Nothing is New, Everything is Brilliant

I recently had the opportunity to walk around the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Among the many objects there, I saw an Egyptian bowl some 3,700 years old. Displayed top facing the eye, it was carefully painted, the entire side of the inside being a square pattern design of alternating black and white with perspective perfectly caught as the edge squares curved and formed diamond shapes. Why did this catch my eye? Because the Dutch painters of the 17th century caught the interiors of their houses with the same archetype black and white square tiled floors.

The aesthetics of the eye has not changed, and, most likely, until we take an optical evolutionary step, it never will. For there is also a pavement from the time of Nefertiti’s daughter which is two birds flying above the reeds, which could be painted today. It is unlike any of the ornate, sideways figures on their temples and tombs. The birds are really flying, the reeds are bent by the wind.


One Step Forward

We take for granted the inexorable march of scientific inquiry with which we have grown up (my generation and the two before me). There have been in history huge forces which have stifled inquiry.

In the sixth century BCE and for some three hundred years after, Greeks developed a mathematics than enabled them to chart the stars, work out that the earth was round  and even (through a mistake that cancelled itself out in the equation) get close to its actual circumference. As Carl Sagan suggested in his seminal series  Cosmos, if they had not been ignored by the emerging merchant classes and desires of empire resulting ultimately in  invasion by the might of Rome, the twentieth century might have been the century we launched the first inter-stellar space ships.

The Christian Church with its insistence on the sanctity of the human body would not even allow the rudimentary brain surgery practiced by the Egyptians who knew trepanning (they even found one mummy with a plate in its head suggesting they attempted radical brain surgery or their wives threw their dishes really hard!)

The Chinese were  making water clocks two thousand years ago before their Emperors became paranoid.

Scientific advancement has been stopped by the most ludicrous of things, human foibles, and today we use the excuse that there isn’t the money to afford the experiments. How many thousands of years are we losing today for that excuse.


In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables there is an uprising of the young, forming barricades  to protest at the state and Marius the young naive stands with his young political friends who all die. These uprising apparently were frequent following the revolution and even today the French are quite happy to march and burn things in the streets to tell their leaders they are unhappy. There are many instances in French literature of such uprisings being described or used a part of the plot.

Although England was the first country in Europe to get rid of its king in their revolution it did not take hold. Sadly whereas in France the leadership had several key figures one after the other culminating in Napoleon in England they only really had Cromwell.

I have a feeling the literature of the Arab world will be slightly refreshed by what is happening right now. The artists and thinkers whilst being filled with some apprehension will also be enthused by the sheer vibrancy of people saying no. The police state is muted in Europe although it exists and we have forgotten how terrible it is to live in fear. To lose friends overnight never to see them again. It is also wise to notice how chauvinistic police states actually are.

I will believe in the Arab revolution when all women and children are accorded equal rights. Until then I will stay off the barricades because liberation from suppression is a long way from liberation of one’s mind.

Goodbye Egypt

Mubarak, whom I suspected might have been complicit in Sadat’s murder, is going, leaving an Egypt longing for democratic policies that don’t include secret police and the de facto rule of the army. I sometimes wonder if people really understand themselves.

A long time ago I heard a Buddhist monk say that anyone who converted from their religion didn’t understand their own. I have said elsewhere how perceptive this observation is in understanding the psychology of religion; but I also recall sociologists talking about converted nations possessing their own customs and their original religions osmotically appearing in different guises into their new faiths. Egypt is Islamic but underneath her Muslim skin lies the ancient religion of the Pharaohs. Just as, incidentally, under Iran’s Muslim faith lies Zoroastrianism.

The Russian Communists used secret police because they inherited them lock, stock and barrel from the Czars. Egypt uses secret police because it always has, it is not something Nasser invented. The army has ruled in Egypt since she became a nation and praying to Mecca hasn’t changed a thing. Ask the ten million Coptic Christians who are still second class citizens and will remain so in democratic Egypt. The Egyptian has always needed its slaves to maintain its own high opinion of itself, elections won’t change a thing.

They want democracy I am sure, but they have no idea how to share power equitably and that is the heart of the Democratic process.

Facebook Revolutions

Let me first say the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt will not change the political map for the better in the Middle East as far as the Western idea of change is concerned. There will be no great democratic whirlwind because the leaders who are falling are old men, their time had come years ago. There will be no rapprochement with Israel because Egypt’s treaty always depended upon it being a bankrupt country, not a country interested in peace.

The truly amazing lesson to be learned about what is happening is that it is being organized on the Internet. Not the old communist coffee houses in foreign countries arguing over books and secreting revolutionaries in special places, or the French straw that breaks the camel’s back, but campaigns millions read at the same time and then act upon, on line. This is truly revolutionary and along with it are going social revolutions all over the world because the Internet has brought billions of people to within the social range of a few tens of thousands. Because it empowers individuals to get something started and run with it.

Politics is only the most recent area to be affected, it will change how we do everything because soon criminals will be outed and corruption will be targeted. There is never a shortage of brave people to put their lives on the line when they are angry and this world is a very angry world.

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January 2019
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