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Give Us a King
Phrenology is the nineteenth century study of the shapes of human skulls to infer brain structure and thereby the native character and aptitudes of people. It is now considered a discredited pseudoscience. Similar analysis is still used by modern science, but it is never called phrenology. The first time that I noticed that something like phrenology had crept back into modern thought was while reading about a Soviet attempt to domesticate the Siberian silver fox by selective breeding. The breeders chose those foxes that were the least aggressive and that were the most tolerant of human handling. After many generations they developed a population of foxes that behaved more like domestic dogs. This new breed also began to look more like domestic animals. Another modern inquiry that even more closely resembles phrenology is the comparison of Neanderthal skulls to those of modern humans. One feature of a Neanderthal brain is a large visual cortex that is presumed to accommodate the large eyes in their large eye sockets. Other smaller brain regions are cited to explain why Neanderthals organized in smaller social groups.[i] [ii]
The number of familiar individuals who can be known and understood, even by modern humans, is small when compared to the encounters we face in a large technologically advanced society. We can examine those remaining primitive groups, who still live in circumstances that more closely match our native social capacity, and see unselfish traits and cooperative traditional habits. These give rise to a stereotype of a virtuous noble savage. This pleasant human tendency is offset at times by other less pleasant human tendencies, such as viewing the stranger as a threat to be managed or neutralized, or regarding outsiders as a resource to be exploited whenever your group has the advantage. [iii]
Our social nature regarding conformity to the familiar group and suspicion of the outsider are easily exploited. In modern culture these tendencies become exaggerated and distorted in ways that were never before possible. Our limited social capacity is fragmented by the need and ease of moving from one social environment to another. This limited capacity is poisoned by a ubiquitous artificial society of media personalities. Entertainers, news anchors, commentators, and political leaders who stand in as members of our familiar groups. We are all conditioned by artificial experiences that have unrealistic consequences. The exaggerated influence from media ubiquity and the standardization of experience is not well mitigated by our intellectual understanding, that those people and the experiences that we all share are not real, nor are they realistic. The events and matters of this distant, contrived, and filtered world are the common stock of many of the conversations among our familiar group and with others that we encounter.
Constructive activities and habits require time to develop and to manifest benefits. The benefits of good works and goodwill are often indirect and delayed. Destructive deeds or malicious intent can reap sudden or exaggerated rewards.
Predatory humans use both threats of violence and deceit to harvest the property and energy of others. They care nothing about what is destroyed unless their own potential to prosper is impaired by the loss.
Modern technology greatly increases mankind’s constructive and destructive potentials. Now the risk of sudden devastation is no longer limited by regional isolation. After dominance is achieved, the difficulty of using surveillance to maintain control of a population that is being targeted as prey is no longer adequate to allow escape.
It is of immediate and critical importance to discover and to implement techniques, which will prevent a small but effective class of human predators, from achieving dominance of the entire human race. A clear, nearly universal understanding of how our own nature facilitates this oppression is needed.
Let us now search for some guidance that will make it possible to cultivate and preserve the pleasant instincts displayed by primitive societies while limiting the damage that destructive tendencies can create.
We retain this account from the ancient Hebrew nation. After having been freed from bondage in Egypt, they were given a utopian vision that depends on their submission to an authority that is above all of humanity. Generations later, they demanded a visible human king in hope of becoming secure as successful warriors. Samuel was instructed to tell the nation that they will have the king that they demand, as well as to tell them what sorts of abuses they should expect from this king.
“And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
This king’s domineering character and his inclination to spoil the substance of the people’s labor are consistent with the abuses of modern leaders.
Later King David chose to count the people, as if he was taking stock of his own possession. His advisors knew that this was a foolish project, but they failed to dissuade him. Compare the severity of the consequences of this act to those of his seduction of Bathsheba and his subsequent murder of Uriah. The transgression of census taking intuitively seems small when compared to the betrayal and murder of a loyal servant. The difference that we should consider is that the incident of betrayal was a personal failing with personal consequences, while David’s census highlights the people’s conscious choice to submit to another man rather than seeking guidance by striving to discern and apply principles that are attributed to a God that is above human vice. In other words they chose to supplant their own judgments with those of another man, thereby accepting the consequences of his folly as their own.
Our reflexive inclination to abandon judgment and to conform to our group whenever threats are perceived or imagined is still intact. It is exploited very effectively to cause us to think and act against our own best interest. The redundancy that could result from all of societies’ members striving to make good judgements could be a stabilizing force if it were not suppressed by conformity and fear. Rash actions would be unlikely if the collective mindset of humanity had to be moved one member at a time. The plethora of independent judgments would guarantee that other options are always available for consideration.
We began this discussion with the extreme of seeing mankind as an animal with complex native instincts, but also with a limited ability to manage a social environment. This capacity is adequate only for small groups. We then considered a time when great nations and empires were emerging. The story of the Hebrew Exodus and the later story of the formation of a kingdom in human custody suggest that an insight into the perils of organizing large human societies were known thousands of years ago. In modern times the hazard of human leadership has grown intolerable. It threatens all of humanity with inescapable subjugation. Some are even openly conspiring to alter our forms both biologically and with technical augmentation. The most successful of predatory humans understand the primitive nature that we all still possess. They exploit these tendencies to cause us to work against our own best interest. We must begin, en masse, to understand our own nature both individually and as a group. This understanding will allow us to stand apart from circumstances to become effective, analytical, and deliberate shapers of the future, instead of our being just animals reacting predictably to the circumstances and illusions that we are given.[iv]
The device of viewing a society as one body, a body that is in need of impartial superior guidance was preserved for at least one thousand years after David. In the discourse about almsgiving, which is found in the Sermon on the Mount, the need for proper motivation is emphasized.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
It is evident that the right and left hands do not conspire to set their own course, or the course of the whole body, but it is the head that offers guidance. We are told not to consider the judgment of other men but to strive independently to serve a Godlike ideal.
Even when promoting this superior standard we must guard ourselves. In the same way that the corpses of honored dead men become puppets that do the bidding of the ambitious, and virtues that are attributed to those who are honored become masks for scoundrels, the concept of God is abused. Standing apart, viewing the body of mankind as a whole does not make us superior. Our oppressors presume this of themselves, when they have gained this perspective. Not sharing this elevated perspective offers advantages to those who hope to remove themselves from the whole body, so that they can exploit those who remain. Earlier in the sermon, another reference to a body is given.
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
This reference can suggest that those who have chosen to separate themselves from the whole body of mankind should be regarded as separate, but more importantly it applies first to the need for individual introspection. This introspection is needed before becoming fit to consider the whole body of mankind. No sane person will take the instructions to dismember oneself literally. Consider however the difficulty of changing any habit, attitude, or opinion that has been incorporated into your image of self. As a reflexive animal you will guard those vices as if they are a part of you. The invitation to stand apart from society and strive for understanding is also an invitation to judge yourself critically as if you were judging any other person. We must begin to perceive those influences that shape our reactions, to judge their worthiness, and thereby become the gatekeepers of our own hearts and minds.