Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Emergence of Man: Who is to Blame?

This next chapter, The Emergence of Homo Sapiens, gets into one of our favorite subjects: exactly how and when did man become man? We have a religious explanation -- sort of -- and a scientific one -- kind of -- but neither, taken at face value, is remotely satisfying. Both are more than a little vague at the edges.

C'mon. What really happened? How did the merely animal escape animality and enter this new world of truth, language, meaning, love, beauty? Any purely scientific account ends up negating what it needs to explain, while a purely religious account tends to overlook everything leading up to it. Each, in its own way, forms man from the dirt and leaves it at that, leaving aside the question of how dirt can come alive to begin with. Godlike magic or magical God isn't much of a choice.

As we know from our reading and even writing of One Cosmos, there are four major discontinuities in existence, and it's hard to say which is the most queer.

First there is existence itself arising out of "nothing" from a primordial explosion that is still exploding as we speak; then this explosion suddenly comes to life some 3.8 billion years ago (suggesting, among other things, that it must have been alive all along); then, around 100,000 years ago, portions of this biosphere are "catapulted into the status of a metaphysical being"(Bailie), and begin thinking, speaking, inventing, and so on; and finally, the story loops back around on itself, and these latter beings break through and commune with their ultimate ground and destiny.

The whole thing is just too weird, except it really happens.

But right now we're focused on the third explosion, anthropogenesis.

By the way, instead of seeing these as four separate mysteries requiring four separate explanations, I tend to think of them as variations on a single explosion. Furthermore, since the whole thing is circular, we can't necessarily locate the point of origin on a line; in other words, nothing compels us to begin with lifeless matter and somehow try to figure out how it came to life.

Rather, we can, for example, begin with Life (as did the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen). As Rosen put it, there is no reason we have to begin with physics instead of biology as our paradigmatic science. Or, to paraphrase Whitehead, biology is the study of the larger organisms, whereas physics is the study of the smaller. And perhaps cosmology is the study of the largest. Unless you want to raise that and say that the Trinity is the largest, an idea to which we will return.

Alternatively, we can begin with man. What if man is the key to the whole existentialada? Not just in the sense that he is the "measure of all things," but that he is the reason for them? This would explain a lot. But let's not get out on front of our headlights.

Now first of all, how do we know when man has become man? This is impossible to say with scientific certitude, because we have access only to physical clues, including DNA, but not to what was going on in their heads.

In my book I looked to the Paleolithic cave paintings as definitive evidence of humanness; I also touched on the universality of human sacrifice, but Bailie, in following René Girard, emphasizes the latter. For Girard, it is a kind of "grand unified theory" of anthropogenesis, enculturation, and more.

Certainly we need to account for the universality of such a seemingly absurd and brutal practice: why human sacrifice? Why, when humans become human, do they begin sacrificing one another to their "gods?" Indeed, why do some of them still practice it to this day? Why haven't they gotten the message -- the Good News, as it were?

Girard's simple explanation -- although full of implications -- is that it is in order to maintain culture. We know that man is prone to violence, to put it mildly. How did early man prevent it from spinning out of control and engulfing these proto-cultures in a downward and dis-integrating cycle of bloodletting?

Here we must emphasize that this is not only a legitimate question, but an absolutely essential one: how on earth do we domesticate such a violence-prone being? For Girard the answer is: human sacrifice. Via this mechanism, the group essentially projects its psychological toxins into a scapegoat. Why? Because it works. At least for a while. It doesn't really solve anything in a final way, so must be compulsively re-enacted, eventually by a professional class, a priesthood.

"Quite logically, the beneficiaries of this blessed peace replicate as best they can the process that produced it. They reenact the drama in rituals of blood sacrifice; they recount the event that turned madness into peace in their myths, and they establish taboos to prevent the spontaneous eruption of this crisis. Archaic religion is born."

Now, we know that the Abrahamic line begins with a human sacrifice. Or rather, the prevention of one. The rest is history -- or salvation history, to be precise. As it so happens, it also ends in a human sacrifice -- or again, the failure of one, AKA the Resurrection.

Not much time this morning, only enough to sketch a crude and preliminary outline. To be continued...


ted said...

In a recent post, I recall you mentioned Christianity moving us from exterior sacrifice to interior sacrifice. Well said.

In regards to sacrifice, I watched this amazing interview with Prof. Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan's podcast. It's a tad long, but worth hanging in! Rogan is a little over his head at times, but says at the end that this was his favorite interview.

mushroom said...

I am way behind. I will have to catch up and come back.

julie said...

Re. Prof. Peterson, there's a great interview making the rounds here, too. Long but well worth the read.

I don't think I had heard of the guy before yesterday; suspect we'll be hearing quite a lot of him n the future.

julie said...

Re. the Abrahamic near-sacrifice, interesting too how it mirrors the sacrifice of Christ: a father is willing to sacrifice his son for the Father, who really does sacrifice his Son for all fathers (and sons and mothers and daughters).

mushroom said...

I guess, too, you could look at human sacrifice as an obtuse, obscured recognition -- through a glass darkly -- that Something was coming. They ritualized blood-letting to control it, but, perhaps, they had a sense that they were acting out something that would make the ritual reality. It has circled back to where the type is now the anti-type and we remember it in the ritual of the Eucharist.

Van Harvey said...

I'm with you Mushroom, end of year rush has me several days behind.

"...Now, we know that the Abrahamic line begins with a human sacrifice. Or rather, the prevention of one. The rest is history -- or salvation history, to be precise...."

In regards to sacrifice, I think the question that interests me, is how did ending it, end it? Even temporarily, until Jesus came along?

It seems that barbaric man, became anthropos man 'he who looks up', when he was shown that there was something worth looking up to. To which Christ added up and in, or inwardly outwards, and the frightening dark 'out there' that had always surrounded, pressed in on and threatened us, no longer holds our interest.

But stop looking up, and, well, It's out there, is coming closer, and must be appeased.

Van Harvey said...

Julie said "Re. Prof. Peterson, there's a great interview making the rounds here, too. Long but well worth the read."

Thanks Julie. I'd never heard of the guy before, and last week his name and videos stated popping up all over the place, looks like that interview might answer a few questions.