Archive for the ‘Ingenuity’ Category

The Secularization of Cannibalism

December 14, 2010

I’ve been reading an interesting old book recently, and it’s given me much food for thought.

The book is called “The Golden Bough“, by one Sir James Frazer, and is one of the first exhaustive – and exhausting – examinations of common themes in human behaviour in relation to magic,  superstition, and religion.

I was thrown for a six by one of the cases he mentions: apparently in the Fiji Islands, the pre-Contact chiefs had aggregated such mana, such spiritual power that having a hair-cut was fraught with terror at the thought that it might cause universal natural catastrophe – and to protect against that,

XXI. Tabooed Things

7. Ceremonies at Hair-cutting

The chief of Namosi in Fiji always ate a man by way of precaution when he had had his hair cut. “There was a certain clan that had to provide the victim, and they used to sit in solemn council among themselves to choose him. It was a sacrificial feast to avert evil from the chief.”

Yes, that was a rather more fraught time, and those Fijians didn’t then have the benefit of the knowledge we have at our fingertips and mouse-buttons, etc, ad nauseam … I got to thinking though, that described the behaviour of the Great Powers and the Superpowers, and of course the now-diminishing Hyperpower, to a T!

I consider the behaviour of the UK and France during the Suez Crisis, the behaviour of the Soviet Union during the first Afghan War, and likewise the behaviour of the United States during the current Afghan War … in all cases mentioned, a Great Power is on its way out, and needs to readjust its behaviour and priorities.

But a readjustment of priorities is such a traumatic experience – that Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, Pakistanis, etc, have to die, to feed the “mana” of the said Great Power. Human sacrifice has not disappeared with the Enlightenment – it has, to use the ancient and rather appropriate expression of the Sumerians of blessed memory, “Kingship came down from heaven“, and human sacrifice and cannibalism has been appropriately secularized – it is the State that devours lives, rather than individual chiefs eating their tribesmen.


The Little Red Hen and the Dog in a Manger

November 29, 2010

Once upon a time, in a little land far, far away from any sense or reason whatsoever, there lived a little red hen, and a dog, in a barnyard.

Once upon a day, the little red hen discovered a little head of barley and suggested to the dog that they plant it it and take shares in it.  The dog refused – he had some reason to believe that the farmer was wanting him for some work, and he was sure to get much more of a return than if he contributed anything to the little red hen’s madcap ideas.

The little red hen went around here there and everywhere in the barnyard, asking hither and yon for someone to help her.  None of the other animals wanted to contribute.  None of them wanted to put in any effort.

So the little red hen said, “Looks like I’ll have to do it myself.”

So she did, scraping out a little plot to plant it, and watering it daily, watching the little plot turn into a glorious green patch of barley.

Time came to reap it, and she asked the dog first, and as usual, the dog refused – he had something more exciting coming up, he boasted, and didn’t have the time.  And likewise, so did the other animals.

So the little red hen got and did it herself, as per usual.

Meanwhile, the dog, in retreat from the farmer, slunk into the stable, and stretched out on the hay in the manger, and went soundly to sleep.

The little red hen reaped the barley and ground it and baked it – she had given up on hoping that the other animals would be willing to help.

The smell went throughout the barnyard, and all the animals came around, sniffing and begging for a byte of it, since it smelt so good.

The little red hen shook her head and said, “You had your opportunity ages ago to deserve a byte, but you refused.  So just get lost.”

The ox and the horse, both miffed at this, stamped off into the stable to get some comfort food – and they awoke the dog, who leapt to his feet, snarling and barking.  “Get lost,” he barked.  “This is mine!”

*    *    *

I first discovered the use of folk tales as political messages in 1982, when I abstracted a version of the Little Red Hen that was being used to criticize the unemployed – back then, the idea that some people would be long-term unemployed was regarded as horrendous – and indicative of bad faith on the part of the unemployed. While on the other hand, employers also whined about the lack of subsidies, or insufficient subsidies, etc.

Both attitudes are still very much current. Except now that the employers also add complaining about skills shortages to the mix. Skills shortages are for everyone else to fix, not them; while tax cuts and so on and so forth are very much demanded.

New Zealanders appear to have an extraordinary ability to deceive themselves.  Back in the early twentieth century, there was a man called Richard Pearse, who dreamed of flying machines, and who built several rather intriguing examples.  He was ignored for the most part, and mocked for the rest. Now that he is dead, and no longer in a position to contest the case, New Zealand proclaims him as a prime  exemplar of New Zealand ingenuity.

The two examples of New Zealand ingenuity I see are the way that New Zealand managed to ignore him during his life, and the way in which New Zealand managed to claim his hard work its own after his death.

Or put it another way, he had a major set of skills that New Zealand wasn’t prepared to back, wasn’t prepared to admit was real, or even necessary.

It seems to be the way New Zealanders behave – most of all, they all seem to want their hand-outs, even when they don’t need them. But any time you need a hand up …