Disclaimer..this section is in process..it’s a living art thinking art work..my references need to be added in full etc. and the thinking and writing to be streamlined and less clunky..I’m trying to join my own dots here..make my own red thread..it’s a work in process…
Red thread is a term that the late polemiscist Christopher Hitchens (and others!) used to describe those thinkers such as Rosa Luxembourg, Marx, Trotsky, Orwell who fought against all forms of tyranny..Hitchens writes sublimely about this lineage and rightly says, in my view, ‘the personal is political’..
The red thread can take us back through these thinkers committed to the study of bullies. It is a huge subject. It’s understood in different ways too, linear, circular…so with such a vast subject I don’t pretend to understand or grasp much. From my artist’s gaze..I cherry pick what seems to speak loudest to me..and it seems that if you go back far enough..time has always been a battle ground…between who owns it..who knows it..who can predict it..and who can preserve it.
Hitchens says that in the 21st century a war is being waged over Bronze age stories.Bitter civil wars within the Muslim world battle lines are drawn which are spilling out into other countires and continents all with a the rhetoric, they are good, we are bad and vice versa..critical free thinking with enough height and room to play has been collapsed into dire concrete, flat thinking..me vs you..good vs bad..
Of course nothing is black white..we live in a mostly grey world where we try to tolerate both, in a kind of cognitive dissonance..perhaps something akin to Klein’s depressive position…where there is an understanding that both the good and bad, the loved and hated feelings towards that which provides for us are somehow integrated and not split off and separated from each other but seen coming from the same source. Stereotypes such as ‘all immigrants are all bad’, is an example of this splitting where nuance and deeper understanding of what are complex matters get deliberately ignored. Klein says we should reach the depressive position at around 6 months old, prior to this there is the paranoid-schizoid position where we’re unable to tolerate both the good and bad feelings, and Klein says we essentially go back and forth as we develop. When looking round I think most of civilisation, most of the time, has never quite got there…we’re still firmly stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position. where being different or the ‘other’ is still too difficult for us for us to contain and process and the thinking and talking that goes with it now sounds frighteningly similar to the rhetoric in the lead up to WWII. This kind of thinking bears the hallmarks of the psychotic. Thinking so literally, in black and white comes from a state or feeling of dislocation, catastrohic fear and a disorientation with one’s reality where a person may be so unhinged that they must try and control what feels like total chaos and in this process, they lose the ‘what if’, and collapse into concrete thinking. Thinking symbollically can not happen, ‘what if that person is a terrorist’ becomes, ‘that person is terrorist’.
Evolutionary Biologists say that we are essentially still hunter-gathers, small band animals and in the move to huge metropolises we just haven’t been able to accommodate mentally, living with some many people we do not know. Studies on charity giving show that the more faces we see in need the less likely we are to give. One or two children are fine, but 7 or 8? We are tribal and our consciousness has not yet developed enough to see ourselves, perhaps within a greater planetary system where we can identify as ..well..Earth people..
We need to revisit the past and redigest and reorder and reform it, acknowledging the tyranny and brutality a minority has wrought and those chiefly bennefitting must make amends. I wish it had developed in a more equal way…I benefit from the developments of the industrial revolution..from the products of war and slavery and oil and the culture that has come from this (see Adorno and HorkHeimer’s chapter “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’) I was born white and western and though I don’t apologise for my individual part in this…I reflect and recognise that I was, by happenstance, born into a state of privilege and I continue to benefit from this privleged position, most were not and can not do this..and I though full of contradictions and conflicts, I keeping trying and failing to be part of solutions promoting equality.
What story do you tell yourself..do you subscribe to? where do you draw your line? Where do your customs and culture originate? your parents? grandparents..? Is it your home town? your country, your religion? your football team? (but surely they’re international now? even Everton has international players.!). Are you northern..southern? scouse? Scottish? African American? Siberian? Jewish? Irish desecent? German? English? European? Western? Black? White? Working class? I tried lots of these but none of them stuck..maybe because they stopped being useful categories for me to identify with..with such a known mixed heritage anyway (Irish, English, Welsh & Spanish) and the fact we moved so often as children..we weren’t really ‘home’ anywhere…
The pre-eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz said culture is. ‘the story we tell ourselves about ourselves’ This is important as well we know..that chattering inner out outer narratives do not stop and we may try to quell it with wishful thinking, rituals, prayers etc. that may work quite well most of the time but there must always be the unknown and uncertainty and ultimately face our mortality. I was brought up catholic and our main wish is that we don’t actually die….I was indoctrinated and followed but finally I decided to read and follow a different story free from all religious thinking infact..and the story I chose to tell myself is based on the most recent evidence..it’s a movable feast…paradigms change..new evidence sheds new light..as Christopher Hitchens says
Though like Hitichens I don’t dismiss the numinous and spiritual..I like to stay grounded but looking up…
The latest evolutionary theory on our origins suggest we, homo sapiens still all came from Africa in migrations in the Palaeolithic, responding to great breathing climatic changes, moving ice sheets advancing and receding pushing us backwards yet we carried on moving along coast lines, northward, mixing with those we met..but ultimately becoming the foremost and most successful hominid. In short it’s pretty amazing we are here..what we overcame and how we overcame it..our faculties built out of those harsh selective pressures are still present today..
How we developed from our nearest and dearest cousings the great apes..with theory of mind is also as avidly hypothesised and our thinking on that has changed as we realise just how close animals are to us and the great myths of how we are the sole harbingers of civilisation are being eroded by such wonderful folk as Frans De Waal, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Volker Sommer
One such hypothesis that continues to resonate with me and as I mention above is one of my main sources of inspiration..is a still just a story though one backed up by all kinds of evidence, qualitative and quantative, can be traced through myth..(yes myth..and myth is still relevant..as Neil Gaiman states in his superb rendering of how myth is the most efficient carrier of information over time..Listen to Neil describe this in the superb BrainPickings‘s soundcloud post how stories last )
This story links and hypothesises in a most coherent and elegant way and is the brain child of the British Anthropologist, Chris Knight. His books on the origins of culture and language go way way back..where I like to keep one foot..constantly..I can’t see forward without taking stock of what may..or what current evidence suggests, has happened before..His first book Blood Relation; Menstruation and the origin of culture and language brings together beautifully a vast amount of scientific evidence and ethnography that suggests to get to this stage..the talking walking stage, the birthing of large brained off-spring, reciprocal, house-building, food sharing, marrying, animal and plant domesticating stage..we had to overcome what seem like insurmountable odds…nevermind the fact we’re standing on a planet that’s evolving and revolving at 900 miles an hour.. 😉
His story starts in the Palaeolithic..the stone age..when homo habilis started making tools…some 2.6 million years ago and he ends his story in the neolithic..when Chris Knight’ hands over to his colleague, Dr Lionel Sims who takes forward the baton..or carries the red thread…into modern day..
References: (to be fully written soon..)
Hitchens, C (200?) Hitch 22
Adorno Theodore & HorkHeimer
Knight, C (1999) Blood Relations