What is Consciousness? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google images.

 

Consciousness and the Evolution of Consciousness.

The consciousness/awareness/self-consciousness and/or knowledge that we experience on a daily basis are only “the tip of the iceberg”.  In the psychoanalytic theory of the conscious mind and the unconscious mind the “iceberg” metaphor is often used to explain the levels of consciousness.    The tip of the iceberg is what we knowingly experience while the unconscious is represented by the ice hidden below the surface of the water.

Sigmund Freud believed that all human behaviour and personality derive from constant contests between the governing psychological forces that operate at three different levels of awareness; the unconscious, the pre-conscious and the conscious.   For example; a person might intend to make a statement, but the words come out differently to the intention and generally mean something that was unintended.  This often happens in the error of a single word; Freud called this “slips of the tongue”.  Freud also argued that this is not an accident. Rather, it is the unconscious material revealing itself in the external world.

The wrong readings of signals, slips of the tongue or improper judgments can often lead us into trouble; indeed, they can turn life into chaos. Freud argued that by talking about our past histories [the talking cure and/or psychotherapy] individuals could eradicate the historical scripts that lay behind the errors, misjudgments and bad decisions.  Freud’s work was deemed controversial and remains so today. Nonetheless, almost all the psychotherapies are based on Freud’s original model of consciousness.   Hence, in order to bring about life changes we need to understand Freud’s model of consciousness.

  1. Consciousness includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental activity that we can think about and discuss rationally. Some aspects of our memory are included in this category, but not all memories.
  2. The Pre-conscious mind is the part of the mind that represents ordinary memories which we often lose track of, but which can be retrieved and brought to consciousness when we need them. This is sometimes termed “recall”.
  3. The Unconscious mind contains all feelings and emotions, thoughts, desires, urges, and memories that reside beyond our conscious awareness. Freud believed that most of the contents of the unconscious mind are painful, socially unacceptable or unpleasant in some way such as pain, anxiety, depression, delusion and/or inner conflicts. Accordingly, Freud believed the unconscious continues its influence on our conscious mind even though the memories appear no long relevant. He also believed that we are unaware of these powerful influences.    Freud’s first and third proposition remain largely unchanged in modern psychotherapy. However the second proposition [the pre-conscious] has undergone some further study that includes the examination of the brain’s neural pathways, whereby the pre-conscious is now called the “adaptive unconscious” in the belief that every conscious thought is altered to match an existing script that lies in the unconscious.[i]  In addition these pathways are influenced as much by evolutionary processes and they are individual human histories.    It is important then to have some rudimentary understanding of the evolution of the human brain.  There are a number of theories I will use “Relational Frame Theory” formulated by Robin Dunbar who argues who when the size of a social group increases, the number of different relationships in the group may increase by orders of magnitude. [ii] Consciousness also expands by association. [Group increases can also contribute to social anxiety and can be dealt with in therapies based on Relational Frame Theory such as Action Commitment Therapy].
  4.   The most efficient model for understanding the brain in terms of its evolutionary history is the triune brain theory developed by Paul MacLean. According to this theory, humans actually have three brains inside the skull.
  5. The reptilian brain is the oldest of the three brains and it controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature, instincts and balance. Our reptilian brain replicates the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brain stem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is rigid, compulsive, impulsive and cannot be changed.
  6. The limbic brain emerged in the first mammals. It can records good and bad memories and experiences, so it is responsible for emotions and value judgments. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain unconsciously exerts a strong influence on human behaviour.
  7. The neo-cortex is the new brain which contains two hemispheres responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness. The neo-cortex is flexible and is believed to have almost infinite learning abilities and has contributed to the development of art and culture.
  8.   So far we have identified the physical attributes of the brain. However, the question of what gives rise to consciousness is a little more complex.   A description of consciousness is not the same as experiencing consciousness.  For example, if I describe a sponge cake, its recipe and how it is made, this does not explain the experience of eating a sponge cake. I must engage the senses in order to do this. If I want to change the sponge cake, perhaps to make it sweeter, I must understand the subjective qualities of eating the sponge cake.  This leads us to the notion of mindfulness.
  9. Most of our daily activity is controlled by the unconscious and the adaptive unconscious.  In order to make changes to our thoughts and routines it is necessary to actively engage the neural pathways  and the senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.  Try a simple mindfulness exercise,   explore the slice of an apple for its textures, colour taste, the space it occupies and every other aspect of its presence you can think of.

 

[i] Timothy D. Wilson [2004] Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious  N.Y. Belknap Press

[ii]Robin Dunbar [2005] The Human Story. London, Faber and Faber.

____________________________________________________

 

Do Children Remember Being Born?

Google images.

Scientists suggested that neither children or adults can remember being born, despite the many anecdotal claims of birth memories.  The inability to recall birth or any early childhood events before the age of three or four is called childhood or infantile amnesia.[1]  However, it appears that infantile amnesia does not hamper the unconscious that stores information about how to do things, for example how to navigate a birth channel.[2]   It seems possible then that if a person can recall the journey to birth,  other memories might be accessible as well.

According to the 1950s psychoanalyst Otto Rank, every birth is a traumatic experience.   He believed falling in dreams was simply the latent desire to return to the embryonic womb, which was deemed safer than the birthing experience.    Sometimes this desire to return to the womb might be played out in other symbolic fantasies like being under water or being sucked into quicksand. Otto Rank suggested that every psychological problem generally ended with some kind of representation of birth.

Sigmund Freud was interested in the links between dreams and repression.  He maintained that human anxieties and hysteria generally happened through processes of emotional and experiential denial and this could be revealed in the content of dreams.    Freud was renowned for his dream analysis, which he turned into therapies called the talking cure, or psychoanalysis.

Clearly, experiences are going to re-occur in our dreams and might be the source of further anxieties.

Anxieties were rife in the post-war period and they were probably exacerbated by the newly invented television set that graced the lounge rooms of those who could afford one.  My family were one of the first to acquire a black and white television set.  Television changed people’s perspectives. The scenes of the post war struggles that surrounded us were very real, we could identify with them; but at the same time, they were dispersed. When portrayed on the new media everything was concentrated into a small square box screen that flickered back and forth over a much wider area than that experienced first hand and this magnified the problems as well as the emotional responses from the audience. Then, over time this perspective changed and the distance made it easier to look at the devastation. However, no one could truly escape the devastation of War.

Britain had won the Second World War, but London’s outskirts were impregnated with the stench of poverty and hardship. The Second World War Armistice took place in 1945 and it brought with it some rapid changes, but also much chaos. The biggest problem for most people was finding somewhere to live.   All the eligible men had been called up for National Service, which was a compulsory two years contract so British women had basically kept the nation running in their absence.  Women lost their employment when the soldiers returned to England so the traumatic experience of the blitz was coupled with the sudden disappearance  of income.  There were other problems too.

The Second World War Armistice was portrayed as a time for celebration, but the immediate future looked grim.   For many Britons life would deteriorate far beyond the hardships of the War years and the difficult times did not discriminate between rich and poor because the entire nation was lacking in resources.  The War years had left Britain with a myriad of state regulations and a bureaucracy that was highly complex and beyond human comprehension. People were already struggling and the paperwork made things worse.  Taxes were high and wages were low. Rents were out of reach for a lot of families due to the shortage of housing.  Some basic commodities like dairy products, tea and fuels still had to be purchased with coupons.  Sugar and treacle were freely available and people would eat sweets instead of food. Meals were nutritionally lacking.   In winter the poor ate humbugs to keep warm when clothing was inadequate. A bright orange cough candy was also said to ward off influenza.  The high levels of sugar intake were bad for the teeth so charcoal was used to clean them as tooth paste was a luxury item and unavailable.

The lack of food for purchase also encouraged people to produce their own.  Around the city high steal wire fences were needed to stop people from stealing the home grown produce because the need was so great and the poor were suffering.  Some individuals who did not have land took advantage of the allotments that ran along the railway lines, but they had to be paid for, the sum was small, but money was hard to come by as there was little or no work.

In the 1940s and well into the 1950s many people who had homes lacked modern facilities like water, sanitation and electricity. Only businesses and rich people had modern appliances such as stoves and telephones. The washing was done in a boiler and put through a roller machine that stood outside in the yard, the rollers froze up when the temperatures fell below zero and the rollers perished and deteriorated, they were expensive to replace.

The water pipes had lagging to stop them from bursting. My grandmother would cut up old rags and put around pipes. It was not as though we could not afford to buy materials, there was just nothing available.   Winters were cold and wet so newspapers would be spread under carpets and mattresses to keep out the rising damp. There were no tradesmen, you had to take care of your own problems from plumbing to the removal of splinters and weeds.

It was said that the First World War took roughly 1,385,300 residents from the United Kingdom. The Second World War claimed the lives of nearly 500,000.[1]   Every family lost someone and some families were completely destroyed. People were numbed by the circumstances and they were despondent, which left them open to exploitation. Career thieves become landlords and entrepreneurs by taking advantage of the poor, the sick and the homeless.  Gamblers and bookies operated on every street corner encouraging people to bet on the horse and dog races. Most of the activities were illegal, but there was hardly any policing.  There were other forms of gambling too, cock fighting, racing pigeons and the football pools, with the latter offering such high rewards that some people would pour every penny they had into them and regret it later. Gambling and drinking were common past times as they served as a diversion from the harsh existence, but all too many succumbed to the addictions which dulled the painful memories and added to the squalor and dereliction.

The short supply of housing coupled and the high demand forced some families to live in old bomb shelters. Many were dug deep into the ground and  made of concrete while others were flimsy and built above ground with of corrugated iron. The shelters were hardly adequate protection from the rough winters, they were cold, damp, they leaked and they were havens for vermin.  Later the government built prefabricated bungalows, which were equally flimsy and damp.

Everything was in short supply, but housing was the worst problem with the highest demand. Some folks were so desperate they were prepared to squat in condemned buildings.  Table cloths and old blankets could be seen swinging from glass free windows and the holes in floors were covered in scrap tin sheeting that had fallen off the back of trucks or was stolen from local scrap yards.   The stench from the sites was repulsive, there were open drains and no toilets.  Most sites had not been properly cleared of contaminated debris and the smell of death and incendiary fuels made for an unpleasant mix.

My family escaped much of the sordidness, but my aunt drove and ambulance and I would often go with her to a call in the poorer regions.  Ambulances did not just pick up sick people, they collected body parts and the dead.  It made for an enlightened upbringing.

Returning to the topic of memories, it is hard to assess how much one actually remembers first hand or what is gleaned from conversation.  Either way, it was a shocking picture for most to process.

Some memories can be relied upon. I recall an odorous air of carcasses that seeped from through the alleyways as giant rodents scavenged for any decomposed remains, mostly dogs and scraps that had been thrown from cafes.   The rats were twice the size of the domestic species as the poisons put down by the town council had resulted in an immunity which doubled the size of the animals.

The rats would run along the small front gardens and along the kerb-sides before disappearing into the drains.   . Women could not leave their babies outside in perambulators for fear of their children being attacked and eaten by rats.

I grew up with a loathing for rodents, but my cousin Eve  loved rats. She worked in a laboratory that made biological weapons and rats were used for experimentation. My cousin would sometimes visit my grandmother on a Sunday afternoon and she would generally bring a rat or two with her for our amusement.

On one occasion  a rat escaped in the kitchen. My grandmother gave chase,  but the rat outsmarted her . It jumped from the floor to a chair and then on to the cooker where my grandmother had a pot of soup cooking for dinner. The rat observed the soup and tried to balance on the edge of the saucepan, but fell into the boiling liquid.  The loss of a nights dinner was not small dilemma. My cousin Eve was upset at the loss of her rat and my grandmother was furious at the loss of a pot of good soup.

Many lives were in ruins after the War, but there was a strength of character that grew from it.  The will to survive seems to surpass every human dilemma, be it small or a grand upheaval.

[1] War Causalities https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties Retried 6th October, 2018.

[2] The consumption of mentholated spirits was common.

 

[1] Infant Amnesia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood_amnesia Retrieved 29th October, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

What Binds Us?

 

 

 

 

This is a personal story, which I want to convey as a tribute to the people at the New York Central Synagogue.

 

Image from Wikipedia.

Recently I have taken up the habit of live streaming the Friday Shabbat service from the New York Central Synagogue. For those who have never experienced a Shabbat service, or perhaps who have not participated in a religious celebration to speak of, let me tell you the Shabbat gathering is full of poetry, song, wisdom, joy and a culture that is both ancient and modern and the experience  is very uplifting.

A traditional part of the Jewish service is to honour those who have passed, especially people who have been victims of wars and crimes.  On Friday night when this moment of remembrance arrived in the order of service the Rabbi read a letter a mother had written to her deceased daughter aimed at conveying just how much the child was missed and how much she was loved and  remembered.

It is hard to imagine the pain of losing a child and  the letter was so poignant that the Rabbi, while reading the words,  was moved to tears and struggled to get to the end of the reading.   It brought tears to my eyes and I suspect to many in the congregation.

The reading reminded me of a time when I was young, about seventeen in fact.  I had left home and I was working and living in the Mayfair district of London, every young girl’s dream was to be among the rich and famous and I had made it into the echelons of the elite.  Life was good and a little crazy as well.

Every morning I would leave my flat and stroll across the green  square to work.    Every morning I would see a small, somewhat frail, middle aged women walking in the same direction.  I would always greet the woman and she would always greet me with a sweet smile and discrete “good morning”. 

One day, quite by chance, the woman and I both stopped in the square and struck up a conversation. The woman asked me where I worked and I told her with great enthusiasm  how lucky I was to be working for a famous film producer and how much fun it was, not like work at all really.  I think I giggled my way through every sentence.  I went on and on spilling out words and extolling my good fortune.

I learned that the woman I was talking to worked as a translator at a nearby embassy. She was highly skilled, very serious and much more resigned to moderation than I was.  Over a short period of time we became friends.  With great kindness and a hint of maternalism the woman    took me under her wing.  I was young, impetuous, estranged from family and friends and not always thinking straight, which made me prone to many misadventures.   My new friend was very wise, stabilizing and she had a calming effect.  I think we both shared a need for honest and sincere companionship. It seemed, in reality, we were both very alone.

It was a great and perhaps unusual friendship. We would have lunch together and sometimes see a concert after work or go to an art gallery. We both loved art. My friend was unmarried and made no mention of family ties or marriage prospects.  We talked only of our passions,  music, art, literature and life in general.

After about six months, my friend and I were having lunch at a restaurant in Bond Street when I suddenly felt the urge to ask her if she had children.  There was a pause before my friend answered the question. “No”, she said. There was a longer pause and then she told me she was unable to have children.  After several shaky sips from a coffee cup, my friend explained that she was a Holocaust survivor and she was unable to have children because she was one of the many women the Nazis had used for their medical experiments.  I was speechless and unable to ask what the Nazis had actually done to her and I imagine she would have been unable to find the words to tell me.

In truth, I did not know what to say to my friend.  How does a young person respond to such a statement of pain and suffering?  What struck me was the glow of strength and composure this woman had after having borne the burden of such heinous crimes.   I do recall  asking how a person  might deal with such a terrible experience? How does one overcome such a trauma and its ongoing memory?  Her answer was simple,  “faith“.

My friend  attended a Shabbat service every Friday evening and gained support from a community who were not afraid to remember the Holocaust, a community who would not be blamed or shamed, but who would rise up bravely and honourably in order to tell their story.

As a society we like to forget bad experiences, but my friend insisted that remembering was the only way to prevent such a thing happening again, so however much it hurts we have to remember the bad experiences.

I went back to my workplace that afternoon and instead of heading to my office I locked myself in the toilets and cried, I could not tell at the time why I cried, but I truly sobbed as if the whole world had suddenly come crashing down on me. There were some aspects of my friend’s story that truly resonated, like the feeling of solitude that comes in the aftermath of a war, a feeling that I had gleaned from growing up in East London.  My own family had been devastated by the Second World  War.  Most of my relatives had survived, but on my father’s side there was no one  and my father’s sole survival left him riddled with physical and mental illness, which made him suicidal.

Watching with a deep sense of empathy as the Rabbi at Central Synagogue  became reduced to tears reminded me of how we feel each other’s pain and how important it is to have faith and to remember even if it hurts because in remembering we gain our strength and the fortitude we need to help others through difficult times.

My friend had given me the most wonderful gift a young person could ever receive, the wisdom that comes from the other’s shared experience.  We are all on this planet to help each other to rise up from the pain and feel the joy and for me this is what the Shabbat celebration has provided. Further, it has shown how vulnerable we all are and that vulnerability is not a weakness, but a strength.

I want to thank everyone at New York Central Synagogue for the wonderful gift they are giving to me and to others like me.    Shalom.

What To Do With a Dictator?

 

 Google Images.

America’s President Trump has now declared a national emergency to fund his long-sought after border wall.  How will people react?  Parliamentary governments have historically enacted emergencies that put limits on civil  liberties and human rights and give impetus to the centralization of government and its overriding authority in order to protect themselves from protests, disagreements and social disarray.

Emergencies also relate to natural disasters, but the mood  against Trump is distinctly different. The imposition of a coveted legislature by a would-be autocrat has stirred the fears of a dictatorship.     Natural disasters, and other unforeseen calamities cannot be avoided,  however, Trump’s move is more in line with the emergency provisions in Germany when Article 48 of the Wiemar Constitution granted the president the authority to overrule the legislature. This provision of emergency was implemented many times and Adolf Hitler used it to legally sanction Nazi attacks on his opponents. Importantly, every move under this provision was completely legal and the population blindly supported it.

There has been a lot of speculation about Trump’s past, his alleged connections to the Right Wing white supremacists and members of the Ku Klux Klan. He has been highly visible in his misogynist attitudes and  treatment of women.  His complacency about the abuse of black citizens has also been noted and if I remember rightly, he even accused the previous President Obama of being a Muslim, not that it should have mattered if he was.

Trump is not alone in his determination to be a dictator. Political narcissism is plaguing the world and it has a long history.  Mussolini inaugurated his dictatorship after failed assassination attempts. Argentine’s military junta seized power in 1976 and suspended parts of the constitution.

If we look more closely at the period of government that preceded Hitler from 1930-1933, there are many similarities between then and now. The German working class and poor were suffering through a Depression. There was a lack of employment, food shortages and a sense of hopelessness.  Hitler promised to make Germany great again when Nazi violence was already in full swing. Jews were targeted for their money and business acumen (Hitler had a personal hatred of Jews much like Trump’s apparent hatred of immigrants).    By 1930 the German Communist Party were arguing that Germany was already a fascist country.

Many Americans are saying that Trump’s national emergency has to be stopped. People can see where Trump’s action  might be going, but we have seen in the previous examples that protest is not always enough to stop an ambitious dictator.  How do we deal with a dangerous zealot like Donald Trump?

 

 

Politics Gone Mad!

 

Google images.

America’s President Trump has declared a state of emergency to build a huge wall in order to keep out the influx of  immigrants coming into the United States, while the Australian Prime Minister wants to re-open the Christmas Island Detention Centre, an old disused facility to house boat people that have not even arrived yet and may not arrive.  Why should we be surprised?  The two governors  have much in common when it comes to desperate measures, dispassionate and irrational decision making.

Leaving aside the American problem of the so called invading immigrants, Professor Ben Saul, a rapporteur for the United Nations has called Australia “recalcitrant and a pariah state”.  He is correct! With respect to Australia the United Nations’ committees have upheld 36 Human Rights complaints against the country, the fourth largest number of adverse findings in the world.  Half related to arbitrary detention.  Indeed, since 2009 thousands of asylum seekers and dozens of refugees have been held in detention without just cause.

Australia has a long history of arbitrary detention which dates back to the convict era.  The most heinous examples being that of women  and the Stolen Generation, or the displacement of Aboriginal children who were removed from their families and put into institutions or white peoples’ homes.  Aboriginal people  were not only massacred en mass, those who survived, were relocated and/or put to forced labour.  The Australian nation has a shocking history of abuse that seems never- ending.

In addition, Australia engaged in the transportation of orphaned children who were put into farm schools as unpaid labour.  Eventually, the schools were closed, but not before significant damage was done to individuals.

Historical files at the Public Records Office have revealed how women were locked up in mental institutions due to poverty, senility, bad nerves or change of life.  Unmarried mothers were also institutionalized and many had their children removed and put up for adoption. This heinous practice was not addressed until 2012.

In 2012 a Government Senate paper reported on the Commonwealth’s contribution to forced adoption detailing policies and practices. Adoptions were carried out by nurses, social workers and religious leaders.  Women with no visible means of support often lost their children, which caused many mothers to seek relationships with men who were neither reliable or caring. Many women were subjected to domestic violence and were simply unable to leave for fear of losing their children.  In the 1960s, adoption could take place even if consent was given under duress, the situation remained the same well into the 1980s and beyond.

Women in same sex relationships were also at risk of losing their children. Mothers could be made to feel they were bad mothers and unworthy of having offspring. Many mothers who tried to fight the system were scrutinized and terrorized. Many were told to give up their children. Forced adoptions were illegal, but there was no policing and a lot of pressure.  The records showed that mothers with new born babies had BFA (baby for adoption) written on their files. Fathers of the children escaped all liability. By the 1980s the situation had eased, but not altogether, society condemned unmarried and lesbian mothers whose lives and well being were often disrupted by verbal and physical abuse.

Australia has engaged in many forms of arbitrary detention. Most government and non-government authorities have  made the desperate, the poor and the powerless their targets.  The Universal Declaration on Human Rights prohibits all forms of arbitrary detention, but Australia is a rogue state with little concern for international opinion.  Currently it is refugees and asylum seekers that are the target.  The issues are divisive and ugly, but they will not go away until all Australians learn that every life counts, every life has value.

References.

Sydney Morning Herald Australia 7th 2019.

 

The Cold War.

 

 

 

 

Cuban street. Google images.

In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power in an armed revolt at the Bay of Pigs that overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.  The dictator’s regime had been friendly with the US government and had allowed US interests (often corrupt) to flourish.  The US government distrusted the communist Castro and was wary of his relationship with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union so the US planned an attack using support from Cuban exiles.

Before his inauguration, John F. Kennedy was told of a plan that was already in place, whereby  the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had developed a strategy during the Eisenhower administration to train Cuban exiles together with the military for the invasion.

President Eisenhower approved the invasion program in March 1960. The CIA set up training camps in Guatemala and by November they had a small army for an assault landing on Cuba. José Miró Cardona led the anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the United States. A former member of Castro’s government, he was the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, an exile committee.  Cardona was poised to take over the provisional presidency of Cuba if the invasion succeeded, it did not succeed.  Despite efforts of the government to keep the invasion plans  a secret,  the plan was leaked and  through Cuban intelligence, Castro learned of the guerrilla training camps in Guatemala.
Shortly after his inauguration, in February 1961, President Kennedy authorized the invasion plan.  The landing point at the Bay of Pigs was a remote swampy area on the southern coast of Cuba, where little resistance was expected, but the invasion was plagued with difficulties.

The first problem occurred on April 15, 1961, when eight bombers left Nicaragua to bomb Cuban airfields. The CIA had used obsolete World War II B-26 bombers, and painted them to look like Cuban air force planes. The bombers missed many of their targets.   As news broke of the attack, photos of the repainted U.S. planes became public and revealed American support for the invasion. President Kennedy cancelled a second air strike.

On April 17, the Cuban-exile invasion force, known as Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire.  Over the next 24 hours, Castro ordered roughly 20,000 troops to advance toward the beach, and the Cuban air force continued to control the skies.

Some exiles escaped to the sea, while the rest were killed or rounded up and imprisoned by Castro’s forces. Almost 1,200 members of Brigade 2506 surrendered, and more than 100 were killed.

The brigade prisoners remained in captivity for 20 months, as the United States negotiated a deal with Fidel Castro,  prisoners in return for baby food.   Castro eventually settled on $53 million worth of baby food and medicine in exchange for the captives.

Determined to make up for the failed invasion, the US administration  sabotaged and destabilized the Cuban government and economy, but this  only worked to lift the determination of the Cuban people to build their state independently of the major powers.   . 

The American plan failed when Russia came to Cuba’s aid placing nuclear missiles on a base in Cube pointing towards the US.  The US in turn retaliated with threats of a nuclear war. We were just the press of a button away from total destruction.

Most people in Europe and America thought a Third World War was imminent.  People took to the streets in protest.

I was still at school when I joined the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament.  One of the teachers at my school organised a group of students to go on a march in London.  I ended up committed to the cause of global peace and marched across the country with thousands of others.  We thought we had won when the Nuclear Weapons Treaty was signed, but we were wrong. Today, we are still threatened by the war that could end all wars and all of humanity.

The Story of the Exodus is core to the Jewish religion, but is it real?

In recent years a lot of doubt has been cast on the Exodus story, but it could just turn out to be true.

The following article has been reproduced from Breaking News Israel. 

Did Archaeologists Find First Ever Evidence of Biblical Exodus?

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz October 2, 2018 , 1:33 pm https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/114501/did-archaeologists-find-first-ever-evidence-of-biblical-exodus/

“Then they stepped up to him and said, “We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children.” Numbers 32:16 (The Israel Bible™)

Moses Smiteth the Rock in the Desert, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 7 3/8 x 11 1/16 in. (18.7 x 28.2 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo: James Tissot)

Archaeologists have long disputed whether the Exodus described in the Bible was a factual, historical account of the Jews’ arrival from Egypt or whether the evidence points toward a non-Biblical version – an internal social development in the region. A recent discovery that may prove Iron Age nomads dwelt in the Jordan Valley may bring researchers one step closer to determining the truth.

In an article published in the Biblical Archaeology Review, David Ben-Shlomo, an archaeologist with Ariel University and his American dig partner, Ralph Hawkins of Averett University, described their findings at Khirbet el Mastarah, five miles north of Jericho.

“By the end of our 2017 season, we were struck by the fascinating picture that had begun to emerge in the Jordan Valley, a region that up until recently had been virtually unknown archaeologically,” they wrote. “Within a range of just a couple of miles, we may be able to see the evolution of early Israel from a domestic-scale culture to a political-scale culture.”

The site contains ruins of low walls that researchers believe were used to fence in grazing animals. Pottery shards found at the site have been dated to the early Iron Age, around the time traditionally associated with the Israelite arrival in the Promised Land. No shards were found inside the stone fencing, leading researchers to believe that the people lived in tents.

“The floors of the structures were virtually empty of finds, and thus, we could not date them by conventional archaeological methods,”  Ben-Shlomo wrote. “In Bedouin settlements, people live in tents made of perishables which are relocated every season, thus artifacts would not be associated with stone architecture. So the structures might have housed animals, rather than people, who lived in tents around them.”

The theory that the many low stone enclosures discovered in the region were the campsites of the Israelites when they first entered the land was first put forth by Professor Adam Zertal of Haifa University, who surveyed the area for 38 seasons until his death in 2015. This theory has been contested by archaeologists who claim the rise of the early Israelites was an internal development and not a foreign invasion.

Ben Shlomo and Hawkins believe the people who built the fences were nomadic, just passing through the area due to the harsh climate. Temperatures frequently exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit and the area receives an average of less than half of an inch of rain annually. The site is enigmatic. Semi-concealed by the topography, it is located one mile from the nearest spring.

“The landscape is arid most of the time and even in modern times, most of the population here are Bedouins,” said Dr. Ben-Shlomo. “Sites like Khirbet el Mastarah and other similar ones in the Jordan Valley seem – at least from survey material – to appear suddenly during the Iron Age. Since this area is not densely populated in many periods, this might indicate a new phenomenon like nomads suddenly creating settlements, or a new population.”

Soil from the site is currently undergoing analysis in a laboratory. Samples from underneath the walls are being tested for a build-up of electrons, which become trapped over the years and are only released by light radiation. Samples from the walls are being tested for elevated levels of phosphorus, which would be consistent with animal dung accumulation.

“It is difficult since many aspects of the material culture of different groups (say those from east or west of the Jordan River) may be too similar or not indicative enough,” said Dr. Ben-Shlomo.

“The story of Exodus is a matter of religious belief, yet, some parts of it may be, in principal, inspired from historical events,” Dr. Ben-Shlomo told Breaking Israel News. “The appearance of new sites in the Jordan Valley that may be dated to the early Iron Age (1200-1000 BCE), as suggested by Adam Zertal according to his survey, may fit a situation where there is a movement of some population from east of the Jordan River to west of it. This is possibly a part of the Exodus story.”

Dr. Ben Shlomo added a disclaimer to his statement.

“So far the finds themselves from Khirbet Mastarah do not support this since we have not yet dated the construction of the structures there; finds from other excavations in the Jordan valley are slightly more informative, but we still need more data.”

The role of the Bible in Israeli archaeology is a source of fierce debate among researchers. As head of the Sifting Project, Dr. Gabriel Barkay is elbow-deep in Second Temple artifacts. When asked how he approaches the Bible in the context of archaeology, Dr. Barkay answered simply, “Very carefully.”

“The Bible is not, nor was it intended to be, an auxiliary reference book for archaeologists and historians,” Dr. Barkay told Breaking Israel News. “The Bible is a religious work that has within it historical data, some of it reliable, some of it mythical, some of it legendary. People, especially researchers, have to be very careful when referencing the Bible. Each verse needs to be weighed for its own relevance.”

Dr. Barkay noted that this ‘careful’ approach to the Bible is especially true when dealing with the significantly more ancient period of early Israel.

“There are some archaeologists who claim that the Exodus from Egypt never took place while other archaeologist believe that it did. Those who do, generally place the date around the 13th century BCE, which, in the ancient Near East, corresponds to the Iron Age,” Dr. Barkay said.

“There is some circumstantial evidence that the Exodus did take place but there has yet to be any direct evidence,” Dr. Barkay said. “This find is circumstantial.”

“Some researchers claim the cause of the regional upheaval in the Iron Age was an internal development; that some Canaanites passed out of the stage of nomadization. Other researchers claim these were people from the outside,” Dr. Barkay continued.

“So even if the researchers at Khirbet el Mastarah prove that the remains were from the 13th century BCE, it would not be proof of a Biblical Exodus. Proof would be in the form of an Egyptian inscription describing a slave revolt or if we found the remains of an Egyptian army in the sea,” he said.

Dr. Ben Shlomo and Hawkins are determined to continue their search for definitive proof to settle this archaeological debate. Towards this end, they will be continuing their research next season Auja el-Foqa, located south of Khirbet Mastarah. The project is currently organizing volunteers for the dig

What is it about fairy tales that attracts us?

Fairy. Art by DuBrae 2012.

Bruno Bettleheim wrote:

In order to master the psychological problems of growing up and overcoming narcissistic disappointments, productivity and oedipal dilemmas, sibling rivalries; becoming able to relinquish childhood dependencies; gaining a feeling of selfhood and of self-worth, and a sense of moral obligation –a child needs to understand what is going on within his (or her) conscious self so that he (or she) can also cope with that which goes on in his (or her) unconscious. He (or she) can achieve this understanding, and with it the ability to cope, not through rational comprehension of the nature and content of his (or her) unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out daydreams – ruminating, rearranging, and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures.  By doing this, the child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which then enable him (or her) to deal with that content” (my parentheses). [1]

The psychoanalyst Marie Louise von Franz suggested that the fairy stories told to children in their formative years are more than exaggerated   tales. The social and emotional fairy stories have a huge impact in the shaping of children’s developing minds. Franz suggested that children connect incidents to their favourite tales and the struggles they face in their every daily life.[2]  As the theory goes, children who have heard fairy tales from a young age are introduced to some of the problems they fear the most, which include the death of a caregiver, violence or being taken away by a stranger; a wicked witch.[3]

The theorists have suggested the real fear for a child is that of abandonment and loss.   In fairy tales these traumas are presented in such a way that the child is believed to feel safe and protected because the setting is more often a magical place in a make-believe land, (once upon a time,) a long time ago.

The psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim said that “no sane child ever believes that fairy tales describe the world realistically” but “every child believes in magic, and (s)he stops doing so when he or (s)he grows up”.[4] (My parenthesis.)

In the earliest moments in our childhood we endeavour to acquire some kind of unity between body, mind and those around us, just as we try to find a connection between ourselves and the magic in the stars and the universe. We imagine, but connection does not come automatically, we have to practice using our instincts and first learn how to connect with our immediate surroundings.   As we grow the attention shifts from the ephemeral universe to the material world and we find a different connection in objects and people who have since become objectified.  We live in a world of objects that cloud our subjective experience and this is one way of losing our primary identity and invoking the experience of primary trauma; but there are many more occasions where trauma enters our lives.  Not knowing who we are or where we belong is a feeling of abandonment. For most, understanding life begins with some form of identity. Who am I? Where did I originate from? Why do I feel different or abandoned?

We form our identity in relation to other people, we learn their beliefs, copy their ideas and sentiments and act out their behaviours in much the same manner as history and polity has dictated. We acquire these doctrines of life through our families, friends, relatives, kindergarten, schools, the workplace and from our environments.  We learn from real stories, fairy tales, religions, historiographies, images and texts as well as sublimation and all the other fictions surrounding us; and we create ourselves as a fiction.

   


[1] Bruno Bettleheim 1976. The Uses of Enchantment. UK Penguin, p117.

[2] Marie Louise von Franz 1996 The Interpretation of Fairy Tales Shambhalah Boston London.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bettleheim Ibid.

 

Moving Forward.

 

 

 

My library.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake.

Last year I made the decision to give up teaching and go back to research.  This time the study would be far more personal, it was more about retracing my roots.  My intention was to write a book about my childhood, but as I began to think about what to write there was a bigger issue on my mind.   Israel had just passed a law making the criteria for Israeli citizenship to be based on the Jewish faith and lineage.  There are many people who can call themselves Israeli, but who are not Jews, many are Arabs, but there are other ethnic groups too and then there are the Reform Jews (those who take a modern view of religion) and who would find qualifying for citizenship in Israel a problem. It begged the questions what does it mean to be Jewish?  And how true to Judaism’s modern ideals is the Jewish Bible?  This would be the essence  of my research.

When I was growing up the separation between Jews and Christians was based on differences in belief, but also on the alternative perspectives of history. For example: Those who were Christian placed a lot of importance on the Crusades, despite the fact that most of them were lost  bloody battles.  The Christian quest was always to secure power over the City of Jerusalem and its grand Temple, whoever ruled the Temple ruled the ancient world.

For the Jews, the religious story began long before the Crusades and there were many battles to secure a home and a Temple for worship.  Moreover,  for the Jews the Crusades were not a heroic campaign commanded by kings and saints, but a campaign of terror where thousands of Jews were tortured and killed alongside other believers of different faiths.  Britain had a penchant for locating its grandeur on battles and wars. Britons mostly stemmed from a warrior culture.

The British put their battles  to song and taught the words to children in schools. To this end, we hailed Jerusalem (albeit lost) in the same manner we hailed the British Empire, but neither were truly the property of the respectable Englishman. Wars are created by the rich and fought by the poor.  Catchy tunes helped to spread the mythology of a valiant war in the past as they do today.

The British version of the Jerusalem story was written in a poem by William Blake that alluded to the possibility that Jesus the messiah had set foot on English soil. “And did those feet in ancient time” was the preface to Blake’s epic that had been based on a previous work by Milton. A Poem in Two Books, was a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books (1804). Later it was known as the hymn “Jerusalem“, set to music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.  As children we sang the hymn Jerusalem every morning in school, but my Jerusalem was not the same city landscape as that beleaguered by the English Crusaders.  “Jerusalem was a place in Heaven and it was yet to be built on earth”, so said the wise old woman who was my grandmother.

Few people actually knew the story that inspired Blake’s poems. They were prompted by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, had  travelled to the region of Glastonbury, England. Jesus was said to have visited Glastonbury during the prophet’s unknown years.  The poem’s theme could be linked to the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. [1]

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s  mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen![2]

This was not a theme for the Jews, but for the Christians. For the Jews, there was no second coming. For the Jews Jesus was not a Messiah, but a Zealot who had attempted to drive the Romans out of his country and thus had contributed to the Roman’s destruction of the second Temple, a Temple that had already been destroyed before and rebuilt on the site of a mosque.  There zealots battled for a long time before the final Jewish War that was described in the classic book by Josephus. Some theorists believed that Jesus was crucified, not because he claimed to be the Son of God, but because he overthrew the tables of money changers in the Temple.  Certainly, the crowds that gathered around Jesus would have been a threat to the Roman Empire who were already suffering from a string of failed Emperors.

The destruction of the second Temple had heralded in the building of the Christian churches, whereby the Roman form of Christianity introduced by Constantine had become the adopted religion of Great Britain.  The Jews had lived in Britain since the 14th Century, but they were not given citizenship until 1829.

For Jews,  it was hard to call England home and Jerusalem was, and always would be  the home of a Covenant made between God and the Jewish people, first through Abraham and then through Moses.  They had their own songs and poetry.

Such is the nature of literature to raise questions and draw out the deepest and most tenuous of emotions that reside in the human soul.   In every word of Blake’s exhalations there is also the element of war-torn trauma. Blake responded to the Dark Satanic Mills, but after the Second World War there was another kind of trauma that became apparent,  the Holocaust.  It brought some  groups of people together in pain and shame and divided others.   Trauma impacts the world and the way we live our lives. With this in mind, my memories of my childhood are sometimes positive and at other times melancholy and   I imagine these moods will be prevalent in moving forward with my research, which gives a impetus to Jewish history and Jewish life.

[1] William Blake https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancient_time Retrieved 1st January 2019.

[2]William Blake “Milton a Poem, copy B object 2”. The William Blake Archive. Retrieved 1st January 2019.

t a people that had somehow given me a sense of belonging.

 

Bad behaviour is endemic in our society.

 

I have been saying for a long time now that the language we use and the images we watch adversely affect the human brain. Our brains are structured by the world around us, the words, the images, the overt emotions people display when happy, sad, disturbed, angry and disenchanted. Critics dismiss the evidence because we live in a self-perpetuating and competitive system, which for reasons of capital growth, is unlikely to change. We copy others because it seems to be in vogue. No one wants to be different. We need to change. We can change individually. We can be mindful of our speech and our behaviour. If we are to create a better non-violent world then we must look at those behaviours we dismiss as normal, because acceptable they may be in this modern age, harmless they are not.