement to which fractures of faith were destined to remain inflamed. A unifying King of England and Scotland anointed in 1603. Power base splits born of a basic choice, as influence and interests at home or in Rome. Add to this the Netherlands breaking from Spain. A European wide 30 Year War not far away (1618-1648). In England a war of three Kingdoms awaited the next King – a King who lost his divinity, his crown, and his head.

These were terrible times to live through indeed.

Not that this era of reformation (of the Western Christian Church) can be considered an isolated incident of power and monotheistic belief colliding with violence. History reflects many such moments. From Roman rise once Christianity found its way in. Or the splits reflected at the Battle of Karbala which was as much about control of tributes as it was a divine hereditary or meritocracy dispute. This has been a reality of life and death since the Axial Revolution.

Monotheists have tended to be far more fanatical and missionary than polytheists. A religion that recognises the legitimacy of other faiths implies either that its god is not the supreme power of the universe, or that it received from God just part of the universal truth. Since monotheists have usually believed that they are in possession of the entire message of the one and only God, they have been compelled to discredit all other religions. Over the last two millennia, monotheists repeatedly tried to strengthen their hand by violently exterminating all competition.

Yuval Noah Harari 2011 “Sapiens : A brief history of Humankind” pp243

So what of Guy Fawkes, what now does he represent? If he had succeeded the power vacuum would have been immense. The opposing force of interest at home and abroad ever ready to steer interests their way. But the Gunpowder plot was betrayed from within. Per the London Encyclopaedia 3rd edition 2008, he was betrayed from within a conspiracy party of 30. His original co-conspirators had planned their deed at Hart’s Horn Tavern, Carter Lane, EC4. They were Robert Catesby, Thomas Winwith, Thomas Percy, John Wright, and Guy Fawkes (pp365). There is some debate as to who betrayed the plot, but a tight group of five needed to swell to a looser thirty trusted men. Lives of a King, his family of all heirs, a parliamentary elite and the great and the good were saved. On arrest gruesome torture would have awaited at the Lieutenant’s lodgings within the Tower of London (pp929). Guy Fawkes was tried at Westminster Hall – (Parliament Sq. SW1, (pp1011). Executed by hanging, but taken down alive to know of the drawing out of all innards, before being quartered by horses at Old Palace Yard SW1, 1606 (pp601). The four quartered limbs would have been sent to the four corners of Britain. Heads of all conspirators would have been left atop spikes to look upon a London now readying for world-wide change.

If they had succeeded, how different the world may have been.

Sources:

  • Overy, R. “Complete History of the World : the ultimate work of historical refence” 6th Edition, 2004. The Times, Mapping History. Illustrations pp201-213
  • Yuval Noah Harari “Sapiens : A brief history of Humankind” 2011. Vintage edition 2015, pp243
  • Gombrich, EH. “A little history of the world” 1936. English translation 2008
  • Weinreb, B., Hibbert, C., Keay, J., Keay, J. “The London Encyclopaedia : Completely revised third edition”. ed. 3, 2008 MacMillan London Limited
  • This YouTube video is also worth a watch

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: