Banda

Soldier_being_initiated_(1904)
American soldier being hazed (1904) by being thrown high in the air.

Have you ever been initiated or even hazed?  If so, was it a good experience, ultimately?

The Banda are an ethnic group in the Central African Republic, and I found that two aspects of their culture raised interesting questions.

Britannica states that “[t]hey used age grades and initiations called semali to assure unity in time of war.”  This made me wonder why military organizations so often have initiations or hazings.  According to Wikipedia (“Initiation”), initiations often act out a ritual death, which helps conquer the fear of a real death.  They help boys become men, and they help people accept spiritual realities.  These purposes do seem appropriate for the military.

Psychologists have this to say about initiations:

In the study of certain social forms of initiation, as hazing in college fraternities and sororities, laboratory experiments in psychology suggest that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance [conflicting thoughts that need to be reconciled somehow].  Dissonance is then thought to produce feelings of strong group attraction among initiates after the experience, because they want to justify the effort used.  Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity.  As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members [as do uniforms and similar haircuts].  Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation. (Wikipedia, “Initiation”)

I was also interested in some economic aspects of Banda society.  According to Britannica,  “Marriage traditionally required bride wealth [a payment from grooms to brides’ families], often in iron implements.  Polygamy, while still practiced, has declined with the rise of a money economy.”

I wonder why the rise of a money economy (which I assume is more efficient and prosperous than a barter economy) would lead to less polygamy.  I also wondered whether polygamy is primarily an economic phenomenon or has other causes.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1Rrdyg3

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Auburn System

Auburn_lockstep

This is a “penal method of the 19th century in which persons worked during the day and were kept in solitary confinement at night, with enforced silence at all times (EB).”  In fact, the word “penitentiary” comes from the idea that prisoners, through silent reflection on their crimes, might become penitent.  Thus imprisonment under the Auburn System could be seen as penance.

Some of the purposes of this system were “to destroy the identity of the inmate (and thus make him easier to control) and to crush the ‘criminal subculture’ that flourished in densely populated prisons (Wikipedia, “Separate System”)” and to discourage prisoners from learning criminal habits and having them reinforced by the existing prison population (EB, “Auburn System”).  (“Destroying the identity” reminded me of military boot camps, which also seek to destroy individuality through conforming appearances and behavior.)

“In certain prisons such as Pentonville, in London, even during communal exercise, prisoners were required to wear masks in silent isolation.  Prisoners incarcerated in separate system prisons were reduced to numbers, their names, faces and past histories eliminated. The guards and warders charged with overseeing these prisoners knew neither their names nor their crimes, and were prohibited from speaking to them. Prisoners were hooded upon exiting a cell, and even wore felted shoes to muffle their footsteps (Wikipedia, “Separate System”).”

In addition to being known for silent isolation, the Auburn, New York correctional facility achieved several other firsts (Wikipedia, “Auburn System”):

1)  the first prison to gain money as a profit for the labor of the prisoners.

2)  the first to institute the “lockstep”: The prisoners marched in unison and had to lock their arms to the convict in front of them. The prisoners had to look to one side and were not allowed to look at the guards or the other inmates.

3)  the first to give prisoners a distinctive garb familiar to us today, a grayish material with horizontal stripes.

In addition, the prison permitted tours by sight-seers.

A method of punishment sounds familiar to those of us who have read about waterboarding and the ALS Challenge.  “The shower bath consisted of a barrel about 4½ feet high with a discharge tube at the bottom. The prisoner was stripped naked, bound hand and foot, with a wooden collar around his neck to prevent him moving his head. The barrel, with the inmate inside, was placed directly under an outlet pipe, where water, sometimes iced, would pour down (Wikipedia, “Auburn System”).”

The article raised several interesting questions for me:

1)  Solitude and silence can be used for spiritual purposes by monks and nuns.  When it is forced upon people, however, is there any spiritual benefit?  (On a related parenting note, is there any point in forcing children to apologize for wrongs they have committed?)  Does penal isolation in fact create mental illness, as some claimed the Auburn System did?

2)  Do human beings have an inherent psychological need to do some acts of penance to assuage their guilty consciences?  (The Catholic church may be tapping into something fundamentally human here.)  Should we give prisoners opportunities for penitential acts and even formal ceremonies to mark their significance?

3)  How is it that dehumanization is used in prison camps, boot camps, and concentration camps for such different purposes: to break group identities, to form group identities, and to make the murder of an outgroup easier?

4)  Given the use of the shower bath in prisons and the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, was waterboarding prisoners in Guantanimo really that immoral?  It certainly is not unprecedented.

5)  I’ve always found it interesting that God’s system of justice in the Old Testament made no mention of imprisonment.  Criminals either made restitution for the less serious crimes or were executed for the more serious crimes.  Would our society be better off replacing imprisonment with restitution and the death penalty?  Besides lowering costs and giving prisoners a chance to do penance, this might also provide a useful test for whether a law is needed.  If a restitution is hard to define, either because what should be given back is hard to define or the person to whom it should be given is hard to identify, then perhaps any law with such difficulties is inherently unjust.

Photo source: http://bit.ly/1BEcbBx

Ashur (Assyrian god)

Ashur_god

Is it possible that in 50 years Christianity will have adopted elements of Islam?  Historically, it’s a possibility:

Ashur was the “city god of Ashur and national god of Assyria.”  “Under Sargon’s successor Sennacherib, deliberate and thorough attempts were made to transfer to Ashur the primeval achievements of Marduk [a Babylonian god], as well as the whole ritual of the New Year festival of Babylon—attempts that clearly have their background in the political struggle going on at that time between Babylonia and Assyria. As a consequence, the image of Ashur seems to lack all real distinctiveness and contains little that is not implied in his position as the city god of a vigorous and warlike city that became the capital of an empire (EB).”

What caught my eye was the fact that a political struggle between two rival powers led to changes in religious beliefs.

It’s easy to extrapolate the current struggle between the West and Islam into a syncretism whereby Christianity adopts forms, rituals or beliefs of Islam.

Why Islam?  Because it’s the only world religion with enough adherents and energy to force the change.

Why would Christianity adapt to Islam and not the other way around?  Because Christianity, far more than Islam, has already shown a willingness to abandon fundamental doctrines on the Trinity, sin and salvation, to cite a few examples.  Christianity regularly concedes to every scientific and sociological fad du jour.   Broadly, the obvious trend is for Western culture to yield rather than to fight.  (See Mark Steyn’s essays on the irony of “Je Suis Charlie!”  free speech marches followed immediately by arrests–of writers who criticize Islam.) (e.g., http://www.steynonline.com/6799/the-sound-of-silence)

Perhaps I’m guilty of my own faddism: extrapolating too much from today’s newspaper headlines.  Perhaps I’m reading far too much into a brief note about an ancient culture.  I hope I’m wrong. Even atheists and agnostics should be sorry to see the source of Western civilization weakened.

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ashur_god.jpg

Arthashastra

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From http://bit.ly/1Sx8VRj

The Arthashastra is an “important Indian manual on the art of politics (EB).”  It identifies its author by the name “Kauṭilya,” among others (Wikipedia).

As I read about it, I immediately thought of Machiavelli’s book The Prince, which for Westerners is the standard guide to political ruthlessness.  Apparently, though, Machiavelli is a bit tame.  According to Wikipedia:

Because of its harsh political pragmatism, the Arthashastra has often been compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Is there any other book that talks so openly about when using violence is justified? When assassinating an enemy is useful? When killing domestic opponents is wise? How one uses secret agents? When one needs to sacrifice one’s own secret agent? How the king can use women and children as spies and even assassins? When a nation should violate a treaty and invade its neighbor? Kautilya — and to my knowledge only Kautilya — addresses all those questions. In what cases must a king spy on his own people? How should a king test his ministers, even his own family members, to see if they are worthy of trust? When must a king kill a prince, his own son, who is heir to the throne? How does one protect a king from poison? What precautions must a king take against assassination by one’s own wife? When is it appropriate to arrest a troublemaker on suspicion alone? When is torture justified? At some point, every reader wonders: Is there not one question that Kautilya found immoral, too terrible to ask in a book? No, not one. And this is what brings a frightful chill. But this is also why Kautilya was the first great, unrelenting political realist.

—Boesche (2002, p. 1)

Max Weber observed:

Truly radical ‘Machiavellianism’, in the popular sense of that word, is classically expressed in Indian literature in the Arthasastra of Kautilya (written long before the birth of Christ, ostensibly in the time of Chandragupta): compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.

—Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1919)

However, these aspects form just one of the 15 books that comprise the Arthaśāstra. The scope of the work is far broader than popular perceptions indicate, and in the treatise can also be found compassion for the poor, for servants and slaves, and for women. For instance, Kautilya advocates what is now known as land reform, and elsewhere ensures the protection of the chastity of female servants or prisoners.  Significant portions of the book also cover the role of dharma, welfare of a kingdom’s subjects and alleviating hardship in times of disaster, such as famine.

It would be interesting to read Arthashastra‘s advice on torture and compare it with current arguments in the age of terrorism.

artha

800px-Vinay_bhanawat_786_Indian_Currency_Note_collection_world_records_India

What is your philosophy of life?  Should you have one?

In Hinduism, artha is the pursuit of wealth or material advantage, one of the four traditional aims in life (EB).  Artha is considered the “means of life,” so it includes making a living and securing one’s health (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

The other three goals of human life are the following:

  • Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life),
  • Kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment) and
  • Moksha (liberation, release, self-actualization).

Together, these four aims of life are called Puruṣārtha (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

Artha applies to both an individual and a government.  At government level, artha includes social, legal, economic and worldly affairs. Proper Arthashastra is considered an important and necessary objective of government.

I think it would be interesting to compare Hindu texts on money and careers with the Bible.

Regarding money, various Hindu texts emphasize being a good steward of money and not chasing after it or letting it hinder one’s spiritual life, which is the same message of the Bible.

I wonder what Hinduism would add to an understanding of careers. A Christian understanding of work can come from Calvin’s writings on a “vocation,” which is literally work as a “calling.”  As one example, Calvin states that “there would be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed highly important in the sight of God (http://bit.ly/1Npn3uJ).”  I suppose Calvin, then, was the foundation of the “Protestant work ethic.”

I also wonder if our government would be improved by a more comprehensive philosophy of government such as that in Hinduism or in Confucianism.  America has an excellent philosophy of government, but it seems to be more about what our government is not allowed to do rather than than what an effective, efficient government ought to do.   It’s a shame that our current government is so ineffective and inefficient. As our founders were aware, however, talking about all the things the government can do is a dangerous path, as it could lead to a turbulent flood of government interference in all of our lives.

Two sidenotes:

  1. The mention of “self-actualization” as a definition of Moksha made me wonder if Hinduism is a source for psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories on personality development.
  2. Should sensuality be a goal of life, or is this just an opening for debauchery?  What would a life that set goals for sensuality look like?

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/262mQsR

Archon

“in ancient Greece, the chief magistrate or magistrates many city-states.”

There were several things I found interesting about the selection and use of archons.

Potential archons had to be examined for these qualifications:

1)  birth qualifications

2)  physical fitness

3)  treatment of parents

4)  military activity

At the end of their term, they “underwent an examination of their conduct, especially financial, while in office.

It’s interesting to think how American politics would change if these practices were adopted.  Birth qualifications, to me, still matter.  The requirement to be an American citizen protects us from people with divided loyalties.

What if, instead of periodic checkups to see that President will not die in office, we required our Presidents to be physically fit?  Physical fitness could be a measure of character, since it takes a great deal of discipline to remain fit, especially as one gets older.

Treatment of parents!  I wonder how many of our recent Presidents would fail or pass on this test?  This reminds me of the Biblical requirement in I Timothy 3:4-5 that a church leader must “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (After all, if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”  Management of one’s own family would be an even better test for our political leaders.

Military activity, particularly leadership, seems like a good requirement for anyone purporting to be our Commander-in-Chief.

An evaluation of a political leader’s financial performance after his term in office might leave us both “a day late and a dollar short,” but I am struck by how little financial performance matters when America evaluates its potential leaders.  I wonder how many members of Congress have their personal financial affairs in order?

Finally, regarding the use of archons. The chief religious officer presided over the homicide court.  What an interesting idea, as if homicide is so important or is such a spiritual matter, that a “priest,” let’s say, is the best person for supervising that court.