The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
By Julian Jaynes
First Mariner Books ISBN 0-618-05707-2
Do you ever long for certainty?
Do you wish that you had a direct line to God, especially during those times when you are really unsure about what direction to take in your life? Would you like to be able to reach deep inside yourself and just know the right answer? Well according to the theory of the bicameral mind, and its part in the origin of consciousness, we all do have that facility within our brains. In fact it was originally all we did have, as it preceded that sense of I or me, our very own subjective consciousness which we all have today. Julian Jaynes published his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, in 1976 and the waves of influence have been spreading out ever since. The first sixty pages of his book are to me, the most immediately confronting and mind expanding – as they focus on what consciousness actually is or is not.
I mean consciousness is not mere reactivity or being awake, it is much more than that isn’t it? Think about what your sense of consciousness is to you. Where is your consciousness located? Is it somewhere on or in your body? What purpose does your consciousness serve? Is it so that you can learn things? Jaynes lists a number of scientific studies showing that our ability to learn things is not dependent upon our sense of consciousness and is actually impeded by it – a perfect example is when we are overly self-conscious we cannot perform basic tasks that involve motor skills like talking. Try it now, try speaking and at the same time focus on your articulation, bringing your full consciousness to bear on every enunciated syllable. How each vibrational sound is made inside your throat – you will just stop speaking as it becomes overwhelming.
Our consciousness is also not a perfect copy of our experiences; it is not some recording device taking impressions of memories and storing them. You can show this to yourself by asking yourself what information you can remember about walking into the last room you walked into. Try remembering what was in the room and where, get a piece of paper and write down your results. You will find that you have very little to show for it, so our consciousnesses are not providing this service. Jaynes goes on to say, that when we recall a memory, we do not call up the actual physical memory but a generalised version of it largely invented by ourselves to represent whatever it is – swimming or walking in a park. The memory is a construct involving thoughts we have about the activities and often is influenced by how we imagine others see us swimming or walking – so our consciousness is not a faithful recording of reality.
What Julian Jaynes does posit, is where our sense of consciousness has come about from, and he points the finger at language and in particular languages love of metaphor. In fact he states language is largely metaphor and shows how many words have their roots in metaphor, for example the verb ‘to be’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘bhu’- meaning to grow, or make grow. Similarly our English words ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the Sanskrit ‘asmi’- meaning to breathe. Think to yourself now just how many times our language references other familiar pictures to describe less familiar things. For example how we use parts of the human body to describe parts of other things, like the face of a clock, cliff, card; and the eyes of needles, storms, potatoes; the lips of cups, craters; and the tongues of shoes, joints; and the teeth of winds, cogs etc. Indeed we reference and compare constantly with language, in the meaning of the words themselves and in the expressions we invent to make metaphors with. The vastness of language over several millennia means that we lose touch with its incredible elasticity and tend to think of it as some solid construct, missing the obvious evidence it has to show us about ourselves and the origin of consciousness.
It is through the ability to metaphor that the modern lexicon of our language is able to remain a reasonably finite collection of words. Otherwise like the Inuit we would have to have 150 different words for snow. Jaynes talks about the function of metaphor being one of creating understanding through familiarity. We use a familiar example to shine a light on something less familiar, but ultimately this brings us a limited understanding based entirely on the quality of the metaphor employed. I would go on to say that it means we actually know far less than we think we do. An example of this would be our understanding of what happens during an electrical storm, we have learnt at school that it involves air pressure, vacuums and particle friction but we have no real direct experience of what happens and only a theoretical knowledge of it. Our sense of subjective consciousness is based on how we perceive existence through the use of language and referencing through metaphor. It is like the relationship between a map and the geographical reality of what has been mapped. So ultimately our knowledge of reality is a tenuous one at best and it is riddled with theoretical understandings based on metaphorical language constructs. You think you know stuff that you don’t really.
Where does that certainty principle, I mentioned at the beginning, fit into this? It seems like we are getting further and further away from that shore of assurance. Well Jaynes postulates, that prior to the development of our illusory sense of subjective consciousness, we had a fully operating God spot in the right hemisphere of our temporal lobe and it was here that we received direct transmission from the divine. He lists a number of studies into the brain, where scientists have removed sections and whole hemispheres to reveal what areas of the brain are responsible for particular functions and how the brain adapts. He gives a fascinating example where a dozen neurosurgical patients have undergone a complete commissurotomy, the cutting of all interconnections between the two hemispheres down the middle, as a treatment for severe epilepsy. For a period of about two months some patients lose the power of speech, but gradually they all return to a sense of being how they were prior to the operation. Normal observation of these patients shows nothing amiss either. However, under rigorous study it becomes clear that these people cannot see things on their left side, and that the dominant left hemisphere projects a repeat of the right side vision to fill in the gaps. Even more astonishing though is that the right hemisphere is actually seeing what is there on the left side but because of the cutting of the interconnections between the two sides of the brain has no way to communicate it. Tests have shown, that these people, using their left hand only can point out or draw what is on the left side but have no verbal or cognitive awareness of what is there. It is like there are two separate awareness’s, functioning independently within the same body.
Julian Jaynes goes on, in a satisfyingly erudite manner, to illustrate through countless examples taken from the great recorded histories like The Iliad, The Old Testament, Egyptian Papyruses, Babylonian Cuneiforms and more, how different humankind was at this time. That this difference in how they thought was because of this bicameral mind, that there were literally two separate minds at work within them. A dominant over mind or ‘God speak’ operating from the right hemisphere, which was triggered during times of stress or novel challenges outside the normal demands of the time, and the more prosaic left hemisphere ‘human brain’, which at this time had no subjective consciousness, no sense of I or me. Jaynes takes you on a journey from languages evolution from signalling and intentional calls to the development of nouns. Remember for a long time nobody had a name for things and for individuals. Death was a different beast when the one who died did not even have a name. Try and imagine a time when the sense of self was so small or non-existent and nobody had names. When there were no names for things and no words, how would you think?
It is an incredible theory and explains a great deal about why we worshipped statues of Gods and why we buried dead kings and priests surrounded by things to eat and treasures to keep. If these Gods and their stewards were continuing to speak inside our heads, beyond their allotted life spans, then it makes a lot more sense. Religion has always been about control and if that controlling centre is inbuilt inside our brains, then anthropologically a lot of stuff makes much more sense. It explains why we still cling to religions even now hundreds of years after science had ridiculed their fundamental platforms of belief. We are programmed to believe and to follow instructions, to understand – meaning stand under God. Jaynes maintains an aesthetic appreciation for the many wonders that humankind’s devotion to beliefs in Gods have produced and he is perhaps an example of his Christian American background. Still his insights and his theory are so startlingly original that he may have had no reason to bother with aggravating those of a more narrow minded persuasion.
The modern parallels with those suffering from schizophrenia are explored and Jaynes again proffers numerous scientific studies to illuminate his theoretical claims. Joan of Arc and many of the first testament prophets are prime examples of individuals recorded in history, who heard the passionate and insistent voice of God inside their heads. These individuals often laid down their own lives and willingly would lay down the lives of others to fulfil the ambitions of the voice within their head. Culturally now we have no room for those exhibiting a fully fledged bicameral mind and the voice of God; and so we lock them up and drug them.
Jaynes points out that it is poetry, and poetries link to music, which has been the favoured speech of the Gods, with most of our great and holy missives having been delivered in verse. This fact again links the right hemisphere of our brains with our connection to God, for it is in the right hemisphere where we process music and poetry. Music comes from the Muses, and they were the daughters of Zeus – bringers of divine inspiration; our connection to the Gods. Poets have, down through the ages, often been deliverers of God’s message, and the metre of verse can have a hypnotic, hallucinatory effect upon the listener. So many of the strands of evidence produced by Jaynes, to promote his theory, illuminates these aspects of humanity with a new understanding of where they actually fit in with the greater scheme of things.
What I particularly like about Julian Jayne’s theory of the bicameral mind is that it shatters the safe and often dry outcomes of much of the study of ancient history. We are so far removed from these ancient millennia’s, and the translations of these earliest languages are rife with modern approximations, making so many assumptions about who they were grossly incorrect. This book is a quantum leap into the unknown and really worth reading on so many levels.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
By Julian Jaynes
First Mariner Books ISBN 0-618-05707-2
Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
By Francis Fukuyama
Profile Books, 2003.
A disturbing orange cover, with a picture of what looks like a conveyer belt full of robotic looking babies stretching into infinity, possibly delayed my reading of this brilliant book. Its publication date accidentally synchronised with the birth of my own children and perhaps I was too involved in the real thing to have the time to read about biotechnology and its impact on humanity; well I am glad I finally have. Francis Fukuyama likes to invoke the heavy hitters of philosophy right off and Nietzsche’s ominous quotes are littered throughout at chapter beginnings, I suppose it is called getting your attention. Fukuyama weaves around all over the place a bit at first, delineating things by way of reference to George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, before settling down and finding his stride. These two books were the two poles of possible fears for Fukuyama’s American baby boomer generation, representing the futuristic totalitarian IT nightmare in the former and the more creepy biotechnological nirvana in the latter. We have of course now arrived into a world where, both the technologies featured in these two books are part of our reality, and the author goes on throughout his book to show, that it is the biotechnological possibilities of which we have most to fear.
He classifies biotechnology into three major parts: Neuropharmacology; Genetic Engineering; and Lifespan Extension. Beginning with Neuropharmacology Fukuyama paints a vivid picture of now, in our Western urban worlds, with facts about the prevalence of antidepressant drug use through Prozac and its many SSRI cousins, and even more disturbingly the massive use of Ritalin being prescribed for our children. We are deeply involved in mind and behaviour control on a societal level through our complacent acceptance of these drugs. Doctors are prescribing antidepressants and amphetamines to men, women and children at an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Why has something like ADHD suddenly gone from not existing at all to enormous levels within our communities? Fukuyama does not take a moralistic tone in his discussion about this but brings the facts and their ramifications into sharp focus. There are various forces at work within these situations: our expectations regarding happiness are very different now to twenty or thirty years ago and our reliance on medical science has been consistently encouraged by governments and the pharmaceutical industry during the last few decades. Economically we are all expected to provide maximum levels of productivity, whether you are a mother or a teacher, we do not have the same amount of time to devote to the care of our children in many cases and we therefore expect our children to be more cooperative at school and at home. When they are not we now classify them as deficient in attention and drug them.
At the same time, as we are officially giving happy pills to a substantial percentage of our population, we are condemning and prosecuting another large section as illegal drug users. You can see the strange hypocrisy in this fact, as Fukuyama points out the similarities, chemically speaking, between many of these drugs, like Ecstasy and the SSRI’s, and that Speed is an amphetamine like Ritalin. It is these fine lines of demarcation within our societies, defining what neuropharmacology is really for, that this book explores. Drugs are OK if we are sick but are bad if merely for pleasure and that certain levels of unhappiness then become sickness (depression), as do certain levels of not paying enough attention (ADHD). Who is deciding the points on the scale? Doctors and the medical industry? Don’t they have a vested interest in all these matters and indeed a trillion dollar interest in pharmacology? A lot of what this book is about, is asking who in our Western civilised worlds should be making these decisions for society and is it really OK to let the market decide? Being an American, Francis Fukuyama is living in the nation, which has the most avaristic culture in the world, especially around technological developments; as we have seen in the IT industry. He postulates that we as a world need to think about the consequences of these biotechnological developments and legislate for them; for our own protection.
Moving on to Genetic Engineering, and the myriad of biotechnological challenges we now and in the very near future face, Fukuyama shepherds in Dolly the Sheep and its obvious pointer to human cloning. Human cloning is currently banned in most countries and faces a huge amount of legal discussion, as to the rights of a clone within our societies. The whole genetic question raises the unholy spectre of Eugenics and the Nazis experiments on the weak and their racially judged inferiors. It was not only in Germany and Japan, where these ghastly experiments went on, scientists in the US in a Jewish hospital infected the chronically ill with cancer cells, in another case it was mentally retarded children with hepatitis and the more famous case (they made a movie about it) of 400 black men, many of whom were purposely not treated for syphilis with available medication to record the diseases progression. Fukuyama’s book indicates that this whole racial genetic argument is still very much alive in the US and that the nurture versus nature questions splits the sciences down the middle on political grounds. He states that the Left have always come down on the side of environmental factors affecting intelligence levels within races – not enough to eat so the brain doesn’t develop – where the Right have been firmly on the side of white people being genetically superior in terms of intelligence. Reading all this myself I wondered about the tests being utilised in all this so called intelligence testing, the criteria for intelligence and how it is judged? Scientists, politicians and bureaucrats all testing on the basis of their own preconceived ideas about what it is to be intelligent in a predominantly white Anglo Saxon culture. And even beyond questions of race what is intelligence anyway, is it IQ or Emotional Intelligence or Spiritual Intelligence?
The horrors of rational fascistic science have lodged in the cultural consciousness and so there is a justifiable amount of fear around Genetic Engineering. In contrast to this are the things we now can do about diseases and conditions like cystic fibrosis and Down’s syndrome, which are now being screened for with preimplantation genetic diagnosis. The extension of this will be designer babies, where technology again offers the graduation from avoidance of sickness to ideas of perfection. Introducing questions of who will be able to afford it and will this become the province of the rich, thus increasing the gulf between the haves and have nots? The author emphasises again that governments must play their part in making sure that genetic engineering does not disadvantage the already disadvantaged within our communities; and goes further to suggest that it could indeed be a technology used to improve things for these sections of the community. Fukuyama recommends international bodies for the guidance of biotechnology and offers the examples in the nuclear industry as proof of possible efficacy in this regard. The dangers of the nuclear industry (as seen by the crisis currently in Japan) are, I think he is inferring, on par with the dangers inherent in the biotechnology sphere.
Francis Fukuyama talks a lot about what it means to be human and the essential qualities of humanness. He invokes Aristotle and a whole pantheon of philosophers and moral judges in answering this question. In the end I think he comes down on the side of feeling, that it is our human feelings which define us as human. So we have the harsh and hostile world of Darwinian evolution and the men in white lab coats on one hand and the subjective consciousness of the feeling world on the other, his book may be an informed cry for help. An Achtung before it is too late and we have sold our humanness for bigger boobs, and smarter and taller, better looking kids. Stem cell therapy and the use of research involving embryos are or have been hot topics recently, with governments voting on legislation, and often doing so as votes of conscience rather than on party policy grounds. The ability to grow new cells and possibly limbs and other organs for the sick versus the rights of the unborn. This takes us back to abortion and how that is still used in many Eastern countries as a genetic engineering tool in favour of males over females in the human species. Abortion is a very volatile topic in the US especially, and anything to do with it opens up that great religious divide and debate. The genetic engineering argument embraces the scientist’s pragmatic view that if we are terminating unwanted pregnancies, and also if there are extra embryos left over from IVF, then we should be using these for embryonic stem cell research. Against this we have the Right To Life religious organisations and also non-religious anti-biotechnology groups, who see this work as a corruption of the rights of the individual, which opens the question – at what age do we become human?
The third part of this whole dilemma, according to Fukuyama, is science’s work in prolonging our life expectancies. The twentieth century has seen the life expectancies raised in women from 46.3 and men from 48.3, in the US in 1900, to that of 79.9 for women and 74.2 for men in the year 2000. The author points out, when you combine this with falling birth rates in most Western countries we are now facing a rapidly changing age demographic, meaning that fewer young people will be supporting many more older and infirm people in our communities and economies. In addition to the well publicised affect this will have on social security systems, there will be further ramifications with a growing divide internationally, with developing nations with higher birth rates having younger population demographics; more angry young men. Fukuyama posits that the US will have a decidedly older and more feminine population, as women live longer, and that this will contrast politically with their dealings with these young countries (I think it more likely to be a good thing as grandma is less likely to bomb people). Our Posthuman Future goes onto list many of the possible scenarios related to these population and demographic shifts related to life span extension, and in particular talks about our attitudes to the elderly, facing challenges; when we are forced to care for them on mass and they are taking our jobs – (which the baby boomers have been doing for years in Australia LOL). Fukuyama spells out the medical facts about prolonging life spans and that quality of life experience will not necessarily accompany this extension; and that our cultural worshipping of youth is very much about sexual reproductivity. Lives lived for the majority of years as aged, and non-reproductively, will present clear cultural and psychological challenges for the participants and for all those around them. Medical science is taking us all down this path because nobody really wants to die and wants to see their parents die, and euthanasia is feared by many within our societies. We do and will need to have these discussions about death and what it means to have a life, beyond the ‘hands off’ and keep everything alive for as long as possible, which is the current position of governments and medical science. I think we as a community will have to grow up and religions will need to pull their heads out of the sands of two millennia ago – which is when their religious texts were written.
Francis Fukuyama, being an American and working in the US education system, as the Professor of International Political Economy at John Hopkins University, in my opinion shies away from stressing the very large part that the free market in our capitalist economy plays in this. Despite the fact that the overall message of his book is that we need impartial democratic government bodies policing biotechnology, I still think the author misses out on emphasising the fact, that we as a society leave a great deal of medical science in the hands of a market intent on making as much money as possible out of whatever situation they find or create. Our democratically elected representatives in government are too dependent on popular decisions and election campaign dollars from the pharmaceutical industry. Our scientists are equally dependent on private enterprise funded research grants and even the scientific journals, which publish the reports, are dependent on big pharma advertising dollars. If we value the dollar over everything else how will we ever get any impartiality in any decision making body and if every government department is only potentially lasting four or five years how can we carry out any far reaching legislation?
This is a really worthwhile and enjoyable book to read, drawing on our great Western philosophical canon to pose many of the questions, we as a society face in regard to the biotechnological revolution.
Finally finished with physics
The Dancing Wu Li Masters
By Gary Zukav
Who else out there, has carried a book around with them for twenty plus years, with the intention of reading that book, because it is really something they ought to read? That book for me, has been The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, first published in 1979 and subtitled – An Overview of the New Physics. Now I was never big on science at school, in fact I only did biology in my final years of school, because you had to do at least one science or math subject for tertiary admittance, and I failed that (biology not my TAE). In the years since I have developed a far keener interest in the non-humanities and I put down my adolescent indifference to the sciences, to the appalling teachers we had – repressed science types with no flair for teaching. In the intervening years, I have found a fulfilling passion for Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist and biologist, reading several of his enlightening books about selfish genes and blind watch makers (being a selfish bastard myself I could easily relate to those genes). I have also flirted with neuroscience and a number of studies of the human brain by a variety of scientific authors.
I suppose, however, I have read more of what they call pseudoscience than anything else, all those self-help authors who have picked up a scientific concept or two along the way, and expounded upon them for a book or ten. Deepak Chopra springs to mind but there have been many more, Wayne Dyer, Stuart Wilde, Ken Wilber, and the list could go on and on. What these authors were and are, are great communicators – able to deliver a concept with best selling aplomb. Gary Zukav, fits into this category, but the content of The Dancing Wu Li Master does not – physics of the non-Newtonian, non-classical sort, is not light reading.
The mystery of the sub-atomic world and its quantum mechanical behaviour has always appealed to me. Sure, the gist of it all, has leaked out into my world over the last thirty years and has conceptually influenced many of the seminars I have attended and many of those pseudoscientific books I have read. Still I wanted to read this account of it and I had carried this book with me for most of those thirty years. The fact is, it wasn’t even my book, as confirmed by the name inscribed in the fly leaf, it was an old girlfriends and I am not even sure if my appropriation of it was entirely mutually consenting – but this kind of things often happens with books doesn’t it? I had of course made several attempts to read the thing over the years, but a number of issues had prevented me each time. These stumbling blocks are clearly visible now in hindsight, but at the time were not.
Firstly, the edition of this book was a Fontana paperback, now yellowing with age, and the size of the type is highly sympathetic to the sub-atomic subject matter. I would begin the book and after struggling through a couple of pages, listing experiments involving excited atoms and a Danish physicist in 1913, I would begin to glaze over and squint at the black micro copy now dancing on the page. If I had also had a few glasses of wine with dinner, then the whole campaign would be very short lived and the petit paperback would find its way back onto the bookshelf; to be lost for another half decade or so.
Another little matter, or amusing literary device employed by the author, Gary Zukav, which I was entirely unaware of in my earlier unsuccessful stints at reading the book, was the fact that there are multiple chapters but they are all entitled Chapter One. So to the dilettante reader who makes only occasional forays into the book, one never seems to make any headway and when picking the book up again after a break is never sure where he is up to. This in combination with the seemingly nonsensical content of quantum physics is almost a guarantee of unreadability.
However, today, I stand before you as a new man who has now read an overview of the new physics. I did have to make a few changes in my life for this remarkable achievement to have finally occurred. My marriage break down and separation, was an important stepping stone I now see, and the following break down and separation from my subsequent lover was also a vital link in the chain. I would also posit, that my removal from all friends and acquaintances, was equally integral to creating the necessary ambience for the reading of this title. Not having a job, which could get in the way and distract from the level of concentration required, was another step in the right direction. In toto I would say that all of these things contributed to having the time and space to complete my reading of The Dancing Wu Li Masters.
It is an excellent and at times exciting book about a topic that is often imponderable and at heart indescribable. Quantum Theory is really a theory about the ultimately elusive nature of matter’s smallest building blocks. Very early on in the book we discover that these sub-atomic particles can be observed to be behaving as both waves and particles, but not at the same time. This immediately, for the first time since Isaac Newton gave us our classical world view of the physical nature of all things, created uncertainty; bona fide scientific uncertainty. What does science love to do in such circumstances? Name things of course, so we end up with Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle , which states that we cannot know both the position and the momentum of a particle with absolute precision. The more we know about its position, the less we can then know about its momentum. Our study of the sub-atomic world was taking us beyond what we knew as common sense and delivering us into an unknown realm of maybes. The book shares the shocking sentiment, this experimentally verified new physical reality sent into the established scientific world. Nothing would ever be the same again in that once rock solid scientific strata.
Quantum physics questions, and then dissembles, the once sanctified truth, which was the separation between the observer and what was being measured. In the old Newtonian scientific view, when and where an experiment was held, all things being declared, had no measurable influence on the outcome. Not so in the sub-atomic universe, as particles or waves appeared and disappeared depending upon the observer’s intention to observe. Zukav then begins to introduce the parallels with Eastern philosophical mysticism and in particular it’s understanding that language can never deliver experience. Similarly words and even mathematics cannot adequately convey what is truly happening on the sub-atomic level. All languages have their own symbology and rules which define them and thus make them unable to describe things that they were never designed to describe. So our attempts at understanding sub-atomic reality, our ability to picture it, are on par with languages attempts to describe mystical enlightenment or satori. This conundrum has been poetically referenced as to be like a finger pointing at the moon.
The Dancing Wu Li Masters are another poetic metaphor, taken from one of the many meanings of the Chinese characters utilised in the term Wu LI. They are used here to reference the possible nature of the sub-atomic realm, as a quantum energy field alive with dancing probabilities. The indications of the unfolding new physical realities of the quantum universe are tantalisingly mysterious, and mathematical equations and so called proofs are all pointing at something so much more alive with unforeseen possibilities. The book imparts a real attitude of excitement and infers that science, and physics in particular, has awoken after a long sleep of certainty.
One of the more interesting possibilities is the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, in this it is posited that when a particle appears in a certain place or behaves in a certain way, all the other possibilities occur simultaneously in other dimensions or worlds, rather than just not happening in this world. This level of unknown behaviour and reality is mainly possible because we are unable to perceive the sub-atomic world with our senses (the dark adapted eye apparently can detect single photons, but all other particles must be detected indirectly). Zukav is suggesting that the nature of existence is far more unpredictable than we once thought.
Humanities best loved and most well known scientist, Albert Einstein, graces the pages of The Dancing Wu Li Masters and we are informed of his importance to much of the new understanding of the quantum universe. Einstein himself rejected the pragmatic Copenhagen Interpretation of the new physics, citing its inability to represent all aspects of physical reality. He felt that a true theory needs to be able to interact with all levels of reality and that Quantum Mechanics may indeed be the best explanation for the sub-atomic realm but could not provide a one to one correspondence between reality and theory. The book is very illuminating when explaining Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, both the general and the special; it is worth reading for this alone. We all know Einstein as some sort of twentieth century celebrity but very few of us actually understand the ramifications of his scientific work. Basically he brought a fourth wall or dimension to our understanding of the universe, a space-time continuum, that alone shattered our age old assumptions built on Euclidean geometry. He questioned things, which had never been questioned before, and that is why he was able to come up with answers nobody else had. Of course much of what he achieved and gave us goes completely over my head but this book did give me a grasp of a few things.
A large part of the book is concerned with explaining how sub-atomic particles collide into each other and reform as completely new particles. This is what Zukav calls the dance and we hear a lot today about particle accelerators and colliders, including the giant one, CERN, in Switzerland. He explains how the colliding and accelerating of these particles is really all about creating mass, as sub-atomic particles have no mass at rest, and through this activity the quantum behaviour can be observed in an attempt to get closer to understanding the fabric of the universe. We have particles and anti-particles, photons, protons, neutrons, electrons, possibly gravitons, and the four forces known as: the strong force; electromagnetic force; weak force; and the gravitational force. Bubble chambers are used to capture the particle behaviour on photographic plates, as we chase the elusive tail of this mythical dragon, made up of sub-atomic matter.
I have used the Internet to check out the ongoing Quantum Physics journey, since the book’s publication, and there has been the discovery of the W & Z Bosun particles discovered at CERN in 1983 – which led to a Nobel prize for its discoverer in 1984. There is still talk of discovering Tachyons, once we are travelling beyond the speed of light, and we hypothetically think a lot about Gravitons too. So what has happened to the general zeitgeist of physicists since the publication of this book? Well not a lot as far as I can see, there still seems to be those (the majority) who keep their head down and don’t formulate the big questions and carry on like technicians, to borrow a defining term from the book, rather than as scientists in search of the answers to “what is the nature of existence?” But how the hell would I really know. The book is worth the read, even if it took me thirty years to scale it, and in a way it’s timeline is my timeline, as I first ventured out on the road to nowhere at about the same time. So if you have a little space in your life I recommend a dance with a Wu Li master.
Who Murdered Chaucer?
Who Murdered Chaucer? – A Medieval Mystery
By Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Terry Dolan, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor
Geoffrey Chaucer, poet and most importantly one of the earliest literary stars of the English language, was the author of The Canterbury Tales – a celebrated collection of verse pieces which have provided an incredibly rich source of historical information about the types of people inhabiting the Middle Ages. Many of us studied Chaucer at school, and I am afraid, that by dint of either my own shallowness or via unenthusiastic teaching, I was not a big fan at the time– the early English language was quite challenging I seem to remember – he remains however a major influence upon our Western canon. Like much of the history taught at school, a great deal of important information and context was omitted, thus denuding what could have been a powerful lesson about real life. You see, Chaucer seems to have been disappeared, in the same way, that more recently, people in South American countries have been disappeared by forces within their governments.
I don’t know if it is merely that the majority of people who study history and literature are averse to making waves, or that it is something else entirely, but we seem to get a dry, unquestioning version of history being passed down in our educational institutions. I know here in Australia, teaching was always the profession of choice for the less academically gifted and the ones who didn’t really know what they wanted to do at university. Perhaps the title of this essay should really be, Who Murdered History? As one of the primary integral qualities for teaching must be passion, if a teacher’s communication is not imbued with enthusiasm and real care for the topic, then who is going to listen to him or her?
Geoffrey Chaucer was a poet and scholar in the court of the English king, Richard the second, at the close of the fourteenth century. Now if you are at all familiar with medieval history, or Shakespeare, you will know that Richard II has a seriously sullied reputation as the fey, spoilt, generally unloved king, who was usurped by a far more deserving Henry IV. Here however, is a great example of the fact that history is written by the victor, and the disappointing thing in this circumstance is that in this case, it has been unquestionably accepted by historians down the centuries. I personally came across Richard II as an acting student, when I was doing my NIDA audition – I studied Shakespeare’s play of the same name and chose an audition piece, of Richard expressing his outrage and righteous indignation at being deposed. The whole experience made a lasting impression upon me and I found it very interesting to revisit this piece of history. Terry Jones and his co-authors make it abundantly clear, that Richard was not the despot history and Shakespeare made him out to be, citing chronicled evidence to the contrary. More importantly they show that these chronicles, kept by the religious orders within their abbeys (Westminster, Kirkstall), had been doctored and amended once Henry IV had taken the throne.
Richard II had ascended the throne at the age of ten, and so you can imagine the difficulties he had in establishing his authority as he grew into the role, with overweening advisors and power hungry barons all around him. Terry Jones posits, that far from being a weak and corrupt king, Richard was in fact a king who was at the forefront of new royal practises. He suggests that Richard was creating a uniquely English court, and that Chaucer, with his wonderful wielding of the newly flourishing English language(in contrast to Latin and French), was a big part of that. Richard resisted supporting the maintenance of the military campaigns in France, that his father, the Black Prince, and grandfather Edward III and his forebears had campaigned so vigorously at. Indeed he wished for a peaceful reign and copped a great deal of flak from the more warlord like dukes around him. Similarly today in the United States, great chunks of their industrial wealth is based on armaments and technologies of war, and Presidents are lobbied to support these activities to maintain the economy (Donald Rumsfeld and George W Bush in Iraq). Likewise, several of the barons around Richard, depended upon constant military actions for their upkeep and any threat to this was viewed with great resistance, especially by Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, Richard’s uncle and the youngest son of Edward III. Often this military action was portrayed, especially to the poor, as courageous and brave behaviour to be admired in a man and a leader; manipulations utilising cultural assumptions that still exist today. So Richard reigned during a precarious time and his behaviour actually challenged the status quo, in ways, which we would now admire in our modern more peaceful world.
Terry Jones and co-authors make clear that Richard II, once he had taken personal control over the realm in 1389, made the pursuit of peace with France a priority. They cite the influence of Giles of Rome, the Italian theologian and philosopher, in Richard’s education, as a setter of kingly aspirations in the direction of peace. They also suggest that Richard may have been a more intellectual king than his predecessors, and one who fostered and encouraged men of letters; like Chaucer and his contemporaries. Jones makes a good argument for Richard’s court being one of new ideas and creativity; and in a cultural ferment with the recently flourishing English language at its centre.
‘Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee,’
Quod oure Hooste, ‘for thou makest me
So wery of they verray lewednesse
That, also wisly God my soule blesse,
Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche.
Now swich a rym the devel I biteche!
This may wel be rym doggerel,’ quod he.
The Canterbury Tales, VII, II. 919-25
‘No more of this, for God’s dignity,’
Swore our Host, ‘for you make me
So weary of your total unlearnedness
That, just as God will bless my soul,
My ears are aching with your dreadful speech.
Now such a rhyme I’ll teach the devil!
This may well be doggerel rhyme, ‘ said he.
It is interesting to read the early English employed by Chaucer and in particular the spellings of the words – I found it threw new light and understanding about certain words and their origins. The piece above by Chaucer, is in the persona of the character Harry Bailey, and highlights the author’s opinions of the travelling minstrels, who were the traditional courtly entertainers before the advent of the poet/authors. A modern parallel for this evolution in courtly tastes would be the difference between the singer/songwriters of the sixties (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell) and the vocalists or cover bands of the previous decade , who did popular renditions of standards. So Richard II was a new type of ruler and under him there flowered a new language, new expressions and new ideas.
In the book Who Murdered Chaucer? the authors describe the effect this change had on those with vested interests in how things were, and the Roman Catholic Church was one organisation who had deeply rooted and very valuable vested interests in medieval England. The powerful leaders of the Church were busy protecting their own authority against forces for change, like John Wyclif, an Oxford theologian who translated the Bible into English and was against many of the commercial aspects of the Church. Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, eventually aligned the Church establishment in its reactionary crushing of all dissent and introduced the practise of burning heretics at the stake into England. Terry Jones and co-authors produce evidence, that it was the recently exiled Archbishop Arundel who joined forced with Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, another recently exiled by Richard II, to topple the young king and place Henry on the throne. Together they travelled from Europe back to England illegally, and became irresistible forces of conservatism, appealing to the barons and bishops who had been dismayed and offended by Richard’s new methods and associations. Richard II had been surrounding himself with men of ideas and letters, who were not necessarily from the aristocratic classes, and promoting these men of middle class into positions of power. This is suggested as one reason for the relatively quick and successful usurpation by Henry, as he and Arundel were able to unite the anti-Richard forces together and bring down the king.
Chaucer, and his literary cohorts, had under Richard II been able to express a number of quite radical ideas in their work, ideas about the role of the Church and State. There are many Wyclifian concepts within Chaucer’s work, and in particular in the mouths of certain characters, who inhabit The Canterbury Tales. The Poor Parson truly embodies Christ like behaviours in his holy thoughts and good works, and these sit in direct contrast to the avaristic exemplars of what Jones calls the ‘Church Commercial.’ Chaucer parodies other Church representatives, like Friar Huberd in The General Prologue and the character of the Summoner in The Summoner’s Tale, conveying the well known corruption within the Church, being practised by these ecclesiastical officers. The selling of relics to the general public, pieces of the holy cross which crucified Jesus and a myriad of other bogus bits of rubbish, was rife throughout Christendom. In addition to this, people were encouraged to purchase prayers, and if they did not go on a pilgrimage they were expected to donate the dollar value of the journey to the Church in compensation. The Church collected taxes from everyone in the form of tithes, which could be 10% of their income or more. Basically the Church was a vehicle for the systematic abuse and exploitation of the population. It was run by the disinherited children of the aristocracy, the sons who were not first born, and became their private fiefdoms – many bishops were ordained at the ages of twelve and fifteen. You had the irony of the Church being run by completely irreligious people, who were more akin to our corporate CEO’s today.
Archbishop Thomas Arundel, was like a Rupert Murdoch of the Church Commercial, conspiring to prevent the radical forces of change from interrupting the control exerted by the Church and the flow of revenue coming to it. Chaucer could be seen as a literary lion, who expounded with humour and style the lie of the land, and told those who would listen, what was really going on. During Richard’s reign this was permissible and Terry Jones would say perhaps even encouraged, but upon Henry IV taking over, it was now an entirely different universe. The rules had changed and it was unfortunate for Chaucer that he had a written body of work out there, which could act as evidence of his heretical beliefs. Like many usurpers Henry IV was insecure, especially just after murdering an anointed king in Richard II, and he looked to secure his newly stolen throne by a policy of containment and suppression. Apart from the evidence of his sending out a directive to all chroniclers, that he wished to witness what they had written, an unspoken message that said you better write nice things about me and my new rulership of the realm or else, there was also a spate of mob executions of most of Richard’s friends and allies. Henry IV, with the help of the master strategist Arundel, was able to eradicate much of his opposition without directly bloodying his hands. The last known record of Chaucer, was that he had in the year 1400, just taken out a 53 year lease on a house in the garden of Lady Chapel, in Westminster Abbey. Westminster was a sanctuary of the Church, which meant that theoretically it was a place you could go and not be touched by forces of the State, but in practise it did not stop determined agents riding in and dispatching whoever they were really after. Westminster became known as a place where people who were still loyal to Richard II gathered, and indeed the Abbey itself, was implicated in a plot to overthrow the new king and this was discovered by Henry IV not long after the usurpation; and there were deadly ramifications for some of those involved. So it was a time of secrets and suspicions, a bit like East Berlin during the cold war, and those writers and liberals who had flourished in Richard’s court were under the microscope of Archbishop Arundel and Henry IV.
John Gower, a Chaucer contemporary, managed to rewrite sections of his Confessio Amantis, swapping praise of Richard II to Henry of Lancaster, and this rewriting of history to support Henry IV’s new regime was so successful that it was used by later historians to justify the Lancastrian view of English history. This was one example among many of the exorcising of Richard II from histories warm embrace and his consignment into no-speak and ignominy. Thus we have had six centuries of misinformation and unfounded slander upon Richard II and his reign. This book and its detailed referencing of available records and evidence, really showed me how easily history can be re-edited by those who control the information and records. If we do not ask the question and are not prepared to dig a bit deeper then we will never know the truth.
There is no clear and incontrovertible evidence that Chaucer was murdered by agents on behalf of Arundel or Henry IV, but there is a long list of unexplainable facts.
- Why did Chaucer the literary star of his day just disappear?
- Why did he leave no Will, when he was a meticulous public servant?
- Why was no monument built to him?
- Why do none of his own copies of his work survive today?
- Why is his death eulogised as a tragedy by other poets?
It seems as if Geoffrey Chaucer, England’s most esteemed poet and public servant, just dropped off the face of the Earth. It is the very lack of recorded information about his death, which points to something decidedly suspicious having occurred and the likelihood that he may have died in Archbishop Arundel’s prison; like many other perceived heretics of the time. Arundel used the uncertainty of the times to eradicate enemies of the Church at home and managed through the threat of burning heretics at the stake to get many dissenting voices within the Church to recant and retract their statements. William Sawtre was the first man burnt at the stake in this new England, this religious police state. Sir Lewis Clifford, one of Chaucer’s oldest friends and one of the Church’s most outspoken critics , was persuaded to recant under the new regime and to bow before the unholy spectre of an agonising death amid the flames. Chaucer’s fellow poet John Montagu, the Earl of Salisbury, was ripped to pieces by the mob at Cirencester in the wake of an abortive revolt in 1400. This was a very scary time to be alive, if you held to an alternative view about Henry IV’s right to be on the throne and the nature of Church and State.
Nobody knows exactly when Chaucer died, whether it was the year 1400 or 1402, various biographers down the ages have drawn on misinformation and then compounded that by using that as mistaken sources for factual information. Like a few journalists today, I suppose these biographers thought why spoil a good story just because there are no concrete facts about the ending. Most commonly Chaucer is depicted as gently dying of old age, in a state of contentment at his own home, of course there is no evidence for this and a whole lot of holes in the story – what happened to his substantial library (books were very rare and valuable in 1400) and his own copies of his body of work? Why didn’t an old man, well versed in the law as a respected public servant in the employ of a king, leave a Will? Very strange indeed and highly unlikely. Who murdered Chaucer? The most likely candidates, Archbishop Arundel and Henry IV, have swept clean histories trail and left little trace, but the book concludes, that the glaring omissions of any recorded evidence regarding Chaucer’s final days and demise are highly suspicious, and considering that they quietly despatched Richard II with similarly no official announcement- it is, in detective speak, their MO modus operandi.
Posted by sudhahamilton in Blog Posts, Health, Reviews, Uncategorized.
Tags: AMA, Andrew Saul, Andrew W Saul, cancer, canola, capitalism, Charlotte Gerson, chronic disease, corporations, David Wolfe, disease, doctors, Dr Dan Rogers, drug companies, drugs, DVD, eating, fat, food, food chain, fresh food, genetically modified, GM, healing, health, health policy, heart and soul, heart disease, hospitals, humanity, illness, Jerome Burne, medical community, medicines, modern medicine, money, mortality, natural health industry, natural health supplement, nutrition, organic, organic veggies, Pan Vitamin Crisis, pharmaceutical, Phillip Day, pills, poisons, prescription drugs, processed foods, Prof Ian Brighthope, research, salt, scientific studies, sugar, TGA, toxic, US, vitamins, wonder drug
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Heading: Foodmatters DVD
Subheading: You are what you eat.
I was really impressed with the content of Foodmatters – You are what you eat - strong voices speaking with confidence about nutrition in the face of the institutionalised apathetic attitude of the scientific/medical community.
This subject has been close to my own heart for many years, and it is great to see that these film makers have produced a high quality documentary with something to say, which really matters. Food does matter, and the betrayal of humanity’s needs by capitalism in this regard is a crime – millions of people with cancer and heart disease, dead and dying, while our supermarket shelves are groaning with processed foods full of fat, salt and sugar.
If it is always about the money, if money is the bottom line, then we are all just slaves on a production line heading to the cemetary. Of course it isn’t really about money, it is about living with heart and soul. Stop buying crap – fast food, pre-prepared food and start cooking fresh food.
Start growing your own organic veggies, and if you stop ‘working for the man’ – stop lining the pockets of the rich, you will have the time available to do so. It feels a hell of a lot better than telling the lies we all have to tell to make a living.
Foodmatters the DVD – has some very intelligent people, sharing some poorly understood information, about the importance of eating good food. Andrew Saul is particularly impressive in the way he communicates what he knows, and the state of play in the world. It is bloody unbelievable that doctors publicly question the validity of vitamins, and that hospitals feed you white bread and packaged custard. In the US, hundreds of thousands of people die every year from wrongly prescribed, and misadministered pharmaceutical drugs, and the numbers may be lower in Australia but it is still much higher than those killed on our roads.
A point of interest here – it is quite difficult to get this information in Australia, as, suprise suprise, all the focus in studies is on illicit drugs; it seems hospital mortality rates are a closely guarded secret.
Andrew Saul makes the point, that there have been ten suspected deaths in the US involving vitamins over the last twenty three years - only suspected, never proven - while he conservatively figures that over two million people have been conclusively shown to have died from wrongly prescribed medication. Our health system here, as in the US, is in the hands of vested interest groups, pharmaceutical corporations and the associations of doctors who dole out their product to you and me.
Government health policies are controlled by the medical lobby groups and in the US, the re-election of MP’s are funded by pharmaceutical money. In Australia, the AMA is always on the front foot, threatening state and federal governments with action by their doctor members, if their wishes are not met. Hospitals are run by doctors and bureaucrats, who used to be doctors, all trained in the same system, and every road leads back to the drug companies.
The scientific medical journals, which publish discriminately, ‘ so called’ medical breakthroughs, and research studies, are funded by the pharmaceutical companies through their advertising spend. The studies themselves are directly funded by the drug companies. The regulatory bodies are funded by the pharmaceutical corporations. The doctors, until recently in Australia, were encouraged to sell more pharma product by being presented with lavish gifts – holidays, all expenses paid conferences, golfing trinkets and luxury goods, by the companies that made them. It is now illegal in Australia for the pharma giants to do so.
The PR employed by pharma and the medical associations is immense. When you hear about a medical breakthrough or new ‘wonder drug’ on the nightly news, this information has been fed to the TV stations and newspapers by PR agencies in the employ of the drug companies. There has usually been very little journalistic scrutiny engaged by the media in these instances. Why? Because the money involved is big and the pharmaceutical corporate influence is so heavily embedded in our western cultures that we hardly are even aware of it anymore.
The widely held assumptions run something like this -
Doctors are like Gods because they heal the sick.
Drugs are the modern saviours of our wonderful health system.
Things were bad before we had all these drugs to fight off disease.
Now there is some truth in these statements but that does not mean that we cannot debate aspects of modern medicine’s approach to healing. It does not mean that we have to accept the way things are currently run. Why does the AMA want to control things so much? And why do they actively disparage any other approach to healing?
You cannot easily make so much money from encouraging and indeed selling fresh healthy food. You cannot copyright fresh produce to the same extent as an artificially produced pharmaceutical drug – but they are trying with Genetically Modified canola and the like. In Australia, many of the vitamin producers are now owned by pharmaceutical companies, as there are a lot of vitamins being sold, despite the best efforts of the medical fraternity in rubbishing their efficacy.
The Pan Vitamin Crisis may still be fresh in the minds of many Australians – funny that it is referred to by that name, as Pan was a producer of pharmaceautical products and the poisoning, which occurred with Travacalm, was a pharmaceutical not a vitamin supplement. This did not however stop the TGA from stripping from our shelves, Australia wide, every Vitamin supplement ever made by Pan. Damaging the natural health supplement industry on every level and putting many smaller concerns out of business permanently.
Once again this echoes Andrew Saul’s playfully expressed conundrum – why, if every one is dying from pharmaceutical poisoning and nobody is dying from vitamin overdoses, are the medical fraternity so worried about natural health supplements? Why are they pointing the finger at the wrong suspect and hiding their own gross mortality rates?
Foodmatters is beautifully put together and maintains an inspirational but determined tone throughout its eighty minute duration. It isnt a rant (unlike my blog at times), it is full of intelligent experts like Prof Ian Brighthope, Charlotte Gerson, Phillip Day, Dr Dan Rogers, David Wolfe and Jerome Burne. It points out startling inconsistencies in the way our health system operates, and the way our food chain has been exploited and polluted by capitalism, in search of bigger profits. It illustrates why we are getting sick with chronic illnesses, which modern medicine cannot heal; because it cannot cut them out or prescribe an effective pill.
Nutritionists, turned film makers, James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, have created a timely masterpiece, which buzzes with alive energy and contains a poignant message for humanity. I loved the way they employed archived footage and audio from the fifties and sixties, complete with smug voice over and patronising tone, conveying our ‘ all knowing’ western science of the time, now proven to be a toxic disaster.
If you want to watch something, which is hard hitting, vibrant and intelligent, watch this.
Gough Whitlam – a moment in history.
By Jenny Hocking
The Miegunyah Press
An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing www.mup.com.au
In this acclaimed biography of Australian political icon, Gough Whitlam, Professor Jenny Hocking, shines a light on the roots of our political system. Reminding us all that it was Australia, which was the first nation to give the popular vote to non-land owners, and that it was a direct outcome of the Eureka Stockade. In the early chapters of this first volume of Gough Whitlam’s biography, we discover his ancestors, great grandparents and grandparents, and they are placed in the tent cities of the Victorian goldfields. Writing with great verve, Jenny Hocking, brings to life the day to day realities of our early settlers and the challenges they faced in finding work and building a home. Startlingly she reveals that in just two generations the Whitlam family traversed the great divide between Pentridge prison and the Prime Ministership of Australia.
If you would like to go beyond the current cynicism, with which our parliamentarians are commonly held today, and actually understand the ideas and principles behind the political parties governing our country, then this superb book will enlighten you. If you think that Australia has been fairly free of religious involvement in our political system, think again. The tremendous schism within the ALP – caused by the Catholic Movement and the battle between those who favoured state funding for state schools but not for private Catholic schools and their opposite numbers – contributed strongly to Labor being unable to win government for 23 years. The incredible polarity between the conservative side of politics and those on the socialist side, along the protestant/Catholic divide; and how the whole Australian community was equally separated accordingly. Australia today is a very different place and it was Gough Whitlam, who helped resolve these differences through his lifelong work.
Gough Whitlam was brought up in a household, devoted to learning and Christian service to the community. His father, Fred Whitlam, was a federal public servant and one of the first to move to the new capital Canberra. Fred Whitlam worked in the Attorney-General’s Department as a Crown Solicitor and was highly respected all his life, instilling in Gough the importance of integrity and adherence to democratic ideals. Often after a family meal, devoid of alcoholic refreshments, members of the Whitlam family were encouraged to open up an encyclopedic volume to study and improve themselves. Being reared in Canberra also gave Gough a unique insight into the workings of the federal capital, and perhaps a focus on the top job from an early age. A brilliant student early on, he regularly topped his class at Canberra Grammar School and thought about becoming an academic, but began to lose focus at Sydney University, realising his skills and ambitions lay elsewhere. His shift to studying for a Law degree was interrupted by the War and he joined the Air Force and became a leading navigator pilot officer, flying bombing raids against the Japanese in Timor and other islands in that area.
At the conclusion of the War, Gough Whitlam completed his Law degree and having married Margaret Dovey, they built a new home in Cronulla. Gough would walk and catch the train into Macquarie Street, six days a week to practise Law at the Denman Chambers, where Labor luminary, Dr HV Evatt had rooms. As a beginning barrister he initially struggled to make ends meet, and was often engaged to provide free legal aid to returned service personnel and their families – as part of the Labor government’s commitment to postwar planning and reconstruction. During this time, Gough Whitlam contested the Australian National Quiz Championship and all that encyclopedia reading obviously came in handy, as he won it twice. Gough Whitlam first joined the East Sydney Branch of the ALP in 1945, and was made minute’s secretary shortly after his induction. Within 3 years he had put his name forward 5 times to represent the party in local and state elections, and although unsuccessful, his standing within the party was rising. In 1952, Gough Whitlam got his chance to contest the federal seat of Werriwa and won his first election to become a member of the House of Representatives.
The battle, however, had just begun in terms of Gough Whitlam’s and the ALP’s journey toward forming government. Gough would have to overcome many layers of intransigent resistance within the Labor party, in particular the Catholic/communist split, which had gone on to cause the formation of the breakaway Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and which would remain a thorn in the side of the ALP until 1972. The generational change that Gough would come to represent, and his ‘crash or crash through’ style was to force the necessary revolution, and culminate with the much awaited victory and “It’s time…” campaign. Along the way there would be some incredible moments, such as his trip to Beijing in 1971, before Australia had even recognised The People’s Republic of China, and it’s amazing effect on Gough’s international standing.
This book is well written and imbued with a keen intelligence for what was really going on at the time. It captures Australia’s conservative slide into a comfortable style of government, based on exploiting the Australian people’s cold war fears and maintaining the status quo. At the same time, the other side of politics fought amongst themselves whilst trying to work out church and state commitments and historically based class warfare. Gough Whitlam – a moment in history illustrates just how important a strong opposition is, in keeping governments performing at their very best. Gough Whitlam’s career long desire to see the eradication of the senate or upper house, (based on the fact that its creation was, like the British House of Lords, to protect land owners and was intrinsically undemocratic and unrepresentative), was ultimately unsuccessful and proved to be, in the best Greek Mythological tradition; his downfall. This focuses attention on the Rudd government’s situation today, where once again, we have a popularly elected government with a majority in the House of Representatives often unable to pass the legislation that they have a mandate to implement. The senate, which has reinvented itself to become the so called ‘house of review’ is now held ransom by single issue independents and greens. In my opinion, Australian’s are over governed and are paying twice the wage bill to achieve very little but frustration. If a political party is elected on the basis of its policies and a majority of the people have voted to see those policies implemented, what right does an unnecessary and unrepresentative layer of government have to frustrate and prevent these policies being legislated into law? There is no senate or legislative council in Queensland and this makes for a more dynamic and responsive single layer of state government. Removal of the senate federally, would see a more representative lower house, with the greens, independents and minor parties being forced to seek a more representative mandate from the people. Gough Whitlam’s time on top of the hill may be fading in memory, but his vision for Australia is still as sharp as it ever was.
Media Waning December 17, 2008
Posted by sudhahamilton in Blog Posts, Uncategorized.
Tags: ABC, ADHD, Alan Jones, Channel Nine, Christmas, corporate media, entertainment, football, free to air TV, George W Bush, John Howard, journalism, Julia Bishop, Matt Price, media, movies, pay TV, PR, Rupert Murdoch, sport, television, television ratings, TV
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Heading: Media Waning
Subheading: The rapidly changing face of today’s media.
Every time I accidentally flick on to the commercial, free to air, TV stations, I am truly amazed and appalled at what is showing. I try to remember if it has always been this bad or whether it appears worse now, because we have a lot more choice – pay TV, the Internet, DVD’s and the like. Of course, it is particularly bad at this time of the year, Christmas and being outside of the ratings period, but the amount of fluff in their programing is astounding. Reality shows, reality dance shows, Gladiators for god sake, quiz shows, piss weak low budget drama, wall to wall American drivel and news, which is reminiscent of FM radio in the nineties, with so much smiling, local yokel branding, you want to be sick. Quality current affair and drama programs have disappeared. As much as those Channel Nine news personalities were smugly annoying, you could at least sense their journalistic commitment – understandable as they all came from the ABC.
If the rating figures are to be believed, and having worked for Advanced Television Ratings, I can tell you – we do not get a real cross section of the community putting their hand up, to have a people metre attached to every TV in their house (it is quite common these days for families to have 6 TV’s). It is a far more attractive option, for those who regularly like to enter supermarket and radio station competitions, as the ratings company, ATVR, cannot pay people to have the metres on their TV’s, they offer them bonus gift items, like microwave ovens and mobile phone covers – to encourage their participation. You just don’t get busy, intelligent people taking part in these kinds of surveys. But if the ratings figures were to be believed, we definitely do not live in the clever country, unless a whole lot of clever people really like to watch complete rubbish.
Media is now purely entertainment – action movies with stunts and special effects, inane talk shows with staged antics, commercialised sport, PR driven news, reality TV everywhere you look, and I wonder what the mirror is reflecting back to us? Are we smarter than the people watching TV in the 1970′s? The 80′s or 90′s? I don’t think so, not if what we watch is reflecting who we are.
Movies are a hell of a lot worse now, and I think movie making reached a peak in the 70′s, combining strong story lines with characterisation and great dialogue – The Deer Hunter, The Godfather, Sunday Bloody Sunday – where are the likes of these films today? I agree that, Spielberg’s Jaws, introduced us to the teenage led parameters, which have defined movies ever since. We are watching the crap designed for ADHD kiddies, and none of the accountants, who run the industry are complaining – they are, I think, these same kids grown up or sort of grown up anyway.
My main beef with the Media today, however, is the demise of the strong Media owner, who had some passion about what the Media could achieve. Who grew up in the business and cared about what the media could deliver to the communities it served. But siting Murdoch as some last remaining saviour, come on, this is the guy who began the steep decline – giving us commentators instead of real investigative journalism and tabloid exploitation of the basest community appetites. Now the alternative is faceless share holders, demanding bottom lines and ever increasing profits. Do they really care about what journalists are supposed to care about ? The veracity of the story. Selling newspapers, selling advertising space and keeping the account managers happy, are what the corporate media directors are now concerned with – to the exclusion of the needs of the intelligent reader or watcher.
The dumbing down of things, across the board, our political leaders – George. W. Bush and John Howard for ten years, telling you and the rest of the world that they were capable managers. Plagiarism rife in the media – Alan Jones and many more – and in politics our own, Julia Bishop. I remember watching a dumb ass US movie, about some character played by a comedic actor being sent into the future and everyone in the future had succumbed to the PR plunge – nobody knew anything but ad slogans and were surrounded by sexploitation, like on the Internet today. It was actually a great movie, with something to say, about how bloody stupid we have let ourselves become, in return for a nicer house, car and whatever else. Your house, may be now be worth a million dollars, but it doesn’t mean that you have not blocked out large chunks of your social responsibility in return for a pay off. Perhaps the process and the result are related.
I think for news to work, people have to care about what is being reported, both the new’s journalist and the audience are required to give a shit. We do not have that today – the newsroom is seemingly run by performing monkeys working for accountants. It is now all about about entertainment and money. The visual medium has numbed us, with its indiscriminate coverage of tragedy the world over, and we have meaning fatigue from overload. We see the pictures, but we are not so moved anymore. Too many celebrities on the scene and who really wants to see a dying or dead baby? Dots or pixels on the screen making recognisable shapes for an ever shorter, meaningful moment.
The Media today is all about making money. Some say that the Media has always been about making money. Does the Media have any responsibility outside of its money making entertainment value? Do we harp on about members of the Media being so called role models, as we do with sport’s people? Do we examine these same, self righteous, commentators, with the same conviction, as our weekend ball playing heroes? I don’t think so.
Sport’s journalism is, in my opinion, at its lowest ever ebb, it is hardly ever about the game but always about the star players – their falls and foibles – in stark contrast to the sanitised commercial image of the business of playing football. I always read an undercurrent of journalistic jealousy, in the reports of these modern day Achilles. Sporting endeavour is about the quest for glory, and the schmuck in the pub is still dreaming of his own unrealised potential. He doesn’t really want to read about the bullshit and corruption, which underpin sports in the commercial arena. He knows about that intimately in his own life – why his boss is ripping him off and why everybody hates the boss at work. Tell us about the game and the glorious acts, which were committed in fulfilling the crazy quest to win, we can see the game on countless screens, but sharing the joy with language befitting a writer, is something sadly lacking. Mr sport’ s journalist you are a writer, a communicator – why not Matt Price like, tell us your story and let us in. We want to share your appreciation of the unlikely and laugh with you at the courage shown by these tribal warriors while chasing a ball and never giving in.
If the Media is cynical, if the mirror does not reflect the magic all around; then we will all turn to our own personal media- and maybe that is not a bad thing.
What is the Wellness Industry? December 15, 2008
Posted by sudhahamilton in Blog Posts.
Tags: allopathic medicine, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, happiness, health, Hippocratic oath, Midas Words, modern medicine, Pan Vitamin Crisis, TGA, wellbeing, wellness industry, westerm medicine
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Heading: What is the Wellness Industry?
Subheading: A look at the health system.
Welcome to the latest installment of Midas Words, where words are designed to change your world, whether it be for the wiser or the wealthier. Midas Words has been created to stimulate thought and to aid you in your journey into greater wellbeing, in business and in life. There has been of late, a great deal of talk about the new – “wellness industry” – and I think it might be useful to establish what some of its defining aspects are.
Looking back historically, humanity has always been interested in its own mortality, how to preserve it, improve it and prolong it. At the same time, these primary urges have also often provoked an economic response, as those with the knowledge and/or skills to heal, have sought to be renumerated for their services. A fare exchange being the bedrock upon which we have based our capitalist system, and which allows those so inclined to practise their specialised craft.
For the last hundred years, or so, the state sponsored health industry in our country has been the exclusive domain of those trained via the allopathic school of medicine (defined as the use of opposites in treating disease* and is commonly referred to as ‘modern medicine”). A consequence of this proliferation of a “one school” specialised approach, has been the disempowerment of the individual in his or her responsibility for their own health. Our failure, to include a greater emphasis on health and wellbeing, when educating our young has further removed the individual’s ability to manage his or her own health.
However, despite some magnificent breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases such as childhood leukaemia, heart disease and many more, there has been a growing general disaffection with modern medicine and its inability to treat chronic illnesses. Perhaps also in part due to its failure to respectfully deal with the mind, as distinct from the body, and science’s continuing inability to understand human consciousness; but also in it’s arrogant dismissal of alternative healing approaches. Modern medicine is after all a big business, and like many big businesses, it prefers a monopoly to competition for those health dollars. Funded by large pharmaceutical corporations it treads a precarious path in its bid to fulfil its Hippocratic oath,** and not be swayed by the often unseen lure of filthy lucre.
It is the general overview of the modern medical/pharmaceutical behemoth, that there will be a pharmacological cure/treatment for every disease/medical condition, if you can find or fabricate the right drug/ingredient. Whether this premise is indeed correct, or not, cannot hide the fact that for many people the current crop of available pharmaceutical drugs is not the panacea that they are searching for right now. Many in the community (a recent Victorian survey confirmed up to two thirds surveyed had consulted an alternative non-allopathic practitioner) have turned away from the local GP, prescribing pain killers and antibiotics, in search of an alternative, that is possibly more inclusive and often gives them more time, care and understanding. In response to this market led shift away from complete dominance of the health industry there has been some small cross fertilisation by doctors learning acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy and the like – and the renaming of alternative health as complementary health (proving in business that if you cannot eradicate your competition then the next best thing is to incorporate them into your own business).
This just about puts us where we are, at the beginning of the 21C, and in the midst of a trend or movement toward wellness or preventative medicine, where a growing proportion of the population are self-medicating with vitamins, minerals, supplements and organic food. This is generally, I believe, in the hope that they will avoid many of the diseases, that their parents and grandparents have fallen foul of, and indeed beyond that- to live longer and better lives. Enter the wellness industry with its rapidly growing nutriceutical manufacturers, associated bodies representing natural practitioners, natural health media and a host of astute businesses, recognising a hugely expanding market, that have jumped on the band wagon.
As in many sections within the business community, you can find a mixture of motivating reasons why these people are involved in this particular industry: personal commitments based on health issues that have affected themselves or a close family member; vocational destiny; avarice, pure chance and a combination of the above. However, as more and more existing companies seek to align themselves with this push toward health, the number of people, who will find themselves working in a health related field, will continue to grow exponentially; and these people will need to be educated beyond their current level of knowledge.
The recognition and accreditation, recently achieved by many of the natural health educational institutions, is tantamount to this fact. The establishment of the Complementary Healthcare Council, under the direction of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and the ever growing legislative requirements of this body- is further testament to the size and recognition of the natural health industry. Recent problems, best illustrated by the Pan Vitamin Crisis, saw the largest recall of vitamins ever seen in this country. Hundreds of lines of vitamin supplements were recalled, in defiance of the fact, that Pan, was also a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, and that the Travacalm product, which caused the serious complaints, which led to the TGA action, was actually a pharmaceutical item. This disturbing incident has created a certain unease within the general public and I am sure has had long lasting negative implications for the industry.
However it seems regulation is necessary, and for the industry to continue to grow, certain requirements will need to be met. History shows, that pioneers, who establish new industries will often resent government interference at first, but that it is part and parcel of the natural evolution from small to big business. Of course many of the vitamin manufacturers are primarily pharmaceutical companies, who have developed the vitamins as a side line or who recognising the market growth have bought in. It does raise certain questions about their positions on the Complementary Healthcare Council and could be seen to be somewhat compromised. Who are they representing, and what hat are they wearing, when decisions affecting both the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry and the traditionally less regulated natural health supplement industry are being made. It is in my view, always a shame, when the expense of regulation moves an industry out of the financial reach of many of those who wish to take part in it, but the upside of this is the removal of many of the so called “snake oil” salesmen who inhabit it (the future possibility that snake oil is found to actually contain the ingredients of some wonder drug would render this metaphor obsolete). Welcome to the wellness industry.
* whereas homeopathy uses minute doses of substances that create similar effects to the existing symptoms of the condition.
|Hippocrates, the father of medicine
Hippocratic Oath — Classical Version
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art – if they desire to learn it – without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.
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