Eye-opening read. Serious food for thought.
I also recently finished off reading “The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image” by Leonard Shlain. Shlain used to be a surgeon and inventor. He invented some rather very specific forms of laparoscopic surgery but he was also an amateur critical theorist.
The gist of the book is that when human beings started with alphabetic literacy, learning to read and write, it rewired the brain in a completely different way and brought about negative changes to a pre-literate cultures which were usually holistic and intuitive in outlook, were more right-brain influenced (right brain “rules” the creative faculties as opposed to the analytical left brain faculties), was more focused on images, venerated the Goddess and “feminine” values like cooperation, community, sharing and communalism. With reading and writing, the brain shifted gears suddenly towards the left brain. Suddenly thinking which used to be more creative and intuitive, became linear and analytical and a shift from a Goddess-based culture to a patriarchal one, one we are still living with. Reading this book alone may cause a shift in your ability to interpret the culture around you in a very radical way.
Right brain vs. Left brain
Shlain does this by doing some rather intriguing detective work and examining pre-literate cultures, their myths and stories, specifically the Israelites, Greeks, Egyptians, Mesopotamians
. I should insert here that Shlain himself was Jewish and he didn’t spare his own tribe at all.
Relief of Babylonian gods.
He examined the origins of the Egyptians and the Hyksos
, When he tried figuring out the origins of the Jewish peoples
, what he surmised was that, in his opinion, the Jews were originally a sub-sect of Babylonian society. Specifically Babylonians who were scribes
, who for whatever reason, were either kicked out or left Babylonian society and then became “The Jews”.
Ancient Egyptian scribes
Shlain then makes some very important and startling points. First of all you have to remember, until not so long ago, not everyone could read or write
. Mass literacy is a relatively recent historical development
. For most of history , the majority of people could neither read, write nor do simple math. People who could, usually had very high social positions in feudalistic and prehistorical societies. Scribes in particular had a very special place in the courts of kings and rulers.
Fragment of Babylonian script. Can you read this?
Among most historians, it is acknowledged that the area in the Fertile Crescent is ground zero in the development of written and recorded language
. This is where you really need to pay attention: Shlain points out if you’re the only one in your group who can read or write and no one else can understand what you are writing down, then you’re pretty much free to write down whatever you want, make up whatever story you want, and there is absolutely no one there to contest it or refute it. No one can read or understand what you just wrote down. In other words, it is literally a “carte blanche” to write-up any myth you want about your self or your history and there can’t be any fact-checking or discussion.
Shlain thinks this is where these Babylonian scribes who left, who self-identified and became the Jews and were thus able to forge a story about themselves
as “chosen”, stories about Adam and Eve, stories about a jealous God and pretty much everything else in the earliest chapters of the Hebrew Bible
. In other words, you really shouldn’t believe everything you read no matter how old or it is.
I’ll be very honest and upfront about this – It is NOT about the Jews.
What I take an exception to, is any kind of idea or mindset of any group which thinks of itself, as “special”, “destined” or chosen” and then use that mindset to justify anything they want to do, like what ultra right-wing Israelis do to Palestinians, for instance or what white North American settlers did to Native Americans and First Nations Peoples under the guise of Manifest Destiny
or what Brits did in the name of Empire. More recent political pundits and policy makers may call it the Monroe Doctrine
or call it “American exceptionalism”
and quite often invoke this as a reason to start of regime change in places like Chile in 1973
, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011 and now Syria. Anytime, you have one group of people saying that their shit smells better than anyone else’s, that’s the exact moment you antennae and Spidey senses should be tingling.
What this small example shows, is that if this is the possible origin story of ONE of the millions of stories around us, specific narratives we have based our world on, can you imagine what else is completely wrong?