Saturday, December 31, 2011
Book Review: Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon
by Simon (Avon Books 2006)
This was a great read. Simon sure can weave a tale, though in this book he recounts the rather bizarre story of how the famous grimoire – The Necronomicon – ie. The Book of Dead Names, fell into his hands. It has been assumed, according to internet analysis and a book that has been written, that the Necronomicon is a hoax, invented and perpetuated by Simon and his colleagues. Simon (a professed pseudonym) here presents his argument that the Necronimocon is a real textual grimoire written in Greek by an Arab late in the first millenium CE. He claimed that the manuscript turned up as a part of the booty in a theft ring of esoteric books from libraries (mostly European) in the 70’s. He shows the actual newspaper article about the two priests implicated in the thefts. Simon is apparently a priest of the Eastern Orthodox sect who became more and more interested in ceremonial magick as time passed. He worked with the OTO in New York City (but said he was never a member), taught classes in magick at Herman Slater’s Warlock Shoppe in New York City, and was part of the varied magickal community an NYC during the magical revival of the 70’s and 80’s. He does a great job of painting a picture of that time and place. The Warlock Shoppe became Magickal Childe in the 80’s and I remember getting the catalogues from them then so I actually remember many of the things to which he refers. Simon does mention in the preface that he does at times attribute conduct to himself to protect the privacy of some others – particularly ecclesiastical personnel – involved, who do not wish to risk their reputations.
The Necronomicon has been assumed to have been invented as a legendary magic text in the 20’s by the horror author H.P Lovecraft who apparently mentions both the book and a bit of its content. Simon claims to never have heard of Lovecraft’s story when the Necronomicon fell into his hands. If this is true we are left to ponder how Lovecraft knew about it which remains unanswered. Simon’s Necronomicon contains many names from ancient Sumerian. The Sumerian script and pronunciation was not recovered and interpreted until the late 19th century. This can only mean that there was a tradition practicing with Sumerian deities until the late Dark Ages when the Arab composed the text. Certainly Sumerian would have been known to the later Babylonians and Assyrians. Simon suggests that it was kept up by tribal peoples. The text contains ‘bastardized’ Sumerian and Babylonian intermingled with Neoplatonic type magic which is what one might expect from a later text. If the text did emanate from Arabia – it would not be so far-fetched as Arabia is very close geographically to southern Iraq and ancient Sumer and Babylon. Yemen is also an area referred to in ancient and modern works in the Necronomicon and in works on Arabic magick.
Simon teaches us about the ‘wandering bishops’ – bishops of various Christian churches with shoddy or non-existent credentials. He tells the story of Andrew Prazsky, who became a bishop of the Slavonic Orthodox Church at a young age under bizarre circumstances and his friend, the writer Peter Lavenda. Prazsky started his own church, was a collector of church paraphernalia (and rare occult texts), a well known homosexual, a shyster, and employer of the two priests convicted in the rare book heists. Simon thinks that he burned the manuscripts, including the Necronomicom, out of fear of being implicated. Prazsky died under mysterious circumstances – possibly accidental but likely a suicide. His aged father committed suicide before him by hanging himself in the church on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas. These tragedies are part of the “Dark History of the Necronomicon” as is the suicide of the original publisher – Larry Barnes of Barnes Graphics – from a drug overdose. Herman Slater and his partner at the occult shop died of AIDS. Simon tells the stories of all these people but notes that the history was not all dark as many people did quite well. He tells the story of a vibrant occult scene that included varied groups and types of people from Wicca, paganism, OTO, Church of Satan, Process Church (this one an offshoot from Scientology), New Age, and even the Son of Sam Cult that was implicated in several serial murders and animal sacrifices. Simon was apparently involved in the staging of fests such as the performance of the Rock Opera Book of the Law – which incidentally is why I originally got the book – as I was looking for info on this – I have it on a cassette somewhere but not much can be found on the internet about it. The performance and recording was done by a band called Black 47 (though they may have been called – The Major Thinkers – then. A guy named Larry Kirwan is credited with some of the music. His band, Black 47, is apparently quite popular now as an Irish band in NYC area and has done music for many movies. People congregated around a pub called Bells of Hell and Simon was part of a group called StarGroup One that put things together media and magic-wise. Even the Marvel Comics crowd were among the folk. Later in the book Simon gives updates on several of these folk.
Simon goes into great detail about the goings on of the Wandering Bishops including Pratzsky’s and Lavenda’s daring appearance (as teens) at the televised funeral of Robert Kennedy where they apparently faked their way in dressed as young priests in Russian Orthodox garb and knew enough of the rite to seem authentic. This happened before they became recognized priests and helped authenticate them. Many of the ‘apostolic successions’ or lineages of various sects are examined.
Simon talks about the appearance of the book, his getting various people to translate it from the Greek and other people to re-draw all the sigils in the book. He describes how Larry Barnes came into the picture, how the book was promoted, the first hardbound edition, and the eventual mass market paperback edition by Avon Books - that was not originally planned. Many people have criticized this format for a secret and potentially dangerous grimoire but Simon seems to like that it was available to people at low cost. There is much discussion also of young occultists working with it as a symbol of the self-professed and quite reckless teenage satanist. The book was found to be possessed by a small teenage cult who committed murder and was suggested to be possibly implicated in other occult crimes but Simon shrugs off such nonsense. He also gives a good history of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the late 1980’s that brought occult crime paranoia to its height with most of it found to be a total hoax. The Son of Sam Cult was an exception. Ritual murders were committed by them as part of an offshoot of the Process Church which was itself an offshoot of Scientology. This Cult had nothing to do with the Necronomicon but some of its members undoubtably crossed paths and shared events with others in the general occult community of the time and place. Simon gives has own interesting analysis of troubled teenager occultism below:
“The idea that reciting a few prayers from a book enables one to master the unseen world is very attractive to the disenfranchised elements of our society. Those who are powerless in any other way – politically, economically, socially – can seek solace in these forbidden books and a means to self-empowerment. That is why troubled and disturbed teenagers find the occult so fascinating, for they are suffering from two forms of stress: the normal stress of being adolescent in a world full of stimulation and excess, and the stress that comes from psychological imbalance and disorder. In effect, these troubled youths are potential shamans for they fit many of the requirements of shamanism as described in works by Mircea Eliade, for instance: mental disorders, confusion over sexual identity, creative sensitivity, social ostracism. In the case of the shamans, the initiate returns to the tribe empowered by the spirits to fulfill a necessary role as healer and seer. In our case – in modern Western, scientifically oriented society – the “initiate” has no social function to fulfill, no “redeeming social value,” and no cultural framework in which to understand the changes that are taking place within his soul or the strange desires that motivate him. He either outgrows this fascination with the occult as he forces himself into some semblance of balance or conformity, or he turns into a Roderick Ferrell and looks for sacrificial victims. There is rarely a desire to turn to organized religion for comfort or understanding, since the whole point of the occult quest is to seek out an alternative form of spiritual expression, one that provides avenue for the deep conflicts one is experiencing as well as an outlet for the anti-social acts he feels driven to commit. Organized religion is ill-equipped to deal in a constructive way with feelings of anger, rage, lust, and the other, baser human emotions and instincts. Its approach has always been to control or exorcise those feelings, to rein them in or banish them entirely. The occultist – especially the young, adolescent occultist – distrusts that approach to what he believes are his natural inclinations.”
Part 2 of the book is called – The Sumerian Tradition and the Hidden God – and this part I found to be rather fascinating. Apparently the similarities of the Necronomicon to an authentic Sumerian text such as the Enuma Elish, recovered in archaeological investigations – show the Necronomicon to have gone through many changes – to have been ‘bastardized’ as Simon puts it, by time and cultural crossings. He suggests that there are so many references to Sumerian and later Akkadian and Babylonian civilizations that the grimoire is a unique survival of an occult system that made its way through various changes of empire and was glossed over by the popular neo-Platonic forms of Hermetic magick of the Mediterranean areas of the early years of the first millenium. It is well known that the Babylonians and Akkadians preserved the Sumerian language as well as Sumerian religion and magic. According to Simon:
“What we seem to have is an attempt by a Middle Eastern occultist to syncretize the oral tradition of his cult, a Sumerian tradition, with the more literate Gnostic and neo-Platonist influences alive in his environment.”
Simon suggests that the Toda people of Southwest India were Sumerians that had fled and eventually landed there. Their stone monuments and the symbols thereon – eight petaled star flower, seven pointed stars, lunar crescent horns, and scorpions are very similar to Sumerian monuments and so to is their god On – to the Sumerian An, or Anu. Sumerian loan words are thought to be in their language – which is an Elamite-Dravidian dialect. The Elamites came from Iran northeast of Mesopotamia but their precursor culture may have as well been the Sumerian precursor culture as well as perhaps the Indus Valley culture. Genetic markers of the Toda – which is a very small tribal population – are apparently much different than most Indians, and they are much lighter skinned than most South Indian Dravidians. Simon suggests the possibility that the Toda fled Sumeria when the Semitic Babylonians invaded around 2000 BC. The example of he Toda is given as one possibility as to how a Sumerian tradition could survive. Next he talks about the cult of the Yezidis in northern Iraq that have Shaitan as a deity. As well they venerate Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel and the well-known demon Azazel – who they call Melek Azazel. This is thought to be similar to the Canaanite deity Asiz. Simon suggests a relation to the Azif of the Necronomicon – which refers to the ‘nocturnal howling of the Jinn’ and - Al Azif - is apparently the Arabic title of the Necronomicon. Azazel is also the scapegoat of the Jews, carrier of the sins away into the wilderness. The very fact that these deities (Azazel, Shaitan [Satan]) are demons and devils in Islamic and later ceremonial magick traditions suggests that perhaps they were gods in earlier cultures. Yezidism was formed from earlier cults during the life of the founder Sufi – Sheikh Adi ben Musafir – in the 1100’s C.E. Previous to this there was a mythical belief in the area of - the King of the Jinn, aka Shaitan or Ibliss. Simon links the Yezidi beliefs in seven angels, a forgetful God, and other symbols and practices to ancient Mesopotamian beliefs. The admonitions in the Necronomicon “Spirit of the earth remember, Spirit of the sky remember” also suggest that the gods are forgetful.
Simon suggests that Lovecraft’s demon Cthulhu is the same as KUTULU given in the Necronomocon which means “Man of Kutu” or “Man of the Underworld.” In the north of Sumer was the city of Cutha, or Gudua, or Kutu (in Semitic). The deity of this city was Nergal, god of Mars. It was also a necropolis, a ‘city of the dead’ or resting place of the dead. Nergal was also a god of death and the Underworld and ancient tablets apparently mention the forces of chaos being ‘suckled’ by the monstrous sea goddess Tiamat – similar to the Necronomicon descriptions. Simon links the Cuthites to the biblical Samaritans who apparently are still a small minority in Israel and still practice animal sacrifice as in the old ways. Apparently they were also around Saudi Arabia in the early centuries A.D. and were in Mecca during the time of Mohammed as is mentioned. The Samaritans were considered heretics by the Jews for worshipping idols. Mohammed was of the priestly tribe called the Quraysh who were in charge of the Black Stone of Mecca. Pre-Islamic peoples would visit and circumambulate this stone/Ka’aba/cube (much as Moslems do today) which was associated with 360 deities – 360 being a well known Babylonian number of the complete circle, the zodiac, and time. Mohammed may have exploited the Jews’ disdain for the Samaritans in order to convert the Jews of Mecca to Islam. The seven circumambulations of the stone at Mecca may well be presaged by the seven gates of several Sumerian and Babylonian stories (as in a few different Inanna myths) and the seven steps of the ziggurats – and the various symbolism of the seven zonei, or wanderers/planets given in the Necronomicon and Babylonian omen astrology. Simon suggests that the sacrifice of goats and sheep among Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca harks back to pre-Islamic times and that the priests of the Quraysh tribe may have been the old priests of the war god Nergal at Cutha. After being won over to Mohammed’s doctrine they conquered Mesopotamia (their old homeland?) and the caliphate was eventually set up in Baghdad. The Quraysh tribe was known to be in Babylon around 200 A.D. during the Sassanid Persian Empire where they acquired writing and practices of the Persian Magi. They also brought to Mecca the Mesopotamian deities Hubal and al-Uzza (Goddess of Venus). Nergal was known at this time period in Mesopotamia as well. As far as chthonic deities such as Nergal, Simon notes that Lovecraft invented in his stories – Miskatonic University – which certainly suggests the word ‘chthonic” in its European pronunciation. He also notes a pre- Lovecraft occurrence of a Semitic version of the word Kutulu in a recently found version of – The Key of Solomon – thought to have been lost. Here the name and seal of Kutulu (KThULH) is immediately followed by a description of the Mazkim – the ‘liers in wait’ demons mentioned in the Necronomicon. Many years after the book was published Simon mentions being led to a web posting on Arabic magic where it was posted that khathoolan is a word in Arabic meaning ‘deserter’ and can also refer to Satan in the Quran. He suggests that perhaps Lovecraft had some sort of access to lost Arab magic information. “Deserter’ or ‘abandoner’ again suggests the old forgetful gods.
In describing the key Middle Eastern influences on the Western occult traditions Simon offers the following:
“... the most dramatic influence on modern occultism derives from the Qabala of the Jews, the astrology of the Babylonians, and the syncretistic mass of supernatural beliefs and practices inherited from the ancient Egyptians, the Gnostics, the Arabs, the Manicheans, and others that have come down to us in such esoteric traditions as alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Templarism, and Freemasonry.”
Lovecraft gave a date of 730 A.D. for the writing of the Necronomicon. This would be about a hundred years after the founding of Islam and among the height of the conquests where old pagan beliefs were in deep danger of being wiped out – as is indicated in the dire language of the ‘Mad Arab’ in the Necronomicon.
Simon goes on to compare the works of the Thelemic mages, Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Grant, and Jack Parsons in regards to the Sumerian tradition. Crowley encountered the Yezidi in his travels and was quoted by Grant as saying that the rediscovery of the Sumerian tradition was a key goal of magick. The spirit/loa/god/trans-human intelligence said to have dictated the – Book of the Law – to Crowley’s consort at the time – was named Aiwas. Aiwas was said by Crowley to have been the true name of the god of the Yezidis. Aiwas has also been equated to Shaitan and in several Thelemic rites is given as Shaitan-Aiwas. Though Simon thinks Lovecraft had access to authentic Arabic magic texts – perhaps the Necronomicon itself, Grant considered Lovecraft to have somehow channeled these authentic ancient currents. There is also mentioned a (legendary?) Arabic grimoire called – The Veils of Negative Existence – which was said by occult scholar Francis King to have once been in the possession of the Golden Dawn. He also discusses Grant’s notion of – The Hidden God – perhaps in reference to old displaced gods in general as the gods of our ancestors still remotely accessible to us and/or to the dangerous and chaotic/chthonic “Ancient Ones” mentioned in the Necronomicon.
Simon goes through the initiatory structure in the Necronomicon where one encounters the Seven Gates – again equated to the planets, colors, symbols, and other correspondences. Also there is reference to guarding the gates (in service to humanity) magically so that chaotic and destructive magical forces don’t find their way through to our plane. There is an account of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld and her return. Simon suggests that she did not return alone but brought dangerous magical forces with her. Also discussed is the possibility that the Sumerian religion refers to extraterrestrial contact – such as was mentioned and written extensively about by the late Zacharia Sitchin. There is a ritual in the text of blood sacrifice – which really makes the detractors of the text cringe and consider it an evil satanic text – but as Simon points out – animal sacrifice was quite common in pagan times and is common then and today as well among Muslims and many other peoples. One would perhaps expect it from a non-Christianized sect of that time and place.
Next Simon refutes much of the information floating around the internet about the book and how it came to be. He exclusively refutes many of the assertions of Gonce and Harm’s book – The Necronomicon Files – published in 1998 and 2003. Though I have never read this book – Simon does take quotes from it and soundly refute them. He suggests that it is mostly an amateurish attack on his credibility, the authenticity of the text, and the danger of the text in leading to occult crime. Simon’s arguments, especially as to lore, are well referenced and clearly and well stated.
Simon also notes a few other books he has penned about the Necronomicon: The Gates of the Necronomicon – and the Necronomicon Spellbook. There is another one I have by Donald Tyson that was published around the same times as – Dead Names – but I have not read it. At a glance it looks like it does have quite a bit of lore that perhaps corroborates some of Simon’s work.
I really enjoyed this book – a fast and exciting read. Whether what - Simon says – is true or partially true or an elaborate hoax – it sure was a fun read. I have found Simon’s analysis in this book to be intelligent, plausible, accurate to what I know, and so he does seem sincere. I read the Necronomicon many years ago and may have done some preliminary exercises with it but no major rituals. I do know a few people that have done some of the rites and I do recall some strange results. The fact that the Necronomicon was published in small paperback format by Avon – as was this book – Dead Names – made it very inexpensive and available. It was a very good selling occult book compared to most in such a genre. I remember actually familiarizing myself as a late teen (with a few magical comrades) with the deities and ideas in the book. We saw it as daring and perhaps dangerous but not as satanic or destructive. We appreciated the ancient lore and the possibility of tapping into lost and perhaps powerful sources of magical energy.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Book Review: Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege by Will Potter (City Lights Books 2011)
This is a well written book about radical activism and so-called eco-terrorism. It focuses mostly on radical animal rights activism but also on radical environmentalism. There is some great history and analysis of radical activism. Though I do not agree with the author on many points it is usually a matter of degree. The author is a journalist interested in animal rights and the environment and friend to some of the convicted activists and he really does present some great information, arguments, and perspectives. He is very well informed and his bias is toward greater freedoms for activists but not overly so as he presents reasonable viewpoints and considers other views. Some of the book involves personal accounts of visits with activists and descriptions of court cases that the author attended.
The author shows how the terrorism scare after 911 allowed the government to clamp down more against radical activists by defining them more and more as terrorists. He makes a good case for the radical animal rights activists not being in the same league with terrorists that seek to kill people for political reasons. One could say that they are ‘property terrorists’ having committed numerous arsons. These groups such as Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) are the ones mainly targeted but members of other groups have been convicted and sent to prison for things like veiled incitement and harassing company employees. Greenpeace and the Sea Sheppard have shared their exploits on TV on “Whale Wars” which I have seen. They are as well referred to as eco-terrorists. Certainly their methods are controversial and disrupting, but in their case, towards what are basically illegal whaling practices that are not being investigated or enforced.
A major theme of this book is how terms are defined: terrorism, non-violence, incitement – and how the legal definitions affect people. The author mentions the three volume work – The Politics of Non-violent Action – by Gene Sharp. Sharp gives a spectrum from Non-violence to Violence. At one end is “non-violent resistance and direct action” and at the other extreme is “physical violence against persons to inflict injury or death...” At question is where acts of sabotage and property damage and destruction fall on this spectrum. Certainly they are more akin to violence than to non-violence. Although the author notes that certain types of property destruction directed specifically at the property of perpetrators of perceived violence to animals (for instance), he does not really address adequately the uncertainty this may cause in the general populace who may be wondering what will happen next and how violent – or to what extremes are they willing to go? It is not enough to say – “oh they are just burning buildings, or blowing up labs, or SUVs to prove a point. They are not trying to hurt anyone.” The fact is no one knows whether they will hurt someone either purposely or accidently, whether through consensus or a renegade decision from someone willing to go further than the rest. While it is important to define terrorism and to distinguish between people whose goals are to kill humans for political reasons and those who just want to cause property damage and weaken institutions perceived as immoral – The public and the laws need to adequately protect against both. Although the ultra radical animal rights activists have been effective at weakening certain testing labs and corporations – I think overall they have weakened the whole animal rights agenda by co-opting the movement and marginalizing it. Now people interested in animal rights are marginalized as extremists because of them. Even groups like PETA who have done some good work in whistle-blowing and exposing disgusting practices have opted to flaunt footage and be generally aggressive (though not always) which also has helped to keep animal rights out of the mainstream.
Potter gives some great history of domestic terrorism – the Oklahoma City bombing, abortion clinic bombings, the Waco cult, militias, tax protestors, white separatists groups, Ku Klux Klan, and animal rights actions. He makes the observation that right-wing terrorism has been ignored in favor of clamping down specifically on animal rights and radical environmental activists which are perceived as left-wing. This may be the case and perhaps was especially so during the Bush years. Some Homeland Security officials even said that Timothy McVeigh was not a terrorist! I think he is suggesting that some want to define terrorism more as an anti-government stance than as a pro-violence group. Several of these other groups have definitely advocated and practiced violence against humans and murder. The animal rights groups and radical environmental groups have not. They have done a significant amount of arson and property destruction but have carefully avoided violence against humans yet they have been targeted much more aggressively by the government. This is certainly of note but I think that perhaps the reason that this is so is that they are more vocal, more organized, and act as a radicalized form of a much larger movement that is mainstream for the most part. For these reasons they may be easier to investigate by the gov. Much of the radical animal and earth rights groups have opted for such controversial acts as publically humiliating corporate leaders with pies in the face. PETA has used this as well. Earth First has advocated ‘tree spiking’ which could result in injury to loggers though the group has been split over the practice and no one has actually been hurt by the process.
Rachel Carson’s book - Silent Spring – from 1962, is widely credited as sparking the modern environmental movement. Other philosophical precursors were of course the 19th century transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau and the conservationist John Muir who founded the Sierra Club. The first Earth Day was in 1970 and has by now gone way mainstream. This time period saw the first anonymous radical environmentalists targeting polluters. “Ecotage” was practiced, techniques were shared, and cult followings developed. Not all were left wing. Increased radicalization occurred in the 1980s. Greenpeace became known for nonviolent direct action. The much more radicalized ALF and ELF became well established in the UK and established clandestine training camps and new cells in the US. By 1987 the phrase “domestic terrorism” was used to label animal rights crimes and the term “eco-terrorist” was introduced to a wider audience. There is also documented violence and disproportional response to protestors by police. We have seen this occasionally as well in the recent Occupy Wall Street protests. Unfortunately for the most radical activists, the September 11 tragedy opened the gates for the government to crack down further on them. State and local homeland security groups with new money infused to them were also trained to respond to the “eco-Al Qaeda.” The Patriot Act helped out with the ability of the gov to practice domestic spying. These activities resulted in more arrests of these more radical of activists although as the author points out this did not significantly reduce incidences of radical actions – at least in the short term. The threat of harsher sentences through re-defining property destruction as terrorism brought out more informants. The author makes comparisons to the “red scare’ of the 1950s where people were singled out as ‘communist sympathizers’ and so-called “red squads” were convened to spy on citizens. The money was available to homeland security groups to support such efforts and so there certainly were some similarities but again the author does not address the massive property damage caused by the radicals. The communist sympathizers were an imagined enemy and certainly some reputations were damaged. In contrast the radical animal and earth rights groups caused millions of dollars in damage and multiple arsons, bombings, break-ins, and harassing stalkings of corporations and their affiliates. I certainly would not dispute that the homeland security Barney Fifes would not be discerning enough to know a violent criminal from just a crafty radical one but perhaps therein lies an issue. Where does one draw the line? Like it or not these people have been lumped in with terrorists and this has been an unexpected boon to the corporations and institutions that they are fighting against. If animal rights and environmental justice would go more mainstream then the corps would be forced to change. If they can be portrayed as extremists then the goals of the whole movement are weakened and any gains that they temporarily made – and they did manage to significantly weaken and nearly shut down some animal testing labs – are moot. I think it is unfortunate that the extremism has focused the issues on the violence and how to deal with the extremists rather than the unnecessary violence being perpetrated on animals and the environment. My own opinion is that there should be a third party ethical committee from different ideological perspectives that reviews each proposed animal experiment – and provides guidelines as to how (or how not) to proceed. I think we should also have an Animal Protection Agency (APA) like the EPA that reviews, guides, and enforces.
The author gives details of various animal rights sabotage actions and cases after the activists were apprehended. He gives great details into the case against – Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty – or SHAC – which began in the UK and expanded into the US in protest of animal testing by – Huntingdon Life Sciences - for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals deemed to be cruel and beyond any medical or health necessity. SHAC targeted money and sought to expose those who financed and affiliated with the lab. The lab was basically on the run and hide from the crafty activists. Although SHAC did not participate in illegal activist actions they supported them vocally. In 1992 the – Animal Enterprise Protection Act – was passed specifically to deal with sabotage against animal enterprises. At the time, many animals, mostly minks, were being releases from fur farms by activists. SHAC was accused of targeting individuals – or exposing them and making them known – so that ALF could target them. Even though I agree that this is at least borderline criminal – some of these people received prison sentences longer than murderers – especially the ones convicted after the – Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act – which apparently has vague language that fails to adequately protect First Amendment Rights – as several of the terrorism-related bills seem to share. The author was actually a part of the deliberations for this bill – expressing its inadequacies and First Amendment problems. He also exposes the lobbying groups like ALEC who draft legislation and the sneaky nature of congressional process that slips bills in without due debate.
Animal experimentation companies and radical animal rights activists have had wars of words, of media, and of manipulation of public opinion. But through the war rhetoric one does not see the clear mistreatment of animals – though in some respects the activists have brought that to the public eye – especially through whistle-blowing and clandestine recordings of animal abuse. Such recordings have shown abuse that may well be routine among people who show poor morality. Most sensible people would find such acts repugnant – yet the public’s focus is shifted to the radical acts of the activists which is where these companies want it. The activists may have weakened these companies in the short term but they weakened the nobility of their cause in the long term. The SHAC people were convicted and sent to prison for having ‘shared beliefs’ with the ALF arsonists but also for indirectly aiding them.
The author mentions hotbed areas for animal rights activism and anarchy such as the Pacific Northwest – around Eugene Oregon – near old-growth forests and places where there are many vegans and vegetarians. These people helped (and some wreaked havoc) in the ‘battle for Seattle’ in the 90’s during the anti-globalism protests of the G8 Summit.
The author paints pictures of the lives of some of the activists – their beliefs, their passions, their romances. Some activists became cultural outlaw-heroes and inspired other activists with daring acts. Prison and young people not criminally-minded going to prison is another subject discussed. Some were actually put in high-security terrorist compounds with significant solitary confinement and severe limitation of privileges due to their association with terrorism. They were housed with other terrorists from groups well known to be interested in killing Americans.
Activists and non-profit groups are far less funded than corporations in terms of lobbying power and, of course, lobby reform is a big issue these days as people accuse the government of serving the interests of corporations over the interests of the people. Strangely the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act includes causing loss of profits of these corporations under the terrorism umbrella so technically the law could be applied in such circumstances and people freeing animals from labs or harassing corporations through their websites or tracing their financing could be tried as terrorists – though I doubt that will actually happen. The author points out the roles of such orgs as the National Lawyers Guild – who often advocates for activists and arrested protestors and the ACLU who surprisingly stayed silent during this bill – perhaps as the author suggests – they had more important immediate concerns or they thought that things could end up worse. The main problem with the bill according to the National Lawyers Guild is that it leaves it open enough to label activists as terrorists. The author notes that the government was watching and spying on Dr. King during the Civil Rights campaigns and basically treated him like a terrorist in some ways though later he became an official American icon and hero. The author also notes the frivolity of Congressional members – very few showing up for the actual enacting of this important law while paying far more attention to congratulating the winners of the World Series. After the law was enacted in December 2006 there were several responses from the underground radical animal rights groups to show that they were not deterred. Many have claimed that the attacks increased after the law was enacted:
“But are attacks actually increasing? Or are both sides spinning numbers for different purposes, one to inspire radical activists, the other to show the continued threat.”
Many people do not know that there are frivolous animal testing experiments going on such as one funded by Phillip Morris to inject liquid nicotine into monkeys, then kill them, then cut open and examine their brains. If there was an ethics committee – certainly it would have rejected such experiments as this. There may be animal testing that has or will result in positive benefits for humans and even for animals – sometimes the morality of it can be a gray area – but testing cosmetics and dangerous chemicals is quite obviously unnecessary and cruel without leading to any health or social value. If we are to be moral as a species we need to address such things. Gandhi suggested that the enlightenment of a society can be gauged in how it treats its animals. The Dalai Lama finds these issues to be very important as well. Factory farms, frivolous testing labs, slaughterhouses, fur farms, puppy mills, hunt only for sport, and even Amish animal care practices – quite obviously torture animals. This should be unacceptable to any moral and reasonable human and we should boycott and speak out against these activities. These people should be shamed, but legally so. The author notes a case where an exotic pet store owner set fire to his store, killing all the animals. He scrawled animal rights activist graffiti in an attempt to frame them. For this he got less time than the animal rights activists who did arson without killing any animals or attempting fraud and defamation. Farm groups have complained that people wanting improved animal welfare standards are extremists. This is a shame as how anyone can see increased kindness and moral duty as extreme is beyond me. People need to be taught, to be convinced, that all life is precious, and should not be casually disregarded – not by burning down labs or blowing shit up – but through dialogue and bringing up such issues. Unfortunately these issues often divide people. As a vegetarian I can say that some people take offense to it though it is gradually becoming more mainstream. But if one looks at it logically and scientifically it is very sensible, sustainable, kind, and intelligent – so there is really nothing to take offense to. Our fellow humans need to be re-educated as the hand-me-down moral tradition of their ancestors is by-the-by not acceptable (as regards treatment of animals). Some animal experimenters have even advocated that simple acts like boycotting should fall under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act as they can erode our culture! This shows the deeply entrenched level of ignorance and would-be oppressive power of people that actually have education and money. The key part of their argument is that the lives of animals do not matter – especially compared to humans. They suggest that animal rights activists see animals as more important than humans and that is basically absurd. These philosophical ideas basically stem from the Judeo-Christian notions that animals do not have souls and are alive to be subservient to the needs of man. Apparently there has been quite a bit of resistance to cries for better animal welfare in the US. Now anyone who opposes mistreatment of animals can be in theory labeled a terrorist. So yes – extremist tactics have backfired – although common sense and basic human compassion should be able to eventually prevail in these matters – one would think. The author notes that culture wars of this type are often sorted out later as the society realizes what the logical and most beneficial course of action will be:
“We, as a culture, have created a mythology of repression and resistance. In history books, injustice is always so easily recognizable, social struggles are buffed to a Hollywood sheen so that the characteristics are either pure good or pure evil and the necessary response is equally straightforward. But at the time? At the time it’s not always that easy to see.”
As for me – I believe in the rights of animals, of all beings, to be free of unnecessary abuse from humans who should know better. I think we are failing miserably in this regard. I am not an activist, in fact, activists tend to annoy me – though I am in agreement with the activists ideals – just not the methods. My ‘activism’ is more of a one-on-one thing and a show by example thing – and perhaps it is far less effective – but at least it is not damaging. Actually – I spent more time than usual during this review reflecting my own ideas into the mix – ideas which I have thought much about.
This was a great book to read and I learned quite a bit
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Book Review: Soma: The Divine Hallucinogen by David L. Spess
(Park Street Press 2000)
This is a fascinating mind-blowing account of the ancient Vedic Soma Tradition (and Avestan Haoma tradition) and its undoubted and very precise influence on all alchemical traditions, early magic, and the spiritual tradition of the East, Near East, and the West.
The Vedic Soma plant was called the ‘elixir of immortality’. According to Spess the plant’s identity was veiled in secrecy. He says that this original ‘elixir of immortality’ spawned all the subsequent legendary elixirs – those of Chinese Taoism, and those of Greco-Egyptian, Islamic, and European alchemy.
The described affects of the specially prepared Soma include ‘luminous ecstatic states’, increased longevity, and enhanced paranormal abilities. Spess equates the regular practice of the Soma rite to developing the ‘body of light’ – or astral/energy body – which is a major goal of magical traditions. He also postulates that similar hallucinogenic drinks were central features of the Mystery Religions. He wonders if therapeutic drugs could be made from the soma plant(s).
The Rig Veda has many sections with hymns devoted to Soma, as deity and as sacred plant/plant formulation. The author also mentions a lost text known as the Madhu Brahmana where the soma recipe and formulation was said to be written down but it was also surely passed down in an oral tradition. The secret of soma and its preparation is known as the madhu-vidya, or “honey doctrine.” The references to soma in the Rg Veda are poetic and cryptic with allusions somewhat akin to ‘kennings.’
Shamanistic entheogenic rites likely evolved as people became more settled. The Vedic hymns are thought to have been written down between 1800 and 900 BC but the rites and myths referred to may be much older, perhaps even stretching back to Indo-Iranian peoples of central Asia circa 4000-3500 BC.
The author suggests that ancient herbalists found combinations of psychoactive substances. He thinks soma was such a combination and that it had multiple effects: sedative, stimulant, hallucinogen, and enhancer of psychic abilities. He suggests that different preparations and combinations at different dosages produced different effects and that the literature suggests that daily use among both priests and common people occurred. Soma sages were said to have abilities to walk on water and to enter into rays of light or transform into bodies of light. He suggests doctrines that certain plants can store light and under proper preparation techniques that light can be unleashed and form a medium for the human body-mind. This is similar to doctrines among Gnostic Manicheans and alchemists. He suggests that the ‘entheogenic light’ of these plants could awaken the inner light of humans. So here he is postulating a definite connection of Vedic doctrine with much later Manichean Gnostic doctrine from 200’s AD. Soma is strongly associated with luminous phenomena in the Vedic hymns. It is associated with internal luminosity and the ‘cosmic pillar of light.’ This pillar is also mentioned in the Eleusinian Mysteries which were also thought to employ entheogens and according to the author are, through the structure and ritual use of the entheogen, a later form of the same basic rite. Indra and the wild deities called the Maruts that help him are all said to partake of the soma and its ecstasy. Indra is said in some hymns to have created the entire cosmos while in soma ecstasy. The soma drinking priest identifies with Indra. The Vedic gods are said to maintain their immortality by drinking soma. The sages become immortal by drinking soma. Soma was also considered a great medicine. It was reputed to heal eye diseases, joints, limbs, vital energy imbalances, and lack of virility. Vedic hymns suggest that soma lifts one out of the body like gusts of wind into the Anthropos of light at the cosmic center of the universe. It is unknown whether soma was a hallucinogen in our current common usage of the term – but the author thinks that the rite lasted three days or longer and that the ecstatic states described suggest intense experiences.
Spess seems to think that the Avestan haoma was prior to the Vedic soma and was a different plant. He suggests that since Indus Valley times the Aryan people traded and overlapped cultures with the IV peoples. The IV peoples were thought to have a vast trading network with outposts on the Arabian coast to trade with Sumerians. He thinks that plant knowledge from India combined with Indo-Iranian entheogen rite to make up the Vedic soma rite.
Spess gives the main soma plant as the lotus plant – Nelumbo species. But he also notes that there were many formulations called soma and these often included the related Nymphaea – or water lily plant. Apparently there were many varieties of these plants, Northern India being the most rich in them. The Egyptian water lily was found to be exactly the same species as in India and is thought to have been brought to Egypt at an early – pre-dynastic date – when Spess says tribes migrated from Iran to Northern Egypt. The trade of the lotus plants may have come through the Indus Valley trade networks. Both of these plants are psychoactive and medicinal with Nelumbo having a long reputation as a longevity herb – being as well anti-bacterial, anti-tumoral, and rejuvinative. Recent medical tests confirm some of these properties.
The author roughly describes several different lotus drinks, both unfermented and fermented. He notes that Nelumbo contains alkaloids that supress the effects of alcohol so that the alcohol in the body can further extract the entheogenic compounds and increase their effects.
He describes Buddha’s disciples being able to prepare lotus drinks – but only in times of food shortages. He suggests that they were aware that it could aid meditation but the danger of overindulgence compelled Buddha to restrict its consumption. He also suggests that by the time of Buddha (~500 BC) the plants were scarce from over-harvesting on the Indian plains and that the main source was the mountainous regions of Kashmir.
He notes that important compounds of these plants would oxidize readily after picking and so lose their potency. That is why he thinks that soma rites often occurred along the Indus or Saravati Rivers (in the Vedas) or other lakes and rivers. Brahmins cultivated them in temple pools.
Spess suggests that the lotus plants (Nelumbo and Nymphaea) had unusual ways of growing and were thought to be particularly connected to the sun and moon – absorbing and transmitting their energies in a special way. The mythological youthful horse twins – the Asvins – are associated with the preparation of soma at the three times of dawn, midday, and dusk. Spess thinks that freshly pressed soma juice, or sap, was mixed with a mead-like fermented soma beverage. The Asvins were the physicians of the gods and their medicine was soma. The soma allowed one to glow like the moon god, Soma. Symbolically the Asvins are associated with the flowers themselves, but possibly also the buds (which resemble horseheads in profile) and the leaves (which resemble horses’ hooves). It may be interesting to note that the parts of lotus plants also appear metaphorically in the esoteric lore of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Asvins are also associated with bee culture and honey, they being the flowers that give the nectar but also the bees themselves. Spess goes through quite a bit of symbolism that he derives from cryptic descriptions from the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, and several other texts. He sees the horse and soma as representing a water god. He notes the churning of the milk ocean myth as a metaphor for making soma – indeed it is the elixir of immortality and the lotus goddess Laksmi as well as poison that comes from the churning. The Asvins are quite directly associated with the Greek youth twins, the Dioscuri, who are in a similar way associated to the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Throughout the ancient world India was legendary for people of long life and for the elixir of immortality. The “munis” or long-haired sages of India had sought out immortality though breath control, fasting, entheogens, and other ascetic practices. These “matty-haired” ascetics first taught the Buddha. “In both the Rg Veda and the Atharva Veda, the elixir was associated with gold, the imperishable solar metal.” The author thinks that the association of gold with the elixir of life transferred from the Vedics to the Chinese where it became a central principle to Taoist Alchemy. He says that it was only much later that gold was linked with the elixir in European and Islamic Alchemy. Interestingly, he notes the chanting meters of the Rg Veda (there were a few different ones). He says that special breathing techniques were used with each type of meter rhythm. As someone who has done a fair share of chanting of sadhanas and mantras in liturgical languages (mostly Sanskrit and Tibetan) I can also say that long chanting itself in a ritualistic format can put one in a mild altered or enhanced consciousness state. The monotony of chanting can also spur a mild dissociative trance. In comparing the Indian and Chinese breathing techniques – some very detailed similarities have been noted and most scholars seem to agree that they came from a similar source which was likely India or the Vedic-Aryan areas.
The soma ceremonies seem to involve the drinking of the plant juices in conjunction with a yoga of the subtle body where a golden glow was developed in the womb of the heart. This inner womb of the heart is identified with activating the subtle body of light.
“This continuum-womb is identical to the Islamic philosopher’s egg, the internal elixir embryo of Taoist alchemy, and the Hermetic vessel of European alchemy.”
The author cites the ideas of Joseph Needham and H.H. Dubs regarding the transfer of alchemical ceremony and knowledge from India and perhaps Indo-Iranian tribes in greater-Persia to China likely through the Yueh-Chih people before 300 BCE. Some have claimed that alchemy was formulated in Egypt and the author does cede that alchemy as a syncretic philosophical system resulting in the Greco-Egyptian alchemical tradition. The author notes Demokritos (460-370 BCE) as an important early figure in this tradition. He was reported to have traveled widely – possibly to India. His theory of atoms is similar to that of the Ajivikas of India who were around during the time of Buddha. Pliny linked Demokritos to the Magi of Persia.
“The main ideas that were transmitted through Greece and Egypt concern the Indo-Iranian sacrificial rituals of haoma/soma. These rituals involve an up and down motion and circulation process, both within the human body and the greater universe. The notion of up and down movement is important in Greek alchemy. It has a direct relationship to uniting the aspects of microcosm and macrocosm. Another important aspect of the sacrificial rituals is the concept of the spiritual water. The subtle water is the luminous soma energy or the fiery water. This water is both the source of the unification of opposites and the ultimate goal of the alchemical quest. The sacrificial ritual unites the above and the below and opens up the source of the light of lights. All of the Greco-Egyptian alchemical operations take place within the bowl-shaped altar as the alembic-womb of transformation. This universal matrix is located at the cosmic center within the heart of being...... During the soma ceremony a dismemberment and then a rememberment occur within the solar heart, the Hermetic vessel. Within the heart as the alembic womb, luminous rays of being are gathered together through the sensory channels and alchemical creations and transmutations are formed within the oceanic-pneumatic matrix and projected from the heart outward into manifestation.”
The Asvins were said to produce a golden elixir by combining the sun and moon lotuses (day-blooming and night-blooming?) which is also the union of Agni (fire) and Soma (water) and so too the union of the sun and the moon. The union of opposite natures later became the sulphur-mercury theory of the medieval alchemists. The Barmakis of post-Buddhist Afghanistan and the Sabians of Harran may have been purveyors of Vedic/Persian of alchemical knowledge to the early Sufis – as well as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Indians themselves. In any case the author thinks that the Agni-Soma duality is the ultimate origin of the sulphur-mercury union of opposites.
The author examines the connection between the Indo-Iranian soma ceremony and the earliest known forms of Ancient Greek herbal magic. He mentions a fragment of a poem by Alcman from 650 BCE Sparta which describes a plant ceremony very similar to those described in the Rg Veda and shows many striking direct parallels. There is good evidence that the whole Greek conception of ambrosia derives from soma. The Greek plant is called “serpent-slayer” as is soma when it is stated that it was soma that gave Indra the strength to slay the serpent-dragon Vrtra. The pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles is also thought have formulated the Pythagorean Greek magical thought from the Indo-Iranian magical traditions. Empedocles is also thought to have been influenced by Indian Buddhism and yoga – with yogic breath control practices attributed to him. Apollonius of Tyana also sings the praises of the Indian Brahmins. Possible connections between Indo-Aryans and Egypt include the possibility of the Hyksos Dynasty being Indo-Aryans, the Indo-Aryan Mitanni marriage contracts, and an Indian colony in the Egyptian city of Memphis around 500 BCE. Indian figurines from this period have been found in the temple of Ptah in Memphis. So this colony could be another possible avenue of Indian influence on early Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, Theurgy, and Greco-Egyptian Alchemy. Rg Vedic, Kabbalistic, and Neoplatonic cosmologies share similarities, particularly the notion of the unmanifest and manifest worlds of matter. The descent into matter and the return to spirit and oneness is a similar theme. The author thinks that the origin of Neoplatonic theurgy is the Indian Vedas and Upanishads possibly through the influence of the so-called Chaldean Oracles (of Zoroaster) which may not be Chaldean and may not as well be derived from Zoroaster, or only partially. Many similarities occur between the Vedas/Upanishads and early Gnosticism and Hermeticism. These include the logos doctrine and the Anthropos-Adamas-Christ of light. The Purusa Sukta hymn of the Vedas refers to the Cosmic Being (sometimes as Vishnu, sometimes as Indra) that has direct parallels to the Anthropos, or primal man. Spess notes a relationship between the primal man and the cosmic tree/pillar as both pole star and midday sun – both being the zenith of the center of the sky.
The yogic idea of the gathering of prana in the heart also has some Gnostic corollaries. Jewish Merkabah mysticism, the Gnostic Pleroma, the glorified ‘body of Christ’, the Islamic ‘throne of god’ and the Imam as ‘man of light’ also likely relate directly to the Indo-Aryan Purusa-Sukta idea. The Greco-Egyptian alchemist Zosimos (~300 CE) mentions this subtle body alchemy as a central mystery of Mithraism as well. The logos doctrine, or the word as god, likely as well goes back to the Vedas. There is a similar creation myth form Memphis Egypt from about 500 BCE but this is thought to have come about later, perhaps being influenced by the earlier Vedic version. The inverted tree symbolism in alchemy has clear parallels in the Rg Veda and suggestions as well in Indus Valley art. The notion (as a few authors have noted) is that the polar (pole star) cosmologies of older shamanic peoples was unified with the solar cosmologies of the Indo-Aryans and made the basic cosmology myth model of many ancient peoples. The author thinks that the Indo-Aryan Mitanni passed on the cosmic tree symbolism to the Assyrians. He suggests that recent archeological digs in Hierakonpolis in southern Egypt indicate that the early founders of Egyptian civilization came from the vicinity of Iran. The author also ties in many ideas and symbolisms to later medieval alchemy. The union of heaven and earth, sun and moon, fire and water, Agni and Soma, and mercury and sulphur all indicate the Union of Opposites symbolism inherent in the soma ceremony and all known alchemical traditions.
Other later influences include the Ayurvedic rasayana alchemical rejuvination and healing techniques and the alchemical traditions of Buddhism and Tantra. The notion of the body as microcosm with the subtle yoga body of chakras, winds, channels, and drops is a probable derivative as well. The yogic central channel (Shushumna) as a pillar of light and as the most important channel to be developed is a rather direct corollary as well. Interestingly the famed Buddhist Tantric guru Padmanambhava (the lotus-born) and the whole early Tantric tradition may well have been influenced by the Indo-Iranian magi. Greater India at the time included areas adjacent to the Persian empire and these are the areas where Tantra was likely formulated.
“The origin of the Tibetan practices of uniting the red and white bindus within the heart to form the “ground of being luminosity” comes from the Rg Vedic soma ceremony in its uniting of the white celestial soma with the red Agni fire. This practice is basic to most Tibetan Buddhist schools, two of which are the Dzogchen and the Kalacakra.”
Subtle body yogas of the Tamil and Nath Siddhas, the Buddhist Siddhacarya (Mahasiddha tradition), and Kalachakra Tantra all have an element of alchemical transformation.
He compares the myth of the Golden Fleece to the golden egg/golden embryo alchemical symbolism to descriptions of the soma brew being formulated by the Asvins – the equivalent Dioscuri twins are involved with Golden Fleece.
Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras notes that supernatural powers similar to yogic powers can be derived from certain herbs. The early Indian Buddhist alchemist Nagarjuna says more or less the same. One of the yogic powers is the transmutation of substances into gold. Tantra can also be referred to Tantric Alchemy:
“The Hindu Tantra Kamakalavilasa states that the bindu, or essence of the universe, consists of two parts: one white, the other red, which represents Siva as soma and Sakti as fire in the tantric systems..........Uniting the opposites is considered the method of producing the philosophers’ stone. It is also the method of achieving enlightenment in tantric philosophy and the soma ceremony.”
In some genealogies of alchemy Zoroaster (an Indo-Iranian) is given as the first in the lineages further suggesting an Indo-Iranian, or Indo-Aryan (as the Vedas probably contain ceremonial and herbal data before the Aryan-Iranian split) origin of alchemy.
This was a great and exciting read – though not all of it entirely convincing. The author does make a great and undeniable case for the signifiacnt Vedic influence on all of these ancient spiritual ideas.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World
The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin (Palgrave Macmillan 2011)
This is a very important and very new book by a stellar economic and futuristic thinker and activist. This book is about our changing situation and how it might re-manifest into a new form. Revolutions according to Rifkin are centered around new forms and relationships of energy and communications. This book is Rifkin’s “narrative” as to how this new post-carbon ‘Collaborative Age” may come about.
Rifkin sees this change coming about over the next 50 years give or take. The hierarchical and centralized business models are slowly giving way to what he calls ‘distributive business practices’ and what he calls ‘lateral power.’ This lateral power is a collaborative power. One important venue for the unleashing of this collaborative power is in the joining of internet technology and renewable energy. The possibilities for the new “smart grids” to collect and distribute energy, he says, will be a big factor in making these new relationships.
He notes that oil prices are based ultimately on supply and supply is dwindling and finite so prices continue to rise overall and this affects prices for food and our other basic needs. Eventually a tipping point will come when renewable energy sources will be more rewarding, especially to implement on the small scale in localized and regional networks. This is already happening all over Europe and some in the US but as technology gradually gets better and fossil fuel supply drops more it will be developed to greater degrees of input and efficiency. Actually I think it may take a little more than the 50 years but this depends on overall demand for energy around the world.
Rifkin refers to the so-called financial crisis that began in July 2008 as “peak globalization.” This he calls the limit of economic growth in the fossil fuel age. He also calls this “global peak oil per capita,” which means ‘peak oil’ when averaged among the people on the earth. Actual peak oil production for the entire world is predicted sometime between 2010 and 2035 depending on who you ask. It may have occurred in 2006 as the International Energy Agency (IAE) states. But peak oil per capita is thought to have happened back in 1979 so according to that scenario the whole Second Industrial Revolution dependent on fossil fuels peaked then and has since been declining.
Rifkin describes the newer generation growing up with “social media” as living in world where the emphasis is on “transparency, collaborative behavior, and peer-to-peer relations.” He sees the recent upheavals in the Middle East as the transformation from patriarchal power structures to lateral power – being powered in a big way by the networking potential of the internet and social media. He says that the Second Industrial Revolution also peaked in the 1980’s with the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the U.S. when construction in suburbia bloomed. The communication revolution of the 1990s did not totally pan out and so the dot com bubble burst and later when people began spending more of their savings the sub-prime mortgages were offered with no downpayments which resulted in the current crisis. Of course, these were predatory lending practices offered to people who should have known better. Anyway, he says all this – including the current unemployment problems, is due to the deceleration of the Second Industrial Revolution. He calls the “entropy bill” for the Second Industrial Revolution the global warming thought to be occurring. Rifkin, along with many scientists and policy makers, makes the assumption that global warming and uncontrollable climate change is happening at full tilt with all the potential accelerations and catastrophic effects. Whether this is happening at such a rate or not it is certain that fossil fuel pollutes, is finite, and is likely to increase in cost as time goes on.
Obama’s vision of a green economy seems to have fluttered – perhaps bogged down by pilot projects and siloed programs. Pilot projects do not get the advantages of ‘scale up’ and so costs are typically higher at the pilot level. The ‘silo effect’ refers to isolated (usually pilot) projects that don’t incorporate synergies and holistic input.
Rifkin notes that steam power and printing merged in a First Industrial Revolution to create fast and cheap newsprint which resulted in mass literacy with public schooling further aiding a literate work force. The Second Industrial Revolution resulted from the convergence of electrical communication and the oil-powered internal combustion engine. Cars, electrified mass production factories, telephones and their infrastructure, radio, and television – then the highway networks and the population settling along their nodes – complete the picture. In the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR), “... hundreds of millions of human beings will be generating their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and sharing it with one another across intelligent distributed electricity networks – an intergrid – just like people now create their own information over the internet and share it on the Internet.”
He gives the five pillars of TIR as: “1) shifting to renewable energy; 2) transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on-site; 3) deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies; 4) using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet and; 5) transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.” This all requires massive investment and initially the rewards will not be big – but gradually they will grow.
Rifkin sees “grid parity” – where the cost to generate renewable energy becomes the same as the cost to generate an equivalent amount of fossil fuel energy – happening in Europe in 2012 and maybe a bit later here as Europe is way ahead on TIR infrastructure. The mix of renewable energies includes solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass. Ethanol is not included in biomass since it takes as much energy to make it as it puts out. “Feed-in tariffs” have given green energy providers a price advantage. The observation that fossil fuels are only in certain places but green energy is available everywhere (though in differing amounts) makes it potentially attractive as a universal pastime. Wind farms and solar parks will no doubt be built but so too will renewable energy collection and distribution systems in most business and residential areas. Another incentive is the “green mortgage” where solar or other renewable energy would qualify one for reduced interest rates and later when payback on the renewable system is reached, that along with sellback to the utility could be leveraged against the mortgage. Creating the massive infrastructure would create many construction and installation jobs and create “millions of mini energy entrepreneurs.”
The third pillar – energy storage – is key to this set-up working but is yet to be established with any certainty and in any mass way. Presumably the technology is available (although Rifkin does not seem to make this clear) it just has to be implemented, better tested, and then mass implemented. Storage via hydrogen will make the so-called “net zero metering” more of a profitable reality.
Smart grids are essential for measurement and reduction of waste – for most utility systems – electric and water in particular. These are good investments for many reasons and will be implemented throughout the world as time goes on. Energy trading via internet could be profitable in bits as if and when prices change due to differing demand at various times of the day or in different weather. The best time to sell back to the grid would be at peak usage times which would also be the best time to conserve. The early idea was for a ‘centralized smart grid’ but now a ‘distributed smart grid’ seems more useful in that digitalized information can be up-to-the-minute. Advance electronic controls to allow the quick movement of these bursts of energy from storage to the grid will be required. IBM is a leader here as they are in water recycling technologies. Another notion that would likely happen is that of “unbundling” or “separation of the supply and retail business from the monopoly infrastructure.” This unbundling – particularly of the generation and transmission sides of the utilities, along with the mini energy entrepreneurs would be akin to the “democratization of energy” and the breakup of centralized utility monopolies. I don’t think this will happen quickly and without opposition and some chaos. New business models are required for these processes where energy management and information management become specialized. Apparently, IBM’s plan is for a reformist smart grid in the states and a revolutionary one in Europe who is ahead in development of a TIR infrastructure as well as being a more suitable venue for distributed power system.
The fifth pillar – plug-in transport – further turns the micro-power plants into electric and fuel cell vehicle charging docks. Parking lots and garages could be outfitted with charging docks as well as the $1000 residential ones that could soon be sold. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have energy storage capacity and could potential sell energy back to the grid when the price is right for a net gain. So in the final set-up the five pillars are synergized and optimized.
Rifkin goes on to give many examples of meetings of government heads and business leaders in Europe and of specific projects in Rome, San Antonio, the small kingdom of Monaco, and the city of carbon-zero city of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Each area has its own strengths, weakness, and idiosyncrasies.
Rifkin refers to fossil fuels as ‘elite’ simply because they are found in select places but also they spawned an elite form of management to assure their availability and control. This required mass concentrations of capital and worked well with a top-down centralized hierarchichal power structure. He goes through the history of discovery then the building of infrastructure – particularly the railroad systems – which employed many people and made possible many new enterprises. The telegraph emerged alongside the railroad. This allowed massive flow of commerce and decreased transaction costs. The result was the proliferation of brand name products (the same ones that are poisoning us now) and bigger business chain stores that could build up massive inventories and ship them all over. Economies of scale arose. Workers and management were separated and worker efficiency was optimized. This was the centralized and rationalized business model. This model carried over from the First to the Second Industrial Revolution as oil companies, auto companies, and telephone companies jumped into the model. Profitability eventually led to a very wealthy elite that increased manifold from 1980 till now with big CEO pay – this made possible the 1% that OWS is now rightfully complaining about. Trickle down theories aside there is an obvious disproportionate benefit to these top managers.
According to Rifkin the new lateral and distributed energy regime that will arise will lead to a more equitable sharing of wealth. He goes through many of the changing business models that have arrived in recent years and beyond: the open-source movements, various media-sharing networks, information networks, social media and cyberspace commons, etc. Home energy production and marketing, so-called 3-D printing where people actually manufacture products at home with machines, and marketing of such products through on-line shops like Etsy could also spur profitable home businesses. He also mentions the personalization of relationships between buyer and seller through on-line networking and dialogue and conferences. The idea here is “empathic consciousness” to reestablish a sense of community in the worlds of business. This is in line with the TIR model of collaborative business practices. Micro-loans are another tool that has proven to be a great means to empower the poorest peoples and improve their living standards and ability to produce for their livelihood. This is more applicable to the poorer third world countries. This has proven to be a win-win for both lenders and borrowers. Other things he mentions are things like community-supported agriculture (CSAs), Zipcars and other urban car-sharing businesses, ‘couch-surfing’ – the networking of travelers and hosts who they stay with on their travels, and performance contracting and other shared savings agreements where efficiency and the eventual savings from renewable energy are built into contracts so that costs of greening will be mitigated and eventual benefits shared. Another model is that of ‘social business’ where profits are partially diverted to benefit the underserved.
He makes some interesting notes about the illusions of our so-called free market capitalism. He points out that government has always been involved in business and gives many examples including the developments of the highway system, the telephone/telecom business and infrastructure, and suburban housing construction via FHA loans. He also notes that that relationship was often hidden – particularly in the American version, perhaps to paint the illusion that the economic ideology (ie. free market capitalism) is the reason for success. The duality of capitalism good and socialism bad is illusory and detrimental and hides the fact that in practice all is a mix of these two theoretical ideological extremes. The power of financial influence and lobbying is well attested and a rightfully protested. We seem to demand a separation of market and state yet allow uncontrolled corporate influence of elections. Rifkin even suggests that our notions of Calvinism and hatred of big government contribute to a model of corporate greed where all regulation is seen as evil socialism. In contrast, he describes the nature of Third Industrial Revolution as:
“... an open and transparent collaboration between government, business, and civil society, which represents the interests of all the American people, not just those of a corporate elite.”
Not only are new business models emerging but also are new ways of thinking about politics. The tired American two party left vs. right system has long been dead in Europe. Rifkin talks about his meetings with Spanish president Zapatero and Zapatero’s new wave style of thinking that saw the need to dissolve the old hierarchy that was supported by the ethnic “machismo” of the culture. Network access to internet and social media has served to break down the ‘old orders’ of many types as people see that there are better and more functional ways to interact. Rifkin goes through many of his meetings in Europe with high level political people and heads of state and notes their variable political affiliations showing that overall a more flexible political foundation is becoming more necessary. It seems to me that in the US this duality has endured due to the greater apparent success of the economy and the lack of overall flexibility of the population. Rifkin thinks that the powerful big energy lobbies have slowed green energy development in America. This may well be so but ‘timing’ could also be a factor as green energy is not quite optimal yet in technological capability and cost effectiveness to be implemented on a mass scale.
Next he asserts the advantages of “continentalism” over “globalization.” Continents are connected by land and so by solid access and so continent-wide networks and models make better economic sense than global connections in several venues. This has the potential to function in business and politics as trans-regional unions are developed and refined. The European Union, the Asean Union, the African Union, the South American Union, and various pieces of a North American Union concept are examples. Here regions with similar geographic and cultural features are a natural fit for economic and infrastructure integration. A big feature of Rifkin’s vision is a transformation from ‘geopolitics’ to ‘biosphere politics.’ The biosphere is the region from the ocean floor to outer space. We may each own bits of the globe but we all share the biosphere as its processes know no geopolitical boundaries. Sharing the biosphere, he says, will foster “biosphere consciousness.”
Next we have Rifkin’s analysis of economic theory. He notes the vast influence of Adam Smith and his theories that synch with Newtonian physics with the supply and demand equilibrium being akin to equal and opposing forces cancelling one another out. But Rifkin notes that: “...real economic activity is all about the irreversibility of events – how energy and material resources are harnessed, transformed, utilized, used up, and discarded.”
Rifkin sees economics as more in tune with the – Second Law of Thermodynamics – which states that the total energy in a system is constant and that entropy always increases. Entropy is a term referring to degree of disorder or chaos in a system, originally referring to “energy that is no longer usable.” Several economists and theorists including Rifkin himself have written tomes about the relationship between economics and entropy. Energy ends up used up and discarded in all economic processes. Indeed, all biological activity results in net entropic gain. Acceleration of used up energy may lead to undesired climate change. Therefore efficiency and reduction of waste are helpful in reducing entropy – and in many cases in saving money as well. Rifkin refers to an “entropy bill” in terms of climate change, pollution, and destruction of ecosystems that is beginning to gradually become due so that all of our perceived profitability in the early Industrial Revolutions was somewhat illusory. Here is an interesting quote regarding our delicate relationship (as consumers) with nature:
“From a thermodynamic perspective, the most important lesson we can learn is how to budget our consumption patterns to conform with nature’s recycling schedules, so that we can live more sustainably on Earth.”
He mentions the idea of “biomimicry” – studying and imitating nature in order to achieve synergy and symbiosis with it. Increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste – I think – is a very key issue in sustainability – one of the most important. TIR smart grids will greatly increase efficiency and reduce waste as well as to provide further incentives to keep this up. Infrastructure improvements to commercial and residential buildings are also key to increasing energy efficiency. Initials costs of laying in TIR infrastructure are high – and this initial cost will likely delay its implementation – but efficiency improvements and better management will eventually result in sustained payback – especially with a boost of technological developments.
Ownership of property was a key point in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, a core feature of capitalism, as Rifkin says. In tracing the history of property he notes that hunter-gatherer societies put little emphasis on property and that with the advent of agriculture, settled societies, and trade surpluses – property gained in importance. He thinks that access to “vast global networks” is replacing private property rights as a value. This breaks down the notion that humans are foremost competitive, selfish, and predatory as early Darwinian biology asserted. More and more we are finding that compassion and empathy and the collaboration and caring that it brings about – are just as human, perhaps even more so. Access is where it’s at and we are less and less willing to tolerate blocking of access to the networks that provide economic and educational possibilities and that are tending to break down outdated political modes. Internet has cut down on newspaper and magazine influence. Sharing of biological and genetic discoveries in ‘open-source commons’ has bettered scientific and technological collaboration. Many of us want free and open access to renewable energy. Social capital in the form of access to collaborative networks – or access to sharing on such networks – may well replace (at least partially) financial capital generated in the form of transaction of property. Already we see – network subscriptions – where we can share, use, and get some financial advantages - winning out over simply buying and owing a product. Mark-ups/transaction costs and middle men are eliminated. Sharing is more in line with the reality of our finite transient lives than the illusion of ownership – so in that sense it is a more intuitive relationship of consumer with product. So I guess instead of being consumers we become subscribers. We are temporary users, time-sharers. In this sense property remains in the hands of the supplier and ideas of planned obsolescence fall away as it becomes in the best interest of the producer to make a product that functions as long as possible. The bottom line is that access is eclipsing ownership.
Rifkin makes an important observation that “quality of life” is replacing the old American Dream of independence, wealth, autonomy, and success:
“The dream of quality of life can only be collectively experienced. It is impossible to enjoy a quality of life in isolation and by excluding others. Achieving a quality of life requires active participation by everyone in the life of the community and a deep sense of responsibility by every member to ensure that no one is left behind.”
So in this scenario social wealth/health increases in importance over economic wealth/health.
Rifkin speaks also of a new scientific worldview where nature is seen as a series of relationships rather than as objects. Thus there is shift from making nature productive to making it sustainable. He sees this shift from productivity to generativity as our species re-integrating with the overall biological/ecological systems.
Next he tackles the needed restructuring of education. He notes that smart grid management is being integrated into cirriculums. Educating for productivity is being eclipsed by educating for ideas of newer times.
He gives an interesting progression of societal consciousnesses through time. Hunter-gatherers had mythological consciousness. Agricultural societies organized around writing developed theological consciousness. The First Industrial Revolution centered around print, steam, and coal changed into an ideological consciousness. Electronic communication brought about psychological consciousness. Today, he says that the convergence of distributed information and communication technologies and renewable energy is beginning to lead to biosphere consciousness. Since we are all part of a shared biosphere it should then be beneficial if we oriented our systems to this acknowledgement. We can then celebrate our interconnectivity in new and exciting ways. He notes that empathy is what provides for the coherence for us to look upon one another as familiar – friend rather than foe. He sees Homo empathicus as the next stage of the human. Many have suggested that we have become separated from nature due to differentiation and specialization of our daily tasks brought about by settled then urban society. Biosphere consciousness involves reintegrating with nature, thinking ‘ecopsychologically’ – seeing ourselves as part of a bigger system, or cultivating our ‘ecological self’ or reestablishing our ‘biophilia’ connection. Rifkin (and others) suggests that our social evolution has increased our self-awareness through time and thus has also increased our capacity for empathic behavior:
“The growing self-awareness of the human race is the psychological mechanism that allows empathy to grow and flourish. As we become increasingly aware of our individuality, we come to realize that our life is unique, unrepeatable, and fragile.”
This realization allows us to empathize with the life journey of others. One available aspect of empathic education is increased importance of community service, volunteerism, counseling, tutoring, and otherwise socializing with those who can be benefited by such contact. The dualistic model of teacher transferring knowledge to student is thus taking new forms other than this “top-down, one-to-one” set-up. The objectivity of knowledge also breaks down on closer inspection and so too are our methods of teaching and learning becoming more imbued with the subjective. Rifkin refers to ‘lateral learning’ where empathic sensibilities are emphasized.
He has an interesting section called – Rethinking Work – which suggests that in the future work will be defined differently. He lists the four areas where people engage in work as: market, government, informal economy, and, civil society. Market employment he thinks will continue to shrink as smart technology gets better and better. Government work should shrink for the same reasons. He thinks civil society, or ‘third sector’ employment will see big increases. Work for non-profits, NGOs, and CSOs (civil society organizations) is apparently way up. Rifkin suggests that the collaborative and empathic nature of such ventures is attractive to the internet generation.
This book offers very much to think about and is just as the author suggests – a narrative of what the emerging future might be like. There is as of yet much uncertainty and though things may end up being much different than the scenarios he lays out – I have yet to see a more thorough, detailed, and holistic attempt at what our economic future might be like. I hope he is right about increased empathic abilities developing among humans although there is still way too much cruelty in the world. I am currently reading his previous book which is a huge tome called – The Empathic Civilization.