A crucial thread in tracing the progress of top-down human-on-human parasitism is the history of disembodied spirits in human culture, and especially the fear of an angry father in the sky, a projection of the culture of human alpha-power onto the cosmos at large. The humanistic progress made by ancient Greek Stoics and Epicureans was eventually forced underground (in a cultural sense) by violent empire-building that swept over the Mediterranean regions, swamping philosophical movements under a resurgence of God-cultures associated with conquerors who subordinated the known world from around 300 B.C.: Alexander of Macedon and later the Roman imperium. Although conquering looters are often materialist in their evaluation of assets, they normally place great importance on their connection with a special personal god or gods, and assert such a connection to their troops and victims. Because of that, generals do not support secular or humanist world-views. That wave of imperialist activity in ancient Mediterranean societies created a cultural atmosphere that was unfriendly toward secular humanism, and rewarded belief in a spooky spirit world.
The example of Alexander the Great illustrates that the history of religion is intimately intertwined with the history of looting-family dominance. Alexander of Macedon was the great event that separated the stories of embodied gods in ancient Greece (and the Greek philosophical humanism that branched off from them) from the cultural diffusion westward of the One incorporeal God from the Arabian deserts. The ancient importance of the individual Greek polis and its gods was shockingly diminished by military defeat at the hands of Alexander, followed by supervision and exploitation by a distant imperial city representing a more powerful God. Alexander, like the One angry father in the sky, attracted emotional projection of parental qualities onto a single external force, fixating subordinated people in an emotional mental pattern characteristic of childhood. Alexander was the prototype and paradigm of the One God of monotheism, even though personally Alexander seems to have favoured the dualistic worldview of ancient Persia, and even expressed admiration for Diogenes the Cynic philosopher.
The Christian religion originated in the area of the Arabian peninsula where the God of Abraham emerged, an area of deserts dominated by nomadic tribes of animal herders. An overview of the individual’s situation within the worldview of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) suggests that the primal sense of the sacred among those ancient herder-nomads, as represented by Abraham, was childhood fear and awe of the father’s unpredictable and mysterious rages. The God of Abraham is that kind of father in the sky, all-knowing, all-powerful, not limited by any rules or finiteness and so unpredictable and dangerous, quick to anger and inclined to terrifying violence. Such beliefs situate every individual on an externally imposed axis of submission to, or defiance of, an absolute self-justifying power, an externally imposed axis of grace or disgrace, reward or punishment. All the Abrahamic traditions embrace the existence, unity, primordiality, and incorporeality of a creator God, uniquely commanding and meriting obedience and worship from humans. God attends to and knows the actions of individuals, will resurrect the dead, and then reward the obedient and punish the disobedient. The relationship of the Abrahamic God to the humans He creates, commanding devoted obedience, fervent expressions of admiration, and unquestioning service, is quite overtly an idealized image of the relationship of the herder to his flocks, the herder father to his dependants. However, instead of direct Revelation of Himself to the flocks, Abraham’s God uses certain special persons as prophets, His messengers and avatars on earth. God’s prophets cannot be verified for authenticity, and yet they claim a totalitarian sovereignty by divine authority, and regrettably serve as perennial role-models of sovereignty within our cultural tradition.
The ancient (Epicurean) consciousness of the general hegemonic effect of culture was completely transfigured in the floods of religion that swept out from the Arabian deserts into the whole Mediterranean world, from the missionary expeditions of St. Paul around 50 A.D. to the Islamic conquest (via Northern Africa) of distant Spain in 711 A.D. and for centuries after. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire after 313 A.D., and after 600 Islam was launched into the world. In that tide, religious culture was understood as not natural but supernatural, a force, knowledge, and technology from outside the world of individual persons, a divine gift. Proponents of that religious culture believed people benefited from having that grace imposed on them, which encouraged and justified great concentrations of power in a few central patriarchs. Divine religious culture went well beyond the words in the holy books, especially in creation of religious law and supervisory organizations. It included the hierarchies and entire myth systems of entangled organizations of religion and worldly power.
Citing the world-views of a couple of Roman emperors illustrates the shift from humanist philosophy to father-in-the sky religion. Marcus Aurelius, emperor 161-180 A.D., was a Stoic philosopher. Emperor Constantine, in power 306-337, converted to Christianity late in life. Constantine moved the Empire’s head office east of Greece to Byzantium/ Constantinople, closer to the heartland of ancient civilization, and his imperial Edict of Milan, 313, legalized Christianity within the Roman Empire. Then, with the influx of waves of Germanic tribes, the Empire withdrew completely from western Europe and carried on for centuries in the east as the Byzantine Empire, incorporating organized Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Church, as the imperial religion. When a Rome-based Christian Church branched off independently, spreading west again around and after the sixth century A.D., that Church adopted a policy of placing Church officials who were literate, educated, and well connected socially and professionally, into the executive councils and households (often as tutors of youths) of the most powerful (looting) families among the new Germanic conquerors, providing those families with much needed advisors and executives. That technique put the Church into a position to act as the power behind the thrones. Such officials were in a position to influence everything about the operations of those families, but especially to insist that all persons under their control become active Catholics under the direction of the Church. The faith was to be spread by decree from the militarily powerful. So, from very early in the medieval rebuilding of Europe after the Roman imperial organization abandoned it to move east, the organization of Christianity deliberately rode the coattails of those military-estate families, essentially crime families, to establish itself in power. There was also an ongoing “revolving door” between the Church and those families. Many of the ‘second sons’, who could not inherit a family’s aristocratic title and lands, would go to school (Church operated) for a good education and then into positions of power in the Church hierarchy.
From these considerations it is clear that the partnership of the Medieval Church and the violence-based military-estate oligarchy was deep and profound. The military class of medieval Europe was united with the ethos of Christianity and its hierarchy by the patriarchal and parasitic culture of nomadic animal herders. Since the Germanic tribes who occupied the western Roman Empire originated in the east, in close proximity to, if not within, the great Eurasian Steppe where nomadic herders and their culture of parasitism dominated, their original culture of masculine parasitism came from involvement with that established ethos of the Steppe. Reinforcing that cultural background were very specific engagements with the nomadic herder culture of the Middle East.
Legacies of The Crusades
The Crusades of the period 1096-1291 were wars of aggression incited by popes promising crusaders forgiveness of sins and all the loot they could take. The Crusades were expeditions for the looting of wealth, especially in the form of ancient Christian relics, old bones and artifact fragments considered sacred and magical, from what Europeans call the holy lands. (A main reason for the achievements of Gothic cathedral architecture was to house the looted relics in suitably intimidating splendour.) The European knight practiced a style of battle centred on formations of armoured combatants mounted on heavy horses. The social class which could afford such military equipment and the training it required was made up of families exploiting vast land holdings secured by their private armies, crime-families. Combatants from those families became invaders of the communities of the Middle East, with full support from the Christian hierarchy and its considerable myth generating capacity. The aristocratic culture of Chivalry took on its enduring character in that context, in an effort to refine and glorify the most brutal parasitic looting by dressing it in Christian myths and symbols.
The enemy that confronted the looting class of Western Europe when it reached the Middle East was the military class of the Arabs, just a few generations removed from their own nomadic herding way of life, now preserving the values of that culture while combining it with the sophistication of societies they had conquered in Egypt, North Africa, Iraq, and Iran. The knights of the west came to admire the manly values of their Arab adversaries, and flattered them by imitation. If the parasitic animal herding values of the western military class had been softening, they were refreshed and energized by the Crusades. The arrogant cruelty practiced in assaults on foreign non-Christians was brought back with the crusading knights to their domestic life, to relations with each other, to relations with other orders of society, and especially with ‘heretics’ and social dissenters of all kinds. That legacy is still very obvious.
Defending Parasitism with an Ideology of Nihilism
When the Christian father-God-in-the-sky lost credibility, starting after the Great Plague in the mid-fourteenth century, there remained a cultural legacy, a culturally conditioned disability to accept the equal dignity and transcendence of every individual person as an intelligence. Even in the shadow of Christendom, Christianity was still an important cultural presence, and individuals were generally thought to be intrinsically sinful, tainted (the Gnostic taint) with an impulse toward disobedient pride and autonomy. That very identification of the human taint reveals that the idea of individual freedom was present, ambiguously, but very weak in Christianity and its aftermath. To fill voids left by the declining credibility of the Christian vision, other forms of externalized transcendence were given increased emphasis. As examples from the Renaissance era (roughly), the political theorists Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) were indifferent to the Church and Christianity as such, but supported the sovereignty of princes (still claiming divine right), convinced that the mass of individuals required strict and awe-full guidance (herding) from a source accepted as higher in some profound way. As a widespread proletarian spiral of revolt gained credibility, advancing the wave of cultural disillusionment recognizing the illegitimacy of (violence based) monarchy and aristocracy, then the privileged classes started to create an ideology of nihilism, declaring that any general denial of external transcendence opens an abyss of chaos, hopelessness, absurdity, and meaninglessness, the contemplation of which is ultimately fatal (first to sanity), and which must anyway be false because of its intuitive repugnance. In spite of the fact that the ideology of nihilism was formulated specifically to be rejected and discredited, there was also some real fear and even covert acceptance that nihilism is the truth, because the external transcendences really are shams.
That crisis of nihilism was especially, maybe exclusively, an experience of powerful privileged factions of European society, the factions with a literary voice: The propertied faction, families who had their livelihood from ownership and investing, and their scribes, the specialists of advanced literacy, professionals, knowledge and book specialists, who for centuries had been coddled and controlled by the Church and indeed to a great extent were the Church. The meaning of the parasitic lives of those privileged factions had been sanctified by the old mythology of Christendom, and without it they found themselves in an abyss of naked parasitism, which they preferred to interpret as cosmic nothingness. Of course the great mass of the population had been engaged in the miseries and delights of surviving all along and were actually liberated by the death of Christendom.
The basic enabling error for nihilism is a prior identification of transcendence as external to ordinary individual intelligences, as in, for example, a disembodied father-figure in the sky. Since that external identification of transcendence is always a distortion of reality it will never be completely convincing. Inevitably there will be intuitions inspiring doubts and questions leading some people and groups to recognize the falseness of the external identifications. The overwhelming cultural training in outward orientations will make it nearly impossible to trace or accept the true transcendence of the interior freedom of ordinary intelligences. With all hopes pinned on the false transcendence, the immediate response to its loss will be a vision of an abyss of hopelessness: nihilism. In spite of the fact that individual freedom was recognized to some extent, that freedom could not be recognized as uniquely transcendent, as it truly is. The whole nihilist turn of mind was possible because of a culturally conditioned, post-monotheist disability to accept the transcendence of every individual person, in spite of the egalitarian effects of spreading proletarian literacy, Renaissance humanism, and the Republic of Letters of the rationalist Enlightenment era. In the trembling world-view of the privileged factions of society, only a supernatural source, external to nature and individual persons, could be convincing as the bestower of a kind of meaning which would legitimize their top-down human-on-human parasitism.
The Roman Christian tradition always sees an abyss of meaninglessness as the only alternative to the Christian story (to itself), and, since it held the position of hegemonic worldview in European civilization for centuries, it goes on engendering irrationalist reactions to an ideology of nihilism it both loves and fears. However, there is also the humanist tradition of individual freedom philosophy carried through a Protestant and post-Protestant line of influence that includes Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) as well as the interpretation of Martin Luther (1483-1546) by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) (the individual’s inward and creative leap), which convincingly pointed toward the answer to nihilism. It is an answer which Church loyalists, Romantics, and even Deconstructionists (there is nothing but text) are unwilling to accept. They can’t accept the answer of individual transcendent freedom because they remain under the influence of cultures constructing a blind spot over the experience of that transcendence, partly with a romantic love of the drama in their vision of darkness and the cultural conservatism it speciously seems to legitimize.
Sources for the origins of human-on-human parasitism:
A Study of History, written by Arnold J. Toynbee, Abridgement of Volumes I-VI, by D.C. Somervell, published by Oxford University Press, 1947, and Abridgement of Volumes VII-X, by D.C. Somervell, published by Oxford University Press, 1957 (Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 47-2302). In the 1947 volume (Volume 1 of the Somervell abridgements) see pages 152, 172-4, 181-2 for indexed discussions of “nomads as shepherds of men”. In the 1957 volume (Volume 2 of the Somervell abridgements) see page 230. Toynbee was the first to explore the parasitism of nomadic animal herders in my personal reading experience, and is certainly the source of the idea in my thinking.
Plagues and Peoples, written by William H. McNeill, Published by Anchor Books (1977), ISBN-10: 0385121229, ISBN-13: 978-0385121224. See page 6 for the description of human-on-human macroparasitism, pages19-20 for humankind as a disease, page 48 for agriculture-based humans as attractive hosts for macroparasitic groups (among whom the most importantly are nomadic herders), page 75 for the example of China.
Copyright © 2014 Sandy MacDonald.