Monday, September 16, 2013

on good and evil

The following text is a first draft of the third chapter of "The Ages Rhythm", an altered and improved new edition of my first non-fiction book "The Currents of World History. I welcome any and all feedback. That's why it's been posted here.

CHAPTER THREE - on good and evil

My wife and I had a houseguest for a few weeks a while back, Sam, a young comic from France, a baptized Jew with one Catholic and one Jewish parent. The mother happened to live at that time in my wife’s hometown, and that’s where the connection came in.

Sam was smart, and funny, and didn’t have a self-censoring bone in his body. He also had many ideas about religion that both Catholics, and Jews, and even atheists might appreciate. Take the Garden of Eden, for instance. Sam interpreted the Judeo-Christian-Muslim stories about it as a form of historical metaphor that encapsulated the transition of our early ancestors from hunting to farming, the domestication of animals, even the development of spoken, perhaps written language. Adam and Eve lived in a garden, controlled animals, and gave everything a name. Without language, men had no way to express ideas about good and evil, hence the story of the serpent. (As to the seven days of Creation, well, a day to God can be like a billion years to man, so it’s a moot point.

My friend Sam had something in common with Charles Darwin, who needed a way to get his proven theory about the mutability of species (such as that a giraffe’s neck can get longer over succeeding generations, or that an ape and a man might have a common progenitor) to lead inevitably to his unproven theory about the ascent of species from virtually nothing (like trying to explain how a life form without eyes or a brain, such as a tomato plant, might develop either one for the first time).

When he addressed this issue in his epochal Origin of Species, Darwin first suggested that God might have had a hand in the ascent of species. In the end, this wouldn’t suffice for a proud scientist, so next he tried to imagine how his theory on mutability, if projected out across billions and billions of years, might possibly result in the ascent of species. Alas, imagining how something could have happened isn’t the same as proving it. He was an honest man who readily admitted that he couldn’t prove the ascent of species had happened as a direct result of the mutability of species, but neither could anyone else disprove it. So, he shifted the burden of proof, and the scientific world let him, because he had the only working theory that didn’t need God in the explanation. This brings us back to today’s world, and my friend Sam.

After having looked at this stuff we call history (and some might prefer now to call herstory), I’ve arrived at a few conclusions. One of these conclusions sends us back to the Garden of Eden for inspiration, and I don’t want my friend Sam, nor devotees of Charles Darwin, nor any other reader to flip out because I make reference to a story that some people take as the inspired word of God, but others can just as easily take as an historical metaphor.

Here’s the rub. Our concepts of good and evil have been steadily evolving in every Age, since the beginning, and I will do my best to prove this to the reader by highlighting the most obvious changes. I believe that the rhythm of history, what I call the Ages Rhythm, leads inevitably to the steady increase of our knowledge of good and evil. One might even speculate that the purpose of civilization, if we have a purpose, is the slow perfection of our knowledge of good and evil over time.

Some of us might seek knowledge first, and hope to find God along the way, or some version of him, even an atheist version, if such a thing can be said to exist. Others might seek God first, and hope to find knowledge along the way. The knowledge I refer to here is primarily the knowledge of good and evil. Einstein discovered Relativity Theory. Men after him built nuclear bombs. Now the whole world feels the pressure to evolve in our shared knowledge of good and evil, because none of us really wants to wake up to a mushroom cloud outside our window one morning.

Naturally, the burden of proof is mine.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

something specific

The following text is a first draft of the second chapter of "The Ages Rhythm", an altered and improved new edition of my first non-fiction book "The Currents of World History. I welcome any and all feedback. That's why it's been posted here.

CHAPTER TWO - something specific

Years ago I attended a Messianic Synagogue, a place of worship filled mostly with Jewish believers in Jesus. To their more orthodox Jewish brethren they’re almost a cult. To their more mainline Christian friends they’re a curiosity, albeit one deserving of respect and support. I had a friend there, Nick, the cantor, and one day I told him I had discovered a 70-year pattern to history going back at least to the Babylonian Captivity of the ancient Jews (which lasted roughly 70 years).

He said, “If that were true you could explain it because people only live about 70 years.” I told him, “Yes. That would be the secular explanation.” He laughed. He was right of course. Until recent decades, life expectancy was probably close to 70 years for anyone who managed to survive famines, wars, disease, pestilence, and any of a million types of accidents that tend to kill people. At the time of our conversation, however, I was engaged in a rather vain search for a divine explanation, not a secular one. The closest I ever came to finding one was Psalm 90:10, which says, “The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

So much for divine explanations, which is just as well. People should be careful about dabbling in them, especially regarding the fates of vast numbers of people across long swaths of time, because they may get tempted to claim to speak for God, like the Popes did during the Crusades. For this book, I’ll walk the line on strictly secular explanations, thanks in part to my friend Nick. If I get tempted to make a divine speculation I’ll identify it as such, and perhaps the reader will indulge me.

The primary pattern used in this book lasts 70 years. It’s a nice round number, seven decades, one for each day of the week, and enough time for all of humanity to completely replace itself, with the exception of a few outliers, which cuts right to the rub of why I think it not only makes sense to look for a 70-year pattern, superimposed on history, but it also makes sense why a pattern would appear without divine intervention, unless one treats the shortness of the human lifespan as something divinely ordained. The complete replacement of all humanity as one 70-year Age gets replaced by the next is like the breathing process of all humanity. We inhale 35 years. We exhale 35 years, then again, and again, repeating on and on. See what I mean?

Okay, let’s say we accept for the sake of argument the idea of a 70-year “breathing” pattern. How do the numbers work? Could a “breath”, or what I call herein an “Age”, last 55 years, or 90, or anything in between? Should we expect to find a precision in this rhythm? If one changeover date occurs in, say 70 CE, and the next comes in, say 140 CE (70 years later), would the historically significant events on the ground match up with these dates? The Fall of Jerusalem to the Romans occurred in 70 CE, but did anything of equal significance happen in 140 CE? If this sort of thing has been going on, why hasn’t somebody discovered it sooner? And for that matter, where does one even think to start the count? What’s the first event that sets it all in motion? We can’t go back to the seven days of Creation (or six, plus one day of rest). We can’t track a starting point for homo sapiens in the Darwinian sense either. Our records are so thin prior to the Roman Imperial period, which began in 27 BCE, that I risk blowing myself out of the water with bad data if I even try.

Okay, it’s a list of questions, but each one has an answer.

1. Can an Age last 55 or 90 years, or anything in between?

Short answer, yes. Humans can breath quickly, or slowly, even though they fall into regular, rhythmic breathing patterns. What I have found most interesting about the Ages Rhythm is that it tends to self-correct. Across vast expanses of time, involving many, many Ages, the deviation from the norm, or from the baseline is just that, a deviation. Deviations don’t reset the rhythm. History, instead, finds a way to settle back into the Ages Rhythm even after it has diverged from it, whether we’re talking about Roman Imperial centuries, or the American 20th century. This book will attempt to demonstrate how.

2. Should we expect dates that occur at 70-year intervals (according to the rhythm) and significant historical events to match up precisely?

The answer? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, it all depends on what one thinks of as changeover events, and historians often disagree because they want data to fit their pet theories. It’s been a big challenge while laying out the content of this book to avoid trying to make history match my theory. The reader will discover I have succeeded well in some Ages, and not so well in others. Partly this is due to the paucity of information about certain significant Ages. Partly this is due to the amount of noise that I’ve had to sift through. Partly it’s also due to the limits of the Ages Rhythm, because it doesn’t always line up the way I would like.

3. Why hasn’t somebody discovered the Ages Rhythm sooner?

Excellent question, I’m glad you asked. I believe it has to do with the fear of ridicule and the difficulty of superimposing any pattern on history. The scientific method took a while too. People, particularly serious people, are very reluctant to embrace ideas that purport to impose order on chaos, and yet the very idea that there may be rules of nature that govern our world is now embraced by every serious person. Believe it or not, science came first from our concept of God. It grew to fruition in the post-Crusades Ages, when the papacy lost prestige, and men began to seek a more direct and personal relationship with God. During these Ages, they were also drawn to the idea that a creator God was capable of making an ordered universe, something with obvious intelligence behind it. It naturally followed that, if these ordered laws existed, humans should be able to discover them, even express them through mathematics. Nowadays, we no longer need to credit God in order to pursue science. In fact, preachers and scientists are often at odds with one another, but it didn’t start that way.

So, if I talk about an Ages Rhythm, and even if I suggest a plan for history as it may exist in the mind of God, I hope the reader takes it in the same vein. It was part of my inspiration, but need not be part of any analysis of the truth or falsehood of the Ages Rhythm. In that limited sense I’m in good company with men like Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein.

4. Where does one start the count, or what’s the first event that sets it all in motion?

We cannot track a first event, not in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim sense of an original moment of Creation, nor in the evolutionary Darwinian sense. It would be as if we tried to track when and where the first wave on the ocean occurred, the one that begat all other waves. Fact is, we can only step into this thing after it has started, pick a date or event to our liking, and run with it to see if it holds up from one Age to the next across many centuries. Events are always ongoing. The creation and recreation of history is a perpetual process. Everyone alive today, or at any day, lives through it in their heyday.

I’ve chosen to begin in 27 BCE, when the Roman Republic transformed into the Roman Empire after a long period (an Age) of civil wars. This book does not neglect those Ages in the ancient past that pre-date the Roman Imperial period, but it will paint their blurry picture with a very broad brush.

By the way, and to give an example of the variability and openness of this new approach to the rhythm of history, consider the following. If we start at 27 BCE, the First Imperial Age (of Rome) would end on 44 CE. There is no year zero, so we skip a year in the middle. The breathing pattern would go like this, Rome becomes an Empire, exhale, Jesus is born, inhale, Jesus is crucified and Paul begins his missionary journeys, exhale. All of these events were significant and world altering when one takes the long view.

Look at it again with a new start date. What if we began in the year 1 BCE and end in 70 CE? Jesus is born, inhale, Jesus is crucified and Paul begins his missionary journeys, exhale, Jerusalem is sacked by the Romans and the Jewish Diaspora period begins, inhale.

Either starting point has legitimate arguments, and both produce a different kind of Age. The story of these Ages would seem quite different if one were to read a novel about each of them. There’ll be many examples like this as we go along.

Incidentally, I’ll also delve into 40-year cycles, 400-year cycles, even 1000-year cycles, but the main one, the 70-year cycle, with a 35-year half-cycle, forms the spine of this book and the core of my argument.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A note about patterns

The following text is a first draft of the first chapter of "The Ages Rhythm", an altered and improved new edition of my first non-fiction book "The Currents of World History). I welcome any and all feedback. That's why it's been posted here.

Applying patterns to history can be fun, but we’re naturally suspicious of them because they feel superimposed. This book will ask the reader and student of history to give up some of that natural suspicion, at least for the sake of argument, and to sail with me on a journey across time, from the ancient depths to the present shore.

We’ll move along quickly, with a strong tail wind, mostly because I want to stick to the essentials and not bore the reader with endless attention to kaleidoscopic detail. My original notes and scribblings do contain an almost interminable amount of such detail, but to get from there to here I have taken it as part of my job to sift through the pile.

Why? To find the pattern, of course. Imagine some stream of radio static, just white noise, and then someone hears a faint repeating signal buried within the sound. You’ve probably seen this movie. The characters detect a message from a friend, or from across time, or from an alien species in outer space, they filter out the noise, enhance the pattern and voila, the proverbial message in a bottle has been uncorked and deciphered. Welcome to my world.

Okay, so let’s say the reader accepts the idea that history might have a pattern. If that’s the case, why should there be only one pattern? Where one exists, certainly more can follow. The Greek philosophers who discovered the principles of geometry didn’t stop at the rule that an isosceles triangle always adds up to 180 degrees. Isaac Newton didn’t stop at the law of gravity. In both cases they continued the search. Others followed them too, always hunting for ever more useful and greater patterns.

It took a long time for us to move from the pure mathematics of the Greeks to the practical scientific method of Renee Descartes, to Isaac Newton, to Albert Einstein. To understand why, try to imagine how once upon a time people held an extreme skepticism toward the idea that any law, or any pattern, could be superimposed upon the natural world, which was governed by the gods who commanded the elements.

“The Ages Rhythm” may at first read like some upstart attempt to have the final say on our shared global history, regarding what it all means, even where it’s all going, but that is not the intention. If it means anything at all, this book should be received by people as the first step of a new, long journey, an opening salvo, the outlier that will remain so until someone else comes along and adds to the canon of what really amounts to a brand new field of study for the student of history.