Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010:
US AND THEM: Identity and the State
We Irish think otherwise” Bishop Berkeley
US AND THEM: Identity and the State
* I am indebted to Karen at Oddity Journal for this wonderful image of the tesseract. See http://odditycollector.livejournal.com/173945.html
The current crisis in Europe over the Euro is one part of a much larger process of cultural transformation. The Mediterranean basin is a different cultural-ecology from the North. Historically, the North has been Protestant, industrious, and clean to the point of compulsiveness, whereas the sunlit South has been messy, relaxed and unconscious of the quantification of linear time.
Just take the train from Zurich to Italy and notice the trash accumulating in the river Po, and observe that when you change trains, the local trains do not run on schedule as they do in Zurich. At a scholarly conference in San Marino, I asked an Italian colleague why the Northern League was so down on the South that it wished to separate politically? He explained with some open distaste that southern Italy was really part of Africa and was to Tuscany—with its culture going back to the Etruscans—what Algeria was to Provence.
This cultural divide seems to be an archetypal one, like that of Anglos vs. Mexicans in our American Southwest. But now that the world’s richest man, Señor Carlos Slim Helú, the telecommunications billionaire, is a Mexican, perhaps we can put that cliché of the cold industrious North vs. the sunlit lazy South to rest.
Cultural descriptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies as behavior imitates media and serves to turn a shallow cliché into a deep archetype. Recall that it was the Dime Novel that created the mythic cowboy. Billy the Kid was a teenager acting out.
When I was an elementary parochial school child, I was taught that Europe was a continent. I became confused and looked for the edge, the border. If you turn the map sideways, you see that Western Europe is simply a peninsula on the large continent of Eurasia. And if you stop to think of all the movements of nomads, from Kurgans to Huns to Mongols to Turks across that great space, you realize that Eurasia is indeed a single continent.
The class structure of aristocratic Europe with its blue blood of kings comes from the domestication of the horse and the later invention of the stirrup. There were those who walked and farmed, and those who rode and plundered. The warrior produced an upper class of knights and priests, and the conquered slaves and serfs generated the class of workers and food-producers.
Even in the area of the arts, there are no borders and the Renaissance of Europe was set in motion by the Sufis a century before the Italians, so the Mediterranean cultural-ecology is the true shape of the civilization.
Water unites more than it divides and it is sometimes easier to get from one place to another swiftly by sea than slowly over land. El Andaluz, Majorca, and Sicily were major Islamic gateways into the soul of Christian Europe.
The Irish came to Ireland by sea from Belgium, France, and Spain. Celtic bagpipes came to the North from Galicia and Morocco. And if we knew the whole story, we might find that the proto-Celts before they moved to Hallstad in Austria and La Tène in Switzerland had been in Turkey and that Gobekli Tepe may be their homeland. So should Turkey be part of Europe? That depends, of course, on what you mean by Europe and how you construct its history.
At the moment, Western Europe is having trouble integrating Eastern and Southern Europe, and public resentment against the bureaucrats in Brussels combined with Europe’s lack of a central Bank to co-ordinate monetary policy would seem to indicate that Europe has more problems of integration on its hands than simply that of Islam and Christendom.
Ruling elites construct their own mythic history to rationalize their hegemony. Whether it is the case of Han China, Western Europe, or the early American Republic, a ruling class establishes a myth of supremacy and seeks to eliminate cultural diversity. Presidents Jefferson and most definitely Jackson did not subscribe to Tecumseh’s vision of cultural diversity in developing the territory of the Louisiana Purchase.
Canada and the United States seem in the twenty-first century more open to cultural integration and able to accept Muslims as no more foreign to their nationhood than Buddhists, Hindus or Sikhs. What we have now with the Birthers and Tea Partiers is simply this century’s version of the White Protestant rural nativism that has always expressed itself in our history as a protest against the presence of Irish Catholics, Blacks, Jews, Latinos, or any other group that was an “other.”
Whether it is the Know Nothing Party or the KKK, or the Aryan Nation survivalists of Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the folks who now hate Obama and claim he is a Muslim and a Kenyan also hate the liberals and the university-educated in the cities with their high-falutin sciences of evolution and global warming.
Whenever a culture is dying it has its most heated and violent expression; it is the supernova of the dying star. Thanks to DNA research we know now that the myth of White Supremacy is a lie and that we are all closely related, come out of Africa, and that the Bushman is our original ancestor. So the little statue of the steatopygous Venus of Willendorf that was found in Europe probably does mean that Africans lived in Europe in the Ice Age.
Humans have been on the move since the primates came down out of the trees and had to deal with a larger society on the ground than was possible in the branches. We got very good at reading faces and our sex life became much more complex and both forms of recognition served in the development of cognition. This complexity is still expressed in our literature, from Dairmuid and Graine, Tristan and Iseult, Wis and Ramin, The Tale of Genji, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenina–and on to all of the thousands of knock-offs in the soap operas of movies and television.
But in these sagas of love and war, the effort to simplify and return to a prelapsarian state of monogamy in a garden, or peace in a homeland, never works out peacefully, whether for the Irish, the Serbs, or the Israelis. Like a shadow that follows us as we walk toward the setting sun, tragedy follows us into the Homeland.
The conclusion I draw from this as a former Romantic Irish nationalist is that in Northern Ireland, Ulster has the right to stay Protestant and part of the UK if it wants to, but that there should be plebiscites in the six counties to let each decide individually whether they wish to be Irish Republicans or British Monarchists. My people come from both Ulster and Tipperary, so I can never be simply Protestant or Catholic. Truth is, all humans are diploid.
The effort to ethnically cleanse one area to create a pure homeland where patriotism is based on territorial identity is a mistake, a mistake that will only lead to increased violence and unending wars.
The State should not be a pure homeland and a source of identity, as the violent history of my own Irish homeland indicates. Although it was once useful in the cultural transition from tribal to national society, the myth of the state needs to be stripped of its fake costumes and pageantry. In our new planetary civilization, the state has become a public service utility.
To let the rich continue talking the poor into dying to protect the state’s economic interests in a seizure of patriotism is as ridiculous as dying for ConEd. The children of the poor who could not find jobs and went into the army because there were no scholarships to send them to college did not die in Iraq defending their country. They were lied to by the draft dodgers Bush and Cheney and they died fighting for Halliburton and the oil and defense industries. The American Air Force and Navy need Middle Eastern oil if they are to continue to be able to project power globally and protect all the naval choke-points of the straits through which oil tankers move.
So, should Turkey be part of Europe? Should there be minarets in Switzerland as there are in the Balkans? Should Israel be an exclusively orthodox Jewish state? It depends on what you mean by Europe or Israel and how you construct them and their history.
But here one needs to remember that cultural integration is a two-way street. For the Ottoman Turks to turn the basilica of Hagia Sophia into a mosque was a conscious act of violence against Byzantine Civilization, just as it was to construct the Catholic church on top the Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, the Cathedrals of Chartres and Notre Dame at Druid sites in France, or the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
To base one’s identity on religion and forcefully superimpose it on another’s is as arrogant and genocidal as to base one’s identity on patriotism and superimpose it on territory taken from others. Perhaps as a gesture of cultural integration, the European Union should accept Turkey in recognition of Turkey’s transforming the mosque of Hagia Sophia into a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To include an architectural history of the three Abrahamic religions in New Byzantium would serve to create a new history for a new world civilization and set a precedent for a New Jerusalem.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad