Bahati’s Papers: The Nature of Civilisation
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Projecting belief systems.
Would a parent leave children home-alone? Why would we expect a God to be any different? For which read: what good is a deity who is distant or aloof?
Worshippers frequently expect God to be like an over-zealous, ever-present parent. A God interested in how individual members of the flock conduct themselves; down to the minutest of details. God becomes anthropomorphised. To critique Him on the basis of arbitrarily assumed anthropomorphic attributes is hardly a compelling argument. Debates on whether God is fashioned like us are likewise pointless.
Idealised goals of society.
Think of the role that God is expected to fill in undeveloped societies. To be an absolute authority on rules, moral guidance, schooling and other forms of passed on instructions; to be the authentic source of ideals. Some become obsessed and zealous; so additional rules for them! All to tie in with social objectives. Idealised goals of society.
A brave researcher might deign to not notice this.
Rules and beliefs.
People share social mores and values; this can’t occur in isolation. All play their part in society. This means rules. There are those to whom compliance with rules becomes all-important. Their lives revolve around it and it becomes an obsession. Compliance With The Rules takes on a life of its own. The link to shared values becomes distorted or broken. Whether driven by ignorance, petty vindictiveness, or misplaced belief in The Importance of Rules, this is nurtured in isolation.
Imagine an ancient people venerating their social mores to the point of worship. From our point of view their religion is wrapped up in superstition.
People obsessed by rules and – superstitious worship – what’s the difference?
Darwin and extinction events
Darwin observed adaptation and generalised it into evolution. Revolutionary, yet all he explained was adaptation into niches. This glosses over extinction events…
Morality and laboratories
I could always just implant the DNA, wait until the embryos are spawned, then grow them as controls and variants and learn from the results. Follow this approach through though. I have. It would produce little more than freaks. Sure certain objectives would be achieved – look at the work of Mengele and Milgram. Surely they weighed up that point. So have I.
How much do I value my principles? At what point am I willing to sacrifice them? Consider the consequences – people with no cultural reference other than being experimental laboratory subjects. Thinking, feeling and sentient. Real people. They won’t fit easily into well-known cultural models; if we to try to merge them into society we create social misfits. And we know the perils of that. Should we leave the subjects to come to terms with their uniqueness? I consider that irresponsible.
I address this by providing a distinct and unique cultural identity. So I rule out Mid-American normality, which comes with baggage and itself is little more than recent transplant. It would be neither unique nor authentic, thus it can hardly validate a sense of identity. Besides it wouldn’t stretch us and heaven knows, for what we are about to attempt, we need bigger challenges to get us up speed.
RUSH is an acronym for Research Utility for Synthesized Humans. The system is a framework that holds a number of mini-worlds, each of which envisions a specific cultural tableau, e.g. la belle époque (Paris and environs), pre-Mongol Khwarezm (Balkh), Yoruba (Ilé-Ifè). There are others but these are the most developed. A mini-world is capable of containing many tableaux but for practical reasons i.e. budget, I mandate the use of one-to-one relationships.
Each cultural tableau begins with a data set. I assemble the data sets and oversee their embedding into the RUSH environment. Tableau development is done from within RUSH. When we have fully worked out everything, we have a complete mini-world. Those that have reached practical completion are as noted. As far as total completion is concerned; this, like tomorrow, never happens; there is always more detail to load.
The mini-worlds are used to convey cultural identity. Yoruba was the first control; I (of course) know its make-up. Others are test environments used to determine how robust the system is.
Lost genetic detail
I put a lot of effort into getting genetic samples; especially if they are public domain. RUSH won’t function if its budget is exhausted, and private sector costs. Nor will it function without a library and an empty library means we haven’t done our work.
Ultimately the project aims to reconstitute dead branches that have been lost from our genetic heritage. Prehistory contains several events that all but brought human development to a full stop. Hindsight is wonderful – but only if you survive.
Toba is an example. Human genetic history from before the Toba event of 75,000 years ago seems to be sourced only in Africa. This event cut us down to less than 10,000 breeding human couples. Given it was a category eight volcano eruption, that’s unsurprising. That’s the biggest full stop we know of affecting the human genetic tree. After the event, humanity did what all genetic lines do; that is, expand to fit newly vacant niches.
Think of Toba as a reset button. The button is pressed, lots of life is wiped and new life takes centre stage. As for survival of the fittest, that’s the Malthusian control when ecological niches are close to full. As always, this brings me round to Darwin. He’s fine as a starting point and his theory was an extinction event for other ideas; yet market place laissez-faire transplanted to ecological niches leaves many questions unanswered.
So is Darwin debunked? He didn’t rate catastrophes.
Hardly. Darwin was and is still hugely influential in demonstrating the value of an organised approach to the collection and preparation of materials in the conduct of scientific enquiry. If later work happens to show a flaw in received wisdom, that is only the correct operation of scientific method. Having said that, what happens to interest us are the dead ends. So the team looks for pre-Toba habitation and checks lands that ought to have been habitable in the past. Right now some of these happen to be inundated.
If that sounds a vast task, it is. There are poor gleanings from this and I hardly expect things to pick up. Yet that gives me time to prepare a cradle; that our children might have identity.
Do I hate playing God? Should I consider the team to consist of fiends and monsters, unfit to continue this project for this great nation of ours? No. These children, should they come to be, will have a thing that they can cherish: their own identity.
At the height of the most recent Ice Age, what happens? The hominid species best adapted for these climactic conditions, homo neanderthalensis, ups and dies out. Why? All the factors seem to point the other way.
The big idea in favour of Neanderthals was that of the lone successful hunter. A single individual would have been a formidable fighter. Against that is the thought that, compared to us, they weren’t very sociable. This would have limited their ability to organise themselves. But husbandry of their home, their environs and even animals wouldn’t have been beyond them. Over the millennia they must have explored their environment. They were something new and must have seen they could inhabit the apex of their food chain.
It is tempting to hypothesise what they were like. Could they talk? They certainly had the brain capacity for it. The evidence suggests they had greater brain capacity than other hominids. Would they have had any social structures? Not as we know it. Civilisation? I find it difficult to imagine they were incapable of articulating abstract concepts.
But what? Bards? Taboos? Mumbo jumbo? In turn, repositories of wisdom and of knowledge, ways of channelling social activity, the language of beliefs; all paths well worn by pre-literate societies and all useful in regulating societies. Those ways were ours and I have every confidence that that model has stood the test of time. Would they have chosen these ways? Could they have provided structure and balance to their affairs differently? Who knows?
Why would primitive peoples give a name to an undesirable type of behaviour?
By naming a thing, you define it, you take the first steps in analysing it. You gain power over it, rather than vice versa. This is the power of words. All orally transmitted. All from a time before written knowledge. Before literacy, before history.
Are oral traditions obsolete? Didn’t they die out?
Oral traditions are harder to maintain, especially against the impact of, or in the context of a more advanced civilisation. Literary traditions are more organised, more clearly defined for the impersonal transmission of knowledge. Conversely it is harder keep written traditions relevant, keep them pointing the right way, or spot when the only function they perform is self-perpetuation.
If a tradition or a religion outlives its original purpose, it is no less a belief system. By the same measure, primitive mumbo jumbo is also a belief system. When is a belief system still relevant? The worship and veneration of tokens can indicate degeneration. Is pragmatism the only test? Must beliefs conform to some utilitarian function? Who sets the test? How?
Written systems are more pernicious when they go bad; sensible solutions are neglected in favour of the rule book.
We need to change our language and the way we think to properly comprehend and… but where’d the fun be if all the answers were obvious?