27 March 2007

Jared Diamond's lack of respect for priests

I've just started reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is so far an outstanding book. Just a quick note: early on, Diamond is discussing the beginnings of food production and its repurcussions, including the establishment of chiefs, bureaucracy, scribes, artisans, and priests. The last one, priests, he does not justify as being to tend to the spiritual needs of the early villagers, rather, as he term it, "Stored food can also feed priests, who provide religious justification for wars of conquest...." Get that? Religion is just there so that the masses will support the greed of the powerful.

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At March 28, 2007 10:30 a.m., Blogger TheBrummell said...

Diamond is my favourite non-fiction author for a reason. Sentences like that are a big part of that reason.

His opinions towards religion are probably quite similar to those of Richard Dawkins, but Diamond hasn't gotten into trouble with the usual fools over them because he focuses on other things. I'm not suggesting that one approach to this topic is superior to the other, just that Diamond is very good at making a point in a simple, straightforward way, then moving on to the implications. Dawkins tends to grab an idea and shake it to death, which is also a fun thing to read.

G,G & S is a fun book, full of great ideas. Diamond's disrespect for religion and especially its practitioners will come through again - I remember seeing more than one reference to "justified kleptocracy" and similar concepts.

Enjoy the book! I know I did, both times I've read it. Once you finish it, I can highly recommend his next book, Collapse as a companion-piece.

At March 28, 2007 10:50 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

I'll look into that one. I've got so many books on the go right now that it might be a while before I get to it, unfortunately.

I rather enjoy Dawkins grabbing and shaking ideas to death. Very entertaining, and it does get the point across. The downside is that you don't learn a lot from reading it, whereas with Diamond he quickly moves on to some new informative point.

I definitely appreciate Diamond's easy style. Very straightforward to read; a 12 year old could probably read it without much difficulty. It's a welcome break from the heavier stuff I normally read. I'm amazed at how quickly I'm flying through the book.

At March 28, 2007 6:45 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

Man, you've gotta read Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell.

There's a point where he spends a portion of a chapter pre-arguing with critics of religious criticism. Basically it all boils down to "One need not justify their casual dismissal or religion as a distinctly human action given that there is NO EVIDENCE FOR GOD. All arguments otherwise IMPLICITLY ASSUME THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. There are no 'good' theological arguments..."

At March 29, 2007 8:16 a.m., Anonymous Sarge said...

Well, I would guess (given evidence daily that it is so) that early on people who had or wanted power and wanted to keep it figured out that temporal and spiritual power should achieve a concordiat. The higher one goes up the social tree the more blurred the line between the actual powers of both of those entities are. Older sons into the nobility, younger sons into the church, whatever it may be.

Sometimes, for personal reasons, it is an uneasy alliance, but on one side you have the devine boogey man and its adherants threatening you with devine wrath in the hereafter if you don't 'render unto ceasar'. And then you have the temporal power to enforce orthodoxy and fight heresy or any other thing dangerous to power. And sometimes, the use of a third religion, a civic sort of thing, to help cement the two. Exceptionalism, flag worship, veneration of the clergy, affirmation of temporal power using religious symbols.

In the last twenty five years people have found out just how much the lines are blurred. People's well being was (and is) threatened by plant closings and forclosures, and they used their churches, the same ones their families built, maintained, and furnished for over 175 years in some cases, as bases for action and some ministers even spoke out. They very shortly found out that the lay portions of the Presbytery, Synod,diocese, what have you, were people who were in the upper management of banks, businesses, and even government. They told the bishops, elders, whatever, 'put a stop to this or we cut off the money we supported you with." And people found out that even though they build and payed for their church, the synod, etc. actually owned it, and when they didn't comply with what the synods et al said, the state was sent in to sieze the property and arrest people for trespassing. And they did.

Carlo, my great grandmother was from New Brunswick, she came to the USA about a century ago. My mother is a geneologist, and she and my father travelled up there about twenty years ago, actually met some of the distant cousins. Some of them are interested in geneology as well and they travel down here, and they visit me because I 'know where the bodies are buried'...literally. Last year we had some folks from Prince Edward Island come down for a few days, very nice people, and to show that I actually know something about Canada, I said I heard they grew potatoes there. They gave me a stricken look and said, "Yes...yeas, we have...potatoes. Please never mention them again!" What the hell was up with THAT?

At March 29, 2007 12:43 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Sarge, they took offense because PEI is known for exactly two things: Anne of Green Gables and growing potatoes. Hence they get a little defensive about the potatoes being brought up all the time.

At March 29, 2007 2:18 p.m., Anonymous Sarge said...

Thanks, Your Majesty! I was in Canada about forty five years ago for a horse show/training event, and although my younger daughter-in law's family is from Toronto, I've never had a chance to get back.

Funny, though. Most people around here, they think of Canada, it's teeming with French accented lumberjacks, mounties (one of which may be Nelson Eddy or Dudly Doright, they're not sure there's a difference), Eskimos, and polar bears. They may have a vague idea that it's to "The North" and its national iconography deal with beavers and maple leaves, all of which render it hopeless except for the fact that they play hockey there, and manufacture LaBatt Blue and Molson beer, thus rendering it somewhat worthwhile. There's this thing they do on the ice with fifty pound rocks and brooms, but that makes them suspicious all over again. I mean, you've got rocks and sticks, and no one gets assaulted with either, so what's the good of that?

I,on the other hand, know a bit more. I know that there was a town with cobble stone streets and stone buildings called Brassac about sixty years before St. Augustine, Fla. I know the Black Fly song, listen to Wilf Carter, Hank Snow, and Ann Murray, know what happened during Real's War, the Fennian attack, and on the Plains of Abraham. My Toronto born daughter-in-law's mother has fixed seal flipper pie for me and several dishes which feature stock fish and salt pork. She gave my wife a drink made with rum which (my wife gave me her solemn word that it's not named such for nothing) is called "Screech". And I'm reasonably sure that the hellishly clever ditty "I Like a Moose" is NOT the official song of the Canadian fish and wildlife office. That's what I know about Canada.

One more thing, some years ago we were travelling down Interstate 70 to visit my family in Virginia, and we stopped at the Maryland Visitors Center. It was late July, so there were still a lot of folks from Ontario on their way to Virginia Beach on the road. A car from Ontario parked next to us and a very distressed looking couple got out, and asked in desperation, "What is that horrible noise??!!" My wife, children and I looked at each other and said, "WHAT noise?" They looked shocked, and then it hit me. I asked if they meant that rising/falling background noise, and waved a hand as it increased in volumn. Yep, that was it! What WAS it? It was cicadas. They'd never heard them before. They said they started hearing them when they hit New York State, and they thought something was wrong with their car. They stopped for gas, but the sound continued, setting their mind to rest about their car, but very worrisome none the less. Everyone they'd asked replied the same way: "WHAT noise??" I caught one and showed them what they were, explained about them, and they were somewhat easier of mind. They said while annoying, they weren't as bad as the black fly.

At March 29, 2007 3:02 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Strange that they weren't familiar with cicadas. We have them a bit in southern Ontario. They are really no big deal, just kind of annoying.

Wow, you know a lot of obscure Canadiana stuff, in some respects more than I do.

I've never had screech, either.

Anyway, I went curling for the first time earlier this week. Pretty darn fun, though getting the throw weight right is pretty difficult.

At March 29, 2007 4:19 p.m., Blogger TheBrummell said...

...getting the throw weight right is pretty difficult.

Play Third. The Third's job is almost always to take out (that's the technical term, I believe) any rocks of the opposition that are in unfortunate positions. There's less finesse during a take-out, just huck (not a technical term) the rock as hard as you can so it blows your opponents' rocks away. More power = good.

I say that as the proud bearer of a curling-related facial scar. But it's really not a violent sport (the wound was self-inflicted through stupidity).

At March 29, 2007 4:38 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

I was going 2nd. I threw some pretty nice guards. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be in the house.

I fell on my ass near the end of the day just because I wasn't paying attention. No scars though. How'd you manage to get one? Face plant? Whack yourself in the face with the broom?

At March 29, 2007 7:19 p.m., Anonymous Sarge said...

Well, I'll have another scar on my face. I was hurt after band rehearsal last night. In this group I play French Horn and am assistant conductor and one of the librarians. My wife is one of the drummers.

After rehearsal I went to put some of the music folders away, and I couldn't tell the angle of the stand cymbal (eighteen incher) and bang-o, a smack right above the left eye as I bent over to open a file drawer. So I got a lump, a gash, and a black eye all in one. Try explaining THAT away.

These folks really didn't know what a cicada was, in fact they were terrified of them even when my oldest showed them that they actually had no working mouth.

My Indian daughter-in-law on her first visit out here called my wife and I to the window (it was also July and was quite concerned because she saw all these flashing lights all over the yard. We said, "WHAT lights?" and she got almost the same look as the Canadian couple. (As I remember, they smoked Players Navy Cut. Niether of my daughters-in-law smoke) and then it dawned on us. She was seeing lightning bugs (fireflies) for the first time. Everywhere she's been they don't live.

At April 03, 2007 2:51 p.m., Blogger Bart said...

I just started reading GG&S too. I'm about half way. Generally I find it pretty good save for the lack of referencing. Yes I know there is a further reading section, but some of his statements seem a little suspiscious to me and warrant a direct refenece in the text, rather than having me fish around at the end of the book and try to figure out which reference refers to the statement in question.


Must have been city folk. We get cicadas in the summer months in southern Ontario (or as Carlo calls it: Onterrible). We also get fireflies, but you have to go outside of the city (naturally). Black flies are something else though. The first time I went 'north' in spring time I saw everyone walking around with head-to-toe fine mesh suits. I didn't get it until I stepped out of the car. I now have a swanky mesh suit myself.


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